Alabama plays so many football games in Atlanta that Tuscaloosa really should be a sister city. Just add it to the list – there are 17 others so what’s one more? You could even stand to lose a Bucharest or a Taipei. How many national titles have they won?
Yes, there’s another Bama visit come Saturday afternoon, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against Duke at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That’ll be its fourth trip here in the past two years. Crimson Tide fans can start their car, set the cruise control and peacefully doze while the vehicle finds its own way to Atlanta by mechanical memory (no, please, don’t really do that, Alabama people).
Alabama has a catalog of raucous times and good memories built here. It’s like every game in Atlanta is another bachelor party.
Those come at the beginning of seasons: The Crimson Tide is 5-0 in kickoff games here, with a double-digit average margin of victory.
And once the scheduled season has played out: Between SEC championships and College Football Playoff games, Alabama has nine postseason victories in our town. No other team that makes its living inside the-Benz has done better, all time. The Falcons have put up six home postseason victories. And Atlanta United is going to require a little more seasoning just to get close.
The experience never seems to get old. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been the hero in one Atlanta trip – stepping in to take out Georgia in overtime for a national championship. And been bailed out in another – when in a reversal of the championship game Jalen Hurts stepped for a beat-up Tagovailoa to overcome Georgia in last year’s SEC Championship game. If you are sensing sub-plot here of Bulldogs victimhood, you’re quite perceptive.
Tagovailoa sounds anxious for a third visit to Mercedes-Benz, as he said earlier this week, “I still feel like I’m in college, which I am, but when you play in atmospheres that professionals played in, that’s something that I’ve dreamed of as a kid, going to the NFL. Being able to play in an atmosphere like that, it’s awesome. It’s almost close to my dream.”
This game figures to have the least amount of pregame buzz as any that Bama has played here. While Duke has made some nice strides under coach David Cutcliffe – its win total the past six years is its best in any similar period in Blue Devils football dating to the early 1940s – the gains are relative. That six-year record is scarcely better than dead even, 46-32.
Duke is a 34-point underdog Saturday, not the kind of spread that suggests a tight, taut introduction to a new college football season.
Duke had the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft this year as quarterback Daniel Jones was taken to apprentice as Eli Manning’s replacement in New York. Cutcliffe, something of a quarterback whisperer, really seems to like his current starter, Quentin Harris, the son of a former Georgia Bulldog.
“Quentin has everything you want a quarterback to have,” he said. “He’s a physically gifted athlete from the neck down. He’s got great feet and great hands, a natural baseball player. From the neck up, he’s brilliant.”
But, still, it’s Alabama that Harris, a senior with 81 career pass attempts, must try to dent now. His other career starts have come against Baylor and North Carolina Central. This is a bit of a step up.
And it’s Atlanta where Duke must face Alabama, a place where their following surely will be as outnumbered as a cricket on an anthill.
Alabama does have some issues, but they are Alabama issues, meaning there’s usually a solution awaiting on the next line of the depth chart.
This week the Tide lost their leader on defense, middle linebacker Dylan Moses, to a season-ending knee injury. Two of their running backs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, will sit out part of this game as punishment for reportedly missing a team function.
Nevertheless, Alabama’s goals coming into this season were unchanged: Make two more games in Atlanta at the close of this season – the SEC Championship and the CFP semifinal. The Crimson Tide will not be satisfied until everyone on the team has established residency and can vote in the next Atlanta city elections.
And, Duke, remains the gritty underdog in this one, out-manned barring the unlikely act of suiting up Zion Williamson for at least a couple of quarters.