College football’s final four is a who’s who of the sport, and each semifinal offers an intriguing matchup of strength against strength.
Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and Clemson also play at least 1,000 miles from Boise. But we’d like to think we know a bit about the sport — I am an AP Top 25 voter — so let’s take a stab at who will win Monday for a spot in the Jan. 8 national championship game.
For the record, Sports Editor Chadd Cripe picked Alabama and Oklahoma. Not that I love to be a contrarian, but I’m going the complete opposite way. One of us will look like a genius, I’m sure.
ROSE BOWL: Oklahoma vs. Georgia (3 p.m. Monday, ESPN)
My pick: Georgia
I was leaning toward the Bulldogs before Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield’s recent “under the weather” feelings. Will his flu-like symptoms slow him down, or will this be a Michael Jordan-esque rebound?
Mayfield has been awesome, with 4,340 yards passing with 41 TDs to five INTs. The Sooners have 31 or more points in 11 of their 12 wins and are the No. 1 passing offense in the nation. But I really like Georgia’s balance. The Bulldogs’ defense has been great, No. 4 in yardage allowed (270.9 ypg) and No. 6 in pass efficiency defense (108.07). They haven’t seen a guy like Mayfield, however.
What tips it in Georgia’s favor is an offense that can keep Oklahoma at bay, averaging 263.5 ypg on the ground, and freshman QB Jake Fromm is very efficient (21:5 TD-to-INT ratio). The Sooners’ defense is susceptible through the air (86th in pass efficiency) and is 41st against the run.
SUGAR BOWL: Clemson vs. Alabama (6:45 p.m. Monday, ESPN)
My pick: Clemson
It does not feel awesome picking against Nick Saban. But this Crimson Tide squad seems just a tick below some of the ones that have been fielded in recent seasons. Alabama’s defense is insane, as usual, giving up just 11.5 points per game, with Clemson right behind at 12.8 ppg. The Tigers’ vaunted front four is so good, I feel it can negate the Crimson Tide’s strength in its line and running backs.
An obvious X-factor for Clemson is junior QB Kelly Bryant, who won’t blow you away like Deshaun Watson did, but also has some nice mobility that can buy him a precious extra second or two against the Tide’s pass rush. Alabama’s defensive backs will be a nightmare, but WR Hunter Renfrow, who looks like he belongs in the press box and surely will end up playing for the Patriots, has had big games against them.
Three players, including Bryant, have rushed for at least 646 yards for Clemson, so the offense has some balance to combat the Crimson Tide. QB Jalen Hurts is big-game tested, but outside of Calvin Ridley, there isn’t much of a threat in the air, which I think plays into the Tigers’ favor.
Dave Southorn covers Boise State and college football for the Idaho Statesman.