The Known Unknowns Of The Rose Bowl

In the run-up to the Rose Bowl, you're going to be hearing a lot about the superstars of both of these squads; and for good reason. The Oklahoma Sooners boast arguably the most talented college athlete in the nation in Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs' stars shine bright with Roquan Smith and the talented RB duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. But you've got to look beyond the headlines and analyze this match up a little more deeply if you want to glean any sort of competitive edge. This game will be won in the trenches. Are there any hidden gems amongst the lesser known players?

One critical, under-appreciated aspect of this game will be the play of the Sooners' secondary. Yes, Georgia will be committed to the run game early and often. But what happens late in the second half when/if they're trailing? What happens if they can't establish any sort of run game? Will Bulldogs' QB Jake Fromm be ready and will Oklahoma's secondary be ready for this surprise aerial attack? The Sooners' most important player to stop this will be DB Will Johnson. Johnson hasn't been flashy all year but in his last two games he has 16 tackles and a pick. Keep an eye out for Johnson.

Any Sooners' fan will have heard of wide receivers Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. But could you name freshman WR CeeDee Lamb as Mayfield's third most prolific target? Lamb didn't make a single catch in his last game. Georgia's defense is going to have their hands full with Brown and Andrews. Don't be shocked if Mayfield has to turn to Lamb at a critical moment. How will the freshman handle the potential pressure in the most important game of his short career?

Turning to the bigger picture, the two major storylines of this game will be: 1) How will Georgia's HC Kirby Smart shut down Mayfield & 2) How will Oklahoma's defense stack up against Georgia's vicious run game. Smart is just in his sophomore season with Georgia but you've got to remember that he spent just under a decade under the tutelage of Nick Saban at Alabama as the defensive coordinator. This will undoubtedly be the biggest game he's ever led his team into, but he will not come unprepared. Smart crafted two Alabama defenses that shutout LSU in the 2012 BCS title game and shutout Michigan State in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. Smart will be ready and Mayfield will be in for a rough ride given the talent Smart has to work with on his defense.

My other major concern for Oklahoma is whether or not they'll be able to shut down Georgia's potent run game, ranked 11th in the nation. The Sooners ranked 40th overall in rush defense. Not horrendous, but not exactly inspiring, especially given the fact that they didn't really face any teams with legitimate rushing offenses. If Georgia jumps out to an early lead, I'm expecting them to simply wear Oklahoma down and grind out that clock. Whoever wins the first quarter, wins this game. I'm riding with the Georgia Bulldogs ML.