Transfer Quarterbacks Square off in the Peach Bowl
The times are changing. The NCAA reworked its transfer rules prior to last season creating a college free agency of sorts. And while year one numbers show that the floodgates of transfers didn’t open quite as far as many predicted, it’s also clear that transfers have already made significant impacts. Indeed, when the Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers meet in the college football playoff semifinal on Saturday afternoon, two immediate-impact transfers will take center stage as two transfer quarterbacks square off in the Peach Bowl.
This time last season, Jalen Hurts took over backup duties for Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Oklahoma to clinch a berth in the National Championship. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow was acclimating to life in Baton Rouge after transferring from Ohio State. This year, they lead their teams to conference championships and a bid to the Peach Bowl.
Oklahoma Sooners Preview
If the Sooners are going to overcome the Tigers, they will have to do so short-handed. As we reported previously, Oklahoma suspended several players for the Peach Bowl. This will leave the Sooners short on depth, especially on defense. Indeed, one of the suspended players, Ronnie Perkins, served as the Sooners most consistent pass rusher. And the Sooners recently lost their surest tackler in the secondary, too. Delarrin Turner-Yell will miss the playoffs with a broken collarbone.
Oklahoma enters the Peach Bowl after a 12-1 season. They racked up more than 43 points a game along the way, good for sixth in the nation. And this off-season, Lincoln Riley hired Alex Grinch to revamp the defense. In turn, the Sooners surrendered less than 25 points per game, far better than the 33 points they surrendered on average last season.
The Sooners enter the game with playoff experience, making their third straight appearance and fourth overall. Out of the 2019 playoff teams, only Clemson has been here more often, making its fifth straight appearance. Unfortunately for the Sooners, they have not won a playoff game yet. Hurts hopes to change that. Yet, despite the fact that he has beat LSU as Alabama’s starter in 2017 (and helped lead Alabama to a national championship that same year) and 2016, Hurts told the media “no pass, no touchdown, no win while I was at the University of Alabama will help us win games here.”
Instead, Hurts prefers to focus on his team. And he has a great supporting cast. Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon each average over six-and-a-half yards per carry. CeeDee Lamb averages over 20 yards per reception and 14 touchdowns. The offensive line has played well. And the defensive playmakers have progressed well under Grinch.
LSU Tigers Preview
One reason Hurts’ experience beating LSU at Alabama may not make any difference is that Ed Orgeron completely rebuilt LSU’s offensive persona over the last two years. In 2016, LSU scored 28.3 points per game (good for 68th in the nation). In 2017, they scored just 27.2 points per game, for 76th nationally. Flash forward to this season, their second and the Tigers average just under 48 points a game, for 3rd nationally. LSU’s Burrow won the Heisman, marking just their second Heisman winner, and first since Billy Cannon in 1959.
Under Burrow, the LSU offense has been incredibly efficient, averaging nearly eight yards a play. Burrow’s surrounding cast has been just as efficient. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has had an award-worthy season in his own right. And Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase add over 2700 yards and 32 touchdowns between the pair.
And despite questions about whether the Tigers’ defense can keep pace with the revamped offense, they still finished the season 25th in scoring defense, surrendering just over 21 points a game. The secondary has proven opportunistic, too. The trio of Derek Stingley, Jr., JaCoby Stevens, and Kary Vincent, Jr., totaled 12 interceptions this season, proving that the “DBU” title is still apt.
LSU enters the game, however, with its own question marks. The Tigers have not appeared in a playoff yet, so experience does not favor LSU. And LSU may be without Edwards-Helaire, who is considered day-to-day with a hamstring injury. Whether either of these questions impedes LSU’s march towards an undefeated season, however, remains to be seen.
When Transfer Quarterbacks Square Off: The Prediction
Hurts and Burrow both led fantastic campaigns this season. They’ve proven resilient leaders of very capable offenses. As a result, there is no doubt that these teams can put up points in bunches. But the game will really come down to which defense makes the most plays. Despite the offensive firepower taking over the NFL and NCAA over the past decade, defenses still win championships. And if that’s the ultimate measuring stick for this contest, we have a hard time seeing the Sooners defense holds more often than the Tigers do. So while we think a 13.5-point spread is a bit too much, we do think the favorite wins this game. LSU 40, Oklahoma 34.