For Terre, greatest Dawg fan in the universe.
Glancing at the schedule preseason for the SEC in 2015, October 3 in Athens Georgia jumped off the page. The big bad Alabama Crimson Tide under the direction of maestro Nick Saban rolling into Georgia to battle Mark Richt and his Bulldogs. This had the appearance of one of the pivotal games of the season in determining the division winners who would face off at the Georgia Dome at the end of the season for the league championship and a likely berth to the four team national playoff. That prelude is still in effect, however, the dynamics of the game and the implications of the match-up have definitely shifted.
It is odd that you don’t hear a lot of talking in these days leading up to this very big clash of ranked powerhouses. Both fan bases are remarkably sedate.. This is attributable to a couple of reasons. Number one, Georgia and Alabama do not play often so from a rivalry standpoint, that element is virtually nonexistent. Both groups of supporters are also imagining the devastation of a loss instead of focusing on the importance of possibly winning. That comes from what the result of the game sets up, and from dismaying uncertainty in peoples minds of how they expect the game to go.
From Alabama’s standpoint, everything is on the line in this game. A second conference loss, following up the stunning defeat at the hands of Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, would make the Tide 0-2. With the rigors of the remaining schedule and history to reference, there is next to no chance that Alabama would be relevant in any discussions of a national championship consideration. and most likely knocked out of the race to be the SEC West representative in Atlanta. Bottom line, any season at Alabama that does not result in winning a national championship, or at least reaching the playoff, is considered an abject failure. Everyone within the program and all of their massive, devoted , passionate followers, have been dramatically spoiled by success and have intentionally set the bar at the highest level possible. Of course that is a direct result of the program’s remarkable success.
For Georgia there are two different levels of thought as to the pertinence of this game. Unlike Alabama, it is not a do or die situation. Even with a loss on Saturday, wins in the next two weeks over division foes Tennessee and Missouri would still leave the Dawgs in a strong position to win the East. A defeat would set up a great deal of additional pressure going to Knoxville next week, as back-to-back losses would be very damaging. Georgia fans are chewing their fingernails down to the nub with the thought, or is it just mistaken perception, that Georgia shrivels in the spotlight of huge games.However, looking back at recent years, Georgia has had very few high profile, mega-magnitude showdowns on their home turf. Alabama’s last visit to Athens, the lopsided blackout game in 2008, is the last example of Georgia not stepping up in a huge spot at home. The last game even comparable to this one, was LSU’s visit two years ago. That Tiger team led by now NFL stars Odell Beckham Jr.,Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill and Zack Mettenberger, fell to Georgia in a thrilling shootout. George’s most notable bobbles have not come in Athens typically but at road venues and in Jacksonville. You also cannot chalk up the loss in the SEC championship game to Alabama in 2012 as a poor performance or choke. Georgia wound up just four yards away as time expired from authoring a stunning upset of a tremendous Alabama team that would go on to win the national championship. On the other hand, UGA coaches and players will not have the mindset of thinking back to previous games. Simply seeing the crimson and white across on the other sideline in Sanford Stadium, will not fill their heads with thoughts that it’s just another opponent who they are actually expected to beat. It is still Alabama, the king of the hill led by the exultant czar Saban, the supreme entity of all college football.
The role reversal of Georgia being the favorite is a wrinkle most probably did not anticipate. Alabama has not been the underdog in any game in over 70 previous appearances. The last time was in 2009 in the game against LSU. But there are questions as to whether or not the Crimson Tide dynasty is finally slipping. Georgia may perceive that the behemoth is on the field but that perception may not turn out to be a reality. Is this Alabama team as good as it’s recent predecessors? Even if the answer to that question is no, it must be considered, that in recent years when Alabama has exhausted their margin of error in terms of being in a position where they could not afford to lose a game, they have played their best football. Backed against the wall, make no mistake, this is a very dangerous animal. The oddity of the game is, both teams may be adopting the identity and casting themselves in the role of David looking to deploy a slingshot, as opposed to one of the other being a fearsome giant in the role of the insurmountable force. Kind of the hunted versus the hunted.
I find that the dime store analysts present on every network and the way they break down games to be comical. I watched one such analysis last night where the teams were being compared position by position. For example, this “expert” deemed that Georgia had the edge in the area of running backs. These teams feature unquestionably the best tandem of backs on their squads as anybody in the country. But comparing them to each other is the laughable because on Saturday, Chubb and Michel for Georgia will not be lining it up against Bama’s Henry and Drake. They will instead face the front sevens in both respective defenses. And of course the offense of line in their match ups against those defenses is a huge component in the equation. So the question is not who has the better backs, but who’s running games will have more success. Giving Georgia the slight, and I mean razor thin margin as to the talent of their backs, the next thing to look at is the accompanying units. Georgia’s offensive line is better than Alabama’s. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tide’s line and linebackers rate the overall nod over UGA. I believe the excellence of all of these players and units the make up, make the running game on paper, appear to be dead even. The additional factor of running quarterbacks are not really in play here. Although a slight edge would have to be given to Alabama’s Coker after he showed some impressive scrambling talent in the Ole Miss contest. Let’s just say that neither he or Lambert or going to win any track meets anytime soon.
The tipping of the scale as to who rushes the ball more effectively will probably be determined by the ability of the respective teams to throw the football. Once again on paper going in, Georgia would appear to have a significant edge. Suddenly celebrated
As previously discussed, the Alabama front seven ranks better than George’s predominately because of their lineman upfront. Both sets of linebackers are absolutely outstanding. Secondaries for both teams are at times extremely leaky. UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is a former Saban assistant and employs similar philosophies in the defensive backfield. Conversely, the boss of the Tide defense is former Georgia great and DB himself, Kirby Smart.. Overall, it is hard to proclaim one defense better than the other. Alabama would probably get the nod but Georgia’s ability to exert pressure negates any advantage.
In terms of special teams, Alabama’s placekicking situation is a mess. Large advantage for UGA are there. The Alabama planter, is clearly superior to Georgia’s. The Georgia kick returner’s are explosive and dangerous. The Alabama specialists in that area thus far have self detonated being guilty of crucial turnovers. Alabama kick coverage teams appear to be much more proficient then Georgia’s. Are you getting the picture here? It appears to be another standoff.
This game appears to be about as evenly matched as any game could possibly be. Georgia playing at home with more positive checks in there column of match ups certainly looks like the team to select. However, it’s Alabama that rates best in many of the intangible categories. This should be quite a contest for a national television audience and 93,000 at Sanford Stadium privilege enough to witness it.
The prediction… Georgia 26 Alabama 24
It seems difficult to imagine, but coming into the 2015 Southeastern conference football season, the week to week battleground of this s upcoming campaign may be even more treacherous and tumultuous then a year ago.
It is difficult to comprehend, but the SEC West, which was so difficult to navigate a year ago, looms even tougher this time. Alabama, under Nick Saban, are primed and well they’re always going to be Alabama. Auburn, LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M will all certainly be more complete than us improve football teams. The only predictable decline is in the Mississippi schools, that is not so much for reason that their teams are not going to be very competitive, it’s just that both hit such high water marks a year ago that it almost certainly is going to correct to some degree in the other direction. Still, the collective group of these seven teams is as ominous and daunting a division as one could almost possibly imagine.
The East race looks a little bit easier to handicap. That does not mean however, that some wild card squad cannot rise up and surprise. Georgia has many pieces to a potentially successful puzzle returning and clearly shoulders the role of favorite. Tennessee is reputed to be in a golden period of resurgence. But in addition to the difficult opponents on their schedule there is one more follower they must overcome, expectations! Missouri has made it to Atlanta two years in a row. Don’t count on the Tigers making it a third. Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks disappointed a year ago and face a tough task bouncing back. The Florida Gators have to find some offense somewhere.The Kentucky Wildcats Will try to build on their early-season spurt of excellence before their late collapse last year. And the one bona fide, undisputed doormat in the league, are the beleaguered Commodores of Vanderbilt.
The race to Atlanta will be fraught with danger and roadblocks. Every team has rough patches in their schedule to try and navigate. It is extremely doubtful in looking at the game lineup to picture any team emerging unscathed. In fact, for the first time ever in doing the SEC forecast, I have everyone in the league losing at least twice in the regular season. Still, the expectation would be that the team emerging from Atlanta with the championship will certainly be deemed one of America’s for best and will earn the right to play for the championship of college football. That logic is based on the simple fact, I think if you put any team in America, certainly including the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, that every inserted squad at the end of the year, playing an eight game SEC schedule, would come out with at least two losses.
ALABAMA 5-3 9-3
Certainly expect offensive drop off. Coker QB? Foster, potential superstar at WR. Defense of front seven should be ferocious. Secondary still a mystery! Schedule rated toughest in America.
AUBURN 5-3 9-3
Shaky outfit at end of 2014 campaign particularly defensively. Assumption that Will Muschamp will make it a complete turnaround is a significant leap of faith. QB Jeremy Johnson already dubbed all world, but now will have to prove it on the field.
TEXAS A & M 4-4 8-4
I was shouting from the rooftops last year early that this team was not as good as peoples overreaction deemed them to be. This version has all world receiving corps and solid signal caller in Allen returning. Defense has some great individual stars and the new coach Chavous figures to improve unit as a whole.
LSU 4-4 8-4
Anemic offensively a year ago due to quarterback deficiencies we forecast in the space last preseason, Fournette will be a beast this year. He better be, they still won’t be able to throw it. More aggressive defensively with addition of coaches Steele and Orgeron.
ARKANSAS 3-5 7-5
Hogs runners Collins and Williams will have to tote the mail. Massive offense of line plows the road. Defense of questions remain and schedule is brutal. Probably a top 25 team in talent but they play in the SEC West.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 3-5 7-5
Unquestionably returns the best quarterback in the league in Prescott. Graduation losses are devastating however. Numerous return is logged significant time a year ago so that may bridge gap. Program advanced significantly under Mullen and flies under the radar this edition.
OLE MISS 3-5 7-5
Rebels were key in both my major upset pics of the year ago. I had them beating Alabama and losing at LSU. Hugh Freeze is innovative and he’ll have to be to find ways for this offense to score points. Their defense will keep them in every single ball game.
GEORGIA 6-2 10-2
Nick Chubb and stable of receivers makes this Dawg outfit scary again when they have the ball. Brice Ramsey or UVA transfer Grayson Lambert Will either be adequate at quarterback. Defense stocked with high level talent. Aggressive approach instituted by DC Pruitt pays big dividends.
TENNESSEE 5-3 9-3
Rocky Top renaissance! Returning QB Dobbs had offense humming at times. Has weapons to hang up points. Def steadily improve throughout 2014 campaign. Expectation bar probably set a little high. The problem with lots of hype, the big orange will not sneak up on anyone.
FLORIDA. 3-5 6-6
Former Saban OC Jim McElwane takes head-coaching reins and has his work cut out for him. Gators desperately need an offensive identity. The defensive corps once again packs quite a punch. Look for progress and some sporadic shopping opportunities.
SOUTH CAROLINA 3-5 6-6
American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, a Pharaoh Cooper will have to win games for the Cocks. Disappointing 2014 team is succeeded by mystery unit for 2015. Carolina defense was hideous in key spots all year. Remains to be seen if that’s been adequately addressed with new leadership. Ole Ball Coach faces significant challenge.
MISSOURI 3-5 7-5
Two-time defending East champ figures that have pendulum swings someone other way in 2015. Tigers have returning starter Mauck to run the show but many ?”s elsewhere. Things have fallen just right over previous two seasons, tougher game slate in new season.
KENTUCKY. 3-5 6-6
2014 was a new beginning and the same old same old at the end. Early in the year the offense was dynamic and the defense someone held together. Down the stretch, as always, lack of depth and real inept identity of defense unwound a promising season. Sadly for Cats, looks like déjà vu all over again.
VANDERBILT. 1-7. 3-9
What do you get when you combine a team that is not very good with the new coach who does a horrible job? Answer, Vanderbilt 2014. And what are the prospects for brighter times in the new season? Sadly not very bright. Revolving door quarterback situation and week to week changes in approach not productive. Shapes up as another long year in the music city.