Repeat or revenge: Alabama vs. Georgia, again, for CFP title

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama has a chance to repeat. Georgia has a chance for revenge.

The rematch is set, and it will decide the College Football Playoff national championship. After a pair of easy wins in the semifinals on Friday night, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs – the only two teams to be ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season – will meet again to decide the title on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

Alabama will be seeking a seventh national championship in the last 13 years under coach Nick Saban. Georgia is playing with hopes of claiming its first national title since Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to the title in the 1980 season.

“I think we’re good enough,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said in the din of the Orange Bowl postgame celebration. “Obviously, they’re a great team. But we’re going to enjoy this one tonight and start preparing for them tomorrow.”

This matchup comes after Alabama – big underdogs entering that game – had little trouble in what became a 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC championship game back on Dec. 4, costing the Bulldogs a chance at an undefeated season and giving the defending national champion Crimson Tide a trip back into the playoff mix.

Alabama needed that win.

Weirdly, Georgia felt it needed that loss.

“For our team, it was a wake-up call,” Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said that night. “I think we needed one. We got a wake-up call from a really good team. If we get a chance in the playoffs, I think that wake-up call will help propel us forward.”

Oh, the Bulldogs were awake on Friday night.

They blew out Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl, taking the field not long after Alabama had little trouble dismissing Cincinnati 27-6 in the other CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

“To have another opportunity to play for a national championship … it’s like a dream come true,” Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. said after the Cotton Bowl.

Predictably, the Tide didn’t do much talking about Georgia following their win. Most teams would never go down that road, talking about an opponent in tournament play before the next matchup is actually set. But Georgia, playing the later game on Friday, probably could have let Alabama begin entering its thoughts probably somewhere around halftime when the Bulldogs had a 27-3 lead over the Wolverines.

“We’ve got a lot of things to fix,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the Orange Bowl. “We got to fix some of them over the break. They got about a five-, six-hour head start on us. We’ve got to get back and get to work for what is a really good football team.”

With all due respect to Michigan, by then, it was clear: The All-SEC rematch was happening. The first CFP title game saw Ohio State defeating Oregon. All seven editions since have featured at least one SEC team – Alabama six times, LSU once and now Georgia twice.

“Well, the team has an opportunity to win the national championship,” Saban said Saturday in an appearance on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” “So you expect to play a good team. We’re still probably going to be underdogs in the game, I would assume. Georgia played an outstanding game last night. The part that I saw against Michigan, they were dominant.”

Alabama has gone 3-2 in its previous CFP title game appearances, alternating wins and losses every time. Nobody in the CFP era has won back-to-back titles; Alabama is 0-2 in its opportunities to do so, and Clemson also lost when it had a bid for consecutive CFP crowns.

Georgia can only hope that trend continues.

Not only is this an SEC title game rematch, but it’s also a rematch of the best – or at least, closest and arguably most dramatic – title game of the CFP era, now in its eighth season.

Alabama and Georgia played for the CFP crown in Atlanta to close the 2017 campaign. Georgia led 13-0 at the half, but Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and threw a game-ending 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that capped the Tide’s 26-23 overtime win.

The title game has been nothing but routs since: Clemson beating Alabama 44-16, LSU beating Clemson 44-25, Alabama beating Ohio State 52-24 last season.

Oddsmakers don’t expect a blowout this time around: Georgia was quickly established as a 2 1/2 point favorite over Alabama by FanDuel Sportsbook, that line being set before the Bulldogs-Michigan game had even gone final.

“We think we play in the greatest conference in the world,” Smart said. “We’ve got an opportunity to play a really good football team in Indianapolis.”

And it makes tons of sense that these are the last two teams standing.

The Tide and the Bullodgs spent six weeks ranked No. 1 and No. 2, in some order, in the AP Top 25 this season. Big things were expected of both teams from the outset: Alabama started No. 1, Georgia began at No. 5.

But even though Saban is 25-1 against his former assistant coaches – including 4-0 against Smart, who spent 11 years with him in Tuscaloosa – history says a rematch for the national title is a great sign for the Bulldogs.

In the 2011 season, LSU beat Alabama in the regular season. Alabama won the rematch for the Bowl Championship Series national title.

In 1996, Florida State topped Florida in the regular season. The Gators rolled past the Seminoles for the national title in what was then called the Bowl Alliance.

Now, it’s Georgia with a shot at turning the tide.

All it has to do is beat the Tide.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.