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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

Ole Miss hopes to hear back about NCAA appeal this fall, self-reports Level III violation for fans contacting recruits

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It was quite the week for Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke. First he faced the firing squad of media members at SEC Media Days in Atlanta and then he shuffled off to attend the school’s hearing in front of the NCAA Infraction Appeals Committee on Wednesday.

Per the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the Rebels are hoping for a decision on reducing their bowl ban and other restrictions at some point during this season:

(AD Ross) Bjork and football coach Matt Luke both said they expect the Infraction Appeals Committee to release its final decision, which will either confirm or revise the Committee on Infractions’ conclusions, sometime this fall. Bjork said Ole Miss has not been given a more specific timeline. The COI handed down penalties that included a two-year bowl ban, recruiting restrictions, financial penalties and probation for 21 allegations of violations.

But that’s not the only bit of news surrounding violations at the school this week.

Bjork confirmed to the paper that Ole Miss has self-reported a Level III violation to the SEC league office after a group of fans/boosters improperly contacted recruits through social media sometime late last year. The AD termed the behavior as “direct and deliberate,” resulting in the violation of NCAA rules limiting the contact with recruits. While that minor violation is unlikely to have any impact on the appeal, it’s notable because many of the initial major violations the school was hit for last year involved improper contact with boosters.

NCAA appeals in general are rarely successful so there’s still only a slim chance that the Rebels become eligible for a bowl game this year but until everything is exhausted in the process, Luke and the rest of the folks at Ole Miss can still hold out some hope that they might get a little relief come postseason time.

Baylor fires back at former AD Ian McCaw after lobbing allegations in deposition

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The war of words between Baylor and those who were fired and/or run out of town during the school’s sexual assault scandal is not ending any time soon.

Case in point came Friday as the university responded with a pointed statement directed at former athletic director Ian McCaw (now in the same job at Liberty) after he lobbed several accusations at the board and others in Waco of their handling of the matter. In a deposition for a lawsuit filed by several women against the school, McCaw claimed school officials had essentially “scapegoated” black football players and tried to pin the entire, decades-long scandal at the school on the football program.

Via Waco Tribune reporter Phillip Ericksen, Baylor has fired back after the deposition was made public and responded to most of the allegations by firmly denying them.

The back-and-forth between McCaw and Baylor also comes on the heels of former defensive coordinator Phil Bennett calling the entire university response “a fraud” and specifically noted errors committed by law firm Pepper Hamilton.

Needless to say, with multiple lawsuits still ongoing in various stages, things are still far from over when it comes to dealing with the aftershocks from the scandal that saw McCaw, former head coach Art Briles and many others lose their jobs. While Matt Rhule and the Bears football program may have done their best to move on, it’s pretty clear that we’re still years away from putting the entire matter in the rearview mirror.

After inheriting only 38 scholarship players, David Beaty hopeful Kansas is up to 70 in 2018

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If you had to pick the toughest program to win at the Power Five level, you would probably find near universal agreement that Kansas would be the place. Outside of that remarkable Orange Bowl run under Mark Mangino, the school has simply struggled to stay above water just about every season.

Such is the case with their current head coach in David Beaty, who is entering a critical year that could determine his job status for 2019 after going 3-33 at the school. As difficult as things have been on the field for him and his staff though, it’s been compounded by the fact that the Jayhawks have had their hands tied behind their backs as the result of a severe shortage of scholarship players.

As The Athletic detailed this week in a look into the program, Beaty incredibly inherited only 38 scholarship players from Charlie Weis. 38! The scholarship math thanks in part to the buyout-in-chief was even worse than what it looked like on the surface:

In the recruiting classes of 2012 and 2013, Weis and his staff brought in a combined 27 junior college transfers. Only two were academic qualifiers coming out of high school. Fourteen did not graduate, and 10 — including touted signees Marquel Combs, Chris Martin and Kevin Short — never saw the field. And then, by the end of 2014, they were all gone. So was Weis. Going into 2015, only 12 of Weis’ first 56 signees were still on the roster.

Even programs with NCAA sanctions are not in that kind of hole.

“We’ve had to be very creative since we’ve got here. I daresay this just may be the most creative staff in the history of the game,” Beaty said. “I’ve gotta laugh, because if I don’t, I’ll cry.”

No kidding.

Beaty hopes to have KU up to 70 scholarship players this season, still 15 short of the 85 that most of the teams he’ll be playing against. It’s been a struggle even to get to that kind of number which makes it even more likely the Jayhawks will struggle on the field once again in 2018.

Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen, Appalachian State’s Clifton Duck named Sun Belt preseason players of the year

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The SEC isn’t the only league in the South to release their preseason all-conference team on Friday as the Sun Belt named Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen and Appalachian State defensive back Clifton Duck as the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year for 2018.

Hansen is looking to repeat as Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year after winning the award at the end of last season after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and accounting for 44 touchdowns with the Red Wolves. Duck had six interceptions last year to help pace the Mountaineers’ defense and is tied with fellow first-team selection Blace Brown (who plays at Troy) for the most in the nation the past two seasons with 11.

All told though, the Neal Brown’s Trojans had the most selections across the two All-Sun Belt preseason teams with 11 players earning a nod.

The full 2018 Preseason All-Sun Belt team is below:

First Team Offense

QB – Justice Hansen

RB – Jalin Moore (Appalachian State), Warren Wand (Arkansas State)

WR – Justin McInnis (Arkansas State), Penny Hart (Georgia State), Marcus Green (ULM)

TE – Collin Reed (Appalachian State)

OL – Victor Johnson (Appalachian State), Lanard Bonner (Arkansas State), Kevin Dotson (Louisiana), Tristan Crowder (Troy), Deontae Crumitie (Troy) 

First Team Defense

DL – Ronheen Bingham (Arkansas State), Logan Hunt (Georgia Southern), Hunter Reese (Troy), Trevon Sanders (Troy)

LB – Anthony Flory (Appalachian State), Michael Shaw (Georgia State), Tron Folsom (Troy)

DB – Clifton Duck, Justin Clifton (Arkansas State), Monquavion Brinson (Georgia Southern), Blace Brown

First Team Special Teams

K – Gavin Patterson (South Alabama)

P – Corliss Waitman (South Alabama)

RS – Marcus Green (ULM)

Second Team Offense

QB – Caleb Evans (ULM)

RB – Wesley Fields (Georgia Southern), Trey Ragas (Louisiana)

WR – RJ Turner (ULM), Jamarius Way (South Alabama), Deondre Douglas (Troy)

TE – Ellis Richardson (Georgia Southern)

OL – Jacob Still (Arkansas State), Curtis Rainey (Georgia Southern), Hunter Atkinson (Georgia State), Shamarious Gilmore (Georgia State), Aaron Brewer (Texas State)

Second Team Defense

DL – Myquon Stout (Appalachian State), Marterious Allen (Georgia State), Tyree Turner (South Alabama), Marcus Webb (Troy)

LB – Silas Kelly (Coastal Carolina), Bull Barge (South Alabama), Bryan London II (Texas State)

DB – Tae Hayes (Appalachian State), BJ Edmonds (Arkansas State), Marcus Jones (Troy), Cedarius Rookard (Troy)

Second Team Special Teams

K – Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern)

P – Cody Grace (Arkansas State)

RS – Marcus Jones (Troy)