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
It’s been well over a year since the NCAA reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over grant-in-aid/cost of attendance and yet the $208 million the organization is still just sitting in a bank account waiting to be doled out. While you might first think that this is the result of the usual dragging of their feet from those in Indianapolis, it turns out that is not the case at all.
USA Today is reporting that it’s actually former Western Michigan wide receiver Darrin Duncan who is the one holding things up. He withdrew from the class-action case but his attorney, Caroline Tucker, “attempted to obtain $200,000 from the plaintiffs’ lawyers in exchange for dropping the objection.” The lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side have naturally responded in force, asking either of the two to post a five-figure bond to cover their own legal fees resulting from this delay. The judge in the case, Claudia Wilken, knocked that down to $5,000 last Friday by calling Tucker/Duncan’s objection to the case “meritless and thus his appeal is unlikely to succeed.”
At this point, Duncan/Tucker can either put up the money and risk losing it to continue their objection or drop things and let the payments — which could go as high as $6,000 per athlete — begin. While this is naturally focused on money, there’s a bit more to what the former Broncos receiver is going through:
All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Duncan dealing with personal hardship.
Now 28, he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his mother and a GoFundMe page established on his behalf about a year ago. He has received death threats because of his objection to the settlement, his mother, Arleen Pollard, said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.
It does appear as though a solution to this long-running saga is in the cards somewhat soon but until then, the wait continues before the checks can start hitting the mail.
Could we have the start of a budding rivalry between Pitt and Mississippi State? No, but the two programs did see one poach a staffer from the other.
A source told FootballScoop that Mississippi State assistant director of football operations Reed Case has taken the director of recruiting position at Pitt. Both positions are off-the-field roles but as anybody who has worked in a football office will tell you, each is crucial to the day-to-day success of a program.
Per the folks over at FootballScoop, this is one of the first big jobs that Case has had at an ACC program in the Northeast but he’s got a diverse background from stops at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and East Carolina among others.
The move by Pat Narduzzi fills the vacancy left behind by long-time staffer Mark Diethorn, who previously served as the Panthers’ director of recruiting for six years before heading to a new job at his alma mater of Virginia Tech last week.
The lifeblood of every college football program, recruiting can sometimes give us some awkward moments and it appears we have another courtesy of Virginia. Let us first bring up this tweet from Philadelphia (Pa.) Imhotep Class of 2019 wide receiver Anthony Gordon, who seemingly committed to the Cavaliers last Thursday.
Great for the kid, right? Well, there’s just one problem, 247Sports says that Gordon is not actually a commitment for the program for a rather big reason:
There was an issue though, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver never had the scholarship offer from UVA he reported in March. According to multiple sources, Virginia had not been in contact since March and no call was made to the Virginia staff before the post on social media.
So… yeah. This immediately brings Kevin Hart (no, not that one) to mind after the former offensive lineman staged a ceremony to commit to Cal even though the Golden Bears never recruited him nearly a decade ago. It does seem like there is at least some contact between Virginia and Gordon in this case though, as that report makes clear, it has been a while since the two have talked.
All is not lost for Cavs fans though, as the program did add a commitment from Emil Bo Andersen at their summer camp. Why would we mention this? Well, Anderson is not only a 6-foot-5, 280-pount defensive tackle that comes at a position of need, but he’s actually Danish and is apparently ticketed to a full-ride across the pond thanks to what he showcased at the UVA camp. Very cool and not the first ACC player to come from overseas either should his pledge hold up.
It’s never dull in the ‘crootin world.
There’s been a lot of cool moments across college football this past spring but one of the best came in one of the most unlikely of places: Syracuse. At the Orange’s spring game in mid-April, backup quarterback Rex Culpepper suited up in between chemotherapy treatments and managed to throw a (tear-jerking) touchdown pass in the final drive of the afternoon.
Fast forward a few months and Culpepper, after undergoing over 100 hours of treatment, was declared cancer-free in early June. Fully healthy and finally cleared to return to regular football activities, the signal-caller recently went through an offseason workout with his teammates and later spoke to the media about everything that has happened throughout the process.
And how did he describe beating cancer? Well, naturally he brought an a very special on-the-field victory from last season.
“The closest thing I can say is it felt like beating Clemson,” Culpepper said, according to Syracuse.com. “You just feel so incredibly ecstatic that nothing in your life could ever go wrong.”
We’re pretty confident that even Tigers fans won’t mind hearing that given what the quarterback has been through and what a joyful moment that it was for the program back in October.
Next up for Culpepper and the team? Fall camp later this year as he competes with senior Eric Dungey in one of the more impressive quarterback rooms in the ACC for a variety of reasons.