Alabama coach Nick Saban makes a lot of money. And now he is on the verge of a personal record for bonuses.

Weekend Predictions: Wins for Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State

They are trying to make “Championship Week” a thing for college football, but I’m not buying it. That moniker is reserved for college basketball, and I care even if you don’t. So let’s call this football week what it is: Conference Title Game Money Grab Week. 

You know things are bad for the Falcons when December rolls around and they’ve fallen off the local sports radar. Georgia is playing Alabama for the SEC title, Paul Johnson is leaving Georgia Tech and the Braves signed Josh Donaldson. 

Also, Atlanta United went into Thursday night on the verge of advancing to the MLS Cup. I’m not making the obvious joke because that’s just hackneyed. Plus, soccer fans can be a bit sensitive, and I don’t want them flooding my email inbox to tell me how little they care that I think no one cares. 

Georgia (plus-13 1/2) vs. Alabama, SEC Championship game, Mercedes-Benz Stadium

You can tell Nick Saban is relaxed for this game. Someone asked him if he’d talked to quarterback Jalen Hurts about transferring, and Saban didn’t pitch a fit. I suppose he no longer needs to make a big show about it now that the postseason is here. 

Georgia almost surely would lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff with a victory, but more than that is at stake. A blowout Alabama victory would end the notion that only a couple of plays separate the two programs. It would improve Saban’s record against his former assistants to 16-0, and create doubt that the Bulldogs can ever catch him, even though they seem to have the right ex-assistant.

On Oct. 31, I predicted that Georgia’s path to the CFP would end with a loss to Bama in the Benz Dome. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the Crimson Tide will “boat race” the Bulldogs. I’m still taking Alabama to win, but I’m no longer so sure about the boat race, so I’m backing the Dogs as ’dogs. 

The Falcons wide receiver and Alabama alum talks about facing Georgia.

Ravens (plus-1) at Falcons 

It looks like the Falcons will replace right guard Ben Garland with newcomer Zane Beadles. That move isn’t likely to fix the problems with their line, but it significantly improves the team’s cool name quotient. Watch out, Kemal Ishmael, Zane Beadles is coming for you. 

Maybe the Falcons can force Ravens QB Lamar Jackson to pass, but then I have visions of him flicking his wrist for easy completions to open receivers. I also don’t see how the Falcons can engineer enough points against Baltimore’s elite defense. I’m picking the Ravens to win outright. 

Other conference championship games 

Clemson (minus-27 1/2) vs. Pittsburgh, ACC, Charlotte 

Pitt gave Clemson its only home defeat since the beginning of the 2015. The Panthers quarterback in that 2016 victory was Nathan Peterman, who has flopped in the NFL. Clemson’s 2016 defense had six players who would end up selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Whatever voodoo Pitt used to make that victory happen isn’t strong enough to do it again, but I like the Panthers to cover. 

Northwestern (plus-14) vs. Ohio State, Big Ten, Indianapolis 

Fox broadcaster Gus Johnson took heat for trying to turn Ohio State’s rout of Michigan into a story about Urban Meyer overcoming adversity. Meyer’s “adversity” includes a three-game suspension for mishandling domestic-abuse allegations against his assistant coach and lying about it. Few TV types can resist sucking up to good college football coaches who are bad guys, which is why it’s such a shame the Buckeyes are back in the CFP race. Buckeyes win, Northwestern covers. 

Texas (plus-8) vs. Oklahoma, Big 12, Arlington, Texas

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said the Big 12 told him game officials will penalize his players if they flash the “horns down” gesture that mocks Texas’ “horns up” signal. But The Oklahoman reported that “horns down” may not be flagged if it’s not a direct taunt. Texas and Oklahoma players should put aside their bitter rivalry and, in a show of solidarity, show Big 12 officials the “middle fingers up” gesture for this dumb controversy. Sooners cover. 

Utah (plus-5 1/2) vs. Washington, Pac-12, Santa Clara, Calif. 

Utah lost 21-7 to Washington at home in September. Utah wide receiver Britain Covey told The Salt Lake Tribune that during the game he “got the wind knocked out of me about 12 times, but I'll be OK.” Of the rematch, Covey said: “You can't let that get to your head.” It’s totally gotten to his head, but Utes cover. 

Memphis (plus-3) at Central Florida, American Athletic

Theoretically, UCF could be selected for the playoff if they beat Memphis and Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma lose. I can’t decide which would be more fun to see: Knights make the playoffs and get smoked, or get left out and petulantly claim another fake national championship. UCF has owned Memphis and will continue to do so even without injured quarterback McKenzie Milton. Knights cover the spread. 

Fresno State (plus-2 1/2) at Boise State, Mountain West 

Remember when Chris Petersen turned Boise State into a Group of Five power before leaving for Washington? The Broncos hired Bryan Harsin to replace him, and he’s kept them rolling for five seasons. Harsin replaced Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State before going to Boise. I’m just saying. I’ll take Fresno and the points. 

Louisiana-Lafayette (plus-16 1/2) at Appalachian State, Sun Belt 

A headline at the Winston-Salem Journal’s website said: “App State will finally go bowling somewhere other than Alabama.” That means, no matter what happens in this game, the Mountaineers already won. I’ll take Louisiana-Lafayette and the points. 

Alabama-Birmingham (plus-1) at Middle Tennessee, Conference USA 

Weirdly, the teams meet a week after MTSU blew out UAB. Even weirder: UAB decided to shut down the program in December 2014, reversed the decision, and then signed coach Bill Clark to an extension in 2015 — more than two years before it played another game. MTSU covers. 

Northern Illinois (plus-3 1/2) vs. Buffalo, MAC, Detroit 

Normally, I’d question whether anyone wants to go to Detroit this time of the year, but I suppose it’s not much of a downgrade for teams from Buffalo and DeKalb, Ill. I’ll take Buffalo and give the points. 

NFC South 

Saints (minus-7 1/2) at Cowboys (Thursday night) 

With the Falcons pretty much finished, their fans can only hope to avoid needing to draw their blinds during Super Bowl week as Saints supporters flood the streets. The Saints can clinch the South with a victory and Panthers loss, but at this point, they are playing for the No. 1 seed. New Orleans covers. 

Panthers (minus-3 1/2) at Buccaneers 

After their stadium was about 60 percent full last weekend, the Bucs are offering two free tickets to this game. The catch is that the offer is only for season-ticket holders, and not all of them. In summary, the Bucs are giving more tickets to some customers who already pay to watch bad football so they can invite others to watch bad football with them. Panthers cover. 

Last week 

Against the spread: 10-4 (102-75-5 season) 

AJC pick ’em (straight up): 10-5 (124-68 season)

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.
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