Tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship could be bursting with Florida flavor.
While Alabama and Georgia feature an abundance of players from their respective home states, several key playmakers tonight hail from outside the walls of the two neighboring states. The Sunshine State will feature several of the games most flavorful offensive stars for both Alabama and Georgia.
Calvin Ridley (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) is the Southeastern Conference’s third leading receiver and projected first-round NFL Draft pick for the Crimson Tide. The Dawgs counter with the league’s fifth-leading rusher Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla.).
Hailing from the football factory American Heritage, Michel is the focal point of UGA’s run-first offense along with backfield mate Nick Chubb, the SEC’s third-leading rusher. He’s also coming off his biggest game of the season.
In the Dawgs’ 54-48 double overtime win over Oklahoma last week in the Rose Bowl, Michel carried 11 times for a season-high 181 yards and a game-high three TDs. The senior also caught four passes for 41 yards and a TD. He’s no joke.
“We came back to work,” Michel said this week after he and Chubb spurned the NFL to return for another season in Athens. “Our whole focus was to buy into this program and get as much accomplished as we can.”
“They’ve got two great running backs, do a really good job with the play-action passes,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “The combination of the balance that they create with the running game and their ability to throw the ball down the field … makes them very difficult to defend.”
The Dawgs are on the cusp of their first national title since 1980. If second-year head coach Kirby Smart’s team is going to put the CFB Playoff national championship trophy on the buys back to Athens tomorrow, it’ll be due to big games on the ground from Michel and Chubb.
“They put this team on their shoulders and all they do is do it right,” Smart said.
Alabama also embodies the run-first mentality offensively like Georgia. However, the Tide boast tonight’s biggest threat in the passing game: Ridley.
Ranked as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver coming out of Monarch High School, the 6-foot-1 Ridley is as explosive as they come. He was the only Bama offensive player to score a touchdown in last week’s 24-6 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Ridley has caught 18 touchdowns in three years for Saban and is one again quarterback Jalen Hurts’ unquestioned favorite target. As a precise route runner, he’s caught 59 passes this season and the next closest Tide player is running back Bo Scarbrough with 16 receptions.
“Before I became a player here, I told myself, ‘When I get there, we’re going to win a national championship,’ and every year, we’ve been here,” Ridley said.
An interesting twist tonight? Ridley’s younger brother Riley will be standing across the field. In a Georgia uniform.
“Mom doesn’t know who she wants to root for. She’s a little nervous because both of her boys will be on the field at the same time,” Riley told SECCountry.com.
The Tide aren’t without more Florida blood tonight. Second-leading tackler and defensive back Ronnie Harrison hails from Tallahassee and is one of Bama’s veteran leaders in the secondary.
And Georgia All-American left tackle Isaiah Wynn was a standout offensive lineman for coach Cory Moore at Lakewood High School in St. Pete.
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