After an exhilarating college football season filled with as much parody as one can ask for, the playoff has been determined, and the final four teams are as followed in order of rank: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma. No. 1 Clemson will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl while No. 2 Alabama matches up against No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Unlike last year, there was no controversy in the final playoff verdict as all teams selected were a given, and all four won their respective conferences. The last schools standing are clearly the most deserving and talented teams across the nation, and fans around the country are in store for another exciting installment of the College Football Playoff.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs Oklahoma: Coming off the team’s first ever 13-0 season and a thrilling controversial win in the ACC Championship game over UNC, Dabo Sweeney’s No. 1 Tigers will return to some familiar territory in the Orange Bowl; Clemson’s only national title season was capped with an Orange Bowl win over Nebraska in 1982. Even with a perfect season to this point under his belt, Sweeney’s team has faced heavy speculation, and experts have even gone as far as to say that Clemson is the least likely team to be the last standing come mid-January. The Tigers were led by dual-threat sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has thrown for 3,512 yards with thirty touchdowns against eleven interceptions and rushed for 887 yards and eleven touchdowns on the ground in a Heisman-esque campaign. His play will be key for a trip to the national title game for the Tigers. On the flip side, Oklahoma and its third ranked scoring offense are set for a rematch of 2014’s Russell Athletic Bowl. Revenge may be on the Sooners’ mind as they were routed 40-6 in said game. But things are completely different under center for both teams this year as Watson was hurt with a torn ACL at the time last year, and quarterback Baker Mayfield was still middling at Texas Tech. Mayfield’s decision to transfer to Oklahoma is one he and Sooner fans won’t soon forget with a Heisman candidate campaign throwing for 3,389 yards and thirty-six touchdowns against five interceptions. He also has 420 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. The installation of first year coordinator Lincoln Riley’s “Air Raid” system has been close to flawless, despite an ugly loss to woeful rival Texas at the beginning of this season. But since then, the Sooners have been the hottest team in football. The game is featuring two top offenses and two better than anticipated defenses, but all signs are pointing to a true shootout in this one. Both teams score in the red zone 90% of the time, and both teams give up points in the red zone 80% of the time.
Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs Michigan State: As much as the Orange Bowl will be a shootout, expect the opposite in this game. Each team vaunts some of the stingiest defenses in the land, with Alabama first in rush defense, second in total defense, and third in scoring defense nationally. The odds are certainly stacked against Mark Dantonio’s Spartans even though some say destiny may be on their side. Through their one loss campaign, Michigan State overcame both Michigan and Ohio State on the road without leading with a single second on the clock in each game. It took a miraculous fumble on a punt and return for them to upset Michigan as time ran out, and a last second field goal sealed the Buckeyes’ fate just a few short weeks ago. Like Ohio State’s championship run last year, Michigan State’s debut in the top four came at the last possible time after squeezing out a win against previously undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. On the opposite side, Alabama won their conference championship rather decisively against Florida. Much of that was due to the pounding Heisman candidate Derrick Henry gave up the middle, rushing for 189 yards on an astounding forty-four carries, while breaking the single season rushing record and tying the touchdown record for an SEC running back. That, combined with a competent QB in Jake Coker, may be too much for an MSU defense, one that allows more passes over ten yards than almost anyone in the nation, to handle. Add in QB Connor Cook reinjuring his throwing shoulder in last week’s game, and this game is looking like a low-scored slugfest in the making.
In the second annual College Football Playoff with this format, everyone across the country is in store for an instant classic in both of these matchups. Michigan State playing spoiler as Ohio State did last year, Clemson riding a perfect season, Oklahoma coming in as the hottest team in the country, and Alabama being the lone repeat powerhouse in the playoff, things are looking better than ever for College Football.