The College Football Playoff is back on New Year's Day, and Sporting News' picks are in.
The matchups between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl Game (5 p.m., ESPN) and No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m.) are almost too close to call. We could picture any one of these teams in the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Sporting News college football writer Bill Bender and editor Zac Al-Khateeb make their predictions for the big games:
Rose Bowl Game
Bender's pick: Oklahoma 31, Georgia 28
It's all about the contrast of styles, and which one takes over the momentum of the game. Will Baker Mayfield be able to pile up the yardage against Georgia's defense? Will the Bulldogs' running game take over? Neither team turns the ball over much, and both are outstanding in the red zone. The Sooners win in those two departments, and first-year coach Lincoln Riley gets a title shot. — Bill Bender
Al-Khateeb's pick: Georgia 38, Oklahoma 34
Can Georgia's offense can keep up with Oklahoma? The Bulldogs have four rushers who average at least 5.9 yards per carry, and the Sooners give up 144.2 yards on the ground per game. Also consider that Georgia's defense ranks second in pass yards per game (158.3), second in passing yards per attempt (5.6) and eighth in opposing QBR (108.1) and you have the recipe for a tough outing for Baker Mayfield. The Heisman winner shows out, but Georgia makes a stop when it matters most. — Zac Al-Khateeb
Bender's pick: Alabama 28, Clemson 24
We've seen shootouts the last two years, but Clemson-Alabama III will be played between the 20s on the field and on the scoreboard. Alabama must be better on third down on offense and force a few third-and-longs for Kelly Bryant. So many running backs could get the hot hand that's it's almost impossible to pick one. Why not Bo Scarbrough again? Alabama validates its playoff position behind Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter, and this time the Tide gets the big stop. — Bender
Al-Khateeb's pick: Clemson 31, Alabama 27
This game will be won in the trenches, which clearly favors Clemson on defense. If the Tigers disrupt Alabama's offensive line, it won't matter how talented the Tide's backs are. True, Alabama is healthy again, has had a month to prepare for this game and will have a chip on its shoulder from last year — that will all help. But we can only go off what we've seen this year, and what we've seen is Clemson playing the best football of anyone in the country. The Tigers win a close one. — Al-Khateeb