#3 Georgia (12-1) vs #2 Oklahoma (12-1) – 5PM ET, ESPN (Mon, 1/1) – Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual (CFP Semifinal)
Two of the most storied programs in college football history will meet for the first time ever on Monday, Georgia and Oklahoma will face off for the right to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game next week in Atlanta. Georgia has beaten every team they’ve faced this year, avenging their only loss in an SEC Title victory over Auburn, as for Oklahoma, the Sooners’ only loss came at the hands of a plucky Iowa State team early in the season, although Oklahoma has had some scares elsewhere (see Oklahoma State, Texas, Baylor, and Kansas State). Georgia is the only playoff team that I didn’t successfully predict before the season began, and I can admit that I should’ve seen the Kirby Smart defense coming, especially along with the two-headed monster of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in the backfield.
I missed on Georgia in the preseason, and I won’t make that mistake again. Oklahoma’s offense, led by Baker Mayfield, is just incredible, but they will be going up against one of the premier defenses in the country in the Georgia Bulldogs, who will be led by Roquan Smith. Mayfield is so good, he will hang at least 30 on this defense, but he will have to rely on his defense to get him into the national championship game, and that is where my confidence in this Oklahoma team ends. The median defensive S&P+ rank of College Football Playoff finalists since its inception is sixth. Oklahoma’s D ranks 95th. Chubb and Michel have combined for 2,209 yards this year, and I would expect that together they go for at least a couple hundred more in Pasedena. As long as Jake Fromm doesn’t turn the ball over, I expect Kirby Smart to make the playoff in just his second year as the head man in Athens.
Prediction: Georgia 40, Oklahoma 34
#4 Alabama (11-1) vs #1 Clemson (12-1) – 8:45PM ET, ESPN (Mon, 1/1) – AllState Sugar Bowl (CFP Semifinal)
The rematch… part three. Well, I guess its really part two of the rematch if you want to get technical, but this is the third installment in the Alabama-Clemson Playoff Trilogy. Unlike the previous two encounters, the title will not be on the line on Monday, but the stakes will be just as high in what is slowly turning into one of modern college football’s greatest rivalries. These two squads had very different experiences the last time they played. Nick Saban and the Tide lost their final game of the season in a 26-14 defeat at the hands of in-state rival Auburn, and that probably should have been a bigger margin. For Clemson, its been a much different story. Ever since the loss to Syracuse, the Tigers have been on fire, winning their remaining six games by an average score of 38-12, including a 35-point beatdown of Miami in the ACC Championship.
Despite their performance during the final weekend of the regular season, I was one of the biggest proponents for Alabama to make the final four. The Tide rank first in my computer ratings (and most other computer ratings) and they are ranked at the top of Vegas’ end-of-year rankings, so if you really want the four best, there is no way you can leave out Alabama. Alabama is the best team in the country when they are healthy, but coming into the Sugar Bowl, they just aren’t. Shaun Dion Hamilton, the leader of the Tide defense, made the trip to New Orleans, but won’t be able to play because of a knee injury. Alabama is a great team, even without Hamilton, but the Tide just don’t match up well with Clemson.
The Clemson defensive line ranks first in the country in opponent-adjusted sack rate, and the Alabama offensive line ranks 99th. Alabama’s offensive line is built for run blocking, and they are really, really good at that, but the front line for the Tide can be blitzed on. There is also the obvious question mark on the other side of the ball, Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt is moving on to become the head coach at Tennessee. If Kelly Bryant can hold on to the ball (averaging .3 interceptions per game over the last nine games) and provide a little extra juice with his legs, I’m trusting Clemson DC Brent Venables and that defensive line to get the job done, maybe forcing some turnovers from Jalen Hurts en route to a victory in a much lower scoring game than last year’s classic.