For much of the season, the likelihood of two SEC teams earning spots in the College Football Playoff seemed high. Sunday, we got there, but not in the way that anyone would’ve thought in October.
Alabama took the back door into the field, winning an assumedly tight battle against Ohio State for the No. 4 slot. The Crimson Tide now will face Clemson for the third time in three seasons (this time in the Sugar Bowl), while Oklahoma and Georgia will slug it out in the Rose Bowl.
As far as the national championship game goes, only four possibilities exist, and one of those is an all-SEC final between Bama and Georgia. It’s the 2017 SEC Championship Game we didn’t get, and — how about this! — it would be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
This past Friday before a 28-7 win over Auburn, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart was asked if he was relieved that — because of Alabama’s loss to Auburn the week before — he wouldn’t need to answer “60,000 questions” about his relationship with Nick Saban.
“I can only imagine sitting here today, if we were playing them, what the questions would be like,” Smart said.
He might not need to imagine much longer.
Fire up the Gus (Malzahn) Bus?
As the SEC title game wound down, the broadcast team of Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson wondered aloud about Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s future with the Tigers. It stoked the flames of a Malzahn-to-Arkansas fire that — within a few more hours — was raging.
The coach didn’t bother to douse the flames on Friday or Saturday. When asked directly about reports that his agents had presented new contract terms to the university, he deflected. When asked directly whether he would be Auburn’s coach in 2018, he responded, “I wanna be.” Sunday, a report from CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd estimated a 7-year, $50 million Arkansas offer may have hit the table.
One thing seems certain: Whether he leaves or stays, Malzahn is getting a nice raise.
The strip that swung the game
As outlined Saturday, there were four non-scoring plays that really sunk Auburn in its 28-7 loss to Georgia. The most gut-wrenching came early in the second quarter, when the Tigers appeared ready to take a 14-0 lead.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham stepped up in the pocket, and — instead of scrambling straight upfield — moved to his right in an effort to buy more time. That’s when Georgia defensive end Davin Bellamy rushed in from behind and stripped Stidham of the football. Linebacker Roquan Smith snatched it out of the ensuing pile, and the Bulldogs drove down the field for a 7-7 tie.
Regardless of your belief in the idea of momentum, that single play led to a significant shift in win probability and re-energized a Georgia crowd that had — to that point — booed itself into oblivion.
Jimbo Fisher arrives in College Station
It might be a rough start for Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, as the Aggies play both Clemson and Alabama in the first four weeks of the 2018 season. But fans in Texas absolutely have a right to be optimistic about A&M’s future.
Fisher doesn’t get enough credit for re-establishing Florida State as a national power at the turn of the decade. His new university may have sold him its soul with a mind-bending guaranteed contract, but there’s a strong chance he pays it all back before his time in College Station is through.
Jimbo Fisher is officially in Aggieland. pic.twitter.com/wARm2uqlk8
— 🎅🏾 Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 3, 2017
Who’s headed to New York?
Baker Mayfield sealed up the 2017 Heisman Trophy with an excellent performance against TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game. Who is going to join him in Manhattan next week?
Put your money on Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and Stanford running back Bryce Love. Jackson didn’t win any important games this season, but he put up video-game numbers (4,932 total yards and 42 total touchdowns). Love had a strong performance (125 yards and a touchdown) in a close loss to USC in the Pac-12 title game, giving him 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage.
If the Heisman Trust decides to invite more players (there’s a chance it won’t), look for San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny or — mayyyyyybe — Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, whose forgettable SEC championship performance might have sunk his chances of being a finalist.
The last time Georgia played in the Rose Bowl …
Most of you probably weren’t alive in January 1943. I sure wasn’t. But it was one of the most important months in Georgia football history, as the Bulldogs defeated the UCLA Bruins 9-0 to secure the school’s first (claimed) national championship.
Here are a few of my favorite nuggets from that game (made possible by research earlier this autumn):
- Georgia coach Wally Butts was cordial with the West Coast media, saying, “I don’t want to make anyone mad at me. I’m just a country boy in the big town for the first time and I want to do the right thing.” The Los Angeles Times’ Paul Zimmerman transcribed Butts’ “y’all” as “youall” (italics included).
- Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich had two bum ankles, one suffered during a scrimmage in Athens and one suffered during a scrimmage in Los Angeles. Charley Trippi stole the show, but Sinkwich, “obviously in great pain,” managed to plow over the goal line for the only touchdown of the day.
- Butts had an all-time great postgame quote as he ran off the field. “Don’t let those newspapermen in until I have had my shower,” he told the stadium guards. “The perspiration is rolling off me like water after those terrific goal-line stands by the Bruins.”