The College Football Playoff National Championship between Georgia and Alabama will take place on Jan. 8 at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Bulldogs will be the seventh team to play in an official national title game in their home state since the dawn of the BCS era in the late 1990s. That’s in addition to a couple of teams who have played de-facto title games within their own borders.
Here’s how teams in UGA’s situation have done.
College football didn’t have official national championship games until the dawn of the BCS era in 1998. Since then, these seasons featured finalists playing in their home states:
- 2000: Florida State lost to Oklahoma at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium, 13-2.
- 2003: LSU beat Oklahoma at New Orleans’ Superdome, 21-14.
- 2005: USC lost to Texas at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, 41-38.
- 2007: LSU beat Ohio State at the Superdome, 38-24.
- 2008: Florida beat Oklahoma at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium, 24-14. (That’s the same as the Pro Player Stadium mentioned above. The same Miami stadium has changed its name 10 times in the last 29 years, an incredible run engineered only to confuse you.)
- 2011: LSU lost to Alabama at the Superdome, 21-0.
Thus, home-state participants are 3-3 in formally recognized national championship games.
There are a bunch of similar games from before the BCS.
Before the BCS era, there were plenty of bowl games in which teams could have claimed (or did claim) the title, even though there was no official “title game” in those seasons.
For instance, Nebraska played either Miami or Florida State in the Orange Bowl every season from 1991 through 1994. The Huskers lost the first three of those matchups, and both Miami (1991, via the AP Poll) and FSU (1993) claimed national titles after those home-state Orange Bowl wins. Then Nebraska rebounded to beat the Canes in 1995, robbing Miami of another potential national title claim. Instead, the Huskers entered and exited that game ranked No. 1.
Before that, Miami beat Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, 31-30. Winning that game boosted the Canes from No. 5 in the AP Poll to No. 1.
During the 1963 and 1969 seasons, Texas wrapped up national championships by winning at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. During the 1959 season, No. 1 LSU beat Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in what amounted to a national championship game for LSU. USC also clinched several national titles in the 1960s and 70s at the Rose Bowl.
Georgia can expect a slight home-field advantage, probably.
UGA is Georgia’s flagship school. Atlanta is the state’s largest city. UGA’s alumni association says it has more than 90,000 alums in the Atlanta area alone.
Atlanta’s kind of the capital city of the entire American South, however, which mean the Tide also have lots of fans there. While Atlanta is 72 miles from Athens, it’s only about 200 from Tuscaloosa. It won’t be a difficult drive for fans of either program, who are scattered all around the region and country.
This won’t be like a game at Sanford Stadium. Tickets for games of this magnitude are split among the schools, corporate partners of the Playoff, and all kinds of stakeholders from around college football. A few more Georgia fans will likely be in the crowd than Tide fans, but it shouldn’t be a drastic difference.
Alabama, of course, has a lot of familiarity with this city.
It has even played on this field this season, in a Week 1 game against then-No. 3 Florida State. At the time, the game was billed as the biggest season opener in college football history. The Tide won that game 24-7.
In fact, Alabama has won a lot of games in Atlanta under Nick Saban.
Since Saban’s arrival in 2007, Bama is 5-1 in SEC Championship Games, all at the recently imploded Georgia Dome. The Tide won the Peach Bowl Playoff semifinal against Washington last season, as well as five season kickoff games in Atlanta: this year against FSU, and against Clemson in 2008, Virginia Tech in 2009, Virginia Tech again in 2013, and West Virginia in 2014.
All told, that’s an 11-1 record for Alabama under Saban in Atlanta.
You’ve likely seen it by now, but the field will be bonkers.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the latest spaceship-like venue to host the Playoff, following up recent hosts JerryWorld in Arlington, Texas, and University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. You can take a tour around the place here. A defining feature is this donut-shaped video board that encircles the upper reaches of the building:
The stadium seats about 75,000. It has 1,800 wireless access points, which means the WiFi at the stadium is probably more reliable than the WiFi you have in your house. This is what it looks like when it’s packed with college football fans:
The College Football National Championship will be the fourth huge college game of the year to be held at the Falcons’ stadium. The others were that Bama-FSU opener, the SEC title game featuring Auburn and UGA, and the Auburn-UCF Peach Bowl. The previous three were a ton of fun. This one should be even better.