WHO: No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1)
WHAT: The College Football Playoff at the 104th Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual
WHEN: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
THE SKINNY: The Granddaddy of Them All will live up to that billing on New Year’s Day as the College Football Playoff once again returns to the most prestigious bowl of them all. This year’s matchup of two teams who do not regularly make their way out West promises to be extra special as it pits the best offense in the sport against one of FBS’ top defenses.
The Sooners are of course led by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, the maestro of the team’s Air Raid attack that has been responsible for putting up more yards per play and per game than anybody. Adding to the intrigue of seeing the colorful signal-caller is the fact that he has been dealing with an illness in the week leading up to the game (but has been practicing). There are no doubts that Mayfield will play in the game but the best player in the country not being at 100 percent could be an issue against a defense that is second nationally against the pass.
Oklahoma is not all about their QB though as they have a host of All-Americans that have helped them reach this point as well. You can start with the guy protecting Mayfield’s blindside in left tackle Orlando Brown or his favorite target in tight end Mark Andrews but don’t discount the impact that end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will have in this matchup either as he’s capable of shutting down opposing offenses as one of the best pass rushers in the Big 12.
Waiting for them will be the SEC champs, who used a familiar formula of excellent defense and a top-notch ground game to power their way into a semifinal. Led by All-American linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bulldogs allow just over 13 points per game and are as stingy as they come with the best front seven in the country. Fast and physical is a common refrain you hear when describing the unit and that should come as no surprise with a defensive-minded head coach in Kirby Smart and veteran defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Offensively, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is the rare true freshman to guide his team to such a successful season but has been just what the team needed since taking over for the injured Jacob Eason in the season opener. While he lacks the gaudy passing stats of his opposite number, that’s not that big of a deal considering he has no qualms turning around and handing it off to the stable of tailbacks the Bulldogs have. That includes the prolific tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who may be the best tailback duo in college football history given their production the past four years.
It should all make for one of the most enticing matchups of the entire bowl season and that’s before you dig into the bigger aspirations both Georgia and Oklahoma have of capturing another national title next week in Atlanta. There’s a little bit of a history element involved as well as this will be the first meeting all-time between the two powerhouses and just the second trip to Pasadena for either side.
The Rose Bowl could play out a number of different ways but chances are high that it’s a close, hard-fought affair that sees the Sooners squeak out a close one in the fourth quarter thanks to their outstanding quarterback.
THE PICK: Oklahoma 33, Georgia 30
Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.
Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.
This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.
Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.
Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.
Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.
“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”
“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.
Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.
Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.
Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.
“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.
“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”
Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.
In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.
By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.
Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.
According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.
“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”
Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.
Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).