Georgia have a chance for revenge.
The rematch is set, and it’ll decide the College Football Playoff national championship. After a pair of easy wins in the semi-finals on Friday night, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs – the only two teams to be ranked No 1 in the AP Top 25 this season – will meet again to decide the title on 10 January in Indianapolis.
Alabama will be seeking a seventh national championship in the last 13 years under Saban. Georgia are playing with hopes of claiming their first national title since Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to the title in the 1980 season.
This matchup comes after Alabama – big underdogs entering that game – had little trouble in what became a 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC championship game back on 4 December, costing the Bulldogs a chance at an undefeated season and giving the defending national champion Crimson Tide a trip back into the playoff mix.
Alabama needed that win.
Weirdly, Georgia felt they needed that loss.
“For our team, it was a wakeup call,” Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said that night. “I think we needed one. We got a wakeup call from a really good team. If we get a chance in the playoffs, I think that wakeup call will help propel us forward.”
Oh, the Bulldogs were awake on Friday night.
They blew out Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl, taking the field not long after Alabama had little trouble dismissing Cincinnati 27-6 in the other CFP semi-final at the Cotton Bowl.
“To have another opportunity to play for a national championship … it’s like a dream come true,” Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr said after the Cotton Bowl.
Predictably, the Tide didn’t do much talking about Georgia following their win. Most teams would never go down that road, talking about an opponent in tournament play before the next matchup is actually set. But Georgia, playing the later game on Friday, probably could have let Alabama begin entering its thoughts probably somewhere around half-time when the Bulldogs had a 27-3 lead over the Wolverines.
Due respect to Michigan, by then, it was clear: The all-SEC rematch was happening. The first CFP title game saw Ohio State defeating Oregon. All seven editions since have featured at least one SEC team – Alabama six times, LSU once, and now Georgia twice.
Alabama have gone 3-2 in their previous CFP title game appearances, alternating wins and losses every time. Nobody in the CFP era has won back-to-back titles; Alabama is 0-2 in their opportunities to do so, and Clemson also lost when they had a bid for consecutive CFP crowns.
Georgia can only hope that trend continues.
Not only is this an SEC title game rematch, but it’s also a rematch of the best – or at least, closest and arguably most dramatic – title game of the CFP era, now in its eighth season.
Alabama and Georgia played for the CFP crown in Atlanta to close the 2017 campaign. Georgia led 13-0 at the half, but Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and threw a game-ending 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that capped the Tide’s 26-23 overtime win.
The title game has been nothing but routs since: Clemson beating Alabama 44-16, LSU beating Clemson 44-25, Alabama beating Ohio State 52-24 last season.
Oddsmakers don’t expect a blowout this time around: Georgia was quickly established as a two-and-a-half-point favorite over Alabama, that line being set before the Bulldogs-Michigan game had even gone final.
And it makes tons of sense that these are the last two teams standing.
The Tide and the Bullodgs spent six weeks ranked No 1 and No 2, in some order, in the AP Top 25 this season. Big things were expected of both teams from the outset: Alabama started No 1, Georgia began at No 5.
But even though Alabama coach Nick Saban is 25-1 against his former assistant coaches – including 4-0 against Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who spent 11 years with him in Tuscaloosa – history says a rematch for the national title is a great sign for the Bulldogs.
In the 2011 season, LSU beat Alabama in the regular season. Alabama won the rematch for the Bowl Championship Series national title.
In 1996, Florida State topped Florida in the regular season. The Gators rolled past the Seminoles for the national title in what was then called the Bowl Alliance.
Now, it’s Georgia with a shot at turning the tide.
All they have to do is beat the Tide.