This article is part of our College Football Picks series.
We've made it through bowl season and we're treated to an all-SEC showdown for all the marbles Monday in Indianapolis. Before I dive in, WynnBet has some early splits for how the betting markets are shaping up as of Thursday.
Moneyline: ALA 77.7% of tickets, 90.7% of money (+125)
Spread: ALA 67.9% of tickets, 70.5% of money (+3)
Total: 60.3% of tickets, 65.7% of money (52)
WynnBet opened Georgia -2.5 and are currently at 3. The total opened at 52.5 and is currently at 52.
From the looks of things, the public isn't buying the Tide as 'dogs. Georgia may be favored, but the bets are pouring in on Alabama. 90% of the money is on Alabama to win outright and 70% of the money is on the Tide to at least cover three points. The moneyline market is particularly lopsided, though that's just the info from one book. When the public is that strongly on one side, I raise an eyebrow, even if it might be behind Red and Black colored glasses. Let's look deeper into this matchup and see what we can find.
We'll start with the most recent matchup as it's the most salient. What happened there? Well, Georgia came into the game riding high on the first 12-0 regular season in program history and had a 488-83 point differential. Alabama, meanwhile, looked mortal multiple times during the season, especially late in the year with narrow wins over unranked LSU (6 points), #22 Arkansas (7 points) and unranked Auburn (2 points).
On one hand, Georgia hadn't faced an offense in the same stratosphere as Alabama's (save for maybe Tennessee) and the team was mostly untested in terms of playing in close games, let alone having to keep pace on offense when the defense let down. But there was also a certain degree of hubris in not emulating any of the things that other teams did that worked against Alabama, namely blitzing Bryce Young. Georgia rolled with what had gotten it to Atlanta and the result was Bryce Young standing back in the pocket and carving up the secondary with Jameson Williams and John Metchie. The Bulldogs had zero sacks that day and Young hung 421 yards and three touchdowns on them. Prior to that game, Alabama allowed 2.91 sacks per game, which would rank 109th in FBS.
Georgia's letdown on defense put the offense in an uncomfortable spot and the game got out of hand from there. Public opinion soured so much on the Bulldogs that more than half of the money on their playoff game against Michigan was on the Wolverines, who were 7.5-point underdogs. The Bulldog offense contained Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo en route to getting out to a hot start and hanging 27 first-half points.
This game boils down to Georgia keeping a lid on the Alabama passing game and generating a pass rush on Bryce Young. Not having John Metchie certainly stings for the Tide but the likes of Ja'Corey Brooks, Jojo Earle and even Agiye Hall are all well-regarded prospects who have shown promise. Tight ends like Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley stand to be plenty involved as well.
If Bryce Young has time to sit back in the pocket, the Metchie absence won't be as significant because Young with time is without a doubt the most dangerous quarterback in the country. If he gets hurried, though, as we saw in games against LSU and Auburn, Young can look mortal. Anything less than a great game from Young could sink the Tide.
On the other side, Georgia will need to continue to its high level of pass protection. The Dawgs were great on the line against Michigan and kept Will Anderson mostly at bay in the SEC Championship game. Anderson is capable of singlehandedly wrecking drives so as long as Georgia keeps his impact in check, the offense will be able to put up some points on an Alabama defense that isn't quite to the level we've come to expect.
In the end, I expect this to be a much more competitive game than the one we saw in Atlanta back in December. I can see paths for either team to win. In the end, I defer to Alabama's edge at quarterback and believe that the Tide can at least cover the spread and even win this one outright (+115).
All Props Courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Jameson Williams OVER 6.5 receptions (-140)
That's a hefty amount of juice to be giving up on a prop but Williams is the 1, 1a and 1b in the Alabama passing game now that John Metchie is out. Williams' target didn't explode in the semifinal against Cincinnati as he drew nine, but his target share is what's important. Alabama only threw it 28 times and Williams commanded a 32 percent target share. That is significant as it gives us an idea of where Bryce Young is looking now that Metchie isn't an option. In a game like this where the run game won't be as successful as it was against Cincinnati, look for Alabama's passing volume to tick upward while Williams' target share remains constant. I expect Williams to push for 10-12 targets and easily clear 6.5 receptions.
Jermaine Burton OVER 2.5 receptions/ Over 35.5 receiving yards (-115)
Burton is the x-factor in the Georgia passing game. Much was expected from him coming into the year with George Pickens being sidelined and Burton's own late-season breakout in 2020. Injuries mostly derailed Burton's season, and though he missed a couple of games, there were several weeks where he could play minimal snaps. He has rounded into form late in the year, though, hauling in three of four targets for 36 yards last time out against Alabama and delivering a backbreaking 57-yard touchdown against Michigan in the semifinal. While Pickens is back now, albeit not at the peak of his powers, and Brock Bowers has emerged as the alpha of the Georgia passing game, Burton can be a difference-maker. Alabama will do what it can to minimize Bowers' impact Monday and I believe Burton will be Georgia's counterpunch. Sprinkling a little on his anytime scorer prop (+275) makes sense if you're in on these other Burton props.
James Cook OVER 20.5 receiving yards (-115)
Cook has been a weapon out of the backfield all season, catching 25 of 29 targets for 269 yards and four touchdowns. He has four catches in each of his last two games and has cleared the 20.5 number in each as well. When Stetson Bennett gets pressured, he looks to Cook as a safety valve. In addition to that, offensive coordinator Todd Monken also likes to split Cook out wide and use his speed on downfield routes. Look for Cook to be a major factor in the Georgia passing game Monday.
Stetson Bennett OVER 13.5 rushing yards
Bennett is a much better athlete than he gets credit for. He racked up 283 rushing yards on 48 rushes (5.9 YPC) this season and cleared this number eight times. When plays break down, Bennett is not afraid to take off and he often picks up chunk yardage when he does. This number is so low that just three or four scrambles should carry us to the over hitting.
Georgia -0.5 1st Quarter Spread (+125)
This is simply a bet that Georgia will be in the lead after the first quarter, and we're getting it at plus-money. Georgia doesn't have trouble getting early leads. The problem has been keeping them.
Anytime Touchdown Scorer
Darnell Washington (+750)
Going down the board a bit but Washington absolutely has a chance to find the end zone. He did it in the first meeting with Alabama. His playing time ramped up down the stretch with 41 snaps against the Tide and 50 snaps, a season-high, against Michigan. It's unlikely that he'll draw many targets but the snap count increase helps his cause. Alabama will be preoccupied with bracketing Brock Bowers in the red zone, and that could lead to a look for the 6-foot-7 Washington.
Both players profile as the No.2 option in their respective offenses and both have shown big-play ability.
Alabama Defense (+450) and Georgia Defense (+350)
Both of these teams can force turnovers and have the athletes to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. We saw Alabama run a pick back for a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and the Bulldogs had three defensive scores on the year.