SEC Preview - Alabama vs. Georgia
Posted Nov 30, 2012

SEC Championship Fearless Prediction - Alabama vs. Georgia

Alabama (11-1) at Georgia (11-1) Dec. 1, 4:00, CBS

Here's The Deal … Notre Dame is a phenomenal story. The Irish came from out of nowhere to fight through a tough schedule and a slew of close, dramatic battles to become No. 1 in the BCS rankings. With a hard-nosed defense and physical offense that doesn't screw up, the team has the right make-up and the ability to beat anyone in America and handle any style. But let's get real.

The 2012 national championship will be decided in Atlanta on Saturday night.

After winning six straight BCS championships, the SEC has earned several benefits of the doubt, with the winner of the conference title game to be the projected favorite over the Irish by more than a touchdown.

Alabama overcame a rocky two-game stretch against LSU and Texas A&M to win the West and get up to No. 2 in the BCS rankings, and now the chance is there for a second straight national title and a third in four years under Nick Saban.

This might not be the defensive juggernaut of last season – at least in terms of star power and NFL talent – but it's still No. 1 in the nation in both scoring and total defense helped by two straight shutouts of Western Carolina and Auburn and allowing more than 14 points just twice all year. However, those two games were against the two stars on the schedule, LSU and Texas A&M.

The Tide might get the utmost respect on a national scale because of the coaching staff, the history, and the talent that continues to flow through the program, but there's still a bit of a prove-it factor with this year's squad. Beating Michigan to start the season was terrific, and getting by Ole Miss and Mississippi State was solid, but the shaky performances against the Tigers and the Aggies took away the aura of invincibility. The team that Steve Spurrier suggested could beat an NFL team now has to show it can handle itself against the star of the East.

Georgia has been dominant ever since a midseason lull. After getting blown away on defense in a shootout against Tennessee, and looking awful in a 35-7 clunker against South Carolina, the defense flipped the switch in the ugly win over Florida to spark a run to the SEC championship. The Bulldogs rolled through their final four games in blowout fashion – 162 to 34 – but blowing away Ole Miss and rocking Georgia Tech weren't enough to prove that this is a be-all-end-all national title season. The team's second-best win of the year was against Vanderbilt, but there's no avoiding the big boy from the West anymore.

Last year the Dawgs got to the SEC title game without playing Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, and got walloped by the Tigers 42-10. All that matters now is one win over the Tide, and then Mark Richt will get a shot to win his first national championship and give the school its first title since beating Notre Dame in 1980.

This is the first meeting between the Tide and Dawgs since 2008, a 41-30 Alabama win, and it's only the third meeting since 2003 and fifth since 1995. The two have never met in the SEC championship, but Nick Saban's LSU team won the 2003 title over Richt and Georgia 34-13.

Players to Watch: Manti Te'o is a lock to win the Butkus Award and be at least a Heisman finalist, but Georgia's Jarvis Jones might be having the better season. Both are great leaders and both are tremendous playmakers, but Jones has been far, far more disruptive tying for first in the nation in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks. While Te'o is praised for his penchant for coming up with big picks – making seven on the year – Jones has just as many takeaways with one interception and six forced fumbles. Dominant against Florida, he came up with the game of the year in what turned out to be the most important win by anyone this season – keeping the Gators out of the national title picture – with three sacks and two forced fumbles.

The spotlight will be on Alabama rising star Amari Cooper, a dangerous playmaking freshman who exploded for five catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Auburn. While he has only come up with 45 catches for 767 yards and eight scores, he's averaging 17.5 yards per catch as the home-run hitter who makes the high-efficiency passing game go. With Kenny Bell out for the year with a leg injury, Cooper will have to do even more.

Of course, the game is going to come down to the quarterbacks and which one can handle the pressure. Alabama's A.J. McCarron has been in several big games and lots of huge moments, but can he avoid making the costly mistakes that were so big in the loss to Texas A&M? He has only thrown two picks on the season, and both were against the Aggies, to go along with 25 touchdown passes and 2,507 yards. The key to his game is to not take any chances and not force any throws, and he's a master at that. While he's second in the nation in passing efficiency, Aaron Murray is No. 1 after not throwing a pick over the last four weeks and throwing 13 touchdown passes. After a nightmare of a 2011 SEC championship performance – completing 16-of-40 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown with two picks – this is his chance to make amends.

Georgia will win if … Murray can get hot early.

Zach Mettenberger was able to take advantage of the soft coverage to complete 24-of-35 throws for 298 yards and a score in LSU's tough loss, and he's nowhere near the passer that Murray is. Murray has no problems hitting the short-to-midrange throws, and getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry, and while he's not going to move around like Johnny Manziel, he can make a few plays on the move. Oddly enough, Alabama was able to come up with a strong pass rush was against both the Aggies and Tigers, and it didn't matter. Georgia might not be a rock in pass protection, but Murray doesn't need a ton of time to make things happen.

Alabama will win if … the defense can quickly take away the Georgia running game. It's impossible to beat Alabama with a one-dimensional attack, and the Tide‘s No. 2 ranked run defense has the ability to eliminate Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Against the two good defenses on the schedule this season – Florida's and South Carolina's – the running game was slowed to a crawl and Murray struggled – he could use all the help and balance he can get. LSU was able to blast away on the Bama front seven, and Texas A&M's terrific line was able to generate a push, too. Georgia's offensive line has been hit-or-miss when it comes to opening things up for the talented backs, and there's not likely going to be much wiggle room up the middle on Jesse Williams.

What Will Happen: Could there be fireworks? It's doubtful, but it won't be the ugly Georgia-Florida slugfest or a bog down fight like last year's Alabama-LSU showdowns.

The two quarterbacks will be on center stage, and while each will get help from their respective running games, McCarron will get more. The stats are extremely skewed with the Dawgs giving up 663 rushing yards over the last two weeks against two option teams – Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech – but South Carolina and Kentucky were able to blast away, too. While Georgia tightened up allowing just 75 yards to Florida to kick off a terrific stretch against the run, the Tide will have some success behind the tremendous offensive line.

Can Jones get into the backfield to stop the Alabama passing game? With the secondary clamping down on Cooper, yes. The Tide offense will sputter and stall a bit too often, while Murray will come up with a sharp, error-free game with a few early scores to make McCarron press. The D will turn Jones loose, McCarron will struggle a bit, and after allowing a late score to make it interesting, the Dawgs will be off to Miami after a tough win.

CFN Prediction: Georgia 24 … Alabama 20 …

ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Alabama -7.5 O/U: 50
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 5