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Georgia vs. Oklahoma: 2018 Rose Bowl Preview

The Bulldogs look for their first national title since 1980. To get there, though, they must take down Oklahoma first.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Auburn
Georgia LB Roquan Smith
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff is finally here and the Rose Bowl will kick things off on Monday afternoon as the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners battle the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in Pasadena.

Oklahoma, led by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, features the No. 1 offense in the nation, averaging almost 584 yards per game. The Sooners also rank fourth in scoring offense, averaging 45 points per game.

Georgia, meanwhile, is back in the title picture after a long absence. The Bulldogs’ last national championship came all the way back in 1980 when Herschel Walker was in Athens. UGA gets it done the old-fashioned way by running the football with a stable of talented backs and a stingy and aggressive defense.

Players to watch

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is one of the top offensive minds in the nation. He has a strong rapport with his senior quarterback and they’re always on the same page. For as good of a coach and play-caller that Riley is, this offense is all about Mayfield.

The Sooners haven’t seen a defense this good all year. With all due respect to Ohio State, Georgia’s defense is much better. OU handled the Buckeyes with ease, winning 31-16 back in Week 2. In that game, Mayfield completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three scores. It was one of his best performances in a season—and career—filled with them.

If the Sooners are going to get by the Bulldogs, they’ll need a huge performance from Mayfield.

Georgia LB Roquan Smith

The SEC defensive player of the year will have his hands full with Oklahoma’s high-powered offense. While the Sooners are known for their prolific passing attack, they can run the ball, too. OU is 27th in rushing offense, averaging 216 rushing yards per game. The Sooners have three backs who’ve rushed for over 500 yards this season, led by Rodney Anderson and his 960 yards.

The ‘Dawgs are strong against the run and Smith is a big reason why. The do-it-all linebacker roams from sideline to sideline as well as any player in the country, can rush the passer or also excel in coverage. The Sooners’ offense will certainly be a big challenge for him.

Expect a big performance from Smith on Monday evening.

Georgia wins if...

Georgia will win this game if it can run the football successfully and keep Mayfield and OU’s offense off the field. Oklahoma opponents average 144 yards rushing per game, but most importantly, over four yards per attempt. If Nick Chubb and Sony Michel average four yards per attempt, Georgia is winning this game.

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm must also take care of the football. On the season, Fromm has proven capable of doing just that, passing for 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His worst performance came in the loss to Auburn, where he completed just 13 of 28 passes and was harassed in the pocket the entire game.

If Fromm plays as well as he did in the rematch against Auburn in the SEC title game, UGa will be tough to beat. Fromm has actually proven to be the perfect quarterback for this Georgia team in 2017.

Oklahoma wins if...

The Sooners, of course, need another big game from Mayfield. The Heisman winner will likely deliver, but he can’t do it alone. He’ll need help from his running game. Anderson and Trey Sermon will be big keys for OU. Sermon is Oklahoma’s big-play back. The Georgia native averages six yards per carry and must make some plays against the stingy Bulldogs’ defense.

Defensively, Oklahoma will need to load up the box with eight defenders and make Fromm win this game with his arm. That will require the OU secondary to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. This is likely where the game will be won or lost.

So, who wins?

This is going to be a fun game. The Sooners and Mayfield are fun to watch. They score lots of points. And as good as the Georgia defense is, this isn’t going to be a low-scoring affair. The ‘Dawgs will limit OU’s offense, putting a ton of pressure on Mayfield and forcing some bad decisions.

Chubb and Michel combine for over 150 yards and a couple of scores, keeping the Sooners’ offense off the field. Fromm takes care of the football and makes big throws when he absolutely needs to in leading Georgia to a Rose Bowl win and the opportunity for its first national championship in 37 seasons.

Pick: Georgia 34, Oklahoma 30