Alabama and Georgia won their College Football Playoff semifinals on Monday and will meet in the national championship next week in Atlanta, the home of the Southeastern Conference title game.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide smothered No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in their Sugar Bowl rubber match after the third-ranked Bulldogs won the first overtime in Rose Bowl history, a wild 54-48 victory that eliminated No. 2 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.
It will be the second time in seven seasons that the national title will come down to two SEC teams. Alabama beat LSU in New Orleans to win the 2011 championship. At least this all-SEC affair next Monday night won’t be a rematch: Georgia and Alabama did not play in 2017.
Both will be making a return trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Alabama started its season in the shiny new home of the Atlanta Falcons by beating Florida State. The Tide hoped it would be the first of three trips to Atlanta, but it let the second one slip away. Alabama’s regular-season finale loss at Auburn cost the Tide the SEC West and spot in the conference title game against Georgia.
It did not, however, cost the Crimson Tide a playoff spot. The College Football Playoff selection committee gave Alabama the final spot in even though the Tide failed to win its conference. Did Alabama deserve the benefit of the doubt after a season in which it was low on marquee victories? Ohio State fans didn’t think so, and the Buckeyes finished fifth in the final CFP rankings.
Fueled by the doubters, Alabama smashed the defending national champions from Clemson. The Crimson Tide will be playing in the title game for the third straight season and looking for its fifth national championship under Nick Saban since 2009.
The Bulldogs made the playoff by avenging a late-season loss to Auburn, beating the Tigers in the SEC title game on Dec. 2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, about 70 miles from its campus in Athens.
“Going back home to Atlanta,” Georgia star tailback Nick Chubb said. “We’ve been there before and hopefully we can get the same outcome, but we’ve got a lot of preparation to do before that.”
The SEC title was Georgia’s first since 2005. The Bulldogs have not won a national championship since 1980. They have also not beaten Alabama since 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. They have only played three times since then with the Crimson Tide winning each, including a classic SEC championship game at the old Georgia Dome in 2012.
The Bulldogs’ failure to reach win championships, conference and national, was the main reason Georgia pushed out longtime coach Mark Richt and replaced him with former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart in 2016.
Smart’s first season in Athens was a so-so 8-5 campaign, but the Bulldogs have taken off in year two, led by stellar group of seniors that includes 1,000-yard rushers Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
“It’s crazy. This is what we all came back for,” said Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who blocked a field goal in the second overtime of the Bulldogs’ victory against Oklahoma. “We all have been working hard and this is what we were working toward.”