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NY Post
New York Post
2 Dec 2023


NextImg:College football championship Saturday predictions: Alabama vs. Georgia pick

Next season, the 12-team College Football Playoff will debut, which means that conference championship games will never mean so much again.

Thank goodness.

It is ridiculous that in 2023 we face the possibility of Texas (11-1) claiming its first Big 12 title in 15 years — in addition to owning the nation’s most valuable win of the season (at Alabama) — and being excluded from the four-team field, potentially at the expense of the Crimson Tide. There is a chance Florida State (12-0) barely squeaks by Louisville and the undefeated ACC champion is left out for the sin of underwhelming in two games without its starting quarterback. It is also possible that top-ranked Georgia (12-0) loses to Alabama and still gets a chance to three-peat.

Maybe the committee will get lucky and end up with a clear-cut top-four. It could feature only undefeated teams (Georgia, Michigan, Florida State, Washington) or power conference champions with fewer than two losses (Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Texas).

It likely will not be an easy process without Alabama going down in the SEC Championship, but for once, that isn’t hard to envision.

Georgia’s 29-game winning streak is the longest in SEC history. Its 24 weeks atop the AP poll ranks second-best all time. The Bulldogs have defeated six top-10 teams during their streak. They passed their three toughest tests this season (Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee) with a 24-point average margin of victory.

But Georgia’s streak obscures how incredibly vulnerable it has been on several occasions. This season, the Bulldogs were on the verge of upsets to South Carolina, Auburn and Missouri. Last season, Georgia was extraordinarily lucky to escape its semifinal against Ohio State with a win.

Georgia’s most recent loss came in the 2021 SEC Championship, when the undefeated, top-ranked Bulldogs were beaten convincingly by Alabama. It was Nick Saban’s eighth straight win in the SEC title game. If star receiver Jameson Williams doesn’t suffer a torn ACL in the ensuing national championship against Georgia, I believe Saban would be 5-0 against Kirby Smart.

This Saturday marks the eighth time ever that Alabama is an underdog under Saban. The Crimson Tide are 5-2 outright in those games, with each win coming by double digits.

It isn’t wise to lay points against the best coach in the history of the sport. It isn’t wise to ignore that each of the 13 teams to chase a three-peat since 1936 has failed. Georgia — which has trailed in eight of its past 10 games and is 2-3 in SEC championships under Smart — will be no different.

A late-season upset always looms, as the pressure builds. “Kick Six” knocked out Alabama in 2013. Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush are still haunted by Vince Young.

This would be no shock. How much of an upset could an Alabama (+5.5) SEC title really be considered?

Nick Saban Getty Images

In the first season of the College Football Playoff (2014), No. 5 Ohio State convinced the committee it belonged by thumping No. 13 Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten title game. Texas — fresh off a 57-7 win over Texas Tech — has to hope a beat-down of the No. 18 Cowboys is equally persuasive. If the fifth-ranked Longhorns’ run defense contains the nation’s leading-rusher (Ollie Gordon), expect a rout against an opponent that’s allowed 113 points in its past three games.

Take the points and the Redhawks’ defense, which has allowed fewer points in MAC play than any team this century. Since Toledo’s 21-17 win last month — Miami pitched a second-half shutout — the Redhawks (9-3 against the spread) haven’t allowed more than 16 points in a game.

The Broncos are less than three weeks removed from firing their head coach. The Rebels are ready to build a statue for theirs. In Barry Odom’s first season, the Rebels have earned their most wins since 1984. Boise State, which went 2-4 on the road this season, isn’t prepared for a trip to Vegas.

Steve Sarkisian head coach of the Texas Longhorns.

Steve Sarkisian head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Getty Images

Archaic NCAA rules prohibit James Madison from taking its rightful place in the Sun Belt Championship, but Troy still has a tough matchup against the replacement. Appalachian State has won five straight games — handing James Madison its lone loss this season — thanks to the nation’s 15th-highest scoring offense (34.9 points per game).

It’s hard to predict how the Mustangs will perform without starting quarterback Preston Stone, but it’s still worth grabbing the superior team as an underdog. If backup Kevin Jennings can avoid turnovers — he’s completed 35 of 46 passes (76.1 percent) without an interception — SMU can claim the school’s first conference championship since the now-defunct Southwest crown in 1984.

There will be no letdown with Jim Harbaugh back from suspension. Following its past two emotional wins over Ohio State, Michigan mauled the inferior Big Ten West representative. In 2021, Michigan beat Iowa, 42-3. Last year, the Wolverines beat Purdue by 21. Thankfully, the imminent expansion of the Big Ten will eliminate divisions next season.

The Seminoles deserve a playoff ticket with a win — it would be their 19th straight victory — but Tate Rodemaker doesn’t look ready for prime time. Against Florida’s 88th-ranked pass defense, Rodemaker completed 12 of 25 passes for 134 yards, while completing one pass to star receiver Keon Coleman. The Seminoles can’t bank on running back Trey Benson carrying them against the nation’s 16th-ranked run defense, allowing 3.3 yards per carry.

Best bets: Alabama, Michigan, Louisville
This season: 97-93-4 (16-22-1)
2014-22 record: 1,150-1,082-25