We’ve made it to the final round of previews, to the games that have a little more emphasis to them. Tonight is gonna be fun.
Playoff No.1 at The Rose Bowl: No.3 Georgia vs. No.2 Oklahoma
Let’s get this party started.
What a great game. I can already tell I’m gonna agonize over this pick.
Let’s start with Georgia. They have what’s almost a NFL defense; multiple guys will be first rounders in this Spring’s draft. They have a two-headed monster at running back with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who both had 13 rushing touchdowns. They have a true freshman at quarterback in Jake Fromm, who’s been awesome when the Bulldogs have needed him to be. That’s not a shot, Fromm’s great. But he only completed 145 passes this season. The Bulldogs don’t have to throw the ball around to win games. They can dominate anyone with their rushing attack and shut you out with their defense.
They might have to throw it around in this game though. The Sooners have the top ranked offense by FEI, led by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. The dude is a stud, there’s not really another word to describe him. He knows how to win games, and he can do it in any way he needs to.
The Sooners had three players with over 500 yards rushing, two players with over 900 yards receiving and three players with over 700 yards receiving. That’s how you maximize your resources. There’s a lot for this 4th ranked Georgia defense (per FEI) to worry about.
I think the Sooners can run on Georgia, but that’s not their strength. Despite the depth they have, you want the ball in Baker Mayfield’s hands. He’s big time. He’s made for these games.
But throwing on the Bulldogs is a daunting task. They’ve only allowed 5.6 yards per attempt this year, second best in the country. However, Georgia’s pass rush isn’t supreme; they were 60th in sacks. Giving Mayfield time to survey the field and make throws is a death trap.
No one, and I mean no one, has been able to stop him. TCU’s defense couldn’t do anything, twice. The Ohio State defense that everyone loves couldn’t do anything. To pick against the Sooners is tough.
Mayfield’s health has to be taken seriously though. It sounds like he’s had the flu this week, which couldn’t have happened at a worst time. Since he’s not 100%, the Sooners could use their run game to attack instead, and let Mayfield pick his times to throw. That might be an even better game-plan.
On the other end, the Sooners defense ranked 61st in FEI this year. It didn’t matter with their offense putting up the numbers it did, but for the Playoff’s concern, it’s not great. They’re much better against the run than the pass, which is a huge relief. Fromm’s a true freshman who hasn’t been relied on. Him throwing every other down isn’t their game. It’s Michel and Chubb until they’ve given them the ball enough to make the defense think they won’t stop giving it to them. That’s how Fromm’s dangerous: He’s set up by his backs to make plays.
If Oklahoma can’t stop Michel and Chubb, then it’s up to Mayfield. I’ll take those odds.
This feels like a shootout, and if that’s the case, I’ll take the quarterback I trust more. Boomer Sooner.
Prediction: Oklahoma-42 Georgia-38
Playoff No.2 at The Sugar Bowl: No.4 Alabama vs. No.1 Clemson
Georgia-Oklahoma is fantastic, but having part three of the trilogy to follow it up is even better.
Similar to the Warriors and Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, I’ve never picked against Clemson. I got burned once and was right once. Just like I was heading into the last NBA Finals.
But this time around, it’s a little different. This Clemson team has been just as good after losing DeShaun Watson, thanks to a dominating defense and a ton of weapons to help out Kelly Bryant.
My concern for the Tigers in this game revolves around Bryant. Backed by the defense, his struggles haven’t been documented as much as they should be. With only 13 touchdowns and close to half as many interceptions, Bryant is not the QB that torched the Crimson Tide last January. He’s completed 67.4% of his passes, but they only averaged 7.4 yards per attempt.
Clemson’s offense is based on their rushing attack. Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster has been beasts, and Bryant’s probably better with his legs than his arm. The backs can break away at any moment. But that may not be the key to this game.
The Bama defense’s FEI is 5th in the country, but they fall almost 20 points below Georgia’s 4th ranked defense. If you focus on the nitty-gritty of the ranking, the Tide’s struggles defensively have been allowing first downs and not forcing turnovers. The Tide rank 18th in DFD, which is Football Outsiders’ first down rate stat. 18th is quite good, but not for a top five defense. For comparison, Clemson ranks 5th in that category.
Given this, Clemson should do all they can to slow the game down and grind on this Bama defense. Make it methodical and tire them out.
The problem with this is that the Tide have the 2nd best rushing defense in the country. They’ve allowed a ridiculously low 2.8 yards per rush, and only gave up eight TDs on the ground all year. That’s insane.
I just don’t think Clemson’s offense is gonna be able to muster enough.
Let’s tackle the Bama offense next, and then I’ll come back to my trust level with each team.
I was extremely critical of Jalen Hurts last year. He’s improved this season, only throwing one interception. But like other QBs that rely on the run and their defense, he’s only thrown 135 passes at a 60.8% clip. That’s paired with only 15 TDs.
Clemson’s No.2 ranked defense by FEI has been mesmerizing. Like Georgia, it’s practically a NFL-caliber squad. They’re impossible to get chunk plays on. Like Bama, you have methodically get yards. I think I trust the Tide to do that more.
A couple reasons why: 1) Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough are slightly better as a duo. 2) Bama is better against the run. 3) I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but I trust Jalen Hurts. He’s got the experience, and so does this whole Alabama squad.
Overall, I think this is a grudge-match. I think both QBs could easily struggle against these menacing defenses. Clemson’s running game could experience difficulties getting going against this stout Bama front. Scarborough and Harris are too good, and Hurts’ experience helps the Tide advance.
Prediction: Alabama-25 Clemson-13