By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
SEC Championship Recap
Georgia took a 10-0 first quarter lead over Alabama last Saturday, and it looked like the Bulldogs were going to cruise to a perfect regular season entering the playoffs. Alabama quickly figured out the elite Georgia defense, however, and the Crimson Tide dominated the final three quarters en route to a 41-24 victory and a second straight SEC title. UA outgained the Bulldogs 536 to 449, and quarterback Bryce Young finished 26 of 44 for 421 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Jameson Williams caught seven passes for 184 yards and two scores, while John Metchie snagged six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown before injuring his knee in the second half. It was Alabama’s best performance of the season. The win earned the Tide the No. 1 overall seed, while Georgia is the No. 3 team in the playoff field.
Week 15 SEC Rankings
1. Alabama (12-1, 8-1)
2. Georgia (12-1, 8-1)
3. Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2)
4. Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)
5. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4)
6. Mississippi State (7-5, 4-4)
7. Tennessee (7-5, 4-4)
8. Kentucky (9-3, 5-3)
9. Missouri (6-6, 3-5)
10. South Carolina (6-6, 3-5)
11. Auburn (6-6, 3-5)
12. LSU (6-6, 3-5)
13. Florida (6-6, 2-6)
14. Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8)
College Football Playoffs and Bowl Season
For the second straight season, Alabama will be the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff. Alabama will take on No. 4 Cincinnati – the only undefeated team remaining in the country – in the semifinal at the Cotton Bowl. Cincinnati is the first Group of 5 team to make the playoff field since this format began in 2014. The Bearcats are 22-1 over the last two years, with their only loss coming in a 24-21 defeat to Georgia in last year’s Peach Bowl. Alabama will be without John Metchie but is still a double-digit favorite.
In the other semifinal, Georgia meets Michigan in the Orange Bowl in what should be a very physical and defensive slugfest, as both teams want to run the ball and rely on their defenses to control the game. Georgia is over a touchdown favorite, but Michigan is capable of winning this game as the Wolverines proved with a dynamic performance in a win over Ohio State, where UM was a touchdown underdog.
Except for Vanderbilt, every SEC team qualified for a bowl game. Auburn will take on Houston in the Birmingham Bowl, while Florida takes on UCF, Missouri plays Army and Misissippi State faces Texas Tech. South Carolina and North Carolina square off in Charlotte in a border-war battle, Tennessee plays Purdue in Nashville, Texas A&M faces Wake Forest in what should be a shootout in the Gator Bowl, Arkansas and Penn State meet in the Outback Bowl, Kentucky and Iowa face off in the Citrus Bowl and LSU plays Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. Finally, Ole Miss and Baylor square off in the Su-gar Bowl in New Orleans on New Year’s Day.
Four players were invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York City, including Alabama’s Bryce Young, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. Young is the favorite to win the award and would be the fourth Alabama play-er to win the award. The previous three UA winners also came in the Saban era.
A pair of SEC schools made coaching hires during the past week. Florida re-placed Dan Mullen with Louisiana head coach Billy Napier. A former Saban assistant, Napier was 40-12 at UL. He takes over a Florida team that finished the 2021 season 6-6 and won the East Division a season ago. LSU made one of the splashiest hires of the offseason when the Tigers lured Brian Kelly away from No-tre Dame. Kelly’s name was not mentioned in the initial list of candidates, and he bolted from South Bend despite having a chance to make the playoffs. Kelly was 113-40 with the Fighting Irish, including five straight seasons with at least 10 wins. He also took ND to two playoffs and a national title game in 2012. Kelly, who is 166-62 overall as a head coach, takes over for Ed Orgeron, who won a national title in Baton Rouge just two seasons ago.