Alabama creates College Football Playoff chaos with upset of Georgia in SEC championship game

ATLANTA — Alabama has won the most improbable of its nine SEC titles under Nick Saban, defeating No. 1 Georgia, 27-24, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But there’s a larger issue that will spark a significant national debate over the next several hours: Is it enough to get the Crimson Tide into the College Football Playoff?

Alabama is far from a perfect football team, but it did enough when it had to Saturday to beat Georgia. Alabama struggled to run the ball, and quarterback Jalen Milroe completed just 13-of-23 passes for 192 yards. But the Crimson Tide’s defense was able to stop Georgia when it mattered, created a key turnover in the second half and committed just three penalties.

Alabama had a 10-point lead at halftime but gained just 36 yards on its first four drives of the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to climb back within 20-17.

Then, almost out of nowhere, Milroe led Alabama on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to re-establish a 10-point cushion with 5:47 remaining.

Georgia came right back down to score with 2:52 left, meaning Alabama needed a few first downs to ice the game. Milroe responded with a 30-yard carry up the middle on the first play from scrimmage, then used his legs to get another first down that effectively ended Georgia’s chances of getting the ball back.

Alabama has beaten the No. 1, No. 11 (Ole Miss), No. 13 (LSU) and No. 21 (Tennessee) teams in the CFP rankings. But its only loss, by 10 points to Texas back on Sept. 9, is complicating matters.

That’s because Texas is also 12-1 and the Big 12 champion.

If Michigan defeats Iowa later Saturday, it will join Washington as unbeaten power conference champions in the playoff field. That would leave three teams for two spots: Unbeaten Florida State (which plays Louisville for the ACC title later Saturday), Alabama and Texas.

The Seminoles’ situation is complicated because starting quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a horrific leg injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season and will not return for the Playoff. But typically, the CFP selection committee has honored unbeaten power conference champions.

So if the decision comes down to Alabama vs. Texas, does the committee go for an Alabama team with a stronger overall résumé or a Texas team that won the head-to-head matchup? Either way, that would mark the most controversial decision in the entire history of the 10-year playoff. — Dan Wolken

Alabama vs. Georgia highlights

Alabama 27, Georgia 24: Bulldogs respond again

It’s getting late, but Georgia is still alive, as the Bulldogs responded to an Alabama score with a fourth-down touchdown to make it a 27-24 Alabama lead with just under three minutes left.

The Bulldogs faced a fourth-and-inches early in the drive, but Daijun Edwards was able to run for 11 yards to extend the drive. On the next play, Jaheim Oatis sacked Carson Beck but he grabbed his facemask in what was a huge mistake for the Crimson Tide.

Georgia then rolled the next three plays to get to the 1-yard line, but the Bulldogs couldn’t punch it in on second or third down. On fourth-and-goal, with the heavy offensive line in, Kendall Milton was able to find the hole and punch it in to make it a three-point game. Georgia was able to go 75 yards down the field in 2:55 and only used one timeout.

With two timeouts left, the defense will need to get the ball back to the offense if Georgia wants to pull off the comeback win. — Jordan Mendoza

Alabama 27, Georgia 17: Crimson Tide take another double-digit lead

Alabama answered right back with a score of its own to extend its lead back to double-digits.

Jalen Milroe opened Alabama’s drive with a 21-yard completion to Isaiah Bond, followed by a 9-yard run by Roydell Williams to get the Crimson Tide to midfield. The drive looked like it was about to stall on third-and-3 before a shifty Milroe avoided a sack and completed a 13-yard shovel pass to Bond to move the sticks. The nine-play, 75-yard drive was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Williams.

Bond accounted for 57 of the 75 yards on the touchdown drive. He’s up to five receptions for 79 yards on the night.

Alabama is up 27-17. — Cydney Henderson

Alabama 20, Georgia 17: Bulldogs get crucial fourth quarter touchdown

It looks like the SEC championship – and perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoff – will come down to the final minutes.

Georgia has cut the deficit down to three points, as a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Carson Beck has made it a 20-17 game with 10 minutes left.

The Bulldogs got off to a great start on the drive after Anthony Evans III returned a punt 28 yards to give the offense great field position. On a third-down play, Alabama’s Terrion Arnold was called for pass interference on Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint to keep the drive alive.

On the following play, Carson Beck found one of his favorite targets in Ladd McConkey for a 15-yard pass to get it to the 1-yard line before the quarterback punched it in. Now the Bulldogs defense will look to shut down the Alabama offense again and get the ball back with a chance to tie or go ahead. — Jordan Mendoza

Alabama 20, Georgia 10: End of third quarter

ATLANTA — The third quarter ends pretty much how it began: With Alabama holding a 10-point lead. But boy, was it ever a wild ride to get there. Alabama leads 20-10, and Georgia is going to need something very special to win this game and keep its hopes alive for the College Football Playoff. Frankly, the Dawgs are lucky not to be down more after a horrific turnover late in the quarter when quarterback Carson Beck and receiver Dillon Bell didn’t execute a clean handoff on the end-around after some misdirection intended to get Alabama’s defense going the wrong way. Alabama got the ball at Georgia’s 11-yard line but couldn’t punch it in, settling for a field goal.

Will Alabama’s failure to score a touchdown open the door for Georgia? Does Georgia have enough offense to come back?

This is a pretty fascinating game all around, but so far there’s no question Alabama has been the better team. Georgia has out-gained the Tide, 240-189, but Nick Saban’s team has played cleaner football. Neither team has run the ball effectively. Beck and the Georgia passing game has been limited with Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey basically non-factors.

I think Georgia is going to have to change that in order to come back in this fourth quarter. — Dan Wolken

Alabama extends lead after Georgia QB Carson Beck fumbles

The Georgia Bulldogs coughed up the first turnover of the game.

With the Bulldogs pinned at their own 17-yard line, QB Carson Beck attempted to hand the ball off to Dillon Bell, but Bell never received it. Instead, the ball was fumbled and recovered by former Bulldog Trezmen Marshall at Georgia’s 11-yard-line.

Despite recovering the ball in the red zone, Alabama wasn’t able to find the end zone. The Crimson Tide settled on a 28-yard field goal to extend their lead over Georgia to 20-10. — Cydney Henderson

Controversial sack call ends Alabama drive

A sack that maybe wasn’t a sack stopped a potential Alabama scoring drive.

On third-and-3 from the Georgia 33-yard line, Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe looked to be sacked by Jalon Walker, but Milroe immediately got up and continued to run past the first down line before the referees blew the play dead.

On replay, it looked like Milroe was wrapped up by Walker and landed on his body, but it wasn't super obvious if he hit the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. CBS Sports rules analyst Gene Steratore said Milroe’s leg did hit the turf via his shin, and it appeared to be the correct call — but it's still a call fans will be talking about. — Jordan Mendoza

Georgia field goal makes it a one-score game

After giving up 17 straight points, Georgia is finally back on the board.

The Bulldogs punted on their opening drive of the second half, but were able to generate some momentum on their next drive thanks to a big 51-yard catch as Carson Beck connected with Arian Smith to get the offense in the red zone.

The next three plays weren’t much, and on third down, Beck nearly threw an interception that was dropped. Peyton Woodring then came in and knocked in a 34-yard field goal to make it a 17-10 deficit. Georgia went more than 29 minutes of game time without scoring. — Jordan Mendoza

Controversial Alabama catch sets up touchdown

Was it a catch?

Before Alabama made it a 17-7 game just before halftime, the Crimson Tide got a big fourth-down conversion with Jalen Milroe finding Isaiah Bond for a 22-yard pass. Two plays later, Alabama was in the end zone.

But a replay of the pass from Milroe to Bond showed the receiver got his hands under the ball before the ball hit the ground. The ruled completed catch was never reviewed, and certainly had fans debating whether or not it was indeed a catch. — Jordan Mendoza

Analysis: Jalen Milroe, Alabama take halftime lead; time for Georgia to step up

ATLANTA — Well, well. I expected this to be a good game, and unlike some people, gave Alabama a decent chance at pulling the upset. But I did not think this first half would go the way it has gone. The Crimson Tide heads into halftime with a 17-7 lead, and frankly has been the much better team after Georgia’s opening drive. Since taking a 7-0 lead, Georgia has just 60 yards on 20 plays. Meanwhile, Jalen Milroe is starting to figure some things out and the Georgia pass rush hasn’t been enough of a factor. Just a messy half from Georgia overall, including the false start penalty it took before what would have been a 45-yard field goal attempt to tie the score at 10. Instead, the 50-yarder was missed and that gave Alabama a huge shot of momentum late in the half.

Milroe hasn’t been perfect and has missed some makable throws (6-for-12, 110 yards), but give him a ton of credit for a terrific 4th-and-4 completion to find Isaiah Bond dragging his defender to the sideline and making a really tough catch against good coverage. That’s a game-changing play right before halftime that set up Milroe for a touchdown with 48 seconds left in the half.

Georgia is definitely in some trouble here, but the Dawgs will get the ball first coming out of halftime. Let’s see how they respond now, knowing their playoff hopes are likely done if they don’t win this game. — Dan Wolken

Alabama extends lead over Georgia after fourth-down conversion

Alabama QB Jalen Milroe connected with receiver Isaiah Bond for a 22-yard completion to convert on 4th-and-4. The reception set up Alabama at Georgia’s 15-yard line. Milroe found receiver Jermaine Burton in the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown pass, capping a nine-play, 69-yard drive.

Alabama has scored 17 unanswered points since Georgia’s dominant opening drive touchdown. The Crimson Tide lead 17-7 heading into halftime.

Milroe has six completions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to 12 rushing yards. — Cydney Henderson

Georgia field goal no good after it hits upright

It’s a game of inches.

Georgia was driving and looked to take the lead back from Alabama, but a tackle for loss and sack put Georgia way back in Alabama territory.

Peyton Woodring came in to attempt a 45-yard field goal, but a false start pushed the Bulldogs back. Woodring was now set for a career-long 50-yard field goal. It looked good off Woodring's foot, but the ball continued to push right and hit the upright. It then bounced into the end zone, and Alabama retains its 10-7 lead. — Jordan Mendoza

Bulldogs defensive lineman Christen Miller tackles Crimson Tide running back Jam Miller.
Bulldogs defensive lineman Christen Miller tackles Crimson Tide running back Jam Miller.

Alabama takes the lead after fourth-down conversion

After two three-and-outs to start the game, the Alabama offense has found its stride by taking its first lead of the SEC title game, 10-7.

The defense forced Georgia into another three-and-out and got the ball at their own eight-yard line, but made it all the way into Bulldogs territory. Just outside the red zone, Alabama faced a fourth-and-one, and Nick Saban decided to go for it. The call worked with Roydell Williams getting the first down.

On the next play, a holding call pushed Alabama back 10 yards, but it was no problem, as Jalen Milroe found Jam Miller on a wheel route to go 28 yards untouched into the end zone. The touchdown capped a 10-play, 92-yard drive that took four and a half minutes. Williams paced the offense with 41 yards on the drive. — Jordan Mendoza

Analysis: Are Jalen Milroe, Alabama up to the task offensively?

ATLANTA — Things have settled into more of the type of game I expected as the first quarter comes to a close. Alabama seems to have found its footing defensively after Georgia marched down the field without much resistance on its opening drive. The Tide was able to flip the field toward the end of the first quarter and got a field goal out of it to at least put some points on the board. But I still don't see a lot of signs yet that Alabama is up to the task offensively. Georgia seems content to play a lot of zone and see if Jalen Milroe is good enough to pick it apart. So far, at the end of the first quarter, he's not doing it: Just 1-for-6 passing for 9 yards and hasn't come close on the three deep shots he's attempted. — Dan Wolken

Will Reichard, Alabama get on the board with record-breaking field goal

After coming up empty-handed following back-to-back 3-and-outs, Alabama finally got on the board with a 43-yard field goal from kicker Will Reichard. With the field goal, Reichard broke the NCAA all-time points record with 533 career points.

Reichard pointed to the sky following his successful field goal, a nod to his late father and former kicking coach, according to the CBS broadcast.

Alabama trails Georgia 7-3. — Cydney Henderson

Alabama can’t get offense going

Alabama’s offense has yet to get going. The Crimson Tide opened Saturday’s SEC championship game against Georgia with back-to-back 3-and-out drives. Alabama has -1 total yard of offense through two drives.

RB Roydell Williams opened the Crimson Tide’s second drive with a six-yard run, but quarterback Jalen Milroe couldn’t connect with receivers Malik Benson and Jermaine Burton on the next plays to move the sticks.

Alabama trails Georgia 7-0. — Cydney Henderson

Analysis: Alabama must manage down, distance

ATLANTA — Hello from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Georgia is out to a 7-0 lead over Alabama. Frankly, it looked a little too easy as Georgia went 83 yards in eight plays. The one thing the Tide couldn’t afford to do here is fall behind because their offense is just not built to start going score-for-score. I was a bit surprised to see Alabama throw a deep shot on its first play from scrimmage, which is not Jalen Milroe’s strong suit. That put Alabama behind the sticks right away, and it was a quick three-and-out as Milroe got sacked looking for an opening on third down. Alabama is going to have to be a little more careful about managing down and distance today because 2nd and 10 is going to be difficult to overcome in my opinion. Let’s see how Alabama responds here. — Dan Wolken

Georgia scores on first drive

The Bulldogs came to play in Atlanta.

After forcing a three-and-out on Alabama’s opening drive, Georgia marched 83 yards down the field in eight plays and just under four minutes to get in the end zone to start the scoring in the SEC championship game.

Carson Beck was perfect on his four pass attempts on the drive, including the first two plays that resulted in 37 yards gained. Kendall Milton then broke through the right side of the line for an easy score to take the lead 7-0. — Jordan Mendoza

What college football games are on today?

Here are the kickoff times and TV info for conference championship games.

Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck practices before the SEC championship against the Crimson Tide.
Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck practices before the SEC championship against the Crimson Tide.

Georgia vs. Alabama bold predictions

It will be a meeting of familiar foes in the SEC championship game with No. 1 Georgia facing No. 8 Alabama in a game that has major College Football Playoff implications.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have met four times in Atlanta during the past seven seasons. Three matchups decided the SEC title. A fourth in the 2017 season decided a national title. The two national powers also met in Tuscaloosa in 2020 and the 2021 playoff championship game in Indianapolis. Alabama won the first five of the six meetings, but Georgia did win the last one that was the first of its consecutive national titles.

The Bulldogs will assuredly be back in the playoff with a victory this season and be two wins from a historic third championship in row. The Crimson Tide will be looking upend their neighbors to the east and also earn their own semifinal berth if things break right on the final weekend.

The stage is set for a dramatic finish to the SEC's last season before expansion brings in Oklahoma and Texas. Here are our picks for the game.

College football conference championship picks

Here are our college football conference championship expert picks:

College Football Fix 

The final College Football Playoff rankings reveal on Sunday can go two ways. There could be no drama if all the four remaining unbeatens win their respective conference championship games and earn spots in the semifinals. There could also be chaos should one or more of Georgia, Michigan, Washington and Florida State lose.

Lots of questions would arise. How would each scenario shake out? Could Georgia get left out with a loss? Is there still a path for Ohio State to back its way into the field for the second year in a row?

Dan Wolken and Paul Myerberg of USA TODAY Sports discuss these topics and more in this week's version of the College Football Fix.

SEC championship College Football Playoff implications 

As has been the case since the College Football Playoff debuted in 2014, the SEC championship game will impact the conference’s representative in the playoff.

It’s simple for Georgia: win and in. A win will likely put the Bulldogs at the No. 1 spot in the playoff and see them playing a semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Things get more complicated if Alabama wins. While every SEC champion has made it to the playoff, a Crimson Tide win doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot with several other undefeated teams left and Texas above them. Alabama would need a win and some help in other conference championship games to get in. Alabama enters ranked No. 8 by the College Football Playoff committee — no team ranked higher than sixth entering conference championship week has made it in.

If Alabama wins, things could get murky for Georgia. No longer undefeated, the Bulldogs could be left out of the playoff if other undefeated teams win. However, they could still make it as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. Georgia could follow a similar path TCU did last season. The Horned Frogs lost their first game in the conference championship but still made it into the playoff.

Georgia-Alabama series history 

The founding SEC schools don’t play each other in the regular season often, but both teams’ recent success has put this rivalry at the forefront of one of the biggest college football conferences.

Alabama leads the overall series 42-26-4, but the past five meetings have been some of the biggest college football games in recent memory. Alabama has won four of the past five meetings, which includes a national championship win in January 2018 and two SEC championships in December 2018 and 2021.

However, Georgia ended a seven-game losing streak to Alabama in the most recent meeting, beating the Crimson Tide in January 2022 to win the national championship in Indianapolis.

In that timeframe, the teams have combined for five SEC titles and four national championships.

How did Alabama get to SEC championship? 

After a concerning start that included a home loss to Texas and quarterback issues, Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide rolling into Atlanta with an 11-1 record and a perfect SEC record.

Ever since making Jalen Milroe the permanent starting quarterback against Ole Miss, Alabama hasn’t missed a beat. The Crimson Tide have won 10 in a row, capturing the SEC West title after defeating LSU and blowing out Kentucky. In the final full week of the regular season, Milroe found Isaiah Bond in the back of the end zone for a miraculous touchdown to beat Auburn.

How did Georgia get to SEC championship? 

At 12-0, Georgia has dominated its way to another conference championship game appearance, staying at No. 1 in the US LBM Coaches Poll for the entire season. The Bulldogs have been pretty convincing, with 10 of their 12 wins coming by two scores – the lone exceptions being road victories against Auburn and Georgia Tech.

Georgia has beaten four ranked opponents this season, all coming in SEC play. They have wins against Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee, with a combined win margin of 27.5 points a game.

Pat McAfee trolls Georgia fans on ‘College GameDay’

What a twist it was ahead of the SEC championship game.

“College GameDay” was in Atlanta for Georgia vs. Alabama, and when it came time to make picks for conference championship Saturday, Pat McAfee had the best lead-up to his selection.

The ESPN analyst began his pick by starting “Who’s That Comin’ Down The Track?”, a popular chant among Georgia fans. It felt like every Georgia fan in attendance took part in the chant with McAfee, all the way down to the Bulldog bark.

Then came the stunner.

“Give me Alabama to break all their hearts!” McAfee said.

The "GameDay" crew and crowd were shocked, and McAfee then did the “Roll Tide” chant in one of the best moments from Saturday’s show. — Jordan Mendoza

College football Week 14 odds

The top college football betting apps favor Georgia in their SEC title game against Alabama. The Bulldogs are 5.5-point favorites over the Crimson Tide, according to the BetMGM college football odds. Looking to wager? Check out the best mobile sports betting apps offering college football betting promos in 2023.

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck and Alabama QB Jalen Milroe are both +15000 longshots among players with the best odds to win the Heisman in 2023.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama vs Georgia highlights: Tide upset Bulldogs, win SEC title