We couldn’t ask for a better playoff. Oklahoma’s explosive offense goes up against Georgia’s ferocious defense. Alabama and Clemson match up again with Nick Saban looking for revenge for last year’s title game. Pick a comfy place on your couch to watch from 5 p.m. EST until past midnight on New Year’s Day as the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are played for a spot in the national championship.
Rose Bowl: (3) Georgia vs. (2) Oklahoma
Offense: Oklahoma has the best offense in the country, led by the best college player in America. Love him or hate him, Baker Mayfield is a deserving Heisman winner. A big question has arisen over whether he will play at full strength after missing three days of practice with an illness. With 583.3 yards per game, the Sooners work in the air and on the ground. Mayfield throws the deep ball brilliantly to Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, who average 20.0 and 18.5 yards per catch, respectively. Brown burned a good TCU secondary for a 52-yard touchdown in the Big 12 championship game. Tight end Mark Andrews runs good routes and is Mayfield’s favorite target. Meanwhile, Rodney Anderson runs the ball really well and went off in their other game against TCU, with four total touchdowns and 151 yards rushing and 139 receiving. For the Bulldogs, they play smash mouth football, running for over 1,000 yards more than they pass for. Nick Chubb is a strong rusher, and Sony Michel counters with a quick, shifty approach. DeAndre Swift came on near the end of the season, weaving through Auburn defenders for a 64-yard touchdown in the SEC championship game. Freshman Jake Fromm has run the offense well after the injury to Jacob Eason in the first game of the season. He has thrown just five interceptions and makes some really good throws, like in the Bulldogs’ win against Georgia Tech. The offensive line opens big holes and manhandled a very good Auburn defensive front. Georgia’s offense is good, but Oklahoma’s is great.
Defense: Georgia’s group is one of the best in the business. They allow 253.2 yards per game, fourth-best in the FBS. Roquan Smith is their rock in the center at linebacker, with 113 tackles. J.R. Reed, Dominick Sanders, and Deandre Baker hold down the fort of the second-best passing defense in the country. This group shut down Kerryon Johnson of Auburn, getting the Tigers back three weeks after allowing 40 to them. But can they stop Baker Mayfield? That secondary will get a very tough test from the best quarterback by far they have played this season. The Bulldogs were burned on the deep ball by Missouri, which cannot happen Monday. Oklahoma’s defense isn’t as great as Georgia’s. Their better facet is against the run, which is the Bulldogs strong suit on offense. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is the leader of the defensive line, with 17 TFL and eight sacks on the season. But they will have trouble stopping the run of Georgia, showing once again that the Big 12 doesn’t play a lot of defense.
The Pick: The huge matchup will be Oklahoma’s offense against Georgia’s defense. Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma have run through a great defensive team in TCU, while Roquan Smith and Georgia have not faced a great offense this year. I believe Mayfield will throw some deep balls over Georgia’s secondary and maybe run for a score. Lincoln Riley and his play-calling will keep defensive mastermind Kirby Smart on his heels. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and DeAndre Swift will run all over Oklahoma. Jake Fromm will make some good throws, and the game will be a high-scoring one. In the end, I think Mayfield makes a big play to his favorite target, tight end Mark Andrews. The shootout will go to the better offensive team in a very tightly-contested ballgame. Who says the Big 12 needs to play defense?
Oklahoma 38, Georgia 34
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Sugar Bowl: (4) Alabama vs. (1) Clemson
Offense: Clemson was never going to be able to replace the legend of Deshaun Watson, but they came close enough. Kelly Bryant is a better runner than Watson, and with receivers like Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow, and Ray-Ray McCloud, he doesn’t need to be a hero. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns, a very quick runner that will keep Alabama’s defense on its heels. Travis Etienne and Tavean Feaster are a 1-2 punch in the run game to go with Bryant, who runs the read option really well. Renfrow has burned Alabama twice, scoring two touchdowns in each of the past two CFP title games against Alabama, including the winning catch with :01 left last season. The former walk-on got a compliment from stoic coach Nick Saban, who said he was a “pain in the you-know-what,” which is high praise from the best coach in college football. Cain and McCloud are NFL prospects for Bryant to throw to. For Alabama, they also rely on a deep running game. Damien Harris is averaging an astounding 8.2 yards per carry, better than Heisman runner-up Bryce Love. Bo Scarbrough was a beast in last year’s CFP, and I feel like he will get the ball more Monday and bounce off tacklers like he did last year against Washington. Jalen Hurts is a year older and doesn’t throw as many interceptions, yet his completion percentage isn’t great. He will try to get the ball to Calvin Ridley, the only Tide receiver with more than 14 receptions. But Clemson’s D should be able to key on him and force Hurts into tough throws. I think the edge goes to Clemson due to their depth at every position, especially wide receiver, and the versatility of Bryant. This team has proven itself against good competition.
Defense: Both teams excel on this side of the ball, ranked 1-2 in scoring defense in the FBS, so we can expect a low-scoring battle. No. 1, Alabama, is always a good defensive team, and is led by Bednarik Award winner Minkah Fitzpatrick. He is everywhere on the field. But this Tide defense has not played any very good offenses and struggled in the trenches against Auburn, a line that was shredded by Clemson early in the season for 11 sacks. ‘Bama feasted on weak SEC teams, and I think that will show on Monday. Brent Venables, the defensive coordinator for Clemson, is considered maybe the best coordinator in college football, and he’s led a great group for six years. He can dial up many different looks in blitzes, good for the FBS lead with 44 sacks. Clelin Ferrell stuffs the run with 17 TFLs and 8. Neither team gets a large number of turnovers, but the games they play don’t need them. Expect a clean ballgame, albeit a slow-moving one.
The Pick: Alabama is favored due to the experience of Nick Saban. But I really don’t think this team is as good as some of Saban’s other teams. They scraped by Mississippi St. and lost their only game against a New Year’s Six team, when they were pounded on the ground by Auburn. Clemson, meanwhile, stifled Auburn and crushed Miami, another New Year’s Six team. In the Sugar Bowl, I think this will show. Clemson will load the box on defense to contain Damien Harris and Jalen Hurts and limit Calvin Ridley. Alabama’s defense can hold Clemson for a while, turning it into a field-position game. But soon, Hunter Renfrow will burn the Tide again, and a relentless rushing attack will get the best of the defense. Dabo Swinney has already proven himself to be an elite coach, and he should be on the level of Saban the whole game on in-game adjustments. Kelly Bryant will run for two touchdowns and Clemson will rack up the sacks. The Tigers can control the game once they get the lead, and I think their defense will carry them to the National Championship and a two to one lead in the annual playoff matchups with Alabama.
Clemson 24, Alabama 13