A rare Rose Bowl doubling as the College Football Playoff semifinals occurs Monday when the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs collide with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners.
Both the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences are absent from the game for the first time since 2002, marking a changing of the guard of sorts as SEC and Big 12 powers meet out west—two seeds in the final four nobody would dare dispute.
The Bulldogs enter the Rose Bowl as losers of only one game after laughing their way through the SEC title game under the guidance of head coach Kirby Smart. It's a similar story for a Baker Mayfield-led Oklahoma side with one loss and a huge statement made in a Big 12 title game blowout.
As they say, something has to give as the two powerhouses now meet and play for a chance to advance to the CFP title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Rose Bowl 2017
Date: Monday, January 1
Time (ET): 5 p.m. ET
Location: Rose Bowl stadium
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: Georgia (-2)
Team Injury Reports
- Deangelo Gibbs, DB, Questionable
- Jayson Stanley, WR, Questionable
- Natrez Patrick, LB, Out
- Sony Michel, RB, Probable
- Christian Payne, FB, Probable
- Rashad Roundtree, LB, Out
- Rodney Anderson, RB, Probable
- Curtis Bolton, LB, Out
- Matt Romar, DT, Out
- Jordan Parker, CB, Out
- Kennedy Brooks, RB, Out
- Levi Draper, LB, Out
- Alex Dalton, OL, Out
- Nick Basquine, WR, Out
Injury reports courtesy of USA Today.
Continuing the Smart Dominance
Smart isn't having many problems bringing on high-profile recruits and helping the Bulldogs compete in the SEC as his second year on the job comes to a close.
The first was an 8-5 effort and a win in the Liberty Bowl, the second a 12-1 show of force resulting in the New Year's day showdown with Oklahoma. The Bulldogs ripped through the SEC, including a 31-3 takedown of then-No. 17 Mississippi State.
The lone exception was a 40-17 dud at the hands of then-No. 10 Auburn, a loss avenged in the SEC title game against those same Tigers 28-7.
It was a stroke of revenge to cap off quite the tale, and CBS Sports' Barrett Sallee put it best:
In the win over Auburn, Jake Fromm tossed a pair of touchdowns while playing off the strong form of a rushing attack tallying 238 yards and a score on a 5.8 per-carry average. No shocker here—Nick Chubb has 1,175 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year, and Sony Michel has 948 and 13. Both guys average north of six yards per carry.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is a Georgia defense that has only permitted a maximum of 13 points over its final three games of the season. Only two teams have scored north of the 20-point mark on it all year, setting up quite the war of wills against one of college football's best quarterbacks.
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It isn't hard to find a talking point about Oklahoma—Mayfield commands the spotlight.
The man completing 71 percent of his passes on the way to 41 touchdowns and five interceptions, not to mention another 310 yards and five scores on the ground, led the Sooners to a nearly perfect record were it not for an odd 38-31 upset at the hands of Iowa State in early October.
Smart certainly understands the challenge his vaunted SEC defense faces.
"He's just such a good athlete," Smart said, according to the Associated Press' Greg Beacham (via NCAA.com). "He stretches and extends plays, extremely explosive, not afraid to make any throws. It's really almost like when you watch Brett Favre back in the day."
Mayfield certainly doesn't blink in the face of major competition. He totaled six touchdowns in a 62-52 win against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State and threw three more in a 38-20 blowout of then-No. 6 TCU the next week. Tasked with beating No. 11 TCU yet again to close the season, he threw four more scores in a 41-17 triumph.
Oklahoma's defense hasn't had the easiest time this year, allowing five opponents north of the 30-point mark. But it almost seems par for the course in the Big 12, and the unit doesn't exactly get to rest often thanks to how quickly Mayfield can put points on the board.
Against the Bulldogs, Mayfield will look to extend drives and keep a strong Georgia rushing attack off the field. That, or force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone and to the air in an effort to keep up.
Anything short of a small spread for this one wouldn't have made much sense.
In one corner is Georgia's elite defense and running game, a tandem capable of keeping a player like Mayfield off the field. In the other corner, Mayfield.
Lost in some of the quarterback hype, though, is the fact the Sooners can also slow it down and control the pace via a ground game averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 31 touchdowns on the season. It's the sort of tandem in combination with Mayfield that can hurt Georgia's bend-but-don't-break approach.
Look for the better quarterback to elevate his side as he starts to follow in the footsteps of someone such as Deshaun Watson and other recent greats.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Georgia 30