Rose Bowl: Georgia vs. Oklahoma | Monday 5:10 p.m. ( ESPN)

Oklahoma, Georgia have larger prize in mind than Rose Bowl

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, left, and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speak before a photo session at an NCAA college football news conference, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Los Angeles. Oklahoma and Georgia meet at the Rose Bowl in a College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year's Day. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley (left) and Georgia coach Kirby Smart (right) share a moment in advance of Monday’s Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., one of the CFP semifinals.

LOS ANGELES — A few days after the Rose Bowl matchup between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia was set, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart ran into each other at a high school in Georgia. They were there by themselves to recruit the same player.

‘‘We were waiting for like a crowd of reporters to come out,’’ Riley said early in Rose Bowl week. ‘‘I thought it might have been staged in a way.’’

Riley and Smart got a brief chance to catch up again Sunday at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, sharing the stage with The Leishman Trophy that goes to the winner of Monday’s game in Pasadena.


It’s a good-looking trophy, but the big prize for Oklahoma (12-1) and Georgia (12-1) is a spot in the College Football Playoff championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

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‘‘There’s been a lot of buildup for this game, like Lincoln said, and it’s time to go play,’’ Smart said.

Riley is in his first season as Oklahoma’s head coach. Smart is in Year 2 at his alma mater. They came into their jobs in very different ways, but both inherited ready-made rosters, with the talent to make a championship run. The challenge for each was to reach that potential.

Smart, the longtime defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, was hired by Georgia after former coach Mark Richt was pushed out.

The program did not need an overhaul. Smart, 42, was left a roster built on the foundation of top-10 recruiting classes in both 2014 and ’15. Smart’s task was to make players who had some success understand they were capable of much more.


‘‘In our case,” Smart said, “probably the greatest challenge was not accepting what had been done before as the norm and convincing the players currently on the team we can do better.”

After going 8-5 last season, Georgia won the SEC in 2017.

Riley, 34, was already an integral part of the Oklahoma program when he was promoted from offensive coordinator in June to replace coach Bob Stoops, who had surprisingly decided to retire after 18 years in Norman. The Sooners had won the Big 12 in 2015 and ’16, making the playoff in ’15, with Riley calling plays. Led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, the Sooners rolled to a Big 12 title.

With the rest of the coaching staff already in place, Riley did not necessarily have to win over the players.

‘‘Probably the biggest challenge was starting in early June,’’ Riley said. ‘‘Whatever changes we did want to make you felt like you had to get them done pretty quickly. So I think for us it’s continuing to build on it, trying to find a few ways to get a little better, and maintain the high expectations there’s always been at Oklahoma.’’


Mayfield has been dealing with flu-like symptoms leading up to the Rose Bowl. He has been practicing but his condition caused him to miss three team events, including two media availabilities. Mayfield made it to media day on Saturday and all indications are he will play Monday. Since 2000, Heisman-winning quarterbacks are 4-6 in the BCS championship and playoff games played in the seasons they won the award. That includes Oregon’s Marcus Mariota going 1-1 in the 2014 playoff. Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Auburn’s Cam Newton and USC’s Matt Leinart won national championship games after winning the Heisman.

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has received plenty of accolades for leading the Bulldogs to the playoff as a freshman, but he is not the only newbie making big contributions for the Dawgs’ offense. Andrew Thomas has manned right tackle all season and tailback De’Andre Swift has contributed 743 yards from scrimmage as a complement to Chubb and senior Sony Michel in Georgia’s backfield.

Rose Bowl capsule

Rose Bowl: No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) at Pasadena, California, Monday, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Line: Georgia by 2½.

Series record: First meeting.


The Bulldogs are making their first playoff appearance and have not won a national title since 1980. Second-year coach Kirby Smart guided Georgia to a big jump from 8-5 in his first season to Southeastern Conference champions. First-year coach Lincoln Riley led the Sooners to their third straight Big 12 championship and second playoff appearance in three seasons. The Sooners have not played for the national championship since 2008, and have not won it since 2000.


Oklahoma’s offensive line against Georgia’s defensive front. QB Baker Mayfield draws most of the accolades for the Sooners, but the Heisman Trophy winner operates behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Future high NFL draft picks man both tackles in All-American Orlando Brown and Bobby Evans. Georgia has run stuffers up front in their 3-4 defense in DE Trenton Thompson and NT John Atkins, but most of the pass rush comes from linebackers Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, who have combined for 13 sacks.


Georgia: RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The seniors rank second and third in Georgia history in career yards rushing, trailing only the great Herschel Walker.

Oklahoma: LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The senior had eight sacks among 17½ tackles for loss and forced three fumbles.


Georgia freshman QB Jake Fromm was the most efficient quarterback in the SEC with a rating of 168. He also threw only 230 passes, just ninth most in the SEC and 93rd in the country. . . . The Sooners are tops in the country averaging 8.44 yards per play. The school record is 7.6 in 1971 . . . Oklahoma has won eight straight games and during the streak RB Rodney Anderson has 1,182 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns . . . Georgia is seventh in the nation in third-down conversions at 47 percent.