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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

Penn State loses RB Mark Allen to season-ending injury

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While not nearly as big of a name as its upcoming opponent, Penn State too has suffered a sizable personnel loss.

At a media briefing Tuesday, James Franklin announced that Mark Allen will be sidelined for the remainder of the season because of injury.  The running back did not play in last Friday night’s win over Illinois.

Per the head coach, Allen suffered the unspecified injury during practice in the week leading up to the Week 4 game against the Fighting Illini.

As Allen is a fifth-year senior, the injury could very well be career-ending, at least at the collegiate level.  He could apply for a sixth season of eligibility with the NCAA, although it’s uncertain if that’s a tack he’ll ultimately take.

This season, Allen is fourth on the Nittany Lions with 99 yards rushing and a pair of rushing touchdowns.  In the week prior to suffering his injury, Allen ran for a career-high 62 yards in a Week 3 blowout of Kent State.

All told, Allen has rushed for 353 yards and four touchdowns during his time in Happy Valley.

SEC fines Kentucky $100,000 after fans stormed field following win over Mississippi State

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Here’s to guessing this is one six-figure check Kentucky won’t mind cutting.

Following the win over then-No. 14 Mississippi State Saturday night, a win that pushed the now-No. 17 Wildcats to 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977, joyous fans of Big Blue Nation stormed the field at Commonwealth Stadium in celebration.  Tuesday afternoon, the SEC announced that, as expected, UK has been fined $100,000 for a violation of the league’s access to competition area policy that was enacted in 2004.

It was the football program’s second such violation of that policy, with the first coming after a win over South Carolina in 2014.  A third violation, and any subsequent violations for that matter, would result in a fine of $250,000 for the university.

The money generated by the fines, incidentally, is placed into the SEC’s Post-Graduate Scholarship Fund.

“The Conference has unanimously approved a policy requiring fines be applied when spectators enter the playing field after a game,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Fans are expected to remain in the stands and avoid the safety concerns associated with rushing on to the playing field. We want exciting experiences around SEC games, but also seek to maintain a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, spectators and officials.”

In addition to the best start in conference play in over four decades, their 4-0 record to date is also its best start to a season since 2008.  Of course, earlier this year, they also beat Florida to snap a 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

Sunday, Kentucky entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in a decade.

San Diego State to be without leading rusher for up to six weeks

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The spate of big-name running backs going down with a significant injury continues unabated, with San Diego State the latest FBS program to suffer such a fate.

During the second quarter of SDSU’s win over Eastern Michigan this past Saturday, Juwan Washington went down with some type of upper-body injury.  While head coach Rocky Long was initially optimistic that the injury wasn’t too severe, a team official confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the running back has been diagnosed with a broken clavicle.

The injury is expected to keep the junior sidelined for up to six weeks.

SDSU is on a bye in Week 5, so such a timeline means Washington would likely miss games against Boise State (Oct. 6), Air Force (Oct. 12), San Jose State (Oct. 20), Nevada (Oct. 27) and New Mexico (Nov. 3).  He would then, again based on the six-week timeline, be healthy enough to play in the Nov. 10 game against UNLV.

Through four games for the 3-1 Aztecs, Washington leads the team with 513 rushing yards and has scored five of their six touchdowns on the ground.  Chase Jasmin (233 yards) is their second-leading rusher, and has scored the only other rushing touchdown.

Prosectors to weigh pursuing criminal charges in Jordan McNair’s death

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The repercussions from the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair could potentially extend beyond the expected civil litigation.

According to USA Today, the Prince George County State’s Attorney’s Office is requesting the full, unredacted version of the University of Maryland’s report of the independent investigation into McNair’s passing following a football workout this past summer.  In a heavily-redacted public release of the findings late last week, U-M acknowledged yet again that there was a failure to identify the symptoms of heatstroke that ultimately claimed the life of McNair.

Whether that failure rises to the level of criminal negligence on the part of the U-M training staff is to be determined.

“We will be requesting a full, un-redacted version of the Walters Report and will begin reviewing all circumstances surrounding Jordan McNair’s death for potential criminal charges,” a state’s attorney spokesperson told USA Today.

“We will investigate this in the same manner we do every case and we will apply the law to the evidence and go from there.”

A criminal investigation is likely to be launched and could lead to involuntary manslaughter charges being filed against members of the Terrapins’ football training staff, particularly head athletic trainer Wes Robinson. Per the independent investigation, Robinson reportedly yelled at McNair to “get the f**k up” after falling out during the workout and just prior to the collapse that preceded his death.

“[O]ther trainers on site were responsible for a ‘failure to identify escalating symptoms’ for heatstroke,” the report from the independent investigation stated.