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NCAA Championship: When will Donald Trump arrive in Atlanta?

President Donald Trump is set to arrive in Atlanta on Monday about two hours before the Georgia-Alabama game.

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The president will fly with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville and will arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, at 6 p.m.

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He’ll take a motorcade from there to downtown Atlanta, with plans to arrive at the stadium shortly before 7 p.m.

>> Visit AJC.com for complete coverage of the national championship game

The fans who paid top dollar to watch Georgia face Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may not see the president, but his presence should be obvious.

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His decision to catch the championship game adds a twist to the biggest college football contest in Georgia’s history — and a host of soon-to-be answered questions.

Read more about Trump’s plans to visit the game at Politically Georgia.

Confident Central Florida fans chant 'We want 'Bama'

University of Central Florida fans won’t give it up.

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As if celebrating a self-declared national championship with a parade at Disney World wasn’t bold enough, some Knights fans in attendance at the event Sunday night broke out the “We Want Bama” chant.

Yes, they went there. (Do we need to remind you how silly “wanting Bama” can be?)

As expected, the crowd was large for this spectacle. (When you celebrate a mythical national title, why not party big?) But it doesn’t seem wise to poke the grizzly known as the Crimson Tide beast by chanting “We Want Bama.”

After all, UCF fans, you might receive your wish one day. At this point, who wouldn’t want to see that matchup happen?

Of course, Alabama has bigger concerns at the moment. The Crimson Tide face Georgia on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to decide the real national championship.

Longtime Georgia SID remembers Dawgs' 1980 national title run

Claude Felton has been Georgia’s sports information director forever. OK, not literally forever, but for a long, long time. Thirty-eight years, to be exact.

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The cool thing about that is he has the perspective of having also been around the last time Georgia played for a national championship in football. Actually, the Bulldogs played for national titles three years in a row from 1980 to 1982. But the only time they won it was on Jan. 1, 1981, when freshman Herschel Walker led them to a 12-0 season and 17-10 win against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

Felton now works under the more distinguished title of senior associate athletic director for sports communication. We asked him to reflect on how things have changed in the business since Georgia’s last appearance in the championship game.

“Well, first off, there wasn’t nearly as much media or different types of media,” Felton said this weekend. “Of course, there were no cellphones, no internet. But there was the same amount of excitement.”

And there was, of course, a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding Walker, who many believed should have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and eventually did as a junior. He left Georgia after his junior season as the SEC’s all-time leading rusher and remains so.

At the time, though, he was a fascination for national press, who came from all around to chronicle the exploits of this ungodly freshman running back from Wrightsville.

“There was a media frenzy around him pretty much the whole year,” Felton said. “We had media from all over the country coming in to talk to him almost every week. Everything then was done pretty much in person. There weren’t a lot of phone interviews back then. A lot of national media came to Athens that year.”

Bulldogs’ success also meaningful to players’ families

It’s easy to forget, when the competition and level of accomplishment increases to the level it has for the Georgia Bulldogs this season, that these football players are somebody’s children. So as much as the achievement has meant for those individuals, it has also been meaningful for their families.

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Jake Fromm’s parents, Emerson and Lee Fromm, have made every game this season. Not surprising, until you think about they also were going to all of the games of their twin sons, Dylan and Tyler, who were starring for Warner Robins High School. And the Red Devils’ season didn’t end until the state championship, and then a week late.

The entire Fromm family then headed out to Los Angeles and Pasadena last week for the Rose Bowl, a trip from which they didn’t return until late Wednesday afternoon. All of them are back in Atlanta this weekend, of course.

“Loving it,” Lee Fromm said.

Often forgotten on journeys like this season has been for the Bulldogs is that, while a limited number of tickets are provided each games for players’ families, they still have to get there. And this year, that has meant trips to Notre Dame and Jacksonville, to Nashville, Knoxville and Auburn, to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl and now back to Atlanta.

It took Trina Blankenship, Rodrigo Blankenship’s sister, 13 hours each way to get to Pasadena to watch her brother kick a record 55-yard field goal in the Rose Bowl. That’s because she had multiple connections while seeking the lowest fare — and the trip still cost her $2,500.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Trina Blankenship said.

And that was just Trina. Her brother Kenny drove from Tucson, Arizona, to New Orleans to meet his father, Kenny, who drove from Atlanta. From there they drove to Phoenix to meet Rodrigo’s mother Izabel and girlfriend Logan Harrell. They then rode together to Pasadena. Afterward, they had to drive by to Phoenix where, thankfully, they were all able to fly back home.

Multiply their travails by 85 athletes, not including non-scholarship players, and you begin to realize commitment of these players’ loved ones for being there to support them. Regardless of Monday night’s outcome in the national championship game against Alabama, it is number 15 for the players and their families.

It has been a remarkable year, indeed, but an expensive one, too. So hats off to all of the Bulldogs’ parents and brothers and sisters, most of whom have been there every step of the way.

Players amused by Central Florida's claim to national title

Players and coaches for both Georgia and Alabama got a kick out of the University of Central Florida claiming to be national champions after completing an undefeated season with a win against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The general response has been, “The championship game will be played here in Atlanta at 8 p.m. Monday night.

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Of course, the controversy of the Knights being left out has lent itself again to a call for an expanded playoff. Even though the current College Football Playoff contract runs through 2025, there remains a faction that believes the playoff field should include eight teams – the five Power 5 conference champions and three at-large participants, which might include a school the size of UCF.

Detractors say that would mean too many games for the players. They are, after all, supposed to be “student-athletes.”

Georgia’s Davin Bellamy agrees. “Man, this is Week 15,” the senior outside linebacker said. “I don’t know if I could do another one. I don’t know if I could do another week.”

Bellamy doesn’t have a problem with UCF making its claim, either.

“That’s good for their program,” he said. “Didn’t they lose like every game a couple years ago? Good for them.”

Familiar foes: No secrets between Tide, Dawgs

Before they went on stage for the cameras, there wasn’t a word said between them Sunday morning. University of Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former assistant coach, Kirby Smart, would be very complimentary during their final news conference prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, but when they posed with the trophy their body language said otherwise.

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They were rigid, almost uncomfortable.

This after Saban said, “What you all don’t understand is this guy was on our staff for, I don’t know, 10 years. [My wife] Terry was there when his babies [were] born. I mean, you become a part of a family. That’s what you do when you’re together for a long time.”

This week has been anything but a vacation or a chance to catch up for the former colleagues turned foes. This is a business trip, through and through, with a lot more than a trophy on the line. Another suitor has arisen to challenge Saban’s status atop college football, and the outcome of the title game on Monday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) could have extensive repercussions — especially if the Bulldogs win.

This one has the most familiarity for Saban. Smart took Saban’s process to Georgia to not only build up the Bulldogs but also to try and take down his former boss and mentor. Being in the same conference is one thing, and recruiting many of the same players another, although that has led to some friction.

However, the Bulldogs are so much like Crimson Tide that Athens could be called Alabama East.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot (of differences),” said outgoing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who might soon have Alabama North at Tennessee. “I think both teams are very similar. They’re both committed to running the football, playing good on special teams and playing good defense.”

Same system. Same style. Similar schemes. Plus, a lot of familiar faces on both sides.

“The foundations are the same,” said Georgia outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, who also used to work for Saban.

When asked for a difference, Sherrer stated: “Kirby is probably a little more personable, approachable.”

The coaches have been the focal point leading up to this showdown, and with good reason because of their history. Saban used to say that Smart and he had worked so long and well together that all he had to do was think something and his defense coordinator was already doing it.

Yet now he’s on the other side, trying to become the first former assistant to beat the master. Saban is 11-0 when facing his first assistant coaches, having defeated them by a combined score of 427-111 (average of 39-10).

“Yeah, the 11-0 he’s won, I would venture to say he’s been favored in all 11,” Smart said. “He’s got really good players.”

That’s true, but one has to go back 38 games to find the last time Alabama didn’t open in Las Vegas as a clear favorite. Ironically, it was at Georgia in 2015, when the Crimson Tide was initially considered a slight underdog by most oddsmaking services, but by game time that had changed. Regardless, Alabama crushed Georgia, 38-10, and went on to win the national championship.

It snapped a 72-game streak in which Alabama was considered a clear favorite, dating back to the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Florida. The Crimson Tide won 32-13, and the changing of the guard was complete.

As of Sunday night, oddsshark.com had the Tide at -3.5 against the Bulldogs, so it’s 111 out of 112 games — just shy of the sun rising in terms of consistency. 

But the overlapping relationships in this game go way beyond Saban and Smart, and how they might influence the outcome is the giant question mark looming over Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Two staffs with some great coaches,” Alabama co-defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said. “I don’t know what to make of it.”

Football fraternity is small one

When Smart returned to his alma mater in 2015, he hired Crimson Tide defensive backs coach Mel Tucker to be his defensive coordinator and Alabama staffer Glenn Schumann as inside linebackers coach. Among his in-house moves was to retain Sherrer, Alabama’s former director of player development (2010-12).

“It’s interesting for sure, especially when you throw in the fact that Kevin Sherrer is on that staff,” Pruitt said on Saturday. “We talked last night for a little bit. I gave him a hard time. We were working a little bit late. I told him I was going to call Kirby and tell him we were out-working you all tonight.”

The two have known each other for 20-odd years, going back to when they played together at Alabama. Sherrer was a tight end from 1993 to 1995; Pruitt was a defensive back who transferred from Middle Tennessee State for his final two years (1995-96), then began coaching as a student assistant with the 1997 Crimson Tide.

Smart also tried to hire away high-profile strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran. Not only did he get a significant raise of $105,000 to stay (his salary is now up to $535,000), but in Alabama state employees are vested after 10 years on the payroll. He reached that in 2016.

“I still have a great relationship with the Cochran family because my kids are best friends with theirs,” Smart said.

Yet that only begins to describe all the staff ties.

For example, Tucker began his coaching career in 1997 as a graduate assistant for Saban at Michigan State. He’s since worked at Miami (Ohio), with Saban again at LSU, Ohio State and three NFL teams before landing at Alabama in 2015.

“I was a graduate assistant with Mel,” Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “We’ve played each other for years when he’s been at Chicago, Jacksonville and Cleveland.”

When Alabama won at Georgia in 2015, Pruitt was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. The score could have been a lot worse, but the damage was done. Georgia lost the next week at Tennessee and then at Florida. Even though it bounced back to win four straight games, Mark Richt was let go after 15 years and a 145-51 record.

When Smart was hired, Saban brought back Pruitt, who had worked for him from 2007 to 2012 and rose from director of player development to defensive backs coach. When he was initially added to the coaching staff in 2010, Smart switched from handling the defensive backs as a position group to linebackers.

Consequently, Smart helped recruit a number of key players on the Crimson Tide, as Pruitt did for Georgia, and the others. A lot of them have stayed in touch over the years such as junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tucker, who was his position coach as a freshman.

“I could talk to you about him all day,” Tucker said. “He’s a great player. He’s an even better person.”

“He’s somebody that challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone everyday,” Fitzpatrick said. “So, (I) definitely got better from him being my coach.

“It’s really cool just seeing the success that they’ve had. I’m kind of not surprised by it.”

Does familiarity favor one team?

Although the teams have only had a week since playing their bowl semifinals, the staffs started eyeing each other a month ago after both made the College Football Playoff as the third and fourth seeds. They knew this showdown was a possibility, so contingency plans were made.

Since Alabama has always run Saban’s defense, Smart might be able to snuff out some plays beforehand. But, with his experience, he could do that with just about anyone.

What about play calls and signals? Would they need to be changed?

“You do think about those things,” Lupoi said.

Yet, none of that benefited Jim McElwain the three times he faced his former boss, twice with Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Nor did it help Mark Dantonio in two meetings, including the 2015 playoff (Cotton Bowl semifinal); or Will Muschamp or Jimbo Fisher earlier this season.

Alabama was also paying attention to Georgia long before the playoff announcement, in part, because of the schedule. The Bulldogs played some of the same teams, so the Crimson Tide were able to get a head start on how opponents might play them, and their adjustments.

“We actually followed the defense,” Pruitt said. “And we all still talk now. We talk during the … Heck, I talk to Auburn, talk to Kevin Steele. Talked to Kirby a few times. We still share ideas.”

As for the film study, it removes a lot of the personal aspect just because of the sheer volume. While going over everything from formations to trends, the coaches don’t have time to think, “Hey, I know that guy, I recruited him,” on each of the hundreds of plays they’re examining. Plus, they’re not the only ones going over everything.

While searching for tells, weaknesses and things such as the adjustments Georgia made at halftime against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl (“We didn’t sprinkle any dust on anybody at halftime,” Tucker said), there just are no secrets.

Consequently, when weighing how much to stick to the team’s strengths and possibly being predictable versus trying to think outside of the box at the risk of making more mistakes, coaches on both sides are concerned about going around in circles mentally.

“It’s interesting, because sometimes you could overthink it because you say, ‘OK, if we do this, Kirby’s going to know we’re going to do this,’” Pruitt said. “’So, they’re going to try to do it this way.’

“And I’m sure he’s probably sitting there doing the same thing. So, it’s kind of, probably going to be hit and miss in the game.”

Smart agreed: “It’s not like we play Alabama does this or Alabama does that. Sometimes you can talk yourself out of things that you should do because you know what the other team does, and I think you’ve got to be careful of that.”

That makes this the ultimate test.

Georgia has the edge over Alabama in simulated games

In Las Vegas, Alabama is a clear favorite over Georgia. In the world of college football simulations … not so much.

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We used NCAAGameSim.com to pit the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs head-to-head 100 times. The engine featured up-to-date rosters — including current injuries — and individual box scores. It also had a clear preference between the teams that will play for the national championship on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Georgia won 67 of the 100 matchups, boasting an average output of 24.5 points against Alabama’s 21.1.

Here are a few specific aspects we tracked:

  • (Number of times) Alabama won by 10-plus points: 22

  • Georgia won by 10-plus points: 37

  • Alabama won by 20-plus points: 10

  • Georgia won by 20-plus points: 12

  • Alabama won by 30-plus points: 1

  • Georgia won by 30-plus points: 2

  • Alabama won in overtime: 0

  • Georgia won in overtime: 1

  • Jalen Hurts topped 300 total yards: 17

  • Hurts topped 100 rushing yards: 7

  • Damien Harris topped 100 rushing yards: 16

  • Harris topped 200 rushing yards: 1

  • Bo Scarbrough topped 100 yards: 1

  • Calvin Ridley topped 100 receiving yards: 14

  • Alex Pappanastos missed at least one field goal: 42

  • Jake Fromm threw for at least 200 yards: 24

  • Fromm threw for at least 300 yards: 2

  • Fromm threw at least 2 touchdowns: 21

  • Fromm threw 3 touchdowns: 4

  • Fromm attempted at least 20 passes: 62

  • Fromm attempted at least 30 passes: 2

  • Nick Chubb topped 100 rushing yards: 46

  • Chubb topped 200 rushing yards: 2

  • Sony Michel topped 100 rushing yards: 23

  • Michel topped 200 rushing yards: 0

  • D’Andre Swift topped 100 rushing yards: 5

  • Two Georgia running backs topped 100 rushing yards each: 11

  • Rodrigo Blankenship missed at least one field goal: 37

Alabama-Georgia anomalies

There were bound to be some weird box scores over the course of 100 simulations. Here were the most notable moments:

  • In a 36-6 Georgia win, Nick Chubb (258 rushing yards) and Sony Michel (172) combined for 430 on the ground. Even if Georgia plays an outstanding game, those numbers seem more like one in a million than one in a hundred.

  • In a 35-24 Alabama win, backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rushed three times for 81 yards (on top of Hurts’ 348 total yards) and the top four Crimson Tide receivers were Hale Hentges (89 yards), Jerry Jeudy (86), Henry Ruggs (65) and Najee Harris (39).

  • In a 44-20 Alabama win, Hurts absolutely silenced his doubters with a monster performance. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 389 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. His pair of first-quarter touchdown strikes to Ridley helped the Tide run away early.

National championship fireworks

NCAAGameSim.com generates play-by-play accounts of each game. The details aren’t perfect — especially in regard to situation-based strategy — but it does the trick. Here are a handful of interesting endings:

  • Alabama 19, UGA 16: Facing a 16-12 deficit and having not reached the end zone the entire game, Alabama took over at its 20-yard line with about 2 minutes remaining. On third-and-7, Damien Harris ripped off a 68-yard run — an odd call, certainly — and Hurts punched in the winning 4-yard touchdown two plays later.

  • UGA 34, Alabama 31: An MVP-type performance from Hurts (284 total yards and 2 passing scores) was cut short when he threw an interception on first-and-10 from the Georgia 14-yard line with seconds remaining.

  • UGA 34, Alabama 31: One Georgia drive after tying the score with a 33-yard field goal, the Bulldogs had the ball again on their 40-yard line and plenty of time to win. But seven plays yielded just 26 net yards. Forced to gamble, the Bulldogs sent out Blankenship for a 51-yarder, and he nailed it as time expired.

  • UGA 13, Alabama 10: A huge kick return got Alabama to the Georgia 35-yard line on the final drive, but the Crimson Tide stalled, and a 49-yard field-goal attempt by Pappanastos was no good at the final gun.

  • UGA 27, Alabama 23: A 42-yard field goal by Pappanastos put the Tide ahead 23-20, but the Bulldogs countered with a long kick return and Fromm found Terry Godwin for the winning 13-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining.

  • UGA 37, Alabama 34: Hurts tied the score with a 1-yard run on the final play of regulation, but — following a 41-yard overtime field goal by Blankenship — threw a first-down interception on Alabama’s first OT drive that ended the game.

  • UGA 21, Alabama 20: On the final Georgia drive, Fromm (only 38 passing yards entering the possession) led the Bulldogs on a 16-play, 86-yard excursion that culminated in 3-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Riley Ridley.

  • UGA 36, Alabama 30: Instead of attempting a Hail Mary from its 42, Georgia opted to play for overtime and handed the ball to Chubb. Fifty-eight yards later, the Dawgs had a stunning victory.

  • UGA 33, Alabama 31: Needing a touchdown to win, Georgia drove 80 yards on 11 plays to take the lead in the final minute. Chubb’s 2-yard scoring run was the clincher, and Alabama had only two plays from its 20 before the clock ran out.

  • Alabama 27, UGA 23: Georgia took a 23-20 lead on a 42-yard field goal by Blankenship, but Alabama stormed down the field and Hurts hit Scarbrough for the winning 6-yard touchdown with no time remaining.

Mark Richt publishes heartfelt message to Georgia Bulldogs

Mark Richt weighed in on Georgia’s appearance in tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and he’s eager to deliver well-wishes to his former team.

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On Monday, the former Bulldogs coach used Twitter to write that he’s “happy for the players, coaches and the Georgia people” before the Bulldogs play Alabama to decide the national title on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This is a nice move from Richt, who went 145-51 as Georgia’s coach from 2001 to 2015.

This is a classy gesture by the coach, who clearly still has feelings for his former program. He gave life to the University of Miami this season while leading the Hurricanes to a 10-3 record with an appearance in the ACC Championship Game and Orange Bowl.

It’s safe to say Richt will be watching closely Monday night with the Bulldogs on his mind.

FBI: Don't fly drones in downtown Atlanta through championship game day

As the country turns its eyes to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, the FBI is pushing one important message: Keep those drones away.

>> Visit AJC.com for complete coverage of the national championship game

Any aircraft, drones included, are prohibited from flying near the venues used during the championship weekend and game day, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia World Congress Center.

>> More coverage from DawgNation.com

Violators would face prosecution under federal law for “flying drones in restricted space,” FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said Sunday. “Temporary flight restrictions” are in effect.

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>> Best of the best: The history of college football’s national championship game

Despite previous publicity about the law, officials spotted drones over some venues on Saturday, Rowson said.

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President Donald Trump is expected to attend the game, leading to an increase in security, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms promised a "safe, smooth and secure" event for the more than 100,000 attendees, and police urged people to leave any firearms at home.

O.J. Simpson roots for Bills in Las Vegas

Former running back O.J. Simpson was spotted in Las Vegas on Sunday, rooting for the Buffalo Bills in the NFL playoffs, The New York Daily News reported.

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Simpson, who spent nine of his 11 NFL seasons in Buffalo, made an appearance at Naked City Pizza in Las Vegas, the city where he now resides, to show support for his former team, the Daily News reported.

Simpson, who was released on parole in October, was seen hanging out with Bills fans Sunday to root for the team he spent nine of his 11 NFL seasons with. An Instagram post showed him smiling and rooting with Bills fans.

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