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CFT Previews & Predictions: Georgia-Alabama Tale of the Tape

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WHO
No. 3 Georgia (13-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (12-1)

WHAT
The College Football Playoff championship game, presented by AT&T

WHEN
8:00 p.m. ET (8:17 p.m. ET kickoff)

WHERE
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

HEAD COACHES
Georgia’s Kirby Smart (13-1 in his first season with the Bulldogs, 13-1 overall)
Alabama’s Nick Saban (126-20 in 11 seasons with the Crimson Tide, 217-62-1 overall; five national championships)

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Georgia
Passing: Jake Fromm, 165-259 (63.7%), 2,383 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions
Rushing: Nick Chubb, 1,320 yards; Sony Michel, 16 touchdowns
Receiving: Javon Wims, 44 receptions, 704 yards, seven touchdowns
Punt returns: Mecole Hardman, 11.3 yards per on 21 returns
Kick returns: Hardman. 27.5 yards per on 17 returns
Punting: Cameron Nizialek, 44.9 yards per, 25 of 55 inside 20
Kicking: Rodrigo Blankenship, 17-20 field goals, long of 55; 61-61 extra points
Tackles: Roquan Smith, 124
Tackles for loss: D’Andre Walker, 13½
Sacks: Smith and Walker, 5½
QB Hits: Smith, 17
Interceptions: Dominick Sanders, four
Passes breakups: Deandre Baker, nine

Alabama
Passing: Jalen Hurts, 151-247 (61.1%), 2,060 yards, 17 touchdowns, one interception
Rushing: Damien Harris, 983 yards, 11 touchdowns
Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 59 receptions, 935 yards; Henry Ruggs III, five touchdowns
Punt returns: Trevon Diggs, 8.9 per on 13 returns
Kick returns: Ruggs III, 18.4 per on 13 returns
Punting: JK Scott, 42.4 yards per, 25 of 48 inside 20
Kicking: Andy Pappanastos, 16-21 field goals, long of 46; 54-54 extra points
Tackles: Ronnie Harrison, 70
Tackles for loss: Rashaan Evans, 11½
Sacks: Raekwon Davis, 7½
Interceptions: Mack Wilson, four
Passes breakups: Levi Wallace, 14

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Alabama’s 10th-ranked rush offense (255.8 ypg) vs. Georgia’s 20th-ranked run defense (121.9 ypg)
UGA’s 8th-ranked rush offense (267.4 ypg) vs. UA’s top-ranked run defense (91.8 ypg)
UA’s 91st-ranked pass offense (193.9 ypg) vs. UGA’s 8th-ranked pass defense (167.6 ypg)
UGA’s 109th-ranked pass offense (172.9 ypg) vs. UA’s 3rd-ranked pass defense (160.6 ypg)
UA’s 12th-ranked scoring offense (37.9 ppg) vs. UGA’s 5th-ranked scoring defense (15.7 ppg)
UGA’s 17th-ranked scoring offense (36.3 ppg) vs. UA’s top-ranked scoring defense (11.1 ppg)

COMMON OPPONENTS
Auburn
Georgia lost 40-17 in Auburn Nov. 11 and won 28-7 in SEC championship game rematch, Alabama lost 26-14 in Auburn Nov. 25.

Mississippi State
Georgia won 31-3 in Athens Sept. 23, Alabama won 31-24 in Starkville Nov. 11.

Tennessee
Georgia won 41-0 in Knoxville Sept. 30, Alabama won 45-7 in Tuscaloosa Oct. 21.

Vanderbilt
Georgia won 45-14 in Nashville Oct. 7, Alabama won 59-0 in Nashville Sept. 23.

LOSSES
Georgia: 40-17 to No. 10 Auburn (10-4) in Auburn Nov. 11
Alabama: 26-14 to No. 6 Auburn (10-4) in Auburn Nov. 25

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Georgia 8, Alabama 6
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: UGA 4, UA 3
Wins in true road games: UGA 4, UA 3
Wins by 10-plus points: UGA 11, UA 10

THE BOVADA.LV LINE
Georgia, +5 (opened +4½)
Over/under, 45

THE PREDICTIONS
Zach Barnett
Maybe I’m just a fool, but I don’t believe anyone can beat Alabama at their own game until it actually happens. Yeah, the Tide has lost its share of games over the years — so rarely you can probably remember each individual one — but all those losses have come from the same formula, a formula Georgia can’t replicate. Georgia’s run game is good, but Bama’s run defense is better. Jake Fromm is an effective game manager, but Jalen Hurts has another dimension the Bulldog freshman doesn’t. When push comes to shove (and it will), I think it’s that extra dimension that will push Alabama over the top. Again.
Alabama 21, Georgia 14

Bryan Fisher
I go back and forth on this game every 30 minutes, that’s just how close the two SEC foes are when you look at where their programs and rosters are at this point in the season. Both sides are a little tired after two very different semifinal games and from the toll of traveling back on a short week.  That likely leads to a slower, more conservative approach on both sides of the ball to shorten the game up and that in itself might play a little bit more into Alabama’s hands. While Georgia might have better starting 22 talent overall if you go down the list, the quarterback run game is a difference maker for the Tide with Jalen Hurts behind center. It will be a close, hard-fought title game but ultimately Nick Saban‘s side has just enough to best the hometown team and hoist another trophy
Alabama 28, Georgia 23

Kevin McGuire
It is hard not to get carried away with what Georgia did running the football in the Rose Bowl, but the truth is Alabama is much better equipped to slow down Georgia’s running game the way Oklahoma could only dream. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb will have an impact, but 30, 40-, and 50-yard touchdowns are not going to happen against the Tide the way they did against the Sooners. On the same line of thinking, it’s hard not to go overboard with Alabama’s defense after dismantling Clemson the way they just did. Georgia’s offense operates differently though, and odds are we get a national title game that falls somewhere in between the semifinal performances for both. As much as Georgia is the best-equipped to give a Nick Saban assistant more than a puncher’s chance against Nick Saban (11-0 vs. former assistants, including 1-0 in College Football Playoff era), Alabama will be able to play their style of game and allow Jalen Hurts to make some plays to lead Alabama to yet another national title.
Alabama 27, Georgia 23

John Taylor
How can you bet against Nick Saban and Alabama? Since the Nicktator took over the Crimson Tide in 2007, they are 9-1 in games played in Atlanta, including nine straight wins since losing to Florida in the 2008 SEC championship game.  Saban is also 11-0 all-time against head coaches who were his former assistants.  Where’s tonight’s game being played?  In Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  Who’s Georgia’s head coach?  Saban’s former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart. Last year at this time I went against the CFT grain and picked Clemson over ‘Bama; despite that ominous-looking 20-1 mark staring me square in the face I’m doing the same this time around as UGA’s ground game will prove to be too much for even the suffocating UA front seven, with the underdog Bulldogs denying Saban his latest shot at tying the great Bear Bryant for most national championships — and their program’s first since 1980.
Georgia 24, Alabama 20

Texas QB Shane Buechele undergoes hip surgery, expected back for spring practice

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A postseason injury has forced Shane Buechele to undergo an offseason medical procedure.

Buechele suffered a torn abductor muscle in his hip/abdomen in the first half of Texas’ Texas Bowl win over Missouri and didn’t return in the second half.  Nearly a month later, the football program has announced that the quarterback will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair the damage.

If rehab goes as planned, Buechele is expected to be on the field when the Longhorns kick off spring practice March 5.

As a true freshman in 2016, Buechele started all 12 games for the Longhorns.  This past season was one marred by various injuries.

Buechele started the season opener for Texas, but ceded the job to Sam Ehlinger the next two games because of a bruised throwing shoulder.  Returning to the starting lineup in Week 5, Buechele suffered an ankle injury in the win over Iowa State that allowed Ehlinger to start the next three games.  In the last of those three games, Ehlinger suffered a head injury that left him in concussion protocol and opened the door for Buechele to start five of the last six games of the season.

Buechele and Ehlinger will be the two veterans battling for the starting job once spring practice kicks off in March.

NCAA tables discussions on limiting staff size

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It is going to take some more time to dive deep into the pros and cons of limiting the size of a football staff before the NCAA Division 1 Council decides what to do. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Division 1 Council has decided to table a legislative proposal focusing on setting parameters on the size of a football staff, meaning this topic should pop up again a year from now.

The proposal aims to cap the size of any football staff at 30 people and determine who may be eligible to participate in on-campus recruiting efforts. Those assigned recruiting duties, including head and assistant coaches, would then be required to pass an annual test on recruiting practices. At this time, however, there appears to be too much confusion and uncertainty about how the proposal would impact programs now. With so many questions about the proposal, it was best to put this one on the table and spend the next year examining how it could impact college football programs.

“I went to the American Football Coaches Association meeting, and there were a lot of questions about how this was going to work,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the chair of the oversight committee, said in a release shared by the NCAA. “The coaches wanted to know who was going to be included, how they would be certified and who was exempted.”

This topic has already been floating out there since last spring, and with recent adjustments from the NCAA to allow for a 10th full-time assistant coach, it appears this will be the next step in the evolution of ruling how large a football staff can be.

Miami’s home winning streak is officially over after Orange Bowl loss

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The Miami Hurricanes opened the new year with a loss in the Orange Bowl in their home stadium, but the Hurricanes marked the bowl game down in their records as a neutral site game. Not so fast, says the NCAA. That loss to the Badgers will go down as a home loss for the Hurricanes.

Because the NCAA officially records the Orange Bowl as a home game for Miami any time the Hurricanes happen to play in the bowl game hosted in their home stadium, the wins and losses are reflected on Miami’s home record. This is true for any team playing a bowl game in their home stadium, including any time UCLA appears in the Rose Bowl or San Diego State in the Holiday Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl.

Prior to losing to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl this past season, Miami was riding nine-game winning streak in Hard Rock Stadium dating back to November 5, 2016. Miami will get a chance to hit the reset button on their home winning streak on September 8 with a home game against Savannah State.

Report: LSU to add former RB Kevin Faulk to staff if SEC gives the green light

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Former LSU running back Kevin Faulk could be set to return to the Tigers program in a new role if the SEC will allow it. According to a report from The Advocate, Faulk is being lined up to join the LSU football support staff, but his addition must be thoroughly vetted first.

Because Faulk is a high school coach, LSU and the SEC must be certain he has no direct ties to any LSU football players on the roster. This is to ensure the staff change complies with a new NCAA rule prohibiting schools from hiring high school coaches for a two-year period when any player from that associated high school enrolls at the university. As long as there are no players on LSU’s roster with any ties to Faulk’s high school coaching within the past two years, the staff change should become official.

Having Faulk associated with the program would be good to see considering how much Faulk meant to LSU during his college career. Faulk rushed for a school-record 4,557 yards and 46 rushing touchdowns. Both are records that stand today despite some extremely talented running backs over the years. Since Faulk’s final season at LSU in 1998, Leonard Fournette has come the closest to Faulk’s career rushing total with 3,830 yards in three years. Fournette is also the closest to Faulk since Faulk played to the school record for career rushing touchdowns, with 40.

Supposing the staff addition does go through, Faulk will not be involved with any off-campus recruiting efforts or on-field coaching assignments, but he will assist with player development.