If Georgia is favored again over ‘Bama, surely Nick Saban will smile

Remarkably, even after being dismantled by Alabama just a month ago in the SEC Championship game, Georgia is the early betting favorite in next Monday’s national championship rematch with the Crimson Tide. Yes, they have televisions in Las Vegas, and the wise guys watched the same game as you. And still, it’s the Bulldogs plus-3 at this stage.

Nick Saban must be quietly loving that.

It was the Alabama coach, after all, who spoke of the more delicious variant of rat poison after whipping Georgia 41-24 in December.

Yes, the same rat poison that the Alabama coach traditionally bemoans, that being his phrase for all the positive press that naturally follows his dynasty. That stuff, Saban figures, is toxic to a team’s competitive will.

But when the Bulldogs came to that first game with the largest spread against Alabama since 2008, Saban’s second year there, they were the ones being poisoned by positivism. And handed reams of bulletin board material, Saban delighted in the rare gift. “You guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison,” Saban told the press after the SEC win. “The rat poison that you usually give us is nearly fatal but the rat poison that you guys put out there this week was yummy.”

Well, here we go again, only with a slightly smaller spread. That line may change over a week’s time, but it is quite conceivable Alabama will have the benefit of doubt once again. The nearly impossible task of building an aura of disrespect around a program trying to win its seventh national title in 13 years has a starting point.

Whatever use Saban and his team will make of this number the coach was not tipping during a Zoom press conference Monday.

“Being an underdog is being an underdog,” he said with a virtual shrug. “They have a really good team that’s well respected. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, and I think it’s important for our players to know what they need to do to continue to have success in the next game, regardless of what happened in the last game, regardless of who is favored and who is underdogs and all that kind of stuff.”

Why with perfectly straight faces, members of the lordly Tide will maintain they always look at themselves as the scrappy long shot.

“That’s the mindset that our team lives with, always having that underdog mindset,” running back Brian Robinson Jr. said Monday. “I feel like we’ll be motivated, we’ll come out with the underdog mentality and be ready to play.”

To hear Saban speak, whatever happened a month ago is already ancient history.

How much he’s in the moment was on display when he was asked to comment on Monday being the 15th anniversary of his arrival in Tuscaloosa as Alabama’s newly named coach.

“I’m 70 years old so I don’t think I have any form of dementia or anything like that. But I can’t really remember what happened 15 years ago,” he answered.

“Been a lot of games, lot of third downs since that time so it’s kind of hard to remember. But it’s been a very good experience here.”

In the moment, Saban will be juggling the concepts that worked so well against the Bulldogs along with the need to throw a few new wrinkles at an opponent he just met. The adjustments on both sides figure to an intriguing subplot of this matchup. It will be hard to overstate the importance of the coaching component this week.

“I don’t think you do everything the same,” Saban said. “But I also don’t think you make a lot of changes the players aren’t going to be about to go out and play and execute with confidence.”

One adjustment Alabama may look it is how to deal with Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, who had 10 catches against it in December.

Mention his name around Saban and stand back, because the honey will flow like lava from a volcano.

“I think this guy is one of the premier players in college football. I know he’s just a freshman, but this guy has great size, he’s a good blocker, he’s physical, he’s tough and he’s got wide receiver skills in every way, shape or form,” Saban said.

And there was more: “That makes it difficult for bigger guys to cover him and it also makes it difficult for smaller guys to cover him. This guy is just a phenomenal football player all the way around. They do a really good job featuring his talents as well, and he’s been extremely productive in a lot of ways. I know everybody always knows the passes he catches but he’s also a really good blocker and does a good job executing whatever he needs to do to help his teammates have success as well.”

What effusive praise. Why, if those words came from any other source, some might call it rat poison.