Here are the five top matchups that will decide the College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Georgia when it kicks off Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
1) Nick Chubb and Sony Michel vs. Rashaan Evans. Chubb and Michel broke the NCAA record for career rushing yards for a pair of teammates last week, dropping a preposterous 326 yards on 25 rushes in the semifinal win over Oklahoma. Alabama is missing starting linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Anfernee Jennings with leg injuries, so Evans’ task is even tougher. He at least has the services of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who is about to take over at Tennessee.
2) Minkah Fitzpatrick vs. Jake Fromm. There is no good way to approach Alabama’s defense; it’s second nationally in both passer rating allowed and rushing yards per attempt allowed. Key to that sustained success is the Tide front four’s ability to depend on its secondary to get the job done, and that starts with Fitzpatrick, a lock for the Top 10 of this year’s NFL Draft. Fromm, a true freshman, will have to navigate a treacherous Bama secondary, and Fitzpatrick’s versatility only feeds into the problems awaiting Georgia’s passing game.
3) Nick Saban vs. Kirby Smart. This marks the first time Smart has gone up against his old master. If it’s anything like the last 11 times Saban has faced a former assistant, it won’t be pretty for Georgia; Saban is 11-0 with an average margin of victory of more than 31 points in those games. Still, there’s reason to believe Smart may become the “one” in “eleven-and-one.” He clearly believes it can happen, telling reporters, “Alabama is not as unbeatable as they’ve been.” Also, a look at Auburn’s win over Alabama shows a complex, bruising rushing attack and a stout defense. And yet, until he’s dethroned, Saban is still the king — and he’s probably the best postseason coach in college football history.
4) Roquan Smith vs. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Yes, Oklahoma scored 48 points in the semifinal, but Smith was stellar at linebacker for Georgia. He and his defense held Oklahoma to 10 offensive points after halftime (the Sooners’ second touchdown was on a fumble return) and they forced two missed field goals, the last of which opened the door for Michel’s game-winning scamper. Still, OU tailback Rodney Anderson racked up 201 yards in the loss, and Alabama’s talented pair of running backs — fresh off combining 100-plus yards against a ferocious Clemson defense — should be aiming to surpass the century mark again.
5) Calvin Ridley vs. Deandre Baker. The Alabama passing game isn’t only Ridley … but it is mostly Ridley. Alabama’s star wideout has 935 yards on the year; no other Tide receiver has even topped 250. Georgia’s likely to use multiple players to slow Ridley, but that effort starts with Baker, who led the Bulldogs with nine passes broken up on the year. Georgia might have an extra scouting edge on the practice field, as Calvin’s younger brother Riley is a backup receiver on the team. Riley won’t be able to deliver any fresh inside information, though; Calvin said the two brothers aren’t on speaking terms until after the title game.
–Adam Jacobi, Field Level Media