By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — You don’t really think Baker Mayfield is the type of player to end his college football career with a whimper, do you?
The Heisman Trophy winner is destined to go out with a bang, and Georgia will feel it in the Rose Bowl on Monday.
Oklahoma’s swashbuckling quarterback lives for the big moments and craves the most daunting challenges. He propelled the Sooners (12-1) to a Big 12 title and into the College Football Playoff semifinal during a season of coaching transition with a furious will and spectacular skill.
Mayfield’s brilliance will be on full display when Oklahoma (12-1) beats the Bulldogs (12-1) in the Granddaddy of Them All and advances to Atlanta.
Don’t believe it? Ask Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who understands the intangibles facing his Bulldogs in the 6-foot body of a brilliant football player.
“The guy is a winner,” Smart said of Mayfield. “He’s a gunslinger. He is every defensive coordinator’s nightmare.”
The Rose Bowl has seen its share of phenomenal quarterback performances in the past decade. Mark Sanchez, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota and Sam Darnold have all carved up defenses on Pasadena’s hallowed turf, and Mayfield is poised to become the latest name in the record books.
Oklahoma has the nation’s most productive offense at 583.3 yards per game and 8.44 yards per play, and its passing game is a work of art averaging 12.03 yards per attempt, easily the biggest number in the FBS. Mayfield would be among the nation’s best players even if he never left the pocket — but when he does, he is one of the most elusive, confounding quarterbacks in football.
Mayfield has passed for 4,340 yards with 41 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He is a remarkably efficient and exceptionally careful with the ball, and he runs the sophisticated nuances of coach Lincoln Riley’s complex run-pass option schemes to perfection.
Georgia’s defense is among the nation’s best, but it hasn’t seen anything as good as Oklahoma’s offense.
Georgia’s pass defense in particular is superb, allowing a mere 5.58 yards per attempt — second-best in the FBS. But even the Bulldogs realize they haven’t faced any passers on Mayfield’s level during their SEC schedule.
Left tackle Orlando Brown and Oklahoma’s outstanding offensive line — which allowed only 30 quarterback pressures all year — are ideally equipped to keep its quarterback upright against star Lorenzo Carter and Georgia’s other speedy, physical pass rushers.
And even if Mayfield struggles to find open receivers against the Bulldogs’ excellent linebackers, the Sooners could run the ball. After all, they averaged 5.6 yards per rush this season, 13th in the nation.
The degree of difficulty in the Rose Bowl is likely to decline a bit when Georgia’s deliberately paced offense takes on an Oklahoma defense that has looked good and poor at different points of the season. The Bulldogs’ three-headed running game led by Nick Chubb is very effective, but the Sooners will be eager to test freshman Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm, who excels as a game manager but is vulnerable to pass pressure.
By most measures, this game is a fascinating matchup of contrasting styles, strengths and strategies. After adding up every variable, these teams look remarkably even.
Except that Mayfield is in the final weeks of a historic career with the chance to take his place among the game’s greats.
Don’t be surprised when he plants his flag in the middle of Rose Bowl.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Georgia 31.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
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