Georgia and Oklahoma are two of the marquee programs in college football and have been for decades, yet the Bulldogs and Sooners have never met on the gridiron. That changes on New Year’s Day at arguably the most storied venue in the sport, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Dawgs opened as 1.5-point underdogs but a check of Bovada for latest odds on the game shows UGA as a 2-point favorite for the first national semifinal. Oklahoma has won six of its past seven games as an underdog, however, including both this year.
There are 41 bowl games this season, including the Jan. 8 national title matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and there perhaps isn’t a pairing of more polar opposites than Dawgs-Sooners.
Georgia, the SEC champion for the first time since 2005 under second-year coach Kirby Smart, wins with ball-control offense and a ferocious defense. Led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, one of the best tailback duos in the country, Georgia ranks 10th nationally in rushing yards per game at 263.5. Smart generally asks freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to manage the game and avoid mistakes – Fromm largely has with just five interceptions. He’ll run occasionally too.
Big 12 champion Oklahoma hasn’t faced a defense near as good as Georgia’s this season as the Dawgs rank fourth nationally in points allowed (13.2) and fourth in yards surrendered (271.0 ypg) behind Butkus Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith. Georgia allowed more than 20 points just twice: a 53-28 win over Missouri and a 40-17 loss at Auburn. UGA’s final three opponents, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Auburn in the SEC title game, totaled just 27 points.
Behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners lead the nation in total offense (583 ypg) and are third in passing (367.4 ypg) and scoring (44.9 ppg). Mayfield is No. 1 nationally in rating (203.8) and completion percentage (71.0) while ranking second in TD passes (41) and yards (4,340).
If there’s one quarterback comparison for Georgia this season regarding Mayfield, it’s Missouri’s Drew Lock, who threw for 3,695 yards and an NCAA-high 43 touchdowns. In the Tigers’ 53-28 loss in Athens on Oct. 14, Lock was 15-for-25 for 253 yards, four TDs and a pick. Missouri couldn’t run the ball whatsoever that day. OU has three running backs who have rushed for at least 500 yards, topped by Rodney Anderson’s 960 yards and 11 touchdowns. Mayfield himself has rushed for 310 and five scores.
Of course, it’s Georgia’s first-ever trip to the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed in the playoff following the 2015 season and was routed 37-17 in the Orange Bowl semifinal by No. 1 Clemson.
This will be only the 10th time since 1966 that Georgia will face a Heisman winner in the same season the player won the trophy. It last happened in 2015 when Alabama running back Derrick Henry rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Tide’s 38-10 win in Athens, a loss that helped spur the end of Mark Richt’s tenure. UGA’s last win over a Heisman winner in the same season was in 2007 over Florida and Tim Tebow – the infamous “Gator Stomp” game.Either Georgia or Oklahoma would be an underdog in the national title game against No. 1 Clemson or No. 4 Alabama. Check Bovada for latest odds on that game. Incidentally, the 2015 Bama-Georgia matchup referenced above was the only time this decade that the Tide opened as a betting underdog. The Dawgs haven’t beaten Alabama since 2007 but have played only three times since. Georgia last played Clemson to open the 2014 season and throttled the Tigers in Athens, 45-21, behind four touchdowns and 293 all-purpose yards from Todd Gurley. Deshaun Watson wasn’t Clemson’s starting QB yet back then.