2018 will have the freshest college football playoffs to date. Once atop the shoulders of Deshaun Watson, Death Valley now reigns with 1st-year starting QB Kelly Bryant as the top seed. Dawgs of the South trained under its newfound leader Kirby Smart are the SEC champs entering Pasadena. The Crimson and Cream that runs deep in the Sooner State hosts the Heisman winner and rookie sensation HC Lincoln Riley. Then to balance it out, Bama’s very own lifelong president Nick Saban leads a tide of disciplined droids.
Rose Bowl Takes on Polar Opposites
A perfect west-coast sunny day will shine down on the “Granddaddy of Them All” to kick off the final four. 75 degrees with little to no humidity, it welcomes two juggernauts. The Georgia Bulldogs are aided by a three-headed monster of a backfield. On the other end, the Oklahoma Sooners have the most exciting player in college football.
Entering 2017, Georgia was regarded as a good team that will not be good enough. The usual top-ten preseason team saw themselves begin as the number 15th team in the nation. Coming off an 8-5 season in 2016, this displayed the amount of faith the committee held in Kirby Smart as head coach.
Not fazed by his first-year woes and what media critics entailed him to be, Smart stated on the eve of the SEC championship game:
“I don’t think we’re playing in this game if we don’t learn the lessons we learned last year. But those lessons, there are not a lot of ways to get to the top in sports. Those are the lessons we learned. It takes what it takes to get to the top of your division. You’ve got to believe that, and you’ve got to believe in the process it takes to get there. We’ve taken a comprehensive approach to building our program, hopefully building it the right way through recruiting and developing kids the right way on and off the field”.
Kirby was right. An experienced offensive line, two potentially draft-eligible early round linebackers, and one of the best running backs in the country with Nick Chubb. Even after losing starting quarterback Jacob Eason, he adjusted.
5-star true freshman recruit, Jake Fromm, took the helm of the Bulldogs and they have not looked back. Throwing for 21 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, Fromm has looked as poised as you would hope for in a quarterback so young. Also, he was sensational in the SEC championship game, completing 72 percent of his passes on 22 attempts gathering 183 yards and two touchdowns.
The lights may be as bright as they have been in Fromm’s career, but he has not shied away. When asked if he could be just the second true freshman to win the national championship, Fromm had a simple response:
“Hope I can add my name to the list”.
Restoring Pasadena in Norman
Though Georgia and Oklahoma have met on the gridiron, the Sooners understand what it takes against the SEC. Currently on a two-game bowl winning streak against the SEC, this may be their toughest test yet. As a running defense that struggled against Kansas State and Iowa State in-conference, people expect nothing less against the Bulldogs. The Sooners still have the most experienced quarterback in the playoffs. Also, add on the youngest head coach in college football. One that has proved his worth.
This will be the second time in Sooners history that they will play in the Rose Bowl. Therefore, the players understand what needs to take place. OT Orlando Brown commented on their time in California so far –
“And with it being our second time in the playoffs, we just had a tremendous amount of focus. We had a bunch of guys that have been here, not too much starstruck by LA. Guys that are wanting to practice, wanting to play in the game, been watching the film and doing all those different things.”
They take after their coach. Lincoln Riley describes finding, “…a balance,” Riley said. “You can’t go all football all the time. Our guys aren’t used to doing that anyway.” From the distractions of LA to Mayfield’s illness causing missing time in practice, the Sooners are at a crucial time. Little hiccups such as these exemplify what Riley is saying. Every second matters and can affect what happens Saturday. Though Riley admits to Mayfield possibly not being 100 percent come game time, expect him to play, and possibly take home a fresh bouquet of roses.
The Storied Trilogy
The record sits at 1-1. Clemson versus Bama. We recently saw former Clemson great Deshaun Watson lead a valiant comeback for the championship in 2016, while falling short against a stout defense the year before. Saban versus Swinney. Basically, the head coach of all head coaches in NCAA taking on the elite dancer of the Carolinas.
It is everything a college fan wants in a playoff game. Defenses filled with extreme talent and offenses led by quarterbacks trying to prove themselves. Who will have the final say in this series?
A revenge game for the Tide, as they enter the third consecutive matchup between the two. Even now without Watson, Saban knows how Swinney can prepare. Two previous matchups that are combined by a 9 point differential, he is expecting nothing less this year.
Saban said in a recent interview that “this will be by far the best team that we’ve played all year, and we’ll certainly need to play our best to have any kind of chance to be successful in the game”. Swinney is no different. While he has an elite front seven that boasts DT Christian Wilkins, he will have to contain RB Damien Harris and WR Calvin Ridley. His thoughts on the game suggested “…pretty much everybody who plays Alabama is probably going to be an underdog,” Swinney followed. “We’re going to get ready and do what we do.”
The most interesting element of this matchup will be the quarterback play. A sport that is dominated by electric players at the QB position, is not receiving much hype. Both have been in the program for at least two years, but have taken reserved roles. Also, Hurts is more known as a runner than passer if that.
Bryant has played well enough to put Clemson into winning situations, but has not taken any national spotlight. Therefore, this game might not end with such high scoring as we’ve seen in previous years. Defense wins championships and this game will serve as a prime example.