Four years into the life of college football’s four-team playoff system that was installed in part to avoid replicating 2012’s all-SEC national title game between Alabama and LSU, we have ... another all-SEC national title game. This time, Alabama’s opponent represents a new rising threat to Nick Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa, a Georgia team made in the Crimson Tide’s image by Saban’s former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart. But those storylines are well-worn ground by this point in the postseason. It's time to discuss who’s going to win. Will Saban tie Bear Bryant with his sixth career national title, or will the Bulldogs bring a championship home to Athens for the first time since 1980, Herschel Walker’s freshman year?
Below, our writers and editors make their picks for Monday’s national title game, offering up a final score prediction and the player who will be remembered as the game’s MVP.
Andy Staples: Alabama 17, Georgia 13
Georgia’s tight ends will probably fare better than Clemson’s in pass protection, but the cold truth is that if Alabama can get to Jake Fromm, the Crimson Tide will win the game. Georgia’s best chance offensively is if its line and those tight ends (Jeb Blazevich and Isaac Nauta) can help pin defenders and allow Georgia’s backs to get to the edge. Alabama made a commitment to using its backs more in the Sugar Bowl, and that commitment likely will continue. But when Calvin Ridley is running wide open, Jalen Hurts needs to hit him. Points will come at a premium, and the team that can cash in on the few available easy opportunities will win the national title. Game MVP: Da’Ron Payne.
Bruce Feldman: Alabama 27, Georgia 23
After the Tide’s running backs were limited to just 18 carries in the Iron Bowl—despite averaging almost seven yards a pop—Alabama leaned heavily on its ground game in a demolition of Clemson, with Damien Harris the featured back in a talented, physical four-man rotation. Expect more of the same against a fast Bulldogs defense led by star linebacker Roquan Smith, which would take pressure off of Jalen Hurts. Georgia’s offense lit up the Rose Bowl, but Bama is much tougher at all three levels and won’t miss the tackles the Sooners did. The Tide’s experience edge on a big stage, even though this game will be played on favorable turf to the Dawgs, is another plus for Nick Saban. Game MVP: Damien Harris.
Joan Niesen: Alabama 28, Georgia 20
This game will look more like the Sugar Bowl than the Rose Bowl, and it’s going to come down to defense. Nick Saban proved on Monday in New Orleans that his 2017 defense, injuries and all, can be just as dominant as units of years past, and after it set the tone in the win over Clemson, expect more of the same against Georgia. I envision Alabama winning the turnover margin in a big way on the way to securing another title. Game MVP: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Chris Johnson: Alabama 31, Georgia 17
Georgia is going to achieve a lot under Kirby Smart over the next decade, but he’s not ready to beat Nick Saban. Not yet. Watching Alabama crush Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on Monday, it was difficult to shake the feeling that the Crimson Tide are on a mission to prove doubters wrong, like they feel they have something to prove. Playing the disrespect card is definitely working for this team, and Saban won’t allow any drop-off in the title game. The gaping holes that Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel darted through against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl won’t be there against Alabama, and the Crimson Tide will put up enough points before halftime to switch into cruise control by the middle of the fourth quarter. Game MVP: Damien Harris.
Eric Single: Georgia 20, Alabama 14
Yes, I watched Alabama tear Clemson limb from limb like everybody else did on New Year’s Day, but the reason why that game felt so lopsided from early in the first half was the utter mismatch on display when Clemson tried to move the ball by way of the traditional run game. The Tigers were an above-average rushing offense this season, but their top tandem of freshman Travis Etienne and sophomore Tavien Feaster (with a heaping helping of Kelly Bryant keepers) is several rungs below what Georgia can throw at the Tide in record-setting senior duo Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, with occasional relief duty from electric freshman D’Andre Swift. Before the Sugar Bowl, Alabama had allowed triple-digit rushing totals to its last four opponents (including Mercer), in games (excluding Mercer) the Tide struggled to put away. The Bulldogs will move off their running game only on their own terms, ask Jake Fromm to make the handful of throws he excels at and contain the Tide offense just enough for a balance-shifting upset. Game MVP: Roquan Smith.
Molly Geary: Alabama 20, Georgia 17
Georgia’s biggest strength offensively is obviously its duo of Chubb and Michel, and as great as they are, they have yet to see a run defense like Alabama’s. The best one they've previously faced was Auburn, which gave up 40.4 more rushing yards per game than the Tide. The first time they faced the Tigers, Chubb and Michel were each held to under 3.0 yards per carry. The second time they fared better, but their yards per carry combined (12.3) were fewer than what Michel did himself (16.4) against Oklahoma. Jake Fromm acquitted himself well on the semifinal stage, but Jalen Hurts already has the experience of having been a true freshman QB in a national title game. Game MVP: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Scooby Axson: Alabama 30, Georgia 21
It’s no fluke Alabama finds itself back in the national title game for the third straight season. The defense is stout as ever, and the offense always does enough to keep upset bids at bay. Don't expect Georgia’s running lanes to be as open as they were against Oklahoma, when the Bulldogs averaged nearly 10 yards per carry, and if the game is put in freshman quarterback Jake Fromm's hands, you can go ahead and raise another banner for the Crimson Tide. Game MVP: Jalen Hurts.