ATLANTA -- The first College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday between No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Oklahoma is not as anticipated as its Fiesta Bowl counterpart later in the evening, but it would not be wise to overlook this contest. This Peach Bowl is an intriguing matchup between the Tigers, who enjoyed an offensive resurgence en route to their first SEC title since 2011, and a Sooners team with an improved defense that owned the Big 12 yet again.
Oklahoma suffered a midseason loss to Kansas State but rebounded to beat Baylor twice in the final month of the season -- including in the Big 12 Championship Game -- to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff for the third straight season. LSU will stroll into Mercedes-Benz Stadium as hefty favorites, which is fair considering it hasn't been fazed on any stage all season. But the CFP is a different animal.
Will the Tigers continue to roll, or will the Sooners win their first CFP game after failing in their prior semifinals appearances? How much will suspensions and injuries play into the game's result? It's new blood vs. experience, at least in terms of the CFP itself, and we should have an answer Saturday evening in regards to which will win out.
Event: Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
Date: Saturday, Dec. 28 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium -- Atlanta, Georgia
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
LSU: Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow established himself as the most outstanding player in college football this year with a nation's best 48 passing touchdowns and an eye-popping 77.9 percent completion percentage. It isn't just him, though. Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase and junior receiver Justin Jefferson have both gone over the 1,000-yard mark this season, and tight end Thaddeus Moss has become one of the best tight ends in the country. If there's a concern for the Tigers, though, it's the health of star running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The junior, who has rushed for 1,290 yards and 16 touchdowns with 50 catches out of the backfield, is questionable with a hamstring injury suffered in practice last week. If he can't go, the onus will fall on freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery to shoulder the load behind an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award given to the nation's top offensive line.
Defensively, the Tigers are a wild card. They struggled preventing the big play for the majority of the season and seemed to have problems adjusting to the increased time they spend on the field thanks to the new, uptempo offense. But they've given up 304 yards or less in their last three games -- including 286 yards and 4.21 yards per play against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. If Oklahoma tries to test the Tigers, it will have to succeed against Jim Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit and the talented cornerback duo of Derek Stingley Jr. and Kristian Fulton.
Oklahoma: Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts is no stranger to the CFP, having been each of the last three years with Alabama. He did top LSU twice as Alabama's starting quarterback, but LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda held him to an average of 145 passing yards and 79 rushing yards in those two matchups. That likely won't cut it in a Peach Bowl that's bound to be a shootout. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is one of the best in the business with 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he will undoubtedly be the primary target for Hurts. The running game could be a concern, though. Hurts and Kennedy Brooks have shouldered the load this year, but Brooks left the Big 12 Championship Game with a head injury. A suspension to backup Rhamondre Stevenson could create a big issue for a team that uses its running game to set the tone for the wide open passing attack.
It might come as a shock, but defense is still a concern for the Sooners. Sure, 330.6 yards per game and 5.29 yards per play are massive improvements from a year ago, but they've given up points in 93.02 percent of opponent's red zone attempts and 62 plays of 20 or more yards -- seventh in the Big 12. What's more, leading pass rusher Ronnie Perkins will be suspended for the game, which will put a ton of pressure on Neville Gallimore and the rest of the Sooners defensive line.
Peach Bowl prediction, picks
This line is enormous for a reason -- the Sooners defense doesn't stand a chance against the potent Tigers offensive. Even without Edwards-Helaire, Burrow will pick the Sooners secondary apart. The injury to sophomore defensive back Delarrin Turner-Yell is the worst news the coach Lincoln Riley could get the week prior to biggest game of the year. LSU will feel Oklahoma out for a little while before throwing haymaker after haymaker in a game that will turn sideways in the second half. Pick: LSU (-13.5)
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