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College Football Playoff 2017-2018: Previewing the Rose Bowl

Over the course of his three seasons in Norman, Baker Mayfield has won three Big 12 titles, made the
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
College Football Playoff twice, won a Heisman, and set countless records while leading the Oklahoma Sooners. However, there is one big thing missing from his legendary career: a National Title. Mayfield will get an opportunity to manage just that as he begins his quest against the Georgia Bulldogs, who pounded Auburn in the SEC Championship to win a conference title in Kirby Smart's second season. The game will feature an explosive, balanced Oklahoma offense against a physical, well-built Bulldogs' defense in a historic venue. It should be the perfect way to kick off 2018 in the world of college football.

Mayfield, who of course was once a walk-on at Oklahoma after transferring from Texas Tech (where he was also a walk-on), has put together one of the most impressive seasons ever by an Oklahoma QB, a list that includes various Heisman winners and many record-setting signal-callers. The senior has played with his usual confidence and fearlessness, but has cut down on turnovers and played even better in the bigger games. Mayfield has been the driving force behind an offense that is averaging 45 points per game and 583 yards per game (best in the nation), but he isn't the only weapon the Sooners will use to attack that fantastic Georgia defense. Oklahoma has a three-headed monster at running back, where Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams will lead the way. Anderson led the team in rushing, with 960 yards and 11 scores, but Sermon and Adams offer some major big-play potential, particularly Adams, who averaged a whopping 9.2 yards per carry. Georgia has done a good job of containing the big play all season long, but OU head man Lincoln Riley is fantastic at finding ways to create space and wearing defenses down. Mayfield also has a very capable receiver group to work with, which includes reliable Marquise Brown and John Mackey Award winner Mark Andrews, who had 906 yards at tight end. He also operates behind one of the country's best offensive lines, which will have to deal with an aggressive and experience UGA pass rush. Overall, the group has great balance and solid experience, which puts them in a good spot to still light up the scoreboard, even with how much talent Georgia has on that side of the ball. 

The bigger question for Oklahoma is on defense, where the group has struggled for a big chunk of the season. With their offense being so good, it hasn't really derailed the Sooners, but it could become a major problem against some of the talented teams in the four-team field. Georgia's offense is not as explosive as Oklahoma, but it is still a group that can certainly attack a weak defense. Oklahoma will have to hope for a big day from sack machine Ogobonnia Okoronkwo, as well as a good day from an inconsistent secondary. If Okoronkwo can apply pressure on true freshman QB Jake Fromm and the secondary can force some turnovers, the Sooners should really be in a good spot.

What is very impressive about Georgia this season is their success despite having Fromm, who is just 19, leading the charge. Fromm took over when former five-star recruit Jacob Eason went down early in the season with an injury, and has subsequently cemented himself as the leader of this football team. Fromm doesn't have the big play ability of Mayfield or other quarterbacks across the country, but he plays smart football and gets down the field without turning the ball over. The true frosh is also exceptional on back-shoulder throws towards the sideline, so expect to see UGA attack the Oklahoma defense horizontally as well as vertically. The Bulldogs lean heavily on their rushing attack, which includes seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both could have left for the NFL and likely been high picks, but opted to return for their senior season to try to bring a National Championship to Athens. Chubb is the workhorse that thrives between the tackles, while Michel has a little bit more wiggle to him. Outside of Ohio State, Oklahoma hasn't seen this skilled of a rushing attack, so it will be interesting to see how they react to it. On the outside, UGA also has a number of guys that should be able to attack the Sooners' secondary, mainly wide receiver Javon Wims and Terry Godwin. The offensive line also is known for its physical nature and should be able to perform well, even against an Oklahoma defense that loves to blitz.

The real strength for Georgia is definitely their defense, which is allowing just 13.4 points per game, which is fourth nationally. It starts with their defensive line, which lacks any big names and is far from flashy, but eats up running holes and should be able to get in Mayfield's face. The real strength is at linebacker, where Roquan Smith, who finished tenth in Heisman voting, is the unquestioned leader of the unit. Smith managed 103 tackles on the season and can play from sideline to sideline as well as anybody in the country. The linebacker corps is hurt, however, by the absence of Natrez Patrick, a hard-hitting linebacker is out after being arrested. In the defensive backfield, UGA has a lot of veteran leadership and established playmakers. It is hard to imagine them completely shutting down Mayfield and the Sooners' aerial attack, but they should certainly be enough to at the very least, slow it down.

It should be an interesting clash of two teams with different philosophies. Oklahoma will want to come out and play aggressive on both sides of the ball, while the Bulldogs should slow down the game and play smart, physical football. Both are clearly good football teams, and their differing strengths still make them very evenly matched. In a game where neither team is really a clear favorite, it makes sense to go with the team with the best player, which is Mayfield. The last time he played in a Playoff game it was short-lived, as Mayfield was unable to overcome Clemson in '15-'16. Don't expect that to be the case this time. Oklahoma is my pick to win the National Championship.

The Pick: Oklahoma, 31 Georgia, 24

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