No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia took care of business in their respective national semifinal games to set up an SEC Championship Game rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Jan. 10, 2022, for the College Football Playoff National Championship. The matchup between the conference rivals means the SEC will be guaranteed its third straight national title and 12th champion in the past 16 seasons dating back to 2006.
The Crimson Tide are coming off a 27-6 rolling of No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. ran through the Bearcats for 204 yards on 26 touches, while Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young served as more of a game manager, completing 17 of 28 passes for 181 yards with three touchdowns — all to different pass catchers. It’ll be Alabama’s sixth national title game appearance over the last seven seasons.
Georgia earned its second national title opportunity of the CFP era after thrashing No. 2 Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl. The last time the Bulldogs made it this far was following the 2017 season when they lost 26-23 to Alabama in a classic title game. Sixth-year Bulldogs’ coach Kirby Smart enters the meeting 0-4 against Tide coach Nick Saban, his former boss. That mark includes a 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4. But the Dawgs returned to their dominant form against the Wolverines and will be eager for revenge on the Tide.
Let’s take a look at where each team stands ahead of the CFP National Championship before our CBS Sports college football experts provide their first-look picks for the game.
No. 1 Alabama (13-1), Cotton Bowl champion
There were times during the 2021 season when Alabama looked like a shell of its usual championship self. A Florida team that finished the season 6-7 dominated Alabama in the second half on Sept. 18 before the Tide escaped with a 31-29 win. Then, two weeks later, an unranked Texas A&M team upset Bama 41-38 as an 18-point underdog. To be sure, there were flashes of brilliance mixed in along the way, such as dominant wins over quality Ole Miss and Mississippi State teams. But when compared against the historical dominance of the program’s 2020 team, this version of the Tide often looked like a long shot to win the national title. That theme remained in tact all the way through the last two weeks of the regular season when they narrowly survived upset bids from Arkansas and Auburn.
Once Alabama got to the SEC title game, however, it found its vintage form. Georgia jumped out to a 10-0 early lead, but it was all Bama from there as the Tide scored 24 points in the second quarter and cruised to victory. Young threw for more than 400 yards in a performance that helped him become the first Alabama quarterback to ever win the Heisman. The victory secured Alabama’s spot in the CFP, but it was not without a cost as leading receiver John Metchie III was lost for the season in the game with a knee injury. Once in the field, the Tide put their physical superiority on display against the first Group of Five team to reach the CFP. Though the Bearcats did a good job taking away Alabama’s passing attack, the Tide ran effectively all game and dominated defensively.
No. 3 Georgia (13-1), Orange Bowl champion
Georgia turned in one of the most dominant regular seasons of modern college football history by going 12-0 while giving up just 10 touchdowns to opposing offenses and allowing no more than 17 total points to an opponent in any game. That defensive superiority allowed the Dawgs to thrive without needing an explosive offense, which is a good thing considering all the injuries and absences UGA dealt with on offense this season. Nearly every receiver or tight end of note for Georgia either entered the season recovering from an injury or missed at least one game due to injury along the way. Those absences would have crippled a lesser team, but veteran quarterback Stetson Bennett IV kept the operation going well enough to let the defense shine during the regular season.
Then came the SEC title game and a reality check for the Dawgs. Young took the game over for the Tide with the help of receivers Jameson Williams and Metchie. Bennett threw a couple of interceptions that stifled Georgia’s attempts to rally in the second half, and all of the sudden, the formerly invincible Bulldogs appeared quite mortal. But with a few weeks to prepare for the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl, Georgia returned to form by jumping out to a 27-3 halftime lead and never looking back to set up a rematch with Alabama. The Dawgs didn’t have to show all their cards in the first meeting with the Tide, and they proved against Michigan that their offense has another gear that was rarely seen or needed during the regular season.
Alabama vs. Georgia early pick, predictions
Spread: Georgia -2.5 (Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)