A strong Southern flavor dominates this year’s College Football Playoff. The selection committee might as well have dined on hush puppies, fried catfish and pecan pie, washed down by a tall glass of sweet tea as it went about its work selecting the playoff teams.
Three of the schools — Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson — are tucked in the cradle of the Southeast, separated only by a couple of Allman Brothers albums’ worth of a drive.
The fourth, Oklahoma, is situated in, well, Oklahoma. I have never been, but it’s over there by Texas and feels like an extension of Texas and most Texas folks are good folks, even a tad Southern in some parts, so Oklahoma’s inclusion in the Playoff is fine by me.
The playoffs, thank heavens, is without some coastal elite do-gooder type team that smells of liberal political correctness. Nope, we have ourselves a good old-fashioned Southern affair in this here playoff, and it has all the makings of a dandy.
First up on New Year’s Day is the Rose Bowl, pitting Oklahoma vs. Georgia. On that verdant Pasadena turf, surrounded by palms and mountains and other fine Southern California things, SEC Banter predicts Georgia will continue a season fairly characterized as a dream.
There was the Bulldog Nation’s takeover of Chicago in September, and the win over Notre Dame in that school’s historic venue.
There was the throttling of downtrodden rivals Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech, and that one blemish on the Plains of Auburn all but erased by an SEC Championship victory over the same Auburn squad.
Georgia beat every team on its schedule this year and can play for its first national title since 1980, a game that will be contested in Atlanta, of all places. A dream season indeed.
Oklahoma stands in the way of the Bulldogs’ dream, but the Sooners’ high-powered offense has not faced a defense of the caliber sporting silver britches and white shirts come January 1.
In fact, I’m not sure Oklahoma has faced an actual defense all season, as defense in the Big 12 is optional.
Heisman-winning QB Baker Mayfield is a challenge, for sure, but he must account for the speed that Roquan Smith and Co. will bring in Pasadena. Georgia’s top-10 defense is faster than Ferris Bueller sprinting home to beat his parents, and prior Heisman QBs facing top-10 defenses in bowl games are a combined 1-6.
The Bulldogs notch a Rose Bowl victory and punch a ticket to the national championship game on January 8 in Atlanta. The dream continues . . .
The ‘Granddaddy of Them All’ then cedes the New Year’s stage to my favorite bowl game, the Sugar Bowl, as Clemson and Alabama square off in New Orleans.
The Big Easy’s signature hospitality will be on full display as these teams meet for the third consecutive year in the playoffs, this time with a berth in the championship game at stake.
Alabama, the third-place team from the SEC, is a three-point favorite over Clemson — the ACC and defending national champion.
But SEC Banter likes Clemson in this one, as whispers of rare infighting among the Crimson Tide leading up to the game are cause for concern. And, despite Alabama’s historical success in the Superdome, Nick Saban is 0-3 as the Tide’s head coach in Sugar Bowls.
Clemson wins and sets up a Southern treat of a championship game against Georgia.
Speaking of Southern treats, for football-viewing I hope you’ll whip up a proper New Year’s supper of black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread. The door’s open at my house if you can stop by, but fair warning: the greens are spicy and the beverages are stiff.
It’s been a pleasure writing SEC Banter this season. Happy New Year and enjoy the Southern-fried Playoff!
Ben Prevost writers SEC Banter for The Times during college football season. He can be reached at SECBanter@hotmail.com