With bowl games beginning as early as Dec. 16, fans are primarily looking forward to Jan. 1, which kicks off the semifinal round of the College Football Playoffs.
Controversy was once again prevalent as the playoff committee revealed their top four teams after a raucous weekend of conference championships that knocked two of the top-four teams, Auburn University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, out of the running for the playoffs. SEC Champion and then sixth-ranked University of Georgia was able to gain the number three spot.
After top-ranked Clemson University and second-ranked University of Oklahoma cruised to victories in their games to win the ACC and Big 12 Championships, respectively, the fourth playoff spot was left unclear.
As with last year, when then Big-10 champion Penn State was left out of the playoff, this year’s champion, the Ohio State Buckeyes, failed to crack the top four. Instead, the Alabama Crimson Tide, who didn’t make the SEC Championship game due to a 26-14 loss to rival Auburn the week before, took the final spot in the playoff.
Some fans were upset that Alabama made the playoff over the Buckeyes, with critics pointing to the Tide’s strength of schedule, which was ranked 54th in the nation. Their opponents combined for a 78-54 record, as opposed to Ohio State’s 42-ranked strength of schedule, along with wins over Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
However, analysts pointed to Ohio State’s embarrassing 55-24 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes as the main reason that Ohio State didn’t get the nod at number four.
Clemson and Alabama will face off in the playoffs for the third time, with this year being the only time they have met in the semifinal. The two have exchanged victories and, in turn, National Championships, with Alabama winning in 2015 and Clemson winning in 2016. Expect both teams to rely heavily on their defenses, which have been strong all year long. The Tide currently ranks first in total defense, allowing only 3,093 yards in 12 games. The Tigers rank eighth, allowing 3,613.
The Tigers are also bringing to the table one of the best defensive lines in all of college football, with defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant all being projected as first-round picks in next year’s NFL Draft. Expect the offensive line of the Tide, which has given up 22 sacks, to face a tough task.
Both will need to perform well to contain the opposing quarterback, as the Tide and the Tigers each have dual-threat quarterbacks at their disposal, as Clemson’s Kelly Bryant and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts will look to keep opposing defenders honest.
Alabama’s flaws were exposed in their loss to Auburn last week, and Clemson appears to be an even better team than Auburn. I expect a low-scoring ball game, but I expect Clemson to move on.
On the other end of the bracket, the Georgia Bulldogs and Oklahoma Sooners go head-to-head in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Sooners will be looking to make up for their performance in the 2015 playoff, when they fell to Clemson 37-17 in the semifinal, whereas the Bulldogs are looking to make the most of their first playoff appearance.
The Sooners are led by Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield, who many are saying may go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Oklahoma history. He has been incredible this season, with a completion percentage of 71, along with 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Under Mayfield, the offense is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total offense, averaging 583 yards per game, and fourth in scoring offense, with 44.9 points per game.
Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has performed admirably in his premier campaign, throwing for 2,173 yards and 21 touchdowns, but the Bulldog offense is dictated by their running game. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have combined for more than 2,100 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns apiece.
This game will be an interesting test for both teams, as Mayfield’s high-octane offense will have to face off against a Georgia defense that has allowed just 13.2 points per game (third in the nation) and just 158.3 passing yards per game (second in the nation). On the other side, the Sooners’ success this season has primarily been based off putting up enough points to where the defense isn’t a major factor. They have given up 25 points per game, to put them at 52nd in scoring defense and 384.8 yards per game, which is 57th in the nation.
This game will primarily be decided by how well the Oklahoma defense can perform against the bruising Georgia offense. Expect the Sooners to try and rattle the freshman quarterback early. If they can contain the running game enough to where Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense can take advantage, then I see them advancing.
No matter what occurs, take some time to relax after finals and enjoy one of the best times of the year to be a college football fan.