Happy New Year everyone! And what better way to kick off 2018 than by making some predictions for the College Football Playoff? There are a lot of great games on today, but all eyes will be on the battle for the right to play for the National Championship. Myself, as well as fellow N2K writers Tyler Bates, Jackson Carr and Gabe VanDyke – special thanks to all of them for their contributions – will be giving our takes and picking who we think wins each playoff game. Without further ado, here are the picks:
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual
3. Georgia vs. 2. Oklahoma
5 p.m. EST, ESPN
Tyler: Baker Mayfield is going to have his hands full with this Georgia defense, which gives up an average of just under two touchdowns per game. Against Drew Lock and Jarrett Stidham, the two best quarterbacks the unit went up against this season, they struggled. Lock managed to complete 60 percent of his passes and toss four scores in a loss, while Stidham completed roughly 60 percent of passes and five scores of his own in two games. The Dawgs are going to struggle with the best quarterback in the country. Sooners by 14.
Jackson: I’ve been trying to sell myself on the Sooners these past few weeks, because I really enjoyed watching their offense this year, and I’d love seeing Mayfield and Riley in the National Championship game. I just don’t see it. Oklahoma’s defensive front has been underwhelming throughout the year, and a shaky run stop will be tested early and often by Nick Chubb and company. I see a perfect opportunity for Fromm’s offense to control the pace through the ground attack, keeping the dynamic Heisman winner on the sideline for as long as possible. While Mayfield has stayed consistent against his strongest defensive opposition, Georgia’s defense is more disciplined and effective than anything he’s seen this year, and limiting his time with the ball will help force the nation’s top playmaker into some rare mistakes down the stretch. Final Score: Georgia 31, Oklahoma 27.
Gabe: We will have to see if Baker Mayfield attends this game or not. All jokes aside, even with Baker Mayfield under the weather, he still is the best player in the country. For Oklahoma, the key is their front 7 on defense. If they can contain Chubb and Michel, the Sooners should be able keep up the pace on offense and put up a lot of points. For Georgia, if they can get the run game going and not go three and out, then Fromm, Chubb and Michel should be able to do some work and give Roquan Smith and the rest of Georgia’s amazing defense some rest and the opportunity to keep Oklahoma off the scoreboard. This one is tough for me to pick but I think the experience for Oklahoma having been here two years ago, and having Baker Mayfield as opposed to a true freshman Jake Fromm should be the X Factor. Oklahoma 34, Georgia 28.
Mike: While the other matchup is getting all of the hype, this is going to be the more competitive of the two in my opinion. Oklahoma comes into this one with one of the best offenses in the nation, led by Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and a plethora of elite weapons at the skill positions. However, they have not seen a defense quite like that of the Bulldogs all year long, which possesses great talents like linebacker Roquan Smith who can slow down both the aerial and ground portions of the Sooners’ attack. To me, the game will come down to whether Mayfield can establish himself early and often through the air. Doing so would allow his team to put pressure on UGA’s defense to get stops later in the game and force Georgia QB Jake Frohm to throw the ball more than he has all season long. Although he is under the weather, I don’t see anything slowing down Mayfield in this one, and I think he’s going to take Georgia to task and get the Sooners one more game one week from today. Oklahoma 38, Georgia 28
Allstate Sugar Bowl
4. Alabama vs. 1. Clemson
8:45 p.m. EST, ESPN
Tyler: This game seemed destined to happen, regardless of if it was the National Championship or before, right? ‘Bama has dealt with injuries, and has had a tough second half of the season relative to their own standards. I think Clemson is deeper in the trenches and in the backfield. Ultimately, that’s what this game will come down to, as neither Kelly Bryant nor Jalen Hurts are capable of being game-changers through the air. Give me Clemson by 10.
Jackson: I’ve got Bama winning the whole thing this year. They’re still the most complete team in the field, and I believe it’s time for Jalen Hurts to prove that he’s more than just another decent quarterback being dragged along by the ultra-talented roster behind him. The battle between the Harris – Scarbrough backfield and the Tiger’s dominant defensive line will play a large part in dictating the possession battle in this slugfest, and I don’t have quite the same faith in Clemson’s offense to keep up the ground attack as the game goes on. I can’t understate the impressive work Dabo Sweeney has done to reload his program for another title run, but it’ll take a bit more for me to bet on a team looking to beat a Saban-led Bama squad for a second consecutive playoff. Final Score: Alabama 24, Clemson 17.
Gabe: Part III, The trilogy, the rubber match, whatever you want to call, it should be another instant classic. I think that Clemson is an all around better team and that while Kelly Bryant is no Deshaun Watson, that Alabama defense is not the same as last year either. Bryant should be able to be effect throwing to Cain on the outside and Renfrow over the middle. In Alabama’s loss to Auburn and near loss to Mississippi State, we saw their defense get gashed on the ground, something we haven’t seen in years previous. For Clemson, their front 7 could be the best they’ve had the last 3 years with Lawrence, Wilkins and Ferrell. Calvin Ridley has been held in check the previous two meetings so we will see if Clemson has the formula to keep him in check again. I think Clemson’s O-Line will be able to give Bryant enough time to find players downfield and be able to open holes for Fuller, Choice and Etienne. That will be the difference in this game. Clemson 27, Alabama 20.
Mike: I’m going to preface this by saying the committee made the right decision by putting in Alabama over Ohio State. With that being said… I think this rematch is going to be a blowout with Clemson coming out on top. The Tigers’ four-man defensive front of Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant is as good as it gets, and I see them mauling Alabama’s offensive line and completely shutting down the running game. Additionally, because of the significant injuries that have hit the Tide’s linebacker corps this past season, I see Kelly Bryant and Clemson’s offense establishing a good tempo throughout the first half and putting this game to bed possibly as early as the third quarter. If the game plays out how I foresee it will, and Dabo Sweeney gets another shot at the National Championship, this could be viewed as a passing of the torch to him as college football’s best coach. Clemson 45, Alabama 17
Cover photo courtesy fbsschedules.com.