There isn’t much left to say.
It’s time to play.
The College Football Playoff national championship game is set for 7 p.m. CT Monday night, with top-seeded Alabama (13-1) going for its second consecutive national championship and fourth since the CFP four-team format began in 2015. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Tide plays No. 3 seeded Georgia (13-1), a rematch of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Dec. 4, won by Alabama 41-24, and a rematch of the 2018 National Championship Game, also won by Alabama, 26-23, in overtime.
While the revenge angle is popular, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it has no bearing on his team going into this game.
“I think a lot of external people talk about things like that,’’ Saban said yesterday, in the final pre-game press conference. “I think internally, you know, we talk a lot about what do you have to do technically in the game to be able to have success in terms of your ability to execute probably against the best player you played against all year.
“So that's how you have to prepare and that's how you have to focus, and that's what you need to be concerned about because I think once the game starts, five minutes into the game I don't know that anybody's thinking about all this stuff that you all talk about. So they're trying to win their box. They're trying to do what they can do to help their team, both sides of the ball. So we expect that, and that's what our players need to be focused on.”
Since losing to Georgia in Saban’s first year (2007) as head coach at Alabama – another 26-23 overtime game - the Crimson Tide won the next seven meetings, including in three SEC championship games and the one previous national championship meeting. The Bulldogs have held leads deep into the second half of four of these games, only to see victory slip away in the final minutes of regulation or overtime.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked about breaking that streak, and how much does he feel that pressure, not just internally but from fans and supporters of the Bulldog program. Georgia has not won a national championship since 1980, a drought of 41 years.
“No, I do not feel that," Smart said. “What I feel is how do we stop [Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner] Bryce Young and how do we control their front and how do we run the ball, how do we throw the ball with efficiency, how do we convert third downs and stop them in the red area. That [the pressure from fans] is the furthest from my concern because I don't all-in-all control that.
“What I control is who we recruit, how we develop players, how we keep people in our program, and then how we do scheme-wise and things. Because if you do that right, the other will take care of itself. But my focus and energy and entire mind is on what can we do to help our players play better.”
Young has been the key to Alabama’s success this year. This was a team that lost a lot of players from last year’s national championship team, a young team that took time for leaders to emerge and develop.
“Our players have done everything that we've asked them to do,” Saban said. “You never know exactly what's going on in the back of their mind, even though they show up for practice and do what they're supposed to do, they're paying attention in meetings, but they have a significant amount of time where they're doing other things. So how they can sort of refocus when you need to refocus is probably the most important thing.
“Bryce (Young) does about as good a job as anybody we've ever had in our program in terms of how he prepares for a game, how he studies the other team, how he sort of knows the ins and outs of what we want to try to execute and what we want to try to do on offense. He's well-liked by his teammates. He's a leader, and he's got sort of an emotional stability about him that he doesn't really get frustrated or upset in any kind of way even when things don't go well.
“He can stay focused and keep doing what he thinks he needs to do to be able to have success and make adjustments, adapt to what he needs to do,” Saban continued. “He's a very, very mature guy, way beyond his years in terms of how he views what he needs to do to be successful. And he's pretty committed to it and has [a] pretty [much] single-minded purpose in trying to get it done. And I think it does impact and affect other players on the offensive side of the ball.”
Smart sees that in Young too. In his first season as a starter, Young has thrown 46 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and is ranked fifth nationally in passer rating (one spot behind Georgia starting quarterback Stetson Bennett IV).
Young set an SEC championship game record with 461 yards of total offense in the Alabama win last month, passing for three touchdowns and running for another against a Georgia defense that had allowed only seven touchdowns in 48 quarters entering that game.
“We talk about him as Houdini, because he can make people miss," Smart said Sunday. "He gets rid of the ball. People don't even account for the number of times this guy has avoided sacks and thrown the ball with no intention of anybody catching it. But he knows where to throw the ball to not take a sack. When you can do that, you're really elite.”
When Smart talks, he sounds a lot like Saban – and for good reason. Smart has been a part of Saban’s staff three times: at Alabama, where he was defensive coordinator, and at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.
“My biggest goal was to be successful when I came to Georgia,” Smart said. “When you take on your first head coaching job, I was very fortunate to work under some really good head coaches, the likes of Coach Saban, (former Florida State) Coach (Bobby) Bowden, (Former Georgia) Coach (Mark) Richt and my father (a successful Georgia high school coach). And a lot of those people impacted me.
“But as far as the way we organize and run the program, most of that came from my time spent with Coach Saban. There was a year at LSU, a year at [the] Dolphins. You take a lot of things from the places you come from in your history. That's certainly helped shape me as a coach.”
But is it good enough to finally beat Alabama?
Alabama has had dominant periods in college football, but Saban has taken that to a new level, winning six national championships in 15 years.
“I think the rational folks think we can do it (beat Alabama)," Smart said. "But we haven't done it, so until you do it, there's going to be all kinds of speculation that can be very negative."