The College Football Playoff games are just a few days away, and I can't wait to ring in the new year with these two matchups. It'll be Clemson vs. Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oklahoma vs. Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Of course, both games are loaded with future NFL stars. Here are 5 takeaways on some of the top prospects who'll be competing.
1. Baker Mayfield is the most fascinating player in the playoff.
If the Oklahoma QB has a nice run in the postseason starting with this game against Georgia, he could solidify himself as a first-round pick, assuming teams are satisfied when they look into the off-field concerns with the QB.
Mayfield won the Heisman earlier this month, and the playoff could be an exclamation point on his sensational year. He already tore up Ohio State and TCU (twice). Now, he has a chance to go up against a top SEC defense in UGA. People knock the Big 12 for its lack of defense, and rightfully so, but he's going to eliminate the argument that he hasn't played anybody once he steps foot on the field vs. the Bulldogs.
Everyone knows Mayfield's emotions can get the best of him. This will definitely be an emotional atmosphere. He'll get a chance to test himself in that regard.
Smith had a huge game against Auburn in the SEC title game (13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 2 fumble recoveries) and is receiving enormous grades from evaluators around the league. He's one of the more consistent defensive players in the country. Last year in the postseason, Foster put on a show for Alabama and became a first-round pick of the 49ers in the spring. I'm anxious to see how Smith will stack up against what Foster did last year.
The battles between Smith and Mayfield in the Rose Bowl will be fun to watch.
3. Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence is the most gifted defensive player in the playoffs. There are some great players on all four of these playoff teams, but Lawrence has highest upside of any defensive player who'll be participating. He has a freaky combination of size, quickness and the ability to dominate vs. the run and the pass. He's only a sophomore, and he keeps getting better.
4. Who's going to step up and get hot for Alabama? For the last two years, it was TE O.J. Howard, now a rookie with the Bucs, in the postseason.
I'd love to see WR Calvin Ridley step up and be that guy for them this year. He's the Tide player who's best-suited to do it. I think Alabama's going to be forced to throw the ball more than usual, and that's going to give us a chance to see Ridley make plays. I don't think they're going to be able to run the ball down Clemson's throat -- the Tigers have the most talented defensive line in the country.
5. It flies under the radar a bit, but Clemson has a really talented group of receivers with Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud. That's going to put Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick in the spotlight. I've likened him to a bigger version of Tyrann Mathieu. He's going to have to make an impact for Alabama to win against the No. 1 team in the playoff rankings.