The College Football Playoff is here and Crimson Tide fans are happy about that. The No. 1 Tide locks horns with No.4 Oklahoma and their dynamic offense today at the Orange Bowl in Miami at 7 PM CT on ESPN. Prior to that, at 3 PM CT, No. 2 Clemson squares off with No.3 Notre Dame in the first semifinal matchup at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Here’s a look at those 2 blockbusters along with short previews and predictions for the Chick-fil-A, the Belk and the Arizona Bowls.
Bowl record: 14-8
Overall: 243-80, 75%
Capital One Orange Bowl, Second semifinal game
No.1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, 65,326
7 PM CT
Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Maria Taylor, Laura Rutledge
Whistles: ACC, Duane Heydt
Bama by 14
For the Crimson Tide, Tua Tagovailoa, despite battling through some knee and ankle injuries this season, put together a masterful year completing 199 of 294 passes, 68%, for 3,353 yards, 37 TDs against only 4 ints. The great Tua has a wealth of targets led by Jerry Jeudy, who caught 59 passes for 1,103 yards and 12 TDs. Henry Ruggs III was next with 42 receptions for 724 yards and 10 TDs. The electric Jaylen Waddle pulled in 41 passes for 803 yards and 7 scores, and tight end Irv Smith caught 38 passes for 649 yards and 7 TDs. Not to be forgotten was last year’s national championship hero, DeVonta Smith, who pulled in 30 passes for 524 yards and 5 TDs. That’s quite an arsenal. Damien Harris led the running game with 771 yards and 7 TDs. The great Josh Jacobs added 495 yards and 11 TDs. The defense is anchored by awesome nose guard Quinnen Williams, who was the 3rd leading tackler on the team with 66 stops, and added 18 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. Outside linebacker Dylan Moses led the team with 76 tackles along with 10 for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. Free safety Deionte Thompson was second with 70 tackles. Defensive end Isaiah Buggs posted 12 1/2 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks. Outside linebacker Christian Miller posted 10 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. The Tide defense intercepted 14 passes, led by cornerback Savion Smith’s 3. Savion took one back to the house as did safety Xavier McKinney. STAR Shyheim Carter made 2 house calls with his ints. The Tide finished with 6 non offensive touchdowns on the season as Waddle returned a punt for a score and Jacobs ran back a kick for a TD.
For the Sooners, it’s about offense. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray completed 241 of 340 passes, 71%, for 4,053 yards, 40 TDs and 7 ints. Murray also rushed for 892 yards and 11 TDs. Trey Sermon is the leading rusher for the Sooners with 928 yards and 12 TDs. On the perimeter, Marquise Brown, who was injured in the Big 12 Championship game but is expected to play tonight, caught 75 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 TDs. Just as effective was CeeDee Lamb who recorded 57 receptions for 1,049 yards and 10 TDs as well. Tight end Grant Calcaterra pulled in 25 passes for 378 yards and 6 TDs, and Lee Morris added 21 receptions for 457 yards and 8 TDs. On defense, defensive end Kenneth Murray posted 140 tackles, 12 for loss and 4 sacks. Outside linebacker Curtis Bolton was next with 133 tackles, 11 1/2 for loss and 4 sacks. OU registered 6 ints on the season.
Alabama star offensive guard Deonte Brown is suspended for the rest of the playoff for undisclosed reasons, though I would assume it’s a failed drug test. Lester Cotton will take his place. I’ve heard Lester Cotton is one of the meanest guys on the team, though Mack Wilson has a good argument. I like what Tua can do through the air against the Sooner defense. I also think Bama can run the ball well against a questionable OU front 7. On the OU side of the ball, Murray hasn’t faced a defense like this in the Big 12. He’s never had to deal with Quinnen Williams and company. I see him struggling. I like the Crimson Tide to dominate this game and move on to the national championship game @ Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. on January 7th. 7 PM CT on ESPN.
Crimson Tide 52, Sooners 24
The Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Semifinal 1
No.2 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0)
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX., 100,000
3 PM CT
Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe, Tom Rinaldi
Officials, SEC, Matt Austin
Clemson by 11 1/2
This is another great quarterback duel between Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (212 of 327, 65%, 2606 yards, 24 TDs, 2 ints) and Notre Dame’s Ian Book (197 of 280, 70%, 2,468 yards, 19 TDs, 6 ints). It’s also a good running back matchup, as Clemson’s great Travis Etienne rushed for 1,464 yards and 21 TDs and the Fighting Irish’s Dexter Williams rushed for 941 yards and 12 TDs this season.
Clemson lost all star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for the game due to a failed drug test, but they still have defensive end Clelin Ferrell (17 1/2 TFLs, 10 1/2 sacks), defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (12 1/2 TFLs, 4 1/2 sacks) and defensive end Austin Bryant (11 TFLs, 6 1/2 sacks). They’ll plug in Albert Huggins in Lawrence’s spot and Huggins finished the season with 3 1/2 TFLs and 2 1/2 sacks. Clemson posted 11 ints on the season.
Lawrence’s key targets are Tee Higgins, who caught 52 passes for 802 yards and 10 TDs. Justyn Ross pulled in 34 passes for 699 yards and 6 TDs. And the always reliable and a guy who seems like he’s been there forever, Hunter Renfrow, pulled in 43 passes for 472 yards and a TD.
Notre Dame’s leading receiver is Miles Boykin, who posted 54 receptions for 803 yards and 8 TDs. Chase Claypool added 48 receptions for 631 yards and 4 TDs. On defense, middle linebacker Te’Von Coney led the team with 107 tackles. Defensive end Khalid Kareem led the team in TFLs with 11 and had the co-lead for sacks with the opposite bookend, Julian Okwara, at 5 1/2. The Irish intercepted 11 passes this season.
The Irish have had an excellent 2018, but I don’t see them keeping up with Clemson. Like Dabo and the Tigers to face the Tide on January 7th.
Clemson 42, Notre Dame 27
Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl
No.7 Michigan (10-2) vs. No.10 Florida (9-3)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, 71,000
11 AM CT
Bob Wischusen, Brock Huard, Allison Williams
Whistles, Big 12, Mike Defee, likes to show off his artillery, tight shirts
Michigan by 5 1/2
Michigan has four players sitting out this game for the NFL Draft, star defensive end Rashan Gary, star linebacker Devin Bush, top running back Karan Higdon and fifth year senior offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Michigan sounds like they don’t want to be there. I like the upset in Atlanta.
Florida 21, Michigan 17
South Carolina (7-5) vs Virginia (7-5)
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., 75,412
Adam Amin, Anthony Becht, Rocky Boiman
Officials, BIG 10, Jeff Servinski
South Carolina by 3 1/2
The Gamecocks have a ton of players who will miss this bowl. Star wide receiver Deebo Samuels is skipping this game for the draft. I like Jake Bentley and the offense to do just enough to prevail over a gritty UVA effort.