The College Football Playoff begins on New Year's Day with No. 3 Georgia taking on No. 2 Oklahoma in the 2018 Rose Bowl.
The Bulldogs earned their first trip to the playoff by winning the SEC championship for the first time since 2005. Their 12-1 record this season is their best since 2002, and they defeated Auburn, 28-7, in the SEC title game to avenge their only loss during the regular season.
Oklahoma is making its second appearance in the playoff. The Sooners lost 37-17 in the semifinal two years ago against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. First-year head coach Lincoln Riley led the program to a 12-1 record and Big 12 championship with a 41-17 win over TCU.
2018 Rose Bowl Information
Date: Monday, Jan. 1, 2018
Start Time: 5 p.m. ET
Betting Odds: Oklahoma (-1.5)
Oklahoma is the most exciting of the four teams in the College Football Playoff this year. Georgia, Clemson and Alabama are all physical, defensive-minded teams that are capable of putting up a lot of points but are best suited to play a more methodical style that wears the opposition down.
This wasn't a case of Oklahoma compiling big stats against weaker competition and performing well enough against strong teams. The offense scored at least 30 points in 12 of 13 games and never scored fewer than 29 points against anyone.
Mayfield gets the bulk of the attention, deservedly so, but Lindsay Schnell of USA Today offered this nugget about Oklahoma's running game that can cause Georgia problems.
"Mayfield carries himself with undeniable swagger, a big-time playmaker who craves pressure-packed situations," Schnell wrote. "He's helped offensively by a consistent ground attack, with three backs who average at least 49 rushing yards per game."
The Bulldogs had some sloppy games en route to making the playoff, none more so than a 40-17 loss against Auburn on Nov. 11. The Tigers burned them with 237 rushing yards on 46 carries, which is something Oklahoma will be mindful of thanks to its depth in the backfield.
The Sooners have three players who ran for at least 500 yards during the regular season, and each of them averaged at least 5.9 yards per carry.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's team does have the defensive talent to do something no team in the nation has done in 2017: Stop Mayfield.
Eric Single of Sports Illustrated did highlight one area on Georgia's defense that has been exploited at times this season:
"Rare is the team that has enough time to let downfield passing plays develop against Georgia's defense, which ranks second nationally behind Alabama with just 5.58 yards allowed per pass attempt. But Missouri's Drew Lock proved that big plays are there for the taking with enough time and the right athlete on the other end of the throw, and no quarterback on the regular season schedule was closer to what Georgia will see from Mayfield."
Lock threw for 253 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 completions against the Bulldogs on Oct. 14, so Mayfield knows there is a formula to having success down the field in this game.
Georgia is being undervalued because of that recent loss to Auburn, even though that was avenged, and not having an explosive offense. This feels like the showcase game for Smart to let the world know his program will stand next to the Crimson Tide in the SEC and can compete with anyone from any conference in the country.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Oklahoma 23
Odds via OddsShark.com