College Football Playoff Preview
PODCAST: ComRadio's Ryan Stevens, Dave Arroyo and Ryan Stevens break down this year's College Football Playoff.
It was yet another whirlwind regular season of college football and things are only going to get more exciting as the second college football playoff begins. Last season, in the first ever college football playoff, Ohio State emerged victorious over Alabama and Oregon to claim the national title. It was a special season for the NCAA as the inaugural playoff was a roaring success. And this season's playoff promises to be as exhilarating as four special teams embark on their quest to become the national champion.
Orange Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Clemson
In last season's Russell Athletic Bowl, Clemson dominated Oklahoma to the tune of 40-6. Chances are the Orange Bowl will be a little closer. The No. 1 Clemson Tigers ran the table during the regular season, finishing 13-0. They are led by quarterback Deshaun Watson who finished third in the Heisman voting. Despite being undefeated and claiming one of the nation's best statistical offensive players, Clemson enters the playoff as an underdog. Even though the Tigers may have the win-loss record and the stats to back it up, this organization has yet to come up with a signature, defining win in their program. This is Clemson's biggest opportunity to come through.
Oklahoma enters the playoff on a hot streak, ending the season with three consecutive victories over ranked teams. That includes a 58-23 destruction of their rivals, Oklahoma State as well as Baylor and TCU. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had an outstanding season in his own right, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. Mayfield and Watson totaled a whopping 83 touchdowns together, passing and rushing. Led by Mayfield, a few coaching changes and an improved defense, Oklahoma emerged as a playoff sleeper. Their play in November is what brought them to the playoff and they seemed to be only getting better week after week.
Clemson is enjoying one of the finest seasons in the history of their program, whereas Oklahoma appears to be that team that gets hot and plays its best at the right time. Add it all up and it is not too surprising to see why Oklahoma enters the Orange Bowl as a slight favorite over Clemson. It is easy to see Baker and Watson lighting up the scoreboard, but it could come down to how many plays the defenses make. The Tigers have an underappreciated group defensively and they have been the most complete team in college football since opening week. It is entirely possible the long layoff could come back to hurt Oklahoma.
Prediction: Clemson 38, Oklahoma 34
Cotton Bowl: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama
Alabama returns to the college football playoff after a disappointing finish last season which saw them come up short against Ohio State. Now, Nick Saban has another chance to claim his fifth national title, fourth with the Crimson Tide. It looked as though Alabama would be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, but an impressive 30-16 victory over their rivals, the then-No. 2 LSU Tigers, paved the way for their No. 2 ranking and easy entry. It would not be too simple to suggest that Alabama will feature running back Derrick Henry extensively in their game plan. Henry won the Heisman after running for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns. As with every Saban-led team, Alabama is once again built around their power running game and defense.
Michigan State has had a heart-pounding season. Most people will remember their miracle, 27-23 victory, against the Michigan Wolverines. If Michigan State loses that game, they may not be here in the playoff. Michigan State also conquered the defending champions, the then-No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, 17-14 in late November. They have been involved in several close games this season, more often than not coming through with key plays in the fourth quarter to win games. Maybe they are not that good, some will say maybe they are just lucky. At this point, however, it does not matter. The Spartans are where they want to be, they did not add much style points but they won the games they had to win. Michigan State will lean on their outstanding run defense and try to force Alabama to beat them through the air.
Ever since a deflating home loss to Ole Miss, it has been nothing but business for Alabama. They enter the playoff on a 10-game winning streak and only Texas A&M has scored 20 or more points against them in that span. Alabama has arguably been the best team in college football, boasting one of the nation's very best defenses and Heisman winner Derrick Henry. Michigan State has battle almost every week to get to this spot. Alabama enters the Cotton Bowl as a heavy favorite and it is easy to see why.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Michigan State 17
Ryan Leonardo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email email@example.com.