Which team is in better position to make it back: Alabama or Georgia?
It’s a silver lining or it’s icing on top of the cake.
For Georgia, it’s definitely the former. For Alabama, it’s definitely the latter.
After both teams competed in an instant classic national championship on Monday night, there’s an obvious question that looms. It’s one that won’t be answered today, tomorrow or maybe even not 11 months from now.
Who is in the best position to get back to the national championship?
Had Georgia held on to its double-digit lead, the answer would’ve been a bit easier. Of course it would be the upstart Kirby Smart, who did everything and more to replicate Alabama in his second season at Georgia. Sure, the Dawgs will lose a lot of talent to the NFL Draft, but that’s the hallmark of powerhouse program. You just reload with the No. 1 recruiting class. The narrative would’ve written itself.
Instead, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa came in and delivered the performance of his young career to give Alabama fans hope for the title game and beyond. Does that mean Alabama is in better position to get back to a national championship? Or was this just an out-of-body performance by a true freshman who played his first meaningful snaps on Monday night?
Let’s unpack that a bit more.
Obviously both programs will lose a ton of talent. Georgia’s senior-laden squad will likely take the bigger hit on that front. Watching guys like Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Lorenzo Carter leave won’t be easy. The Dawgs will likely suffer departures from several underclassmen, such as all-everything linebacker Roquan Smith. Guys who can do this aren’t easily replaceable.
Furthering my point, Roquan Smith is lightning quick when getting to flats. My goodness, this guy should easily be in discussion as a top-10 selection. pic.twitter.com/N0Pbq1t1NR
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 2, 2018
At the very least, the Dawgs are losing 10 starters, and likely more.
Compare that to Alabama, which will lose key seniors like Da’Shawn Hand, Anthony Averett and Rashaan Evans. There’s also the expectation that Alabama will lose junior skill players like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damien Harris, Calvin Ridley and Bo Scarbrough.
When it’s all said and done, both programs are losing a lot of production. If all the expected departures happen, I’d probably call it a wash.
What I’d rather focus on is the guys who are returning.
In case you didn’t hear, Alabama and Georgia had true freshman quarterbacks playing Monday night. They made NFL scouts drool with the throws they made, and they probably made their fanbases a bit more optimistic after they delivered impressive performances on the biggest stage.
I’m going to try and not be a prisoner of the moment. If I were, I’d say that Alabama has the advantage in the quarterback department. Tagovailoa, in the eyes of many, already won the 2018 starting gig over Jalen Hurts. We were all waiting on Lane Kiffin to fire off a #cometothefaU tweet at Hurts by the middle of the third quarter.
Alabama will have a quarterback competition that will dominate headlines all offseason. It’ll be fantastic theater considering the way the title game unfolded.
But if I’m picking one guy to lead my team back to a title game, I’m not taking Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts. Give me Jake Fromm. Yes, he struggled down the stretch. Still, the poise that he showed not only Monday night, but throughout the postseason was incredible. It was a larger sample size than the one we got from Tagovailoa, who still needs to develop reading defenses. That game-winner was pretty sweet, though.
WHAT. A. GAME.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 9, 2018
Fromm is going to win a ton of games, and the more responsibility they give him in the offense, the better Georgia’s offense is going to be.
So for now, Georgia has the slight edge at the game’s most important position.
We can sit here and break down the skill positions until we’re blue in the face, but it’s really splitting hairs. Whether it’s Najee Harris vs. D’Andre Swift or Jerry Jeudy vs. Mecole Hardman, I really don’t think there’s much of a difference in talent. That doesn’t even include guys like Riley Ridley and DeVonta Smith, both of whom were huge Monday night.
OK, so what about the schedule? Isn’t that going to be a big determining factor as to whether a team can return to a national title game?
Looking at it right now, Georgia might have the tiny edge. They play three Group of 5 schools and Georgia Tech in non-conference play. That’s in addition to a favorable SEC East schedule. Even if the Dawgs aren’t quite as talented as they were in 2017, the slate looks favorable to be in the title hunt throughout the regular season.
Alabama actually has a headliner neutral site game, but the Tide will face a Louisville squad in the first game of the post-Lamar Jackson era. As long as Alabama doesn’t drop both the game in Baton Rouge and the Iron Bowl at home, the odds are favorable to at least get back to an SEC Championship.
In all of the aforementioned areas, Alabama and Georgia are neck and neck. But there’s one thing that I just can’t get out of my mind.
It’s still Nick Saban.
You know, the guy who just earned his fourth consecutive Playoff berth and third consecutive national championship appearance. Saying that anyone is more likely to reach the title game than Alabama is still not a worthy case.
Could Georgia make it back to a title game and follow the Clemson path to beating Saban? Absolutely. In fact, I think there’s a decent chance that we could see both teams in the Playoff again. Alabama, Clemson and Georgia are on their own level right now. For all we know, they could trade titles for the next decade.
But if you’re asking me to bet on a program to outlast everyone next year, it’s still Alabama vs. everyone else.
The Tide is still rolling, and there’s no telling when they’ll stop.