PASADENA, Calif. — This is quite a dateline to have and quite a sentence to write, so here goes: Greetings from the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, where Georgia and Oklahoma will face in a College Football Playoff semifinal, the winner advancing to the national championship.
Check here for regular updates, observations and analysis in the lead-up to Georgia’s most important game in decades.
Fan turnout estimate
It’s so hard to say for sure because of the similarity in colors. But we tried anyway.
Oklahoma’s side of the stadium, the side closest to the press box and facing the mountains, is mostly crimson. The Georgia side seems to begin on the Oklahoma side and stretches across the rest of the stadium, with very little crimson in the sea of red.
I’ll stick with my pregame guess of 70-30 in favor of Georgia.
Are conference bowl records predictive?
Oklahoma will be hoping so, as the Big 12 carries a 4-2 record in this game, and Georgia is hoping not, as the SEC is 2-6. (The conference with the best bowl record, the Big Ten, did not get a team in the playoff. Oklahoma, for what it’s worth, beat the Big Ten’s best team in Ohio State.)
So are conference bowl records in any way predictive of what will happen in the playoff? Here’s a look:
Last year the ACC was 8-3, including Clemson going 2-0. The SEC was 6-6, with Alabama going 1-1. The two semifinal losers were from the Big Ten (3-7 in bowls) and Pac 12 (3-3). So you could say that yes, it was predictive.
(The Big 12 went 4-2 last year in bowls, after not getting a team in the playoff.)
Two years ago, the SEC went 9-2, including Alabama’s win over Clemson in the national title game. The ACC went 5-7. The semifinal losses came from the Big 12 (which went 1-4) and Big Ten (5-5). Once again, a bit predictive, at least in the sense that the conference that dominated the bowls also produced the champion.
Three years ago, when Ohio State beat Oregon in the title game, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were 5-5 and 6-2, respectively. The semifinal losers were from the SEC (which went 7-5) and ACC (4-7). So, not really predictive.
One thing in Georgia’s favor this year: The two SEC teams that have won bowls so far are South Carolina and Mississippi State, and UGA beat both of them. And one of the SEC losses was by LSU, which lost to Notre Dame, which UGA also beat.
Georgia active updates
Georgia has taken the field as a team now, with inactive players in jerseys but not suiting up otherwise. No major surprises among the inactives.
Defensive lineman Michail Carter, who was not seen at practice Friday after sustaining an injury Thursday, is in uniform. Carter has played in every game this year, albeit in a reserve role, and has six tackles.
Baker Mayfield …
Leads the Sooners onto the field for warm-ups. He sprinted, for what it’s worth.
Jayson Stanley update
It appears the junior receiver and special teams standout is not playing. Stanley and Shakenneth Williams (who is taking a medical DQ this season) are the only two receivers with their jerseys on, while the others are going through warm-ups. Stanley also has a back-pack on.
That’s expected, as Stanley had the arrest in Barrow County the night of the SEC championship. Although his DUI was dismissed later, he did take a plea for misdemeanor marijuana possession. That incurred the one-game suspension under UGA’s student-athlete drug policy.
Stanley doesn’t have a catch this year, but has played a key role on special teams, especially as the gunner on punts and kickoffs. We’ll see what kind of effect that has on those units.
The teams are here
Oklahoma takes the field first for warm-ups. Georgia receivers, as usual, are the first out on the field, practicing catching passes all over the field.
The Rose Bowl will be officiated by a crew from … drum roll … the ACC.
Jeff Heaser is the referee. Through a quick scan of the Interwebs, past Heaser assignments include last season’s Alamo Bowl and the 2015 ACC Championship Game, as well as this year’s Notre Dame-USC game. I couldn’t find any Georgia or Oklahoma games he has officiated.
But Heaser was, according to my sleuthing, the head linesman in 2005 for an arena football game in Albany, Ga., (South Georgia Wildcats vs. Scranton-Wilkes Barre Pioneers) a game yours truly also covered. How far we’ve both come.
Analysis: Who will win?
The beautiful thing about sports is we don’t know what’s going to happen. We think we know. But we don’t really know who will win a game like this. The media doesn’t know. The fans don’t know. The players don’t know. The coaches don’t know.
So much has been discussed, written and analyzed about this Georgia-Oklahoma match-up in the Rose Bowl. And the predictions have been pouring in:
National writers tend to pick Oklahoma, but local writers – those in Georgia and the SEC territory – not only tend to pick Georgia, but feel it could be a comfortable win. That’s based on personal conversations around here the past few days. I’ll let these people speak for themselves, but many of my colleagues are really, really sure they’ll also be covering Georgia in the national title game next week.
What about me? I’d have a hard time putting my kid’s college savings on either team. When ordered by my bosses to make a pick, I went with Georgia. But that’s with little confidence. My head says Georgia because history has shown that its better to have a good defense and good running game than just a great offense. Plus, Baker Mayfield’s sickness can’t help.
But Oklahoma’s offense is so good, that if Mayfield is even 90 percent then the Sooners could just overwhelm the Bulldogs. What gives me pause is how the Big 12 and SEC have looked so far in bowl games and what Oklahoma did when it went to Ohio State in September. Yes, that was a long time ago. But it was this season, and it’s not like Oklahoma has gotten worse since then.
I just don’t know. Neither do you. Neither does anyone. But it sure is fun to talk about and find out. We live for games like this, games of huge magnitude where the result is so hard to figure, the contrast in styles so stark, good players all over the field, including a few great ones.
This’ll be fun.
Since the colors of the teams are similar – it’s hard to distinguish red and crimson in the sunlight – it will be hard to look at the stands before kickoff and get an accurate gauge of the fan breakdown. We’ll have to go by noise.
Based on what we’ve seen around town the past few days, however, the guess here is about 70-30 in Georgia’s favor. They were all over Hollywood when I walked around there Sunday. People yelling “Go Dawgs” on Hollywood Blvd. That shouldn’t be a surprise.
Population-wise, there may be more Georgia fans, period. No, it’s not that Oklahoma doesn’t also have a sizable fan base. But Georgia fans are hungrier, having gone so much longer without a national title, or even a New Year’s Six bowl. They’ve been saving up for this moment, both emotionally and financially.
Oklahoma has been here a lot. It’s also hungry to win another title, not having done it since 2001, but it was also in the Sugar Bowl last year, a playoff semifinal two years ago … so this is old hat.
The Rose Bowl is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for Georgia fans. Much like the Notre Dame trip was. Many have made a decision that this was worth shelling out, and that’s understandable.
There’s also the championship site factor: Georgia fans know they can shell out for the California trip because if their team wins they’ll have basically a home game next week. Some Oklahoma fans, on the other hand, may be saving funds for the trip to Atlanta.