After countless hours of intense discussion over the course of the season, the College Football Playoff Committee made a final decision on Sunday morning and revealed the four teams that would play for a chance to go to the National Championship Game. The Alabama Crimson Tide were a lock to make it, as they went undefeated in the regular season. Most experts believed that the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers would make the final cut as well. But there was controversy over who should claim the fourth and final spot. Conventional wisdom was that the Washington Huskies should be in, but you could have made compelling cases for both the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines as well. The committee stuck with Washington. Here is a preview of the matchups you will see on New Year’s Eve:
#1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #4 Washington (12-1)
Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl – Atlanta, Georgia
Alabama Season Summary: Despite all his success, Nick Saban has never won a title after his team was named preseason number one. That will likely change this year. Bama was outstanding in every game it played this year with its only close game coming in a five-point victory against the then-ranked Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide defense allowed just 11.8 points per game and did not give up a touchdown in the entire month of November. Alabama ranks first in FPI (Football Power Index) and strength of record. Anything less than a national title would be a disappointment for the SEC champs this season.
Washington Season Summary: The Huskies came into the season ranked 14th in the country, and the question for them was if they would be able to compete with Stanford and Oregon in the PAC-12 North. Well, Washington beat Stanford 44-6 and beat Oregon 70-21. By midseason they were the clear favorites to win the PAC-12. Washington finished eighth in the country in scoring defense and fourth in scoring offense. They are the only team to be in the top ten of both those lists. Their lone stumble came against a strong USC team, a team similarities to Alabama. They sealed their spot in the playoff with a decisive 41-10 victory over the number eight Colorado Buffaloes.
Key for Alabama: Play Alabama football. For the Crimson Tide it’s that easy. If you play how you’ve played all season, Washington won’t stand a chance. Grind on offense, shut down the run on defense and win time of possession so the explosive Husky offense stays on the sidelines.
Key for Washington: Make big plays. The Huskies must make more big plays than the Tide, because they won’t win on every down. If they can utilize the elite speed of wide receiver John Ross III on offense, they will be able to score a couple of times. On defense they are better than anyone in the country at creating turnovers. If they can get Bama’s freshman quarterback to make enough mistakes, their offense will have extra chances. It should also be noted that they have the better special teams squad, so if they can make big plays there, they can keep it close.
Final Thoughts: No one is going to give Washington a chance in this game. No one gave the Chris Petersen led Boise State team a chance against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl ten years ago. Petersen toppled a giant then, and with 15 additional practices to get ready for Bama, he could do it again.
#2 Clemson (12-1) vs. #3 Ohio State (11-1)
Playstation Fiesta Bowl – Glendale, Arizona
Clemson Season Summary: Clemson opened the season as the number two ranked team and after dropping to 5th in week three, they managed to work their way back up to the second spot. Clemson was the favorite to win the ACC and though both Florida State and Louisville rose to challenge them, Clemson stood alone as ACC champions at seasons end. Clemson held opponents to just 18.4 points a game in a conference known for explosive offenses. The Tigers have shown that they are vulnerable, losing to unranked Pitt and winning by just a touchdown against Troy, but have also shown an ability to win big games with three wins over top 25 teams.
Ohio State Season Summary: The Buckeyes are the only team in the playoffs to not win their conference. However, most believe they are still the best team out of their conference. Their one loss was to Penn State, who managed to win the Big 10 because they held the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Buckeyes are the most battle tested team, as they have played four top 10 teams, beating three of them. Ohio State is ranked second in both FPI and strength of record and are the best team to challenge Alabama.
Key for Clemson: Deshaun Watson needs to play at an elite level. Elite quarterbacking can change games and the Tigers have the best quarterback in the playoffs. If Watson can control the game, and make big plays when the opportunities present themselves, Clemson has a very good chance to win this game.
Key for Ohio State: J.T. Barrett must keep up with Watson. This game will come down to quarterback play, and while Watson has an advantage, Barrett is very good. J.T. led the Buckeyes back against Michigan, playing exceptionally well in the last few minutes of regulation and into overtime. Barrett will need to make plays running the ball and throwing it to win.
Final Thoughts: The Buckeyes did not play in their conference championship game which means they have one less game’s worth of wear than the Tigers do. One extra week to get healthy could make a big difference if it’s a close game into the fourth quarter.
All team logos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons