For much of the past decade, Alabama has been the elephant-sized obstacle standing in Georgia‘s way of ending what is now a 41-year drought without a national title.

The 2012 SEC championship game ended with the Bulldogs catching a pass at Alabama’s 5-yard line as time expired in the Tide’s 32-28 victory. Alabama went on to crush Notre Dame in the BCS national championship.

In the CFP national championship at the end of the 2017 season, Georgia had a 13-0 lead at halftime, but lost 26-23 when freshman Tua Tagovailoa threw a touchdown to DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 in overtime.

Then, in the 2018 SEC championship game, Alabama rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half. The Tide won 35-28, thanks in part to Georgia’s botched fake punt with 3:04 to go.

So, is this finally the year in which the No. 1 Bulldogs take down the No. 3 Crimson Tide? We’ll find out Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Handing Alabama its second loss of the season might knock it out of the playoff, which would give Georgia perhaps its clearest path to ending that frustrating national title drought.

“Do you talk about it? We talk about the opponent every week we play somebody, right?” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “But we focus on ourselves. We focus on execution. We don’t focus on history. I think every team is independent of the previous. So I mean, it is what it is. Our guys have got to go out and play well.”

Georgia, which is 12-0 for the first time since winning its last national title in 1980, is a 6½-point favorite to win, according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Alabama had been favored in 92 straight games.

One SEC assistant coach said he likes the Bulldogs to win.

“I think it’s their year,” he said.

The coach said he didn’t put too much weight on what happened to Alabama’s offensive line in last week’s 24-22 victory in four overtimes at Auburn because it was a rivalry game. But he believes the Tide would struggle to block the Bulldogs, who are allowing only 6.9 points and 78.9 rushing yards per game.

“UGA plays so mean on defense,” he said. “Bama is going to struggle to block those guys.”

For Alabama to win, the assistant said, receivers John Metchie and Jahleel Billingsley are going to have to help Jameson Williams in the passing game.

Another SEC assistant said Tide quarterback Bryce Young will be able to make some plays against Georgia’s secondary, but the Tide’s lack of a running game, especially with Brian Robinson Jr. hampered by a hamstring injury, will make it more difficult.

“Alabama’s running game is nothing like it’s been,” the assistant said. “They’ve had a lot of injuries. They’re down to two scholarship backs and one of them, Robinson, is hurt.” — Mark Schlabach

Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. UTSA (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, CBSSN) This game doesn’t have the same flair that it would have had if UTSA had not lost to North Texas last week and maintained a perfect season, but it’s still an intriguing matchup that should be on your viewing plate, if even it’s only a small side. UTSA comes in looking to rebound from its only loss of the season, facing a Western Kentucky team that has come on strong after a 1-4 start, winning their past seven games. The Hilltoppers offense currently ranks 10th overall in SP+, led by FBS passing leader Bailey Zappe (4,968 yards) and the nation’s second most prolific receiver in Jerreth Sterns (1,539 yards). — Harry Lyles Jr.

Pac-12: No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 17 Utah (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): In a rematch of Utah’s dominant 38-7 win against Oregon on Nov. 20, the Utes and Ducks will meet in the first-ever Pac-12 title game to be played in Las Vegas. The stakes are pretty clear: the winner will go to the Rose Bowl, while the loser will likely head to the Alamo Bowl.

Utah has now advanced to the title game in three of the past four seasons, including a loss to Oregon in 2019 when the Utes were ranked No. 5, but has yet to win. Oregon is looking for its fifth win in the Pac-12 title game in the 11 years since it debuted. — Kyle Bonagura

Big 12: No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State (Saturday, noon ET, ABC): The Big 12 championship game is exactly what everyone predicted: Oklahoma State, in its first title game appearance, vs. Baylor, in Dave Aranda’s second season, a year after a 2-7 finish.

Of course, this isn’t at all what we expected. But that’s fair, because Mike Gundy didn’t either.

When the Cowboys opened with a seven-point win over Missouri State, it had the makings of a long season. And we’re not talking about this extra game.

“After the nonconference [games] I thought the chance was zero,” Gundy said this week about the possibility of being in this situation following the next two games, a five-point win over Tulsa and a one-point victory over Boise State. “I didn’t even think that far. I was just trying to get to where we can function to play the next game.”

All Gundy did was finish 11-1, with just a three-point loss to Iowa State in Ames on Oct. 23. That includes a 24-14 win over Baylor on Oct. 2, as well.

The Cowboys and Bears became two of the most improved teams in the country over the course of the season. With their first matchup two full months ago, both teams are treating this like they’re facing a new team.

“There was a lot of unforced errors in that [first] game,” Aranda said. “Things that, unfortunately, we could control that we didn’t do a very good job with. Credit to Oklahoma State. We played Baylor and we played them that night.”

Gundy believes the matchup will make for a really close game, but hopes the abundance of older players the Cowboys have on defense will make the difference.

“We have a number of 22- and 23-year-olds that were playing in the fourth quarter on defense [in the Cowboys’ 37-33 win over Oklahoma] and they were very productive. And then we had a true freshman jump offsides in a crucial situation. That’s just maturity and experience and age,” Gundy said. “These are two equal teams. I mean, we’re on the same level. Field position is going to be important, special teams is going to be important. We all know that effort and turnovers play a big role, and you go play. We need to control what we can control, which I think they will with the maturity that’s in that locker room.”

All that’s at stake for Oklahoma State is everything. The Cowboys would have a 49% chance to make the College Football Playoff with a win, but their chances would plummet with a loss, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. The Cowboys could become the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to reach the playoff.

There’s a little mystery on Baylor’s end as to who will start at quarterback. Gerry Bohanon suffered a leg injury against Kansas State, and Blake Shapen took over, throwing two touchdown passes in two games, with no turnovers. Either way, expect Baylor’s running backs, Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner, to be the focus. The Bears rank first in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (227.4), yards per carry (5.5) and rushing touchdowns (28).

And it’s a showdown featuring two of the finalists for the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coaches in the country, in OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

Aranda said he used to call Knowles to talk defense when he was at LSU and still clearly has a lot of respect for him.

“They play with a confidence, and they play with ‘respect all, fear none,'” Aranda said. “It screams off the tape, so it’s awfully impressive.”

Both teams are in position to be frequent contenders in a new-look Big 12 following the departures of Texas and Oklahoma. Still, after making this game for the first time in his 17 years as head coach, Gundy’s not taking it for granted.

“How many more times do you get this chance?” he asked on Monday. “You don’t get this opportunity often.” — Dave Wilson



Georgia, Michigan, Alabama and Cincinnati are revealed as the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

MAC: Kent State vs. Northern Illinois (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN/ESPN app): It’s been 49 years since Kent State (7-5) won its only MAC title, and it will have a chance at its second against a team it defeated 52-47 a month ago. The Huskies (8-4), who went 0-6 last season, have been one of the better turnaround stories in college football this season with a notable win over ACC opponent Georgia Tech and seven of their eight wins coming in one-score games. If this game is anything like their last matchup — especially for NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who threw for over 500 yards — it will be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, because everybody loves a high-scoring affair. — Lyles Jr.

Mountain West: No. 19 San Diego State vs. Utah State (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Fox): Beyond getting another opportunity to watch punter Matt Araiza do his thing, there’s likely no other championship matchup this weekend that features two opponents with such contrasting strengths and weaknesses as this one.

San Diego State (11-1) comes into the matchup as one of the top-10 defenses in the country. The Aztecs are no Georgia (who is?) but they’ve been able to hold their opponents to 4.56 yards per play — good for 7th-best nationally. Utah State (9-3), meanwhile, ranks 90th in that stat. But what the Aggies lack in defense, they make up for on the other side of the ball. The Aggies are 17th in total offense, while the Aztecs are 110th.

The coaching matchup in this one is intriguing in its own right. At SDSU, Brady Hoke has revived his coaching career and thrived, losing only one game this entire season. He has the Aztecs on the brink of their first Mountain West title since 2016. Utah State’s Blake Anderson, on the other hand, has turned around a program that went 8-11 the past two seasons. He’s one win away from a 10-win season in his debut. — Paolo Uggetti

Sun Belt: Appalachian State vs. No. 24 Louisiana (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app): Billy Napier has an appointment to make.


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