Sunday morning, ESPN announced the four teams that would meet in the second annual College Football Playoff, and they got it right. Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma. Most people expected that these four teams would be in, but the matchups received a small shakeup after the conference championships last week. Everyone knew that Clemson and Alabama would be the top two teams, but after Michigan State beat Iowa last night, the Spartans jumped over Oklahoma for the number three spot. The Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl games should both be spectacular and will only add to the excitement that this college football season has brought us.
The Capital One Orange Bowl will feature the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. Last year these two teams met in the Russell Athletic Bowl and Clemson dominated Oklahoma in a 40-6 victory. However, don't expect the same result this time around. Oklahoma is considered by many to be the top team in college football, and the Sooners boast the #1 FPI in the nation. Clemson is the unquestioned #1 team in every poll. The Tigers finished the season 13-0, making them the only undefeated team left in the nation. Oklahoma fell to #4 after not having a conference championship game this past week, but perhaps this matchup is more favorable for Bob Stoops and his Sooners. Both teams have high powered offenses that are backed by solid defenses, so expect a high scoring affair. Will Oklahoma having an extra week off to get healthy come in to play? Or will a hot football team cool off with too much time off?
Key Matchup: Clemson rush defense - Oklahoma rush offense. The Sooners are averaging 300 yards per game on the ground since their loss to Texas earlier this season, and it's not just one guy getting it done. The Sooners have two fantastic running backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. On the other side, Clemson gives up just 129 yards on the ground per game which makes them the 23rd ranked run defense in the nation.
Projection: Oklahoma defeats Clemson, 45-35.
The Goodyear Cotton Bowl will feature the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan State Spartans. Alabama is the only returning team from last season's field of four and Nick Saban feels the Tide have something to prove, saying that last year the team was too content with "just being there." Michigan State will make their second consecutive appearance in the Cotton Bowl, a game they won in dramatic fashion last season. This game will look very different from the other semifinal, featuring two hard-hitting, smash-mouth football teams. Expect a low scoring defensive battle similar to the Big 10 Championship game.
Michigan State jumped Oklahoma after their victory last night, but that jump is justified. Sparty has four wins against teams ranked 17 or higher (AP Poll), and two of those wins are over teams ranked seventh or higher. Aside from Clemson, Michigan State has the best resume in the field of four and could easily be ranked #2 (not that it really matters). Michigan State provides a better matchup for Alabama, who has struggled with mobile quarterbacks during Saban's tenure. Can Alabama avenge their semifinal loss from last season, or will Michigan State's miracle season continue?
Key Matchup: Connor Cook vs Alabama secondary. Over the past few years the Alabama secondary has been the Tide's Achilles heel, but not this year. The Tide gives up 184 yards per game through the air which is good for 17th in the nation. Alabama has also intercepted opposing quarterbacks 16 times this season. Connor Cook will be the best quarterback Alabama has played all season, and he should be able to get healthy by New Years Eve. On the season, Cook has thrown for 24 touchdowns with only five interceptions on his way to a 142.2 QBR.
Projection: Alabama defeats Michigan State, 20-17.
College football fans are in for a treat with both of these semifinal matchups, and it's safe to expect three incredible games to cap off this college football season. Even with all the weekly bantering about who should be in, the committee got it right and put in the best four teams in the country.