College Football Playoff Preview
The College Football Playoff begins on Friday, January 1. Here are the matchups you will see.
Rose Bowl (in Arlington, TX for 2020): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
Watch: 4 PM ET, ESPN
The Irish may be deserving of getting in the field, but this is a difficult task for them. Alabama's offense is absolutely lethal. The unit features three of the top 10 players in Heisman Trophy voting. Quarterback Mac Jones, who is second in the country in passing, and WR DeVonta Smith, who leads the country in receiving, are both finalists for the award. Running back Najee Harris finished fifth for the award and is third in the nation in rushing yards. Alabama also has the second best scoring offense in college football--averaging 49.7 points per game. Notre Dame's defense has had a good year, but this offense has better athletes and is much more complete than most teams the Irish have faced this year.
Offensively, the Irish don't matchup. Quarterback Ian Book, who finished 9th in Heisman voting, is Notre Dame's best offensive player, and the team tends to go as he goes. While, yes, they average over 35 points per game, they haven't faced a defense this good. Now, it's not the typical Alabama defense, and the unit does give up big plays at times, but the Tide is still 17th in scoring (Notre Dame's defense is 14th in scoring).
Alabama is rightfully favored in this game. The Crimson Tide simply have much more talent and speed. For Notre Dame to give itself the best chance, the defense will need to have its best game of the season, and the offense will have take advantage of its chances and avoid sputtering drives.
Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA): No.2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Watch: 8 PM ET, ESPN
This is quickly becoming a national rivalry. This will be the fourth meeting between these teams since 2014 and the third time they've met in the national semifinals. Recently, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has publicized his thoughts that Ohio State should not qualify for the playoff and even ranked them 11th on his ballot. Last year's matchup was one to remember. Both teams came in at 13-0, and Ohio State dominated early. However, a questionable targeting penalty on Shaun Wade seemed to get the Tigers back in the game, as Clemson took the lead in the third quarter. The team's traded scoring drives, before Nolan Turner intercepted a Justin Field's pass in the endzone to seal the win for Clemson.
This year is a little different. For one, Clemson has played 11 games, and Ohio State has played only six. That can give the Buckeyes a huge advantage in terms of freshness and tiredness. The Buckeyes are also missing several defensive players from last year and have been prone to giving up big plays against good teams. Ohio State does return a large number of players on offense, led by QB Justin Fields, that will help with experience. The Buckeyes are also figuring out how to handle players returning from COVID related situations. The biggest issue will be defending the Clemson offense and somehow slowing down at least one of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne.
On the other side, Clemson doesn't have the receiving corps it had last season. Trevor Lawrence still has Amari Rogers and Cornell Powell to throw to and Travis Etienne out of the back field, but the unit is definitely not as great. The offense has played well and doesn't have many weaknesses. The defense is also very strong but will be tested by Ohio State's dynamic athletes on offense. The Tigers should be able to take advantage of the Buckeye's secondary, which has not been up to par with recent years.
Both teams have lost key players from last season, but are still very similar. This year may be higher scoring, but I'd expect another close game.