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Georgia’s running duo, Roquan Smith, and kicking game may give Bulldogs the edge on Alabama

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban has established quite a reputation when going up against his former assistants, but Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is looking to break the trend in the biggest game imaginable. Saban’s perfect record against his former assistants will be put to a mighty test against the Bulldogs, coming off a red-hot offensive performance in the Rose Bowl to come away with a double-overtime victory to clinch a spot in Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game. Unlike other former Saban assistants, Smart may have the best opportunity to put a dent in Saban’s record against his assistants.

Saban improved his career record against former assistants to an amazing 11-0 when Alabama crushed Florida State in the season opener in Atlanta, setting the tone for a lost season in Tallahassee that ended with Jimbo Fisher finding his way to Texas A&M. That particular season opener was supposed to be one of the toughest challenges Saban had against one of his former assistants, with Florida State entering the 2017 season as a popular pick to make a national title run. As we found out, that was far from the case. But this will be the first time Saban has had to go up against one of his more recent assistants, and Smart is arguably the best equipped to give Saban some concerns.

It begins with Georgia’s running game. As the Rose Bowl showed, these Bulldogs are a force to reckon with on the ground with the running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Oklahoma was incapable of slowing either down, with Chubb rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries and Michel going off for 181 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns, including the game-winner in double overtime off a direct snap. Georgia’s ability to dabble in a power running game with Chubb and more of a speed attack with Michel was a challenge for Oklahoma to keep up. The major difference in the championship game is Oklahoma has the 54th-ranked rushing defense and Alabama comes in ranked first in the nation against the run, allowing just 91.77 yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns all season long through 13 games. Do not expect Georgia to rack up the offensive yardage on the ground the way they did against the Sooners, but Georgia’s advantage will be the ability to adjust their running styles to keep Alabama on their toes.

You also have to wonder if Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm will ever cave under the pressure when the lights are the brightest. So far, the answer has been a resounding “nope.” Fromm comes into the national championship game with a higher passer rating, more passing yards, and more passing yards than his Alabama counterpart, Jalen Hurts. Hurts has been in this game before, of course, but Fromm is quickly amassing a number of big games himself, including in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the SEC Championship Game was definitively won by the Bulldogs against Auburn. Fromm will come into the game without an interception in his last three games; a rivalry game against Georgia Tech, the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, and the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. At this point, Fromm has arrived and will be as confident as you can get for a freshman.

The offense will be up against a juggernaut with Alabama’s defense, and Georgia’s defense may need some plays out of Roquan Smith. It took a while for Smith to have a significant impact in the Rose Bowl, but the game reached a point where Smith put himself in position to make clutch tackles. Look for Smith to play a big role on the defense once again. Georgia will need that out of him, but the Bulldogs also need to tighten up their own defensive concerns after a long day against Oklahoma.

And if there is one distinct advantage Georgia has in this game, it is placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship nailed a 55-yard field goal against the Sooners at the end of the first half that helped Georgia gain an ounce of momentum before the break. Alabama’s kicking woes have long been a concern for the Crimson Tide. Not having that kind of anxiety on the Georgia sideline if a field goal is needed should be comforting for Smart.

No. 7 Georgia stays in playoff position with win at Georgia Tech

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The conventional wisdom suggests the SEC champion will go on to play in the College Football Playoff, with the expectation of the SEC champion being either an undefeated Alabama or one-loss SEC champ. Following a season-ending 38-7 victory on Saturday against Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4 ACC), No. 7 Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC) did their part to make sure they remain in playoff contention with those qualifications in play.

The rushing combo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb may not have had a blockbuster day on the ground, but it was more than effective with a combined 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Michel’s touchdown run was especially smooth in the third quarter to put Georgia up 24-7.

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Jake Fromm had a role in the blowout too, of course. Fromm completed 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 224 yards and two touchdowns, and he even picked up some rushing yards for good measure. Georgia doubled the offensive production of Georgia Tech in the game and prevented Georgia Tech from taking away time on the clock with long scoring drives.

Georgia will now take on either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game next week in Atlanta. The opponent from the SEC West will be determined today in The Iron Bowl with Auburn hosting the No. 1 Crimson Tide. Auburn thrashed Georgia just a few weeks ago, but Georgia and Alabama have not played each other this season. Regardless of the opponent, the stakes will be high as it is universally accepted the SEC champion will be one of the four teams selected to play in the College Football Playoff. The only team that can potentially suffer a loss in the title game and still stand a decent shot of being included in the playoff without a mass chaos scenario in play appears to be Alabama, and even that is not a guarantee depending on the variables in play.

Georgia has not won the SEC championship since 2005, when the Bulldogs topped No. 3 LSU by a score of 34-14. Georgia is 0-2 in the conference title game since then, with back-to-back losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Win or lose, Georgia is guaranteed to be going bowling. Georgia Tech will now have to wait and see if any bowl vacancies still need to be filled. At 5-6, Georgia Tech is not eligible for the postseason (Georgia Tech only played 11 games after having a game against UCF scrapped due to a hurricane early in the season. The Yellow Jackets could ask for a waiver but otherwise would have to be standing in line to fill any leftover bowl spots that may be available. And those vacancies may not be there this season.

Late TD gives Georgia Tech a spark, but Georgia holds 17-7 lead at halftime

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Still with a chance to make the College Football Playoff, Georgia still has a little business to attend to today against Georgia Tech. So far, good enough for Georgia with the Bulldogs up 17-7 on their in-state rivals at halftime.

Georgia Tech appeared to start the game in horrible fashion with a kickoff return by Jerry Howard initially appearing to reach just outside of Georgia Tech’s own end zone, but an official ruling determined the kickoff should have been blown down for a touchback. But Georgia Tech could not do much of anything with the football on the game’s opening possession and had to punt away to the Bulldogs. Georgia then went on a 12-play touchdown drive covering 61 yards and capped by a Nick Chubb touchdown run on the goal line for a 7-0 lead.

Georgia Tech’s best scoring opportunity came on their first drive at the start of the second quarter but ended in futility with a turnover on downs after not being able to convert on fourth and four from the Georgia 34-yard line. Georgia took advantage and extended its lead to 14-0 five plays later. Jake Fromm connected on a touchdown pass to Javon Wims from 21 yards.

Georgia Tech managed to get points on the scoreboard before the end of the first half. After grinding their way to the Georgia 10-yard line, Ricky Jeune hauled in a pass from TaQuon Marshall after finding empty space amid a defensive breakdown in the endzone.

A win for Georgia would send them to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game still on the College Football Playoff radar. A second loss may not necessarily eliminate Georgia from playoff contention, but it would be more difficult to recover.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: College Football Players to Fall in Love With

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A new college football season is nearing, and it will feature some terrific playmakers you should be well aware of. Odds are you are familiar with some of the players you should know, but now is a good a time as any to introduce the experienced and the brand new fans of college football to some of the top players to keep you entertained in 2017. You will have a blast watching these players do their thing this season and you will want to watch every game they play for the chance to witness greatness.

Without any further adieu, here are the players that will keep you most entertained this fall.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
In a season that has a number of good running backs around the country, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley may be the best there is. Penn State’s offense may be the best in the Big Ten, and Barkley is one of the reasons why. Barkley has shined in big games for the Nittany Lions the past two seasons, including in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and Rose Bowl against USC, and he will have his opportunities to lead Penn State to some big wins this season with his moves.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Leonard Fournette
may have been the star attraction out of LSU’s backfield the past few years, but Derrius Guice made a name for himself last season as one of the top running backs in the SEC. Now, Guice steps into the leading role without any question and he should be the main cog in LSU’s offense this fall while the Tigers try to get a passing game figured out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Keeping with the running back theme (and there are a number of others that could have been mentioned), we stay in the SEC to remind you that Georgia still has Nick Chubb ready to carry the ball. Chubb should be a key player in Georgia’s season, even though he will be splitting running calls with Sony Michel. But Chubb’s ability to burst through the line and get downfield with authority will be an essential ingredient to Georgia’s offensive game plan.

Derwin James, S, Florida State
Some will argue Florida State’s best player may actually be the best player in the nation. Derwin James is ready to make plays on every snap, and after missing the bulk of the 2016 season due to a knee surgery, James is ready to make up for some lost time. Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles will have James lining up all over the field, and he will be a key player in the highly-anticipated Week 1 matchup with Alabama.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Ed Oliver’s recruiting to Houston took the recruiting world by storm, and he has had quite the impact in his young career at Houston. Expect more of the big man to destroy the line of scrimmage this fall. Oliver would be a beast to contain in any conference, but do not look past his performance in the AAC this fall. Oliver will continue to show just how much fun watching a defensive tackle can be this fall.

Quinton Flowers, QB, USF
If there was one thing Charlie Strong really needed to be successful at Texas, it was his Longhorn version of Teddy Bridgewater. Now at USF, Strong has his quarterback in Quinton Flowers. Flowers is among the top players from the Group of Five and will give the Bulls as good a chance as any to not only win the AAC, but also guide the Bulls to a New Years Six bowl game.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Louisville’s quarterback may have won the Heisman Trophy last season, but a brutal finish to the season has left the reigning Heisman Trophy winner laying in the shadows this offseason it seems. Expect that love affair with the dynamic quarterback to be rekindled quickly as Jackson looks to pile up big numbers to start the season once more to remind us all why he captured the nation a year ago. History may be against Jackson’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy again this season, but do not be surprised if he manages to return to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Honorable mentions: Sam Darnold (QB, USC), Justin Jackson (RB, Northwestern), Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma), Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State), Mike Weber (RB, Ohio State), J.T. Barrett (QB, Ohio State), Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA), Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon), Jordan Whitehead (S, Pittsburgh), Da’Shawn Hand (DE, Alabama), Myles Gaskin (RB, Washington)

Doak Walker Award watch list highlighted by 2016 semifinalists Barkley and Pettway

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A watch list of the top running backs in the nation has been released by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award watch list is full of great players, including 2016 Doak Walker Award semifinalists Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).

Among those included on this year’s initial Doak Walker Award watch list (more players can be added at any time) are LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LJ Scott of Michigan State, Mike Weber of Ohio State, and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin.

D’Onta Foreman of Texas beat out both Barkley and Pettway last season for the award. The Doak Walker Award has been presented to the nation’s top running back annually since 1990. Among the winners over the years have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball.

To be included on this watch list, the university athletic department must submit a nomination.

2017 Doak Walker Award Watch List

Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Jordan Chunn, Troy
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
D’Andre Ferby, WKU
Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Myles Gaskin, Washington
James Gilbert, Ball State
Derrius Guice, LSU
Damien Harris, Alabama
Kyle Hicks, TCU
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Chris James, Wisconsin
Ty Johnson, Maryland
Ronald Jones II, USC
Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
Tonny Lindsey Jr., Utah State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Sony Michel, Georgia
Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Jamal Morrow, Washington State
Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Jacques Patrick, Florida State
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Demario Richard, Arizona State
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
LJ Scott, Michigan State
Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Armand Shyne, Utah
Justin Silmon, Kansas State
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Terry Swanson, Toledo
Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Mark Walton, Miami
Warren Wand, Arkansas State
Tre Watson, California
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Braeden West, SMU
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
Shaun Wilson, Duke
Marquis Young, Massachusetts