AUBURN, Ala. — SEC Championship Game combatants Georgia and Alabama capped their regular seasons with road wins over in-state rivals on Saturday afternoon, but the games were nothing alike.
The betting public seemed to notice, as the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs jumped from 4 1/2-point favorites against the Tide to 6 1/2-point favorites on Saturday night.
Georgia plays Alabama at 4 p.m. next Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the SEC Championship Game.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs dominated Georgia Tech from start to finish in a 45-0 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
The No. 3-ranked Crimson Tide, meanwhile, battled through a 4-overtime slugfest at Jordan-Hare Stadium, escaping Auburn with a 24-22 victory.
Georgia was a 35-point favorite over Georgia Tech and played like it, continuing what Coach Kirby Smart has referred to as an “ascension.”
Smart, in his sixth year leading his alma mater, has created a program that has risen high above the college football landscape to a level of its own in the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record.
The Bulldogs appear to be growing stronger at a time when other programs are wearing down, with star receiver George Pickens making his return Saturday from the ACL injury he suffered last March.
Alabama, meanwhile, had to overcome 11 penalties for 129 yards and seven sacks on its Heisman Trophy contending quarterback, Bryce Young.
It took an epic 12-play, 97-yard drive in the final 1 1/2 minutes for the Tide to force overtime against a Tigers’ team that entered the contest on a three-game losing streak.
The mood entering this year’s Georgia-Alabama clash is quite different from last season when the Tide opened as a 6.5-point favorite for a game played in Tuscaloosa.
Both teams have changed a great deal since then.
Alabama had 10 players selected into last year’s NFL Draft off its 2020 CFP Championship Team, six taken in the first round including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
Georgia had a program-record nine players drafted into the NFL, including SEC sacks leader Azeez Ojulari and first- and second-round cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell.
The Bulldogs’ defense has reloaded effectively, to say the least, allowing an astonishingly low 6.92 points per game in this era of explosive offensive football.
Offensively, Georgia has become one of the most efficient programs in the nation, with Burlsworth Trophy candidate Stetson Bennett quarterbacking a physical, play-action offense that ranks among the nation’s Top 10 in scoring (40.6).
“We’ve really tried to work hard on getting better,” Smart said after capping the perfect season. “That’s been the emphasis, is what can we improve on. The last two weeks we’ve been trying to be ascending.”