A mere 37 days after they last played, Alabama faces Georgia again with a national championship on the line.
History shows how tough it is to win again in the rematch.
Nick Saban knows that first-hand – from the losing side.
During the 2011 season, Saban’s Crimson Tide were edged by LSU 9-6 in overtime during the regular season.
When the powerhouses met about two months later in the BCS championship game at New Orleans, Alabama smothered the unbeaten Tigers 21-0.
Now, it’s the Tide (13-1) on the other side, looking to beat Georgia (13-1) for the second time in a little over a month after a 41-24 cakewalk in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 4.
They meet again Monday night at Indianapolis in the College Football Playoff title game, their last meeting separated only by a pair of easy victories in the semifinal bowl games.
Saban tried to shrug off any comparisons to 2011, for obvious reasons. This time, he’s the one who’ll have to beat an SEC rival for the second time to finish No. 1.
”Those two games were extremely hard-fought, close games in both circumstances, and I would expect the same in this game,” Saban said. ”I don’t know that there’s anything that I can really take from that (2011) experience that’s going to have any effect or impact on this one.”
Georgia is hoping to replicate a similar scenario from the 2017 season.
The Bulldogs were blown out by Auburn 40-17 during the regular season, but got another crack at the Tigers three weeks later in the SEC championship game.
Again, it was no contest, only the rematch had Georgia romping to a 28-7 victory that sent the Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart conceded that some key things have changed compared to what was on film leading up to this season’s SEC championship game.
The Bulldogs can now study what they did wrong in their only loss of the season, as well as an impressive bounce-back victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Eve.
”You’ve got to be careful,” Smart said. ”What tendencies changed, what matchups we’re looking for, who is in, who is out. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
There are a couple of reasons why a second meeting during the same season can be so much different than the first.
For one, the team that lost usually has plenty of obvious things it can work on in practice to try to reverse the outcome. Not so for the winning team, which has a natural tendency to stick with what worked so well.
More important, perhaps, is the mental side.
A team that lost usually finds it a lot easier to get motivated heading into the rematch.
Rest assured, the Bulldogs – a unanimous No. 1 much of the season – have a huge chip on their shoulders after the way they were manhandled by the Crimson Tide last month.
”You can only judge a man by what he does next and how hard he gets hit and gets back up,” Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith said. ”We got hit pretty hard.”
Rematches are rare in college football, but it’s common n the NFL where division foes meet twice a year.
Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken has plenty of experience at that from his time in the pros.
He doesn’t expect major chances from either team, but knows there will be some opportunities to break out a new wrinkle here, a tweak there.
”If you’re constantly changing what you do and your identity, I don’t think you’re going to be very good at anything,” Monken said. ”Obviously there’s calls that we had … or other opportunities that we didn’t get called. So we’re looking forward to the opportunity and the shot at it. And they’re going to get our best, I can promise you that.”
This will be the first rematch in the CFP’s eight-year history, but pre-playoff matchups provide some hopeful signs for the Bulldogs.
During the 1996 season, for instance, Florida lost its regular-season finale to Florida State 24-21 – a game that left Gators coach Steve Spurrier seething over what he perceived as cheap shots by the Seminoles that went unpenalized.
Florida earned another crack at its Sunshine State rival by beating Alabama in the SEC championship game.
In the Sugar Bowl, the fired-up Gators blew out Florida State 52-20 to claim what would be Spurrier’s only national championship.
”You see why I didn’t want to play them again, don’t you?” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said afterward. ”Too good.”
Saban hopes he’s not saying the same thing about Georgia late Monday night.
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