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Bulldogs get turn at unseating Tide

by The Associated Press | December 4, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban talks with players in a time out during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

ATLANTA -- Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide have faced sporadic challengers during their long reign over the SEC.

Auburn will pop up every few years to take on college football's greatest dynasty. Joe Burrow led LSU to a national title at Alabama's expense. Florida showed flashes of sticking it to the Tide.

None of them had any staying power.

Georgia could be different.

Kirby Smart and the top-ranked Bulldogs look like a program built for the long haul, capable of going toe-to-toe with Alabama on an annual basis.

In a season of turmoil, Georgia (12-0) has stood above everyone and appears to be a shoe-in for a spot in the College Football Playoff no matter what happens today in the league championship game against the Crimson Tide.

"Georgia has been the No. 1 team in the country for good reason," Saban said. "They're probably the most consistent, most dominant team week in and week out."

No. 3 Alabama (11-1) likely needs an upset of Georgia to avoid missing out on the four-team playoff for only the second time in its eight-year existence, though there are certainly scenarios where the Tide could become the first team to get in with two losses.

"What our players need to do is just focus on one play at a time, winning as many plays as we can," Saban said. "Don't worry about the scoreboard and what the outcome means."

While Georgia has rarely been challenged -- or even trailed -- this season, the Tide has won four games by less than a touchdown.

Alabama managed to escape the Iron Bowl last week with a victory over Auburn, rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 24-22 in four overtimes.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett hasn't paid any attention to Alabama's close calls.

"Football is such a crazy sport, and there's so many different aspects that go into an individual game that determine a score," he said. "We have too much respect for who Alabama is this year as a team to allow ourselves to do that."

Smart, a former defensive coordinator under Saban, has yet to beat his mentor in three meetings since taking over at Georgia -- including a crushing overtime loss in the national championship game at the end of the 2017 season.

That is a hurdle Smart must get over, of course, to be recognized as a true equal to his ex-boss.

"You appreciate the job he's done more when you leave," Smart said of Saban. "When you move on, you appreciate the fact that he works really hard. He doesn't ask any assistant to do anything that he doesn't do. He holds everyone to a high standard."

Overall, Alabama has won six in a row against the Bulldogs since 2007.

"This year is this year," Smart said. "I don't think there's any overlap between the two. I know people want to make it that, make it some kind of overlap, but every year is independent of the previous."

Saban lost to one of his former assistants for the first time this season when Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies handed the Tide their only loss.

Now, Smart has a chance to join Fisher in that exclusive club.

The quarterbacks present a striking contrast.

Alabama's Bryce Young was one of the nation's most highly recruited players and has fully lived up to the hype in his first season as the starter.

Stetson Bennett, on the other hand, walked on at Georgia, left for a year to get playing time at a junior college, and started this season as a third-teamer before claiming the starting job after JT Daniels was injured.

Despite their disparate backgrounds, both have played a huge role in their team's success this season.

Young has been mentioned as Heisman Trophy contender, throwing for 3,901 yards with 40 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Bennett has thrown 21 TD passes with only five picks, along with showing an ability to extend plays with his running skills.

Freshman Brock Bowers has been one of Bennett's favorite targets, creating all sorts of matchup problems for opposing defenses with his size and speed.

Bowers leads the Bulldogs with 37 catches for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns, setting a school scoring record for a tight end.

"He's probably as good a tight end as we've faced all year," Saban said. "He's got good size, very athletic, great hands, good route runner. He's very challenging to guard."


This week’s schedule

All times Central

FRIDAY’S GAMES

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At The Alamodome, San Antonio

Texas-San Antonio 49, W. Kentucky 41

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas

No. 17 Utah 38, No. 10 Oregon 10

TODAY’S GAMES

BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

No. 9 Baylor (10-2)

vs. No. 5 Oklahoma St. (11-1), 11 a.m.

MID-AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Ford Field, Detroit

Kent St. (7-5) vs. N. Illinois (8-4), 11 a.m.

MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Dignity Health Sports Park,

Carson, Calif.

Utah St. (9-3)

at No. 19 San Diego St. (11-1), 2 p.m.

SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Cajun Field, Lafayette, La.

Appalachian St. (10-2)

at No. 24 La.-Lafayette (11-1), 2:30 p.m.

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

No. 3 Alabama (11-1)

vs. No. 1 Georgia (12-0), 3 p.m.

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati

No. 21 Houston (11-1)

at No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0), 3 p.m.

SWAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Miss. Veterans Memorial Stad.,

Jackson, Miss.

Prairie View A&M (7-4)

vs. Jackson St. (10-1), 3 p.m.

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

No. 13 Iowa (10-2)

vs. No. 2 Michigan (11-1), 7 p.m.

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

At Bank of America Stadium,

Charlotte, N.C.

No. 15 Pittsburgh (10-2)

vs. No. 16 Wake Forest (10-2), 7 p.m.

REGULAR SEASON GAME

So. Cal (4-7) at California (4-7), 10 p.m.


  photo  Georgia head coach Kirby Smart yells to his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
 
 
  photo  Georgia head coach Kirby Smart yells from the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
 
 
  photo  Alabama head coach Nick Saban argues a call during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
 
 
  photo  Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) throws during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
 
 
  photo  Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) celebrates with the fans after defeating Georgia Tech an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
 
 
  photo  Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton celebrates his touchdown reception against Georgia Tech during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
 
 
  photo  Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) is tacked as he tries to pass by Auburn defensive end T.D. Moultry (99) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
 
 
  photo  Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) scrambles in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
 
 
  photo  Georgia offensive lineman Justin Shaffer (54) and running back Kenny McIntosh (6) celebrate after defeating Georgia Tech in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
 
 

Print Headline: Bulldogs get turn at unseating Tide

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