Georgia football: The top 5 National Championship Game storylines

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 5:33 PM

University of Georgia Football By The Numbers

The top 5 National Championship Game storylines

Alright, folks. The time for reminiscing on the Rose Bowl has passed (for now). It’s time to focus squarely on what’s next: the National Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. It seems like we should have more than a week to prepare ourselves for such a monumental matchup, but we get what we get. So let’s waste no more time and get right into it. Here are the top 5 Georgia storylines heading into Atlanta.

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The Teacher vs. The Pupil— Ever since Kirby Smart was hired by Georgia, college football fans have been anticipating the day he met his mentor and former boss, Alabama coach Nick Saban, on the field. But most folks expected that first meeting to come in an SEC Championship Game, not the National Championship Game. And this first — of possibly many — between Smart and Saban also brings with it the opportunity for Smart to achieve something no former Saban assistant has done before: Beat the man they used to call boss.

A potential changing of the guard … or at least a step in that direction — Even if Georgia is able to claim the national title, it will still be the second-best program in the SEC. The four national titles and five SEC titles Saban has won in Tuscaloosa has given the Tide a nice cushion at the top. But considering this is only Smart’s second season at the helm in Athens, the fact it took Saban three seasons to win his first at Bama and the way Smart is recruiting, it’s safe to say the Dawgs have their sights set on becoming the top program in college football.

A chance for Georgia’s seniors to go out on top — One of the most important moments of the 2017 season happened eight months before kickoff against Appalachian State. This season wouldn’t have been possible if Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy bolted for the NFL after their junior season. Between their production on the field and leadership off it, they’re the four most important players on this team. They came back to win something big, so it would be fitting if they left Athens after winning the biggest game there is.

>> Related: Trump plans on attending Georgia-Alabama championship football game

Revenge is a dish best served cold (and dry) — The last time Georgia and Alabama met on the field was on a rainy day at Sanford Stadium in 2015, and the Tide destroyed the Dawgs 38-10. I’m sure there are plenty of members of this Georgia team who haven’t forgotten the misery brought on by both the rain and soul-crushing loss. I sure haven’t. It may be two seasons later, but the National Championship Game will be a chance to serve up some revenge on the biggest possible stage. At the very least it should be dry this time.

Home away from home — The only way to improve the setting of the National Championship Game, from a Georgia perspective, would be to play it in Sanford Stadium. But making the 60-mile trip to Atlanta is a close second. Although it ain’t nearly as close as Athens, Tuscaloosa ain’t too far either, and Alabama will be well-represented. Inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it’ll probably be a 50-50 split. But outside it’ll be all Dawg. Every Bulldogs fan in the metro area, and many out of it, are gonna show up to the Benz in hopes of maybe scoring a ticket, or at least being in the vicinity when and if the Dawgs make history.

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Recoup and recover

Between the physicality of the Rose Bowl, the length of the game, the emotion toll of a hard-fought victory and the cross-country flight from California to Georgia, I’ve been a bit worried about how drained Georgia’s players will be by the time Monday rolls around. Count Kirby Smart in that camp as well. From Chip Towers of DawgNation:

“I talked with the players immediately afterward about not burning any more emotion or energy on that game and keep moving on,” Smart said on a College Football Playoff championship teleconference call Tuesday afternoon. “Alabama had a little more sound victory, so they probably didn’t burn quite as much emotion, although I know it was emotional to beat a team that beat them last year. The focus going forward will be on preparing for Alabama and a great program that Coach Saban has got.” …

>> Related: The National Championship game: What time, what channel, odds, livestream for Alabama vs. Georgia

“You emphasize rest, recovery. You emphasize what we talk about all the time, which is getting your sleep, getting your dark hours, getting off your phone,” Smart said. “… We’re starting school this week, too, so that’s another deal on top of our kids that they get to deal with. When you start dealing with a lot of outside influences on your kids’ time, you’ve got to be smart as a coach and understand you’ve got to get the most out of them, but we’ve got to be smart with our practice time and our recovery time.”

A special season

As amazing as Sony Michel and Nick Chubb played as lights out as the defense was in the second half of the Rose Bowl, neither was the ultimate difference in defeating Oklahoma. That would be special teams. Three special teams plays completely changed Georgia’s chances: Tae Crowder’s quick move on the squib kick, Rodrigo Blankenship’s 55-yarder and, of course, Lorenzo Carter’s blocked field goal.

>> Related: Alabama’s Nick Saban admits beating Georgia will be very difficult

But the Dawgs’ special teams prowess wasn’t limited to just the Rose Bowl. Their improvement in that facet of the game over last year is one of the major reasons they find themselves on the cusp of a national championship. From Seth Emerson of DawgNation:

Read more here.

The Georgia Bulldogs celebrate with newspapers after the Bulldogs beat the Oklahoma Sooners 54-48 in double overtime in the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal Game at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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NCAA championship: Brothers Calvin, Riley Ridley to face each other as rivals

Published: Monday, January 08, 2018 @ 6:23 PM

UGA, Alabama to Face Off In National Championship

They haven’t talked all week, and they’re not going to. Not until after the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

“I’ll probably give him a hug, text him, start back everything,” Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley said. “We’re brothers, you know.”

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While a lot is being made of the numerous relationships between the coaches, including of Nick Saban squaring off against his former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, no one in the title game has a stronger bond than Alabama junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley and his younger brother Riley.

“I want him to do good … but I want us to win,” Calvin said.

Although the brothers say that they’re close, and are usually in touch, they’ve put that on hold. Usually they’re often in contact, either though texts or phone calls, but after what they called a normal Christmas back home in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area, they sort of went their own ways for a bit.

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They had enough to worry about in dealing with Clemson and Oklahoma in their respective semifinal games.

“It’s been intense,” Riley Ridley said. “Mom doesn’t know who she wants to root for. She’s a little nervous because both of her boys will be on the field at the same time.”

Wide receiver Riley Ridley #8 of the Georgia Bulldogs (L) will face off against his brother, w ide receiver Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday in Atlanta.(Michael Chang/Getty Images, Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Calvin thinks she’ll lean toward Riley because he doesn’t have a national championship ring, and this way both would have one.

Regardless, the winner will have lifetime bragging rights.

“You better believe it,” Riley Ridley said.

Although Riley Ridley was also recruited by Alabama, he opted for Georgia in part to forge his own path — and at his brother’s encouragement.

The sophomore reserve has eight receptions for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns this season.

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Calvin leads Alabama with 59 receptions for 935 yards and four touchdowns this season. No one else on the Crimson Tide has more than 16 catches.

He’s second in Alabama history with 220 catches and 18 receiving touchdowns, and third in receiving yards with 2,749.

“Calvin is special,” Nick Saban said during the national championship game media day Saturday morning.

Calvin said none of the defensive backs had asked him for advice on covering his brother, but if they asked him he would. “He’s big and he has good hands,” are the keys.

Riley (6-2, 200 pounds) is a little bigger and more physical. Calvin (6-1, 190) is more of a technician and isn’t afraid to throw blocks on much bigger defenders.

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As for who is better at getting under an opposing player's skin during a game, they’re not quite in agreement.

“We don’t really talk trash,” Riley Ridley said. “It may look like we talk trash, (but) it’s more of ‘Let’s go! That’s all you got?’”

“He is probably,” Calvin said.

Both thought this matchup was going to happen in this building, but in a different game. Georgia clinched a spot in the SEC championship game early, but then Alabama lost at Auburn — setting up the rematch of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” which has been described as like playing your brother.

“It’s the perfect stage,” Riley Ridley said.

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NCAA Championship: When will Donald Trump arrive in Atlanta?

Published: Monday, January 08, 2018 @ 2:22 PM

Trump To Attend College Football National Championship Game

President Donald Trump is set to arrive in Atlanta on Monday about two hours before the Georgia-Alabama game.

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The president will fly with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville and will arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, at 6 p.m.

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He’ll take a motorcade from there to downtown Atlanta, with plans to arrive at the stadium shortly before 7 p.m.

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The fans who paid top dollar to watch Georgia face Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may not see the president, but his presence should be obvious.

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His decision to catch the championship game adds a twist to the biggest college football contest in Georgia’s history — and a host of soon-to-be answered questions.

Read more about Trump’s plans to visit the game at Politically Georgia.

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College football championship survival guide: Parking, tailgating, MARTA, what not to bring

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 6:31 PM

How To Stay Safe At Large Venue Events

Wipe that late night Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl-watching blurriness out of your eyes. It’s time to really get focused now:

College football’s National Championship Game in Atlanta is right around the corner!

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The game kicks off at 8 p.m. on Monday, January 8, 2018 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With longtime rivals Alabama and Georgia vying for national bragging rights, along with the usual Southern ones, there’s no telling how high emotions and ticket prices will go. 

But one thing we already know for sure: On Game Day and the two days leading up to it, downtown Atlanta will be packed with hundreds of thousands of people taking in free concerts, Playoff Fan Central, the “Extra Yard 5K” run and the rest of the related pigskinpalooza

  >> Related: Many events planned around college football champions

If you’re one of them, you doubtless have lots of questions. Like: Is there public transportation to events? Are coolers allowed? Can I really go to Media Day if I’m not a member of the media?



Yes, but only if you want to see how glamorous our jobs really are, cough, cough! 

Here’s your complete Survival Guide to the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship weekend:

When: Saturday, January 6 - Monday, January 8, 2018.

>> Related: The National Championship game: What time, what channel, odds, livestream for Alabama vs. Georgia

Mercedes Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta is hosting the NCAA Championship game between Alabama and UGA on Monday , Jan. 8, 2018. Kickoff is 8 p.m. (Brandan Camp/ Special to AJC)

Where: Atlanta. Everything takes place on “Championship Campus,” a walkable area bordered by Northside Drive, Ivan Allen Junior Blvd. and Ted Turner Drive (see map here). Besides most major hotels and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, venues located on “campus” include Centennial Olympic Park (site of the nightly AT&T Playoff Live! concert series and fireworks shows), the Georgia Aquarium (Taste of the Championship) and the Georgia World Congress Center (Playoff Fan Central).

>> Related: Alabama’s Nick Saban admits beating Georgia will be very difficult

Driving and Parking: There are more than 20,000 parking spaces within a 20-minute walk of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which offers offers maps and links to pre-purchase parking for most stadium events.

Read more here.

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Who is Mary Beth Smart, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart’s wife?

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 3:32 PM

University of Georgia Football By The Numbers

The first lady of Georgia football is a Bulldog star herself.

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Mary Beth Smart, wife of head coach Kirby Smart, was a star player on the Lady Bulldogs in the early 2000s. Her name still resides on the annals of Georgia women’s basketball. 

A full profile of the former Mary Beth Lycett appeared in DawgNation. Here are some highlights:

• Mary Beth Lycett was an exceptional basketball player. She was named Miss Georgia Basketball her senior year at Morrow High and played for Andy Landers’ Lady Bulldogs from 1999-2003.

Mary Beth Lycett was a star player on the Lady Bulldogs from 1999 to 2003. Her name still resides on the annals of Georgia women’s basketball. (Radi Nabulsi/UGA Sports)

>> Related: Saban has a remarkable record against former assistants AJC Sports

• She started 41 of 51 games over her final two seasons in Athens. She remains listed among Georgia’s all-time leaders in 3-point shooting percentage, free throw percentage and minutes played.

• Mary Beth and Kirby did not attend UGA at the same time. She is is 5 1/2 years younger than him. They met when he returned to Georgia to work for Mark Richt as running backs coach in 2005. Mary Beth was working in the athletic association’s business office at the time and he had to call her to arrange his travel to Athens for the interview.

• Mary Beth and Kirby started dating in 2005 and were married in Athens in summer 2006 at St. James United Methodist Church.

• She is an avid tennis player. She ran the Chicago Marathon in 2014.

• Kirby and Mary Beth Smart have three children, twins Julia and Weston (born in 2007) and their youngest son, Andrew. 

>> Related: Georgia football: The top 5 National Championship Game storylines

• Following Kirby’s hire as Georgia football coach in 2015, the Smarts moved into a 1920s cottage on a three-acre lot a few miles from Athens.

The first lady of Georgia football, Mary Beth Smart, is married to UGA’s head coach Kirby Smart. They have three children together.(Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

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