Everything will be on the line as Oklahoma and Georgia take the field on New Year’s Day, in The Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl Game. For the first time since the inaugural year of the CFP, 2015, the Rose Bowl is a playoff game, and for the second time, the Big 12 is represented in the playoff by Oklahoma. There are some similarities between this season and Oklahoma’s last playoff appearance, a 37-17 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Firstly, the Sooners are a one loss Big 12 champion, and sustained that one loss to an unexpected team (Texas and Iowa State). The Sooners are led by the same quarterback, Baker Mayfield, though the Heisman winner is two years older now, and comes in to the game as the undisputed top player in the country. Their opponent, Georgia, has a young quarterback, two 1000 yard rushers, and a dominant defense, just like that Clemson team.
Despite the connections, Oklahoma is looking for a very different result this year, and if they do what they’ve done all season, we could be in for an instant classic, as this matchup is, on paper, the best in the playoff era.
Date/Time: JAN 1, 4:00 PM CST
Where: Rose Bowl
Forecast: High 74, Low 57
Betting Line: UGA -2
It’s been a dream season for the Sooners. After a massive, flag planting, statement win in Columbus over Ohio State in week two, the Sooners seemed primed to run the table in the Big 12, with star quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm, and one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, paired with a generally competent defense. Despite a hard-fought loss to Iowa State in October, the Sooners have been just about as good as advertised this year, as they’ve run over ranked foes Oklahoma State and TCU (twice) on their way to a Big 12 title and playoff berth.
That outstanding regular season led to a Heisman for Mayfield, and the number two ranking nationally, behind only Clemson. It’s hard to understate how crucial this game is for Oklahoma, as well as for the Big 12 as a whole. The Big 12 has been snubbed twice from the playoff in four years, and the Sooners have a chance to finally flip the narrative about the conference with a title win. It would be the Sooners’ first championship appearance since 2008. So what do the Sooners need to do to eliminate the Bulldogs?
OU Keys To The Game
Spread Georgia Out – Georgia’s greatest asset is their phenomenal defense, led by the best group of linebackers in the country. The only two teams to score more than 20 points on Georgia this season, Missouri and Auburn, did it with a balanced spread attack, and a heavy dosage of run pass options. Luckily for Oklahoma, nobody knows more about RPOs than Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley, and if the Sooners are going to score on Georgia, it’ll be by testing the secondary with play action, forcing the linebackers to think about the run, and giving Baker Mayfield free rein to play his game.
Make Fromm Pass – If you’re looking for dynamic offense, only one team in this game has it. Georgia is fairly one-dimensional, and they have been all season long. With freshman Jake Fromm at quarterback, the Bulldogs have leaned heavily on their two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at halfback, and generally, they’re able to get by with that duo, and less than 25 passes a game. In Georgia’s three lowest scoring games of the season, Fromm threw more than 20 passes, and struggled in all three, as his halfbacks were bottled up. If Oklahoma’s front seven can contain Chubb and Michel, the secondary may not be great, but they’ve certainly held their own against better quarterbacks.
Locate Roquan Smith – On a great defense, linebacker Roquan Smith is far and away the top player, and leader of the group. The former four-star recruit has a rare pairing of speed, strength, and instinct that make him one of the best linebackers in the country, and he’s been the guiding force behind Georgia’s defense al;l season long. When Smith is allowed free runs at ball carriers, the results can be devastating, and when he’s at his best, he can destroy an offensive gameplan. Oklahoma has to keep him out of the backfield, and in check all game, because if he gets lose, the Sooners’ running attack will disappear.
As it is with most high-profile, top five matchups, this game is really hard to predict. Both teams have been dominant all season, and in terms of consistent excellence, these are the nation’s top teams. Oklahoma’s offense against Georgia’s defense is this game’s most important matchup, and ultimately, I think this game comes down to which team’s stars step up. Offensively, Oklahoma needs Mark Andrews, Rodney Anderson, their offensive line, and most importantly, Baker Mayfield to step up if they want to win.
If the Sooners dictate the pace, spread the Bulldogs out, force Fromm to beat them, and contain Roquan Smith, they’ll be headed to the national title, against either Clemson or Alabama. I’m not very confident in it, but I’ve got the Sooners winning in Pasadena. Oklahoma 33, Georgia 24.