Here we are. The college football playoff. It’s a competition so gladiatorial that, as “Mad Max” fans will appreciate, only Tina Turner — minus the post-apocalyptic, ear-shredding vocals — is capable of introducing it.
One way to understand the CFP is to see it as one of the highest pinnacles of college sports. That, of course, would be an entirely accurate depiction. But make no mistake: these are also caged fights to the bloody end. The CFP is a four-team death clash featuring the greatest athletes football has to offer.
Win, and you’re in the final game. Lose, and you join the endless ranks of the forgotten flops of yesteryear. No “best of” series. No aggregate scores. Just two games to determine the final matchup, and then the final matchup itself to determine the best team in the land. That’s 180 minutes of hair-raising, heart-stopping displays of speed, power, and omnivorous wills to win.
We will be there, in bloodthirsty stupor, oohing and ahhing after each bone-crunching hit, but also marveling at each instance of graceful athleticism. Here’s what you need to know about the matchups.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
Date: Saturday (12/31)
Time: 3:00 PM (EST)
Nestled inside the balmy Georgia Dome, the first semi-final match features the unbeaten Alabama Crimson Tide versus the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies. Vegas has the Tide winning by 14, but should the spread be that wide?
#1 — Alabama
Nick Saban’s tenth edition of the Tide just might be the most balanced attack in the history of college football. This iteration is scary good.
The Alabama squad features 40 high school All-Americans, 13 of which are starters. They boast a strength of schedule ranked third, with notable wins against Tennessee (49–10) and Florida (54–16), including a jaw-dropping 52–6 dismantling of USC on opening weekend.
Saban features true freshman Jalen Hurts (so good) at quarterback — a player who’s been nothing shy of inspirational. His poise and skill set are reminiscent of Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, mainly because he just does not make many mistakes.
Alabama’s defense is one for the ages. Their numbers and hits rival that of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. If you know your college football, you know that’s the highest compliment a defense can receive. Yeah, they’re that good.
Consider the facts: They’re the only team in this year’s football bowl subdivision (FBS) to allow fewer than 1,000 total yards rushing (824); the next closest team has allowed over 1,100. They have a defense efficiency rating of 98 — the best in FBS. They allow 11.8 PPG — also best in FBS.
#4 — Washington
This year’s Huskies features head coach Chris Petersen in his third year at the helm in Washington. Although he’s not a household name, you may recall Coach Petersen as the pigskin genius who used “hook and lateral” and “Statue of Liberty” plays to lead Boise State to one of the most exciting Fiesta Bowl victories against Bob Stoops’ Sooners in 2007. If you don’t remember these gems, you need to do yourself a favor and watch this again.
It’s a safe bet Coach Petersen will have a few tricks up his sleeve this Saturday. He’ll need to use them, because this Washington team features ZERO high school All-Americans, a major difference between them and the star-studded Tide.
The Huskies enjoyed notable victories against Stanford (44–6), Oregon (70–21), and most recently Colorado (41–10), but experienced a crushing loss to USC (13–26) in November. With a strength of schedule ranking 14th, the Huskies have been able to put up an impressive 44.5 PPG, good enough for fourth best in FBS.
Peach Bowl Prediction
One of the best barometers to determine how teams will do in a head-to-head matchup is to compare a game against a common opponent, in this case USC. The Crimson Tide hold the clear advantage in this one, with their impressive thrashing of the Trojans. Alabama is simply too big, too strong and too good for the Huskies. I agree with Adam Rittenberg’s assessment:
Washington actually has the type of defense and kicking game to keep pace with Alabama, but quarterback Jake Browning’s struggles against top competition — he completed just 38 of 80 passes against Utah, USC and Colorado — don’t bode well against a smothering Tide defense…
The Huskies can only hope to out-trick the Tide, but the ‘Bama defense features too many guys who’ll be playing on Sunday afternoons.It is this professionalism that will also enable Alabama to not allow FAU’s hiring of Lane Kiffin to be a distraction for them on Saturday. Alabama has transcended being merely a good team and, after many seasons of league-leading play, have become a perennially dominant system. This means it will be hard for the Huskies to find a way to thwart them.
I see the Tide rolling by 10.
Playstation Fiesta Bowl
Date: Saturday (12/31)
Time: 7:00 PM (EST)
The second New Year’s Eve semi-final death match features second-ranked Clemson versus third-ranked Ohio State inside the cozy confines of the University of Phoenix Stadium…another dome.
The supposed experts in Vegas have the Buckeyes upsetting the Tigers by three points, which I find, well, upsetting. Let’s see what these teams bring to the cage.
#2 — Clemson
With Coach Dabo Swinney at the helm, the Tigers will look for retribution for last year’s loss in the national championship. They feature ten high school All-Americans, including their star quarterback Deshaun Watson. Defeated for the Heisman for a second straight year, Watson threw for 37 touchdowns and 3,914 yards, both of which led the ACC.
The Tigers had an agonizing loss to Pitt (43–42), but they had prominent wins against Louisville (42–36) and my Florida St Seminoles (37–34). The Clemson defense is BIG; their D-line tips the scales at an average weight of 290 pounds, and they can run down any running back from sideline to sideline.
#3 — Ohio State
What’s left to say about Ohio State’s already-legendary coach, Urban Meyer? In his five-year stint at OSU, he’s done a remarkable job turning the program around after it was slammed by the NCAA with heavy sanctions. Also, he didn’t just turn the program around — he managed to outclass Alabama during its otherworldly run of dominance. Meyer is a proven winner who is looking to get his second national championship in the third year of the College Football Playoffs.
The Buckeyes are led by junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and 11 high school All-Americans, and the team boasts an 11–1 record, and this with toughest strength of schedule in the country. They have notable wins against Oklahoma (45–24), Nebraska (62–3), and long-time rival Michigan (30–27, in double OT), though they stumbled against Penn State 21–24 at the midway point of the season.
The Buckeye defense is undeniably formidable as they vaunt an efficiency rating of 89.5 (second only to Alabama), and have held opponents to just 14 PPG and 4.3 yards per pass, both stats good enough for third in all of FBS.
Fiesta Bowl Prediction
Although ranked higher than the Buckeyes, the Clemson Tigers are getting no love from experts and odds makers. Yet this should be a slugfest — and a much more exciting matchup than the Peach Bowl, which will most likely exhibit the predictable all-around greatness of Alabama. Neither team will run away with this one, as turnovers and explosive offensive plays will be frequent. In the end, I expect Watson to find a way to edge out the Buckeyes, and on the other side of the ball, for the Clemson defensive line to be a little too much for Barrett and the Ohio State offense. I got my money on Clemson by a nail-biting three points.
Date: Monday (1/9/2017)
Time: 8:00 PM (EST)
The football world will look on Raymond James Stadium (unfortunately, not a dome…boo!) in beautiful Tampa, Florida, as the mighty Crimson Tide face off against the relentless Tigers.
If I’m right about this being the national championship matchup, here’s what we can expect. First, we’ll get to witness two “big boy” defenses in an apocalyptic matchup guaranteed to frustrate and punish their offensive counterparts. We’ll see if Watson’s experience and mettle can pass the Alabama test, which will no doubt be the most rigorous the superstar quarterback has ever faced. Hurts will also face his toughest trial yet in Clemson.
The Tigers will do everything they can to avenge their loss in last year’s championship to Saban, but in the end, Alabama’s defense will prove to be too much.
The Tide will roll by 10 points, capturing their fifth title in the tenth year of the Saban era. You should reread that last line, because it is absolutely staggering. The University of Alabama will reign supreme and continue celebrating all the way to August while the rest of the college football world wonders just how much of his soul Nick Saban actually sold to the devil. Some will continue wondering if he’s the devil himself.
As another year of college football is closed in the annals of time, we stare in admiration, hanging from that Thunderdome cage, as the Alabama Crimson Tide emerge from the cage of killing not as the “raggedy man” who survived the game of death, but as the unrivaled warrior who left destruction in his path. Roll Tide.
Reprinted, with permission, from Arc.