Mark Schlabach is one of the most knowledgeable, accomplished and well-respected college football writers in the country. A friend since our days in college, Mark has worked for The Red & Black, Athens Banner-Herald, Atlanta Constitution, Washington Post and ESPN. His insight is always appreciated.
Does Georgia have a chance to beat Alabama?
I think they might have a puncher’s chance. I think the Bulldogs have improved week to week since the loss at LSU, and they might be peaking at the right time. I’m not sure many people expected Georgia to have a chance against Alabama in 2012 or in last season’s National Championship Game, and both of those games came down to the wire. Alabama is very, very good, though.
What does Georgia have to do to win?
I feel more confident in Georgia’s chances of scoring on Alabama than I do in it slowing down the Tide. UGA’s defense is going to have to figure out a way to pressure quarterback Tua Tagovailoa; it can’t let him sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Georgia has struggled to pressure the quarterback for much of the season, so I’m sure that’s Kirby Smart’s biggest concern. I think Georgia is going to have to force the Tide into a couple of turnovers and big mistakes to win.
If Bama does win, do you see the Bulldogs getting over the hump soon?
Obviously, Georgia was very, very close to taking down the Tide last season but fell short. I think Kirby is closing the gap through recruiting, but there was a pretty wide gap when he started. I think Georgia is a year or two ahead of schedule, and it’s only going to continue to get better as the last two recruiting classes develop and mature.
Is this Alabama’s best team under Saban, at least since 2011?
It might be. Tagovailoa has transformed the way the Crimson Tide plays on offense, and this might easily be their most talented and explosive receiver corps that Saban has had. They have two or three Bama-type backs, and Jonah Williams is probably going to be the first offensive tackle off the board in April’s NFL draft. It’s a typical, nasty Bama defensive line; Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis might both end up going in the top 10 picks. Throw in safety Deionte Thompson and linebacker Mack Wilson – two more first-round picks – and it makes it nearly impossible to move the ball. At least the Tide find a way to keep it interesting with their field goals and extra points.
What do you think of the Tide twice in the 2010s making it to the BCS Championship Game and the College Football Playoff without playing for the SEC title?
I think as long as Nick Saban is there, Alabama is going to continue to get the benefit of the doubt from the CFP selection committee. If Georgia finds a way to win in Atlanta – and that’s a very big if – it will be interesting to see if Bama gets in again. Clearly, the Tide has looked head and shoulders above everybody else for much of the season, but their overall body of work leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality wins and schedule strength.
Are you surprised how quickly Kirby Smart has built Georgia into a national contender?
Not really. I think we’ve all known that Georgia was on the cusp of great things for a while now, and Kirby came in and changed the culture. I think the UGA administration is serious about competing with Alabama and competing for national championships, and its commitment to coaching salaries, facilities, etc., shows a renewed commitment. Kirby learned under the best, and he has adapted the same blueprint and mindset in Athens.
How much longer for Nick Saban at Bama?
Saban turned 67 in October, and I can see him going three more years. He’s in tremendous health and he still has the competitive fire you need to continue at that level. I could see him going to age 70. I think this past season, because of the change in offensive philosophy and turnover on his staff, recharged him to some degree.
What’s the score Saturday?
Alabama 27, Georgia 20