ATLANTA—The South will rise again Monday night when Alabama will play SEC opponent Georgia for the national championship in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium here.
A sellout crowd of 72,000, some paying more than $2,400 a ticket, and President Donald Trump will be in attendance to bear witness to the fact the college football is no longer a national sport and the SEC owns this game.
For the ninth time in last 15 years, an SEC team will be crowned national champion. How that plays with fans around the country or the television ratings is anybody’s guess. But, frankly, Alabama coach Nick Saban could care less.
‘I know there are some SEC haters out there,’’ he said. “But we have some pretty good teams down here. I’m proud of the competition in our league.’’
The SEC has won nine championships in the past 15 years. Saban personally has won five in the last nine. Florida has won two championships and Auburn and LSU has won one apiece.
“I don’t think the league is ever down,’’ Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “We always have a lot of talent in the SEC—a lot of teams capable of making long runs and have good seasons.’’
This year, the league was somewhat top heavy seemed overrated at times. But the SEC’s best teams proved they can play with anyone.
At Alabama, the coaches and players think playing for a national championship is a birth right.
The Tide strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran went as far this week as destroying the runner-up trophy from last year’s 35-31 loss to Clemson in the National Football playoff national championship game.
Cochran lifted the trophy over his head before hurling it toward the ground, smashing it in pieces, then destroyed the rest of the trophy with a sledge hammer, uttering a few expletives for effect.
Despite a brilliant piece of public relations by Central Florida, which declared itself national champions after finishing a perfect 13-0 season following a 34-27 victory over Auburn—which defeated both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season—in the Peach Bowl and plans to celebrate with a parade, Alabama and Georgia are the two best teams in the country, regardless of conference affiliation.
Alabama may have been a controversial pick for the playoff after the 12-1 Tide didn’t win the SEC West, losing to Auburn in Iron Bowl at Bryce-Jordan Stadium. But there was little question they belonged after the Tide’s defense completely stoned ACC champion Clemson, 24-6, in one national semifinal in New Orleans, limiting the high scoring Tigers to just 181 yards total offense.
“We wanted to show the doubters and naysayers we hadn’t lost anything,’’ said Alabama nose guard Da’Ron Payne after making a key interception and scoring on a two-yard touchdown after he was inserted as a tight end in a goal line situation.
Georgia has not won a national championship in 37 years. But Sony Michel and Nick Chubb– the latest in a long line of great Bulldog running backs,– rushed for a combined 326 yards in just 25 carries as Georgia exploited Oklahoma’s round defense to rally from 17 points down to defeat quarterback Baker Mayfield and Big 12 champion Sooners, 54-48, in a double overtime in the other semi-final at the Rose Bowl.
This is the second time two SEC teams have met for a national championship. Alabama and LSU played for the BCS championship in 2011. Alabama won, 21-0 in an ugly game New Orleans. LSU never crossed the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter and managed just 92 yards while punting nine times.
The game did not play well with the rest of the country, leading to a decision to change the format to a four-team playoff in 2014, in hopes of expanding the field to other parts of the country. But here we are in the fourth season of the latest controversial system, with two SEC teams selected while two other power 5 conference were left to play in the Cotton Bowl.
This game should be entertaining, low scoring smash mouth football. Georgia coach Kirby Smart was Saban’s defensive coordinator for nine years so he knows what to expect. On the other side, Saban is 11-0 against former assistants.
Down the road, I still think the best only solution that will please everyone is an eight-team playoff that rewards the champions of the 5 power conferences, the highest rated member of the Group of 5 and two at large teams with first round games being played on the campus of the higher seeded teams to ensure a sellout.
Until then, accept the fact Alabama and Georgia earned their way into college football’s biggest game. And enjoy it.