Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Which College Football Playoff matchup is more intriguing?
Josh’s Take: Michigan vs. Georgia
Gene, when I asked if we really had to tackle this topic, I appreciate you politely telling me yes. Being the professional that I am, I will put aside my feelings regarding a non-OSU playoff and give you an un-biased opinion. All four teams in this CFP clearly belong, so I think we should start by appreciating that. The committee got this thing right, so even though our favorite team is not participating, we will see the four best teams in college football battle it out. I haven’t decided on a favorite to win the title, but when it comes to which semifinal game will be the most compelling, I think there is a definitive answer.
To me, the matchup between TTUN and Georgia is the far-and-away winner. It takes a giant of a man to admit that TTUN belongs in this playoff, but I don’t want a parade thrown in my honor. This is the job and the expectation. When a team such as Michigan earns their spot in the final four, it is time to give them the “M” and their respect. Respect Michigan and their first conference championship since 2004. Respect Jim Harbaugh and his sterling record against rivals. Respect this team looking for its first bowl victory, of any kind, since 2015. I don’t want to hear any disparaging words from you, Gene. I am going to tell why this matchup is the superior semifinal game.
It’s just a really good matchup on paper. That’s my reasoning. I hate to be anti-climactic, but I think Alabama vs. Cincinnati is a bit of a mismatch. As much as I am pulling for Luke Fickell and UC, I believe Bama activated their own deathstar. Postseason Saban is a different animal. He has his team poised for another National Championship run, and I’m not sure anybody will stand in their way. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. And I won’t be upset if that ends up being the case.
TTUN – UGA is a war between two doppelgängers. Conventional wisdom tells us that contrasting styles often result in the most interesting games. I disagree. This particular game might end up being a rock fight, but because both teams are so similar, I think it will be more of a chess match. Can I interest you in a chess match between Jim Harbaugh and Kirby Smart?
On offense, both of these teams love to run the ball with multiple ball carriers. TTUN has Thunder & Lightning in Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, while Georgia has a stable of talented combo backs of their own with Zamir White, James Cook, and Kenny McIntosh. I think UGA has the talent edge here, but it’s close. Give me TreVeyon Henderson eight days a week, but if I were forced to choose another running attack for my team, UM and UGA would be near the top of the list.
In the passing game, neither team is particularly great, but they are efficient. Between Stetson Bennett and J.T. Daniels, UGA completes over 65 percent of its passes, and the team has totaled 33 passing touchdowns. For TTUN, Cade McNamara has taken control of the QB position and performed admirably. Again, we’re looking at a 65 percent completion rate, but McNamara has thrown only 15 touchdowns. He is not asked to do much, but he takes care of the ball with good decisions (4 INT). I would again give UGA the edge here, but again it’s close. George Pickens being back makes the difference for me.
As for defense… I think they’re both great? After Georgia’s vaunted D laid an egg against Alabama, it’s fair to wonder whether or not they were elevated by their schedule and/or opponents. However, I believe in the talent for UGA. Jordan Davis is a freak (in the best way), and impacts the game despite his limitations. Their linebackers are probably the best in the country. The secondary was exposed against Bama, but they will be going up against a Michigan team that doesn’t throw the ball a ton. Against a non-Alabama offense, we might see the Georgia defense from the regular season.
As opposed to UGA, I feel like I know what TTUN’s defense is capable of. After the conference championships, I think they might have the better unit. Crazy, I know, but they haven’t been exposed to the degree that UGA has. When they faced their biggest test of the year, they came out on top. I believe Ohio State has a better offense than Alabama, so if you’re doing single-game comps, well…
We know it starts up front with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Those two create a ton of pressure and open up opportunities for their teammates. At the second level, I was more impressed with Josh Ross than I thought I would be. Same goes for Junior Colson. In the back end, TTUN’s secondary is just as good as UGA’s. Maybe this is recency bias, but I can’t get Jameson Williams running all over the field, out of my head. Yes, TTUN gave up 394 yards passing to Ohio State, but Ryan Day > Bill O’Brien, and OSU has infinity wide receivers. Once John Metchie exited the SEC Championship Game with an injury, UGA should have had an easier time slowing down Bama, yet Jamo still burned them. One defense is trending up, while the other is trending down, and I think you can figure out which is which.
What’s going to make this game even better is that both teams have something to prove. Both head coaches have something to prove. Is TTUN finally back? Can UGA win the big one? We have no idea, but it should make for great football theater. The two teams are very similar, and I believe both are very good. It pains me to say that about TTUN, but they are more than legit. UGA was the unanimous #1 for much of the year. This game has instant classic potential, whereas Alabama vs. Cincinnati has instant turn-the-channel potential. Sorry Luke…
Gene's Take: Alabama vs. Cincinnati
I want to start out my section here by echoing Josh’s sentiment that these are the four best teams in college football this season. While we would have loved to see Ohio State make the College Football Playoff, Michigan proved they were the better team in the head-to-head matchup, and it wasn’t really particularly close. The Buckeyes had a whirlwind of issues this year between the defensive unit as a whole, the offensive line and the assistant coaching staff at large, and the Wolverines were able to exploit pretty much all of those areas in one way or another as they finally emerged victorious in The Game.
I have been about as loud as anyone this year in saying that I didn’t think this year’s Alabama team was all that good, and I am willing to admit that I am wrong. I dont think this version of the Tide is nearly as good as they were last year, but Nick Saban finds a way to get the most out of his teams in the biggest games. Alabama’s offensive line played like garbage all season long, and their defense was certainly lacking by Alabama’s standards. Against what was supposedly the No. 1 defense in the country in the SEC title game, the Tide’s offensive line played by far its best game of the season and the defense did more than enough to keep Stetson Bennett and the Bulldog offense out of the end zone for most of the afternoon.
Georgia had stomped out pretty much everyone in its path before that crushing defeat to Alabama, and so it would have been hard to argue them out of the top four even after the loss. Cincinnati went undefeated, and while they dont play in a power conference, they did convincingly defeat Notre Dame on the road — a team that finished in at No. 5 — and did everything they could do in their own control by beating every team on their schedule, including a pair of impressive victories against SMU and Houston to close out the season. All four teams in the field are clearly deserving, and I dont think there was really a single other team that even had all that much of an argument with the way the conference title games played out.
So that brings us to the matchups, and since Josh took the No. 2 vs. No. 3 game already, I will pivot to Alabama vs. Cincinnati. Yes, on paper this is a matchup not all too many people expect to be close. The Crimson Tide are college football royalty, while the Bearcats had to basically go undefeated for two straight seasons just to even have a chance to play on this stage. The betting odds paint a similar picture, as Saban’s group is favored by nearly two touchdowns over Luke Fickell and the boys while Georgia is merely a seven-point favorite over Michigan. However, I am here to tell you that despite all this, the No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup will be more intriguing.
For one, I love the quarterback battle in this game. Everyone knows how good Bryce Young has been this year, and he will almost certainly be awarded the Heisman Trophy for his 4,300-plus yard campaign with 43 touchdowns to just four interceptions. While the numbers may not be as gaudy on the other side, Desmond Ridder has had a tremendous season for Cincinnati. The senior threw for nearly 3,200 yards with 30 touchdowns to eight interceptions, doing so without the benefit of having one of the fastest receivers in college football in Jameson Williams to just lob the ball up to whenever the offense is in trouble.
Speaking of the Juiceman, that sets up an incredibly exciting one-on-one matchup in this game between Williams and the Bearcats’ star cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. While each guy comes with his own spectacular nickname, what they do on the field is equally impressive. Following his transfer from Ohio State, Williams immediately cemented himself as the No. 1 option on Alabama’s offense, leading the team with an impressive 1,445 yards and 15 touchdowns that could result in a Biletnikoff Trophy. Gardner, a three-year starter for Cinci, hasn’t allowed a single touchdown in his collegiate career, recording nine interceptions in the process.
While that individual battle will be one to keep an eye on, it is really a microcosm for how this game will play out. If Gardner and the Bearcat defense are able to limit Williams and the deep passing attack of Alabama, this should be a hotly contested game. Cincinnati has a better offense than Georgia does, and Luke Fickell isn’t as apt to melting down in big games like Kirby Smart. This team has taken its fair share of punches this season, and has battled back each and every time. Cinci has the defense to keep them in this one, and the offense is good enough to test a Tide defense I'm still not sure is all that good outside of Will Anderson Jr. — who, to be fair, is a tremendous talent.
I’m really excited to watch this game, and while there seems to be this odd idea from Cincinnati fans that Ohio State fans are at all bitter and rooting against the Bearcats because the Buckeyes aren't in the playoff, that couldn’t be further from the case. It’s odd seeing those takes from the same Cinci fans I saw donned in OSU gear on Saturdays for so long, but I digress. Regardless, I think the vast majority of Buckeye Nation is rooting for Fickell to continue his magical ride to the title game. It wouldn’t be the first time a No. 4 seed from Ohio knocked off No. 1 Alabama in the first round...