For much of the 2021 college football season, there has been a common sentiment — there’s Georgia, and then there’s everybody else.
That opinion will be put to the test Saturday in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the top-ranked, undefeated Bulldogs will take on No. 3 Alabama, which has won five of the last seven conference titles.
The Crimson Tide (11-1) has won the last six meetings between the programs, including the 2012 and 2018 editions of the SEC Championship Game, but this year’s Georgia (12-0) squad is a bit different.
In 12 games this season, these Bulldogs have outscored opponents by an average margin of 33.8 points per game, and if you take out the season-opening 10-7 win over Clemson as an outlier, the average margin of victory shoots to 36.5.
The consistent Georgia domination this season has led to a fairly uniform market, as the Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC Championship Game by 6.5 points at most major online sportsbooks, but you can get a slight edge on the favorite at SI Sportsbook and FOX Bet, where the line is 6.
Defense has been the difference for Georgia
You don’t have to look at advanced analytics to appreciate Georgia’s dominance on defense this season. The Bulldogs rank first in total defense, scoring defense, and red-zone defense, all by wide margins. Only one team has scored more than 13 points against Georgia this season. Tennessee scored 17 — but it has averaged 40.8 points in its other 11 games this season.
Defense has been the story of the year.
D.J. Shockley and Eric Zeier break down the defensive side of the ball as we head into the weekend. pic.twitter.com/5vPWdjF34g
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) December 1, 2021
Alabama has the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the nation, but looked ordinary for most of the Crimson Tide’s by-the-skin-of-its-teeth overtime victory over hated rival Auburn last week. Still, the Tide has Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Young (-220 to win the award at FanDuel) at quarterback and should be carrying some angry energy after the close call at Auburn.
But those close calls have not been out of the ordinary this season for the preeminent college football program in the country. The Tide’s lone loss came by three points at Texas A&M, and Alabama also had one-score wins at Florida, at home against LSU, and in Tuscaloosa against Arkansas.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 29, 2021
Conversely, outside of an opening-week slobberknocker with Clemson, there has been no drama for Georgia this season. The Bulldogs have been favored by at least two touchdowns in every game since the opener and have largely delivered, with an 8-4 record against the spread, while Alabama is 6-6 ATS.
Because of the defensive dominance, quarterback Stetson Bennett and the Georgia offense haven’t been asked to go above and beyond, but the Bulldogs still average 40.7 points per game, which ranks sixth in the nation. In total offense, they rank 27th, at 442.3 yards per game.
The effectiveness of the Georgia defense has also shaded the total, which is 49.5 at most shops but can be found at 49 with BetRivers, Unibet, SI, and FOX Bet. Alabama hasn’t seen a game total of less than 50 since the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against … Georgia.
College Football Playoff will get shaken up
Regardless of the result Saturday, the SEC Championship Game will have an impact on the College Football Playoff. The four teams currently in the season-ending tournament are Georgia (1), Michigan (2), Alabama (3), and Cincinnati (4).
If Georgia wins comfortably, that would open the door for a one-loss squad like Oklahoma State (which also needs to win the Big 12 Championship Game) or Notre Dame to take Alabama’s place in the top four.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 6 in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish need two of the following to lose their conference championship games:
2 Michigan (vs 13 Iowa)
3 Alabama (vs. 1 Georgia)
4 Cincinnati (vs. 21 Houston)
5 Oklahoma State (vs 9 Baylor)
— Tyler Horka (@tbhorka) December 1, 2021
Other results could lead to chaos. An Alabama win almost surely would mean both teams will make the playoff, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Alabama to remain in the top four with a close, dramatic loss. Prepare yourself for the ensuing social media meltdown, just in case.
Photo: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY