Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide team began December inside the Georgia Dome, where it cruised to an SEC Championship Game victory. It has been three weeks, and they’re back.
The stakes are much higher this time around, though, for the defending national champions.
The top-ranked and undefeated Crimson Tide (13-0) will play inside the Georgia Dome once again at 3 p.m. on Saturday, this time against No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the Peach Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff. The winner will move on to the national championship game on Jan. 9 in Tampa against No. 2 Clemson or No. 3 Ohio State.
With Alabama and Washington beginning their practice regiments, here’s a quick look at each team’s road to the playoffs.
How they got here
Alabama ran the regular-season table in dominating fashion to make its third consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff. In 13 games, eight of which were against ranked opponents, the Crimson Tide scored at least 30 points 12 times and held opponents to 10 points or fewer on eight occasions. Overall, Alabama is riding a 25-game win streak coming into Saturday’s game.
Washington clinched its playoff spot after defeating Colorado 41-10 in the Pac-12 Championship Game to improve to 12-1. The Huskies’ lone hiccup was a 26-13 loss to USC midway through the season. Washington is fueled by a high-octane offense (44.5 points per game, fourth-best in the country) and turnover-forcing defense (nation-leading 33 turnovers forced and plus-21 turnover margin).
Players to watch: Offense
Underclassman quarterbacks are leading both teams into this Georgia Dome showdown.
Wearing crimson and white is true freshman Jalen Hurts, a mobile quarterback who can make plays with his arms and his feet. Hurts heads into the Peach Bowl completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,592 yards, with 22 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. He also has 841 rushing yards and a dozen rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth among all quarterbacks.
Donning purple and gold is sophomore Jake Browning, the 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year and finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. The 6-2, 209-pound signal-caller is second in the country and leads Power 5 quarterbacks with 42 touchdown passes, one of eight single-season school records Browning has set this season.
Players to watch: Defense
For Alabama, the pressure starts with All-American defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. The 6-3 senior leads the Crimson Tide with 15 quarterback hurries, is tied for the team with 8 1/2 sacks and is third with 13 tackles-for-loss.
For Washington, safety Budda Baker does it all. The 5-10, 192-pound junior leads the team in tackles-for-loss (nine), is second in tackles (65) and also has two sacks, two interceptions, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
The Peach Bowl will be the third postseason matchup between Alabama and Washington and the first since 1986. The Crimson Tide have taken both contests, a 20-19 win in the 1926 Rose Bowl and a 28-6 victory in the 1986 Sun Bowl. Alabama is 4-0 all-time against Washington, with regular-season wins in the 1975 and ’78 seasons in addition to the bowl victories.