The Georgia Bulldogs and the Oklahoma Sooners will get things going for the College Football Playoff with a 5:30 p.m. ET kickoff at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for the first semifinal game. Georgia, the SEC champ by virtue of beating Auburn, and Oklahoma, the Big 12 champ by virtue of winning the first conference championship game over TCU, both have long trips out west, but all the fanfare that goes along with the Rose Bowl is usually experienced by Big Ten and Pac-12 teams. That makes this year extremely different. From a betting standpoint, Oklahoma opened a -1 favorite at Bookmaker, but the line has flipped to Georgia -1 based on early action.
It is very interesting that the SEC champ has to go all the way to Pasadena while Alabama, who narrowly got in the College Football Playoff, gets a bit of a home field advantage in New Orleans. Anyway, Georgia wrapped up the regular season at 12-1 with the win over Auburn in Atlanta. Kirby Smart’s team got revenge over the only opponent it lost to and rides into the Rose Bowl with a 9-4 record ATS. The Bulldogs are 8-5 to the under. Some people have Oklahoma as the highest power-rated team in the country with Alabama’s injuries. It makes sense, as the Sooners racked up 584 points en route to a 12-1 mark and an 8-5 ATS record. The Sooners are just 7-6 to the over, despite a high-octane offense and a porous defense.
This fascinating game is quite a contrast of styles. Georgia ran the ball 591 times against 244 pass attempts. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were the standout stars of a ground game that averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Chubb blew right back the 1,000-yard mark with 1,175 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. Michel had 7.2 yards per pop on 948 carries. For good measure, backups D’Andre Swift had 8.2 yards per carry and Elijah Holyfield had 5.9 yards per carry. Georgia scored 57 offensive touchdowns and 36 came from the rushing attack. Jake Fromm did what he needed to do. After replacing Jacob Eason, Fromm posted a 63 percent completion percentage with a 21/5 TD/INT ratio. With the help of the running game, the Bulldogs were able to rack up 14.7 yards per catch against defenses that were a little too focused on the run. As prolific as Oklahoma’s offense was in the regular season, Georgia was 13th in yards per play with 6.75. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in yards per carry, which seems particularly relevant against an Oklahoma defense that was 44th in yards per carry allowed with 4.02.
To say that the Georgia defense has not been tested by an offense like this would be an understatement. The Bulldogs avoided Alabama and Ole Miss in conference play. The only offense close to Oklahoma was Auburn’s and that was a group that was tied for 26th in yards per play with 6.3. Georgia allowed 488 yards and 40 points the first time those two teams met. In the second meeting, Auburn only had 259 yards. Georgia went from allowing 5.2 yards per carry to 3.7 yards per carry. Kirby Smart made the necessary adjustments and his team came out on top. The obvious worry here for Georgia is that they are seeing a quarterback in Baker Mayfield that they have not seen and there is really no way to replicate that type of passing attack. Film study is one thing. Jacob Eason running the scout team is another. But, the Bulldogs pass defense, which is among the best in the country, has only faced 369 pass attempts this season. The Bulldogs have only allowed 5.6 yards per attempt, which trails only Alabama, but Oklahoma’s tempo and potent aerial attack is hard to prep for.
Oklahoma’s offense wasn’t just better than every other offense in the country. It blew away every other offense in the country. The Sooners racked up 8.44 yards per play, which is simply obscene. UCF was second with 7.6 yards per play. Missouri, the best offense Georgia faced this season per the stats, only had 312 yards, but that was on just 49 offensive plays because Georgia dominated the time of possession. Georgia only allowed 4.45 yards per play during the regular season. Oklahoma had no problems moving it on the Ohio State defense, which got a lot better as the season went along, but was not a well-polished unit, especially in the secondary, for the first meeting. Baker Mayfield had a ridiculous season with a 41/5 TD/INT ratio and a 71 percent completion percentage. The runaway Heisman Trophy winner also added 310 rushing yards and five touchdowns, so he is mobile enough to get away from the rush. The Sooners averaged 16.8 yards per catch and over 12 yards per pass attempt, so explosive plays are the name of the game. The rushing attack for Oklahoma had 5.6 yards per carry, led by Rodney Anderson with 960 yards on 162 carries. Trey Sermon had six yards per carry. This is a well-oiled machine with a brilliant offensive mind in Lincoln Riley that has a lot of time to dissect the Georgia defense.
The worst unit in this game is the Oklahoma defense. The Sooners defense has allowed 5.66 yards per play this season, which ranks 68th in the country. Oklahoma did barely allow more than four yards per carry, but the Big 12 is more about passing than running. Georgia’s advantages in the trenches on both sides of the ball could wind up being the deciding factors in this game because Oklahoma just isn’t as good at the point of attack. Oklahoma was tied for 82nd in yards per pass attempt allowed, so the play-action passing game is something that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is going to have to plan for. The Sooners could get their linebackers and safeties caught looking towards the backfield, like so many have this season. Georgia, as mentioned above, still averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. While the red flags and concerning signs are there, Oklahoma faces good offenses on a regular basis. Georgia really has not, as the SEC has dropped off, specifically at the quarterback position, in recent years. Will that be the deciding factor?
College Football Free Pick: Georgia Bulldogs +1
This line has bounced around between +/-1, which makes a lot of sense. My personal power ratings have Oklahoma -1, but there are so many factors to consider outside of a pure power rating. The only certainty about this game is that it will be fascinating. These are two outstanding teams and the committee got it right with the final four, especially when you consider the betting odds that we’ve seen so far. Georgia has the athleticism and the speed to play right with Oklahoma on both sides of the ball, which is something that the Sooners have not really experienced. You have an offensive-minded guy in Lincoln Riley vs. a defensive-minded guy in Kirby Smart. As a general rule, even in today’s college football landscape, I lean towards the defensive guy.
You’ll want to have action on this game, but this is definitely one of those games to look for live betting spots, as it could be a very back-and-forth affair that allows you to trade money lines at plus money. You should be freerolling on the winner of this game, so look for those opportunities rather than playing a tight full-game line.