For the first time ever, two of the most storied programs in college football history square off, as second-ranked, Big XII champion Oklahoma battles third-ranked Southeastern Conference champion Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners sport one of the nation’s elite offenses, averaging over 44 points per game. Through the years, the Bulldogs have faced several Heisman winners, including a trio of legends for arch-rivals Florida and Auburn each and 1980 recipient George Rogers of South Carolina. The last time the Bulldogs faced the Heisman winner in a bowl game was the great Tony Dorsett in Pitt’s Sugar Bowl win over Georgia on New Year’s Day 1977.
The Bulldogs have been sound and strong in all three phases of the game, with senior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award-winning junior linebacker Roquan Smith, amongst the headliners.
A pair of young head coaches who built their reputations on opposite sides of the ball add to the intrigue.
Lincoln Riley, in his first season as the head man in Norman, succeeds legendary Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who guided Oklahoma to a national championship in his second year at the helm. An admired offensive mind, Riley quickly rose through the coaching ranks, and has kept Oklahoma rolling. The Sooners signature victory came back on September 9, a 31-16 win at Ohio State.
Kirby Smart is in his second season at his alma mater. Regarded as one of the country’s top defensive coordinators and an ace recruiter at Alabama, Smart has re-energized the hungry Georgia fan base. The SEC’s coach of the year, Smart’s Bulldogs have won 10 of their 12 games by at least 21 points. The same night that Oklahoma beat Ohio State, the Dogs won 20-19 at Notre Dame, propelling Georgia back into the elite.
This will be the second Rose Bowl for both. Oklahoma beat Washington State 34-14 on New Year’s Day 2003. Led by Charley Trippi and Frank Sinkwich, Georgia beat UCLA 9-0 in Pasadena on January 1, 1943 – 75 years to the day, earning the consensus national championship.
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