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Preview: Alabama & Georgia clash in all-SEC college football championship

Alabama defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand (9) celebrates his sack in the second half of the Sugar Bowl semi-final playoff game against Clemson for the NCAA college football national championship, in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

No. 4 Alabama (12-1) faces No. 3 Georgia (13-1) in an all-Southeastern Conference College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban tries to tie former Alabama coach Bear Bryant's record six major poll national championships. Saban has led the Tide to four national championships since 2009, and the last three national championship games.

Georgia, coached by former Saban assistant Kirby Smart, is looking for its first national championship since 1980.

The Bulldogs feature the most prolific running back combination in college football in senior Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. They combined for six touchdowns in the Bulldogs semifinal victory against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

Alabama has to No. 1 rushing defense in the country and smothered Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal to get here.

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.

When: Monday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Line: Alabama by 3 ½.

Series: Alabama leads 38-25-4.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

The national championship, most importantly, but that's not all. Georgia coach Kirby Smart could become the first of Nick Saban's former assistants to beat him as a head coach. Saban is 11-0 against his former employees. Alabama is going for its fifth national title under Saban since 2009 and 11th during the major poll era, which started in 1936. No school has won more than Alabama's 10 AP national championships. The Crimson Tide is playing in the CFP title game for the third straight season, having split the previous two with Clemson. Georgia is searching for its first national championship since 1980, second overall, in its first trip to the playoff.

KEY MATCHUP

Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel against Alabama's top-ranked run defense, led by NT Da'Ron Payne. Seniors Chubb and Michel are the first Georgia teammates to run for more than 1,000 yards in the same season and the roommates went off in last week's Rose Bowl victory against Oklahoma, combining for 326 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Alabama allows 2.7 yards per carry and the 302-pound Payne's play is pivotal, consuming blockers and allowing linebackers such as Rashaan Evans to track down ball carriers. If Georgia's dynamic duo of Chubb and Michel is slowed that puts more pressure on freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to produce.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts. The sophomore has now led his team to the championship game in back-to-back years. Still, his shortcomings tend get more attention than his strengths. Hurts is not the most refined passer, but he threw 17 touchdowns and just one interception and ran for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.

Georgia: LB Roquan Smith. The Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker and the only defensive player to finish in the top-10 of Heisman voting. Even in a game that featured 104 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense, Smith was one of the best players on the field in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.

FACTS & FIGURES

Alabama OLB Anfernee Jennings, who was one of the Tide's best players against Clemson, is out with a knee injury. Jamey Mosley and Terrell Lewis will likely pick up playing time with Jennings out. ... Georgia OT Isaiah Wynn and Alabama OT Jonah Williams were both all-SEC selections. Wynn was a second-team All-American and Williams made the third team. ... Alabama WR Calvin Ridley is third on Alabama's career receiving list with 2,749 yards and second in catches with 220. ... Saban is 20-12 against teams ranked in the top five in his career ... Chubb and Michel have combined for 8,259 yards rushing, more than any FBS running back duo and surpassing SMU stars Craig James and Eric Dickerson, who ran for 8,192 yards. ... Alabama is No. 1 in the country in yards per play allowed (3.92). Georgia is eighth (4.65).

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