The College Football Playoff (CFP) games are upon us Saturday with three mainstays in Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma as well as a newcomer in Notre Dame. Here’s what to expect in each matchup:
Cotton Bowl: Clemson vs. Notre Dame
Line: Clemson (-13)
The first semifinal game features Clemson versus Notre Dame. Clemson has made it to their fourth straight CFP while ND is appearing in its’ first.
Clemson comes in the game having questions about if they’re for real. The ACC champions took care of business in the ACC and only had one game decided by single-digits. That was a game against Syracuse in September, which was the first start for freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence has started nine games this season and has thrown for 2,606 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. The true strength of this offense is in the running game.
Travis Etienne has rushed for 1,463 yards this season on just 176 attempts and 21 touchdowns, which ranks second nationally. The Tigers also have Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice, and Lyn-J Dixon who combined for 1,451 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. They’ll face a solid Notre Dame defense that ranks 20th nationally in total defense and allows only 17.3 points per game. Defensive back Jalen Elliott is one of the nation’s leaders in interceptions with four.
Clemson ranks fifth nationally in total offense and the defense ranks fourth in total defense. They’re the only team in college football who can claim both their offense and defense are in the top 10. Clemson allows just 93 rushing yards per game and part of the credit goes to the elite defensive line the Tigers have.
Clelin Ferrell leads the Clemson defense with 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. The Tigers could be without defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence after he and two others failed a drug test. The Tigers will still have Ferrell, Austin Bryant, and Christian Wilkins, who will pose a problem for Notre Dame’s offense.
After a slow start, head coach Brian Kelly benched Brandon Wimbush and inserted Ian Book as the starting quarterback. The Fighting Irish haven’t looked back.
Since playing Wake Forest in Week 3, Notre Dame has averaged 37 points per game. The Irish don’t aren’t as explosive as the other three teams offensively. However, they are methodical and hardly make mistakes. They rank second in the turnover margin at +5.
The key for the Irish is to slow the game down and force the Tigers into a low-scoring battle in the trenches and make Lawrence uncomfortable. However, the Tigers are too good and will take this one, but they will not cover the spread.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 20
Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Line: Alabama (-14)
The second game of the night features one of the nation’s best defense (Alabama) versus the best offense (Oklahoma) in the NCAA.
All season, the Oklahoma Sooners have put up great offensive performances led by their Heisman-winning quarterback, Kyler Murray. In his first season as a starter, Murray has more than filled the shoes of his predecessor, Baker Mayfield. The Heisman winner has amassed 4,053 passing yards and 51 total touchdowns. He ranks near the top nationally in every statistic.
But Murray hasn’t done it alone.
When starting running back Rodney Anderson went down for the season, Kennedy Brooks stepped in his place and has shined. The freshman has rushed for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown ranks eighth nationally in receiving yards with 1,318 on the season, but his status for the game is in limbo. Brown left the Big 12 Championship Game with a left lower-leg injury that he did not have surgery on, according to head coach Lincoln Riley.
Brown is not the only receiver on deck for the Sooners. They still have Ceedee Lamb, who has 1,049 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. But Brown’s speed separates him from just about anybody especially against a stingy Bama secondary. The Tide are ranked 13th against the pass, allowing just 178 yards per contest.
In addition to the stiff pass defense, Bama is holding teams to under 120 yards per game on the ground. The Sooners’ offense will need to play mistake-free if they want to stay in the ballgame because the Tide feast off forcing turnovers and turning them into points. The SEC champs rank fourth nationally in defensive touchdowns five total.
Oklahoma’s offense is abysmal to say the least. The Sooners rank 108th in total defense, allowing 448 yards per game. Through the air, the Sooners allow 291 yards per game, which ranks dead in the FBS. This won’t bode well against star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa if he’s healthy to play. The Heisman runner-up has thrown for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns this season and doesn’t make many mistakes with just four interceptions.
Alabama’s defense has some holes,and Oklahoma showed improvements on defense against Texas in the Big 12 title game. But the CFP has become the Alabama Invitational, and it’ll stay that way.
Prediction: Alabama 49, Oklahoma 31