After bowl win, 'all the arrows are pointing up' for Gamecocks
There’s a college football game Monday night, in case you hadn’t heard.
South Carolina fans may want to forget. It’s not as bad as it could have been for diehard Gamecocks because in-state rival Clemson was beaten in the semifinals and thus denied a spot in a third straight national title game, but it’s still not the dream matchup for South Carolina fans.
Why? Because it features two SEC teams, two teams Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp must move his program past if he’s going to get the championship, or championships, he so badly wants to bring to Columbia.
So that brings up the question: Who should Gamecock fans be rooting for when Alabama and Georgia meet Monday night in Mercedes Benz Stadium with the CFB National Championship on the line? The Crimson Tide, a four-point favorite, takes on the Bulldogs at 8 p.m.
I could try to make this argument complicated. Or, I could just give you the answer. It’s Alabama. South Carolina fans should root hard for the Crimson Tide.
Traditional wisdom suggests you go with the devil you know over the one you don’t. Traditional wisdom knows nothing of SEC recruiting battles, though. In this case, USC fans should take the devil they know they less.
Georgia is a fellow member of the SEC East and on South Carolina’s schedule every year. The Gamecocks haven’t played Alabama since 2010 and will only play them twice in the next eight seasons, barring a matchup in the conference title game.
Muschamp’s rebuilding/building project in Columbia is a multi-stride process. He’s already made the difficult first steps, getting the team from three wins in 2015 to six in 2016 and nine in 2017. The next step is getting to the top of the SEC East, and that means going through the Bulldogs. There will be time to worry about Alabama after that.
Not only do the Gamecocks meet Georgia much more often on the field. They face off against the Bulldogs on the recruiting trail more often than they do the Crimson Tide simply because of geography. If Georgia head coach Kirby Smart succeeds in his goal of not letting any of the top high school players leave his state to play for a different college, it hurts South Carolina as much or more than it hurts anyone else.
Muschamp spent the last year living with the fact that his in-state rival was the defending national champion with all the inherent publicity and recruiting advantages that come with that. He doesn’t need to go through another year with his closest conference rival getting the same spoils.
Saying “Roll Tide” might be a tough task for South Carolina fans, but it’s probably more palatable, and it’s certainly more logical, than saying, “Go Dawgs.”
What: College Football Playoff national championship game, No. 3 Georgia (13-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (12-1) at Atlanta
When: Monday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama by 4
Series: Alabama leads 38-25-4.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The national championship, most importantly, but that's not all. Georgia coach Kirby Smart could become the first of Nick Saban's former assistants to beat him as a head coach. Saban is 11-0 against his former employees. Alabama is going for its fifth national title under Saban since 2009 and 11th during the major poll era, which started in 1936. No school has won more than Alabama's 10 AP national championships. The Crimson Tide is playing in the CFP title game for the third straight season, having split the previous two with Clemson. Georgia is searching for its first national championship since 1980, second overall, in its first trip to the playoff.
Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel against Alabama's top-ranked run defense, led by NT Da'Ron Payne. Seniors Chubb and Michel are the first Georgia teammates to run for more than 1,000 yards in the same season and the roommates went off in last week's Rose Bowl victory against Oklahoma, combining for 326 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Alabama allows 2.7 yards per carry and the 302-pound Payne's play is pivotal, consuming blockers and allowing linebackers such as Rashaan Evans to track down ball carriers. If Georgia's dynamic duo of Chubb and Michel is slowed that puts more pressure on freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to produce.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts. The sophomore has now led his team to the championship game in back-to-back years. Still, his shortcomings tend get more attention than his strengths. Hurts is not the most refined passer, but he threw 17 touchdowns and just one interception and ran for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
Georgia: LB Roquan Smith. The Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker and the only defensive player to finish in the top-10 of Heisman voting. Even in a game that featured 104 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense, Smith was one of the best players on the field in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.
FACTS & FIGURES
Alabama OLB Anfernee Jennings, who was one of the Tide's best players against Clemson, is out with a knee injury. Jamey Mosley and Terrell Lewis will likely pick up playing time with Jennings out. ... Georgia OT Isaiah Wynn and Alabama OT Jonah Williams were both all-SEC selections. Wynn was a second-team All-American and Williams made the third team. ... Alabama WR Calvin Ridley is third on Alabama's career receiving list with 2,749 yards and second in catches with 220. ... Saban is 20-12 against teams ranked in the top five in his career ... Chubb and Michel have combined for 8,259 yards rushing, more than any FBS running back duo and surpassing SMU stars Craig James and Eric Dickerson, who ran for 8,192 yards. ... Alabama is No. 1 in the country in yards per play allowed (3.92). Georgia is eighth (4.65).