After an entertaining pair of semifinal matchups, the College Football Playoff National Championship has a lot to live up to next Monday.
Georgia showed its lack of quit in a dramatic Rose Bowl victory, while Alabama came through in a Sugar Bowl battle of the last two national champions. We know the next game will decide the title, the question is which players will step up.
As we have seen throughout the year and certainly in the bowl season, it takes more than just star players to carry a team to victory. Nick Chubb was Georgia's best offensive producer during the year, but the team's season would be over if not for No. 2 running back Sony Michel.
These underappreciated players could be the difference in the upcoming game.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia
It won't be as easy to move the football as it was against Oklahoma, so it might take some big plays to get onto the board.
Mecole Hardman has the chance to solve this issue thanks to his speed as one of the fastest players in the country. Although he only caught one pass in the Rose Bowl, he scored four touchdowns this year on 28 offensive touches.
His best game of the year came in a high-scoring battle against Missouri when he rushed for a 35-yard touchdown and caught a 59-yard touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, Hardman's biggest impact comes on special teams where he averages 10.8 yards per punt return and 27.3 yards per kick return. In a close battle, field position means everything and the sophomore can help get easy yards before the offense sees the field.
Whether it's on offense or in the return game, Hardman is a threat with the ball in his hands and he can make an impact with one play.
Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia
Roquan Smith is Georgia's defensive leader and could be the best player on the field in the title game, but Lorenzo Carter shouldn't be overlooked.
The linebacker made one of the biggest plays of the game against Oklahoma, blocking a field goal in double overtime. While it didn't end up making a difference on the scoreboard, it gave his side the necessary momentum to seal the win a few plays later.
Special teams aside, Carter makes a significant impact on the defensive side of the ball with 47 tackles on the year and four sacks. Perhaps most impressively, he has 15 quarterback hits, which shows he can get pressure and affect the passing game even when he isn't recording sacks.
Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal discussed the player's potential:
Ryan McCrystal @Ryan_McCrystal
Lorenzo Carter has been really underrated as a draft prospect.. he's got late 1st-round potential assuming he tests well2018-1-2 02:17:14
While Smith can cover almost the entire field, Carter will still have to help out and make big plays against both the run and the pass.
Bradley Bozeman, C, Alabama
The Alabama offensive line had a difficult task against Clemson with one of the top defensive lines in the country, but Bradley Bozeman and company did its job. Unfortunately, things won't get much easier against Georgia.
The Bulldogs have an attacking front seven that keeps coming at you, and it led Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield to make several mistakes throughout last game.
As good as Jalen Hurts can be, he will not succeed if he is under pressure all game long.
Bozeman has been the anchor of the line this season, earning second-team All-American status as one of the most consistent linemen in the country. The redshirt senior has loads of experience, especially in big games, and will try to come through with one more top-notch effort before moving onto the next level.
If he can help keep Hurts on his feet while clearing space on the ground, Alabama should be able to score plenty of points.
Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama
It's hard for players not to stand out on Alabama's defense. There are stars at each level, from Minkah Fitzpatrick to Rashaan Evans to Da'Ron Payne and more. You can expect all of these players to be at their best in a championship game.
However, there are others down the line who might be just as important to victory.
One of those players is Levi Wallace, the team's No. 1 cornerback who has taken on an important role during his senior season. The former walk-on has been excellent in coverage, as Pro Football Focus noted before the Sugar Bowl:
PFF College Football @PFF_College
A breakout star emerged from Tuscaloosa this season in CB Levi Wallace. https://t.co/BIsolCeuUD https://t.co/HB1fvNnnN42018-1-1 17:31:10
He did great work limiting Clemson's Deon Cain on Monday, although the receiver still made a few big catches.
Considering Georgia's offensive setup, Alabama will likely put extra men in the box to slow down the run game. Of course, this can only work if Wallace wins his matchup, whether it is against Javon Wims or anyone else.
If he can succeed on an island, the Crimson Tide's defense might be near impossible to score upon.
Note: All stats courtesy of official team sites.