Alabama-Clemson part 3, semifinal 2, kicks off tomorrow night at 7:45 CT in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia-Oklahoma in semifinal 1 kicks off at 4 PM CT in the Rose Bowl. Auburn squares off with Central Florida at 11:30 AM CT in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Here's a look at all 3 thrillers on a massive day in college football.
No.4 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs No.1 Clemson (12-1, 7-1 ACC)
AllState Sugar Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, 76,468
7:45 PM CT
Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe, Laura Rutledge
Refs, PAC-12, Land Clark
Alabama by 3
Nick Saban, Alabama, 66 years old
11 years, 125-20, 86%, SEC 72-13, 85%. 4 National Championships, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015. Another at LSU in 2003.
Dabo Swinney, 48 years old
10 years, 101-29, 78%, 61-16 ACC, 79%. 1 National Championship 2016. Runner-up in 2015
QB Jalen Hurts: 136-of-224, 61%, 15 TDs, 1 int. 768 rushing yards, 8 TDs.
Leading rushers: Damien Harris, 110-906 yards, 8.2 per carry, 11 TDs. Bo Scarbrough, 105-549, 5.1, 8 TDs. Najee Harris, 55-306, 5.6, 3 TDs. Joshua Jacobs, 43-276, 6.4, 1 TD, 12 receptions, 165, 2 TDs.
Leading receivers: Calvin Ridley, 55-806, 3 TDs. Scarbrough, 14-92. Cam Sims, 12-259, 1 TD. Jerry Jeudy, 13-122, 3 TDs. Henry Ruggs, 7-175, 5 TDs.
Leading tackler: Ronnie Harrison, 68.
Rashaan Evans leads the team in tackles for loss with 10 and sacks with 5.
Levi Wallace, Ronnie Harrison and Mack Wilson lead the team with 3 interceptions apiece.
Quite possibly the best player on the team, and that's a high bar, Minkah Fitzpatrick, has 52 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 1/2 sacks, and 1 int.
Kicking game: Punter J.K. Scott has a 43.4 yard average on punts, and Andy Pappanastos has converted 15 of 19 kicks and is 51-of-51 in extra points.
Passing: Kelly Bryant, 244-of-362, 67%, 2,678 uards, 13 TDs, 6 ints.
Rushing: Travis Etienne, 103-744, 7.2, 13 TDs. Tavien Feaster, 103-659, 6.4, 7 TDs. Bryant, 173-646, 3.7, 11 TDs. Adam Choice, 62-312, 5.0, 6 TDs. C.J. Fuller, 58-217, 3.7, 3 TDs.
Receivers: Hunter Renfrow, 55-571, 3 TDs. Deon Cain, 52-659, 6 TDs. Ray-Ray McCloud, 46-502, 1 TD.
Leading tackler, Kendall Joseph, 86 tackles.
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell has 17 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks to lead the team. Defensive end Austin Bryant has 14 1/2 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has 9 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence has 2 1/2 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. The Fearsome Foursome, the Steel Curtain, these guys are all that.
Kicking game: Will Spiers averages 41 yards per punt, kicker Alex Spence is 7-for-12 on kicks and 41-of-43 on extra points. The explosive Ray-Ray McCloud averages 12.1 yards per punt return and has taken one to the house.
Analysis and decision
Wow, this is as close as it gets in terms of elite talent and exceptional coaching. Talent is pretty much a wash, as is coaching. The game will be won in the trenches, in quarterback play, in the running game and who wins the turnover battle. I've studied this game pretty extensively, and I like 2 things. Alabama's ability to run on Clemson, despite the massive line of the Tigers. Bo Scarbrough ran for 93 yards on 16 carries and 2 TDs before going out with a broken leg in the 3rd quarter of last year's national title game. Jalen Hurts ran for 63 yards and what looked like the game winning TD run from 30 yards with 2:31 left in the game. Deshaun Watson brought the Tigers back however and they scored in a 2 yard pass from Watson to Renfrow with 1 second left in the game.
But I like Alabama's ability to run the ball in this game and that sounds nonsensical against this massive Clemson front until you look at the numbers from last year's game. If Scarbrough had not gotten hurt, the Tide could very well have won. I'm not saying they would have, but Scarbrough was unstoppable in that game. it's taken him time this season to get back to that form, and I don't see him as there yet. Maybe tomorrow night. He's quite a talent. With Bo, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs along with Hurts, Alabama can run the football. The Tide front of Bradley Bozeman, Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher and company will have to be very good to make this happen. I like them to step up.
Another advantage I see for the Crimson Tide is the experience at quarterback for Alabama.. Hurts has played in many big games in his young career as the Crimson Tide signal caller. Bryant, while very good, has not played in a game of this magnitude. Both have super targets with Alabama having Ridley, Jeudy, Cam Sims and Henry Ruggs III to me will be a factor. Clemson has the great Ray Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain.
So those are 2 points. And a 3rd, I like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison to play roles in the turnover game. I see them getting ints. Rashaan Evans will be super as will Da'Shawn Hand who wants to put on a show in his last game in a Crimson Tide uniform. The linebackers are reasonably healthy as Mack Wilson, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are back from injury. Dylan Moses is out, as is Shaun Dion Hamilton, but with Evans, it's now a formidable and effective group. Clemson has playmakers on the second level too, but Clemson's main strength is up front.
Finally, I watched Mississippi State defeat Louisville yesterday in the Taxslayer Bowl and then watched Wisconsin pretty much waste Miami in the Orange Bowl.
So I like the team that has those advantages I listed above. These are 2 sensational teams, but the Crimson Tide moves on to the national championship game Monday, January 8, 2018 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Alabama 28, Clemson 24
No.2 Oklahoma (12-1, 8-1 Big 12) vs. No.3 Georgia (12-1, 7-1 SEC)
Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, CA. 92,542
4 PM CT
Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Maria Taylor, Tom Rinaldi
Referees: ACC, Jeff Heaser
Georgia by 2 1/2
Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma has completed 262-of-369 passes, 71%, for 4,340 yards, 41 TDs and just 5 ints. Mayfield has also rushed for 310 yards and 5 TDs. Quite astounding stuff. Rodney Anderson is an exceptional back who's rushed for 960 yards and 11 TDs. Anderson has also caught 16 passes for 283 yards and 5 more TDs. Trey Sirmon is just about as good as Anderson. He's rushed for 710 yards and 5 TDs. Tight end Mark Andrews is a superb player having caught 58 passes for 906 yards and 8 TDs. Wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb have caught 49 and 40 passes respectively. Brown has posted 6 TDs and Lamb 7. On defense, the guy for OU is outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who has registered 17 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. Cornerback Parnell Mobley has 2 interceptions, tied for the team lead with safety William Johnson. Mobley has returned 1 for a TD.
For Georgia, it's about that running game and play action passing along with their stout defense. The awesome Nick Chubb has rushed for 1,175 yards and 13 TDs. The just as talented and super Sony Michel has rushed for 948 yards and 13 TDs as well. A guy to look out for in the Georgia backfield also is outstanding freshman D'Andre Swift, who has rushed for 597 yards and 3 TDs and was awesome in the SEC Championship game versus Auburn, a 28-7 Dawgs' victory. Freshman Jake Fromm has taken the reins under center admirably for Kirby Smart, completing 145-of-230, 63%, for 2,173 yards, 21 TDs against only 5 interceptions. He's going to be a superb football player at Georgia. He already is really. Fromm's key targets are Javon Wims, who has 38 receptions for 631 yards and 6 TDs, and Terry Godwin, who has caught 29 passes for 540 yards and 6 TDs also. Mecole Hardman is a weapon in the passing game, having caught 22 passes for 323 yards and 3 TDs, and in the punt return and kickoff return games where he averages 10.8 yards on punt returns and 27.3 yards on kickoff returns.
The Dawgs are good on defense as well. Linebacker Roquan Smith is the main guy and leader. He leads the team in tackles with 113, he has 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks. He's an All-American like many of these players in the playoffs. Safety Dominick Sanders leads the team in interceptions with 3.
I like a high scoring affair here. Mayfield has been battling flu like symptoms, so that's something to look for in the fourth quarter, his fitness. Mack Brown brought that up recently and it was a good point. Mayfield and that OU scoring machine lead the nation in total offense at 583 yards per game and are 4th in scoring offense at 44.9 points per game. Georgia has the number 3 scoring defense in the country allowing 13.2 points per game, but they can't shut this offense down completely. It's impossible. But I like Georgia's offense against Oklahoma's defense, which is 50th in the country in scoring defense allowing 25 points per game. That's doable if you have an offense scoring 45, but can be troublesome when you meet up with a quality offense like the Dawgs, which also have a quality defense.
This should be a high octane game offensively, I like the Dawgs to score 3 more points than the Sooners and play enough defense in the end and get a key interception or fumble recovery to seal it.
Georgia 42, Oklahoma 38
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 12 UCF (13-0, 8-0 American) vs. No.7 Auburn (10-3, 7-1 SEC)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, 71,000
11:30 AM CT
Dave Flemming, Brock Huard, Allison Williams
Referees, Big 12, Brandon Cruise
Auburn by 10
The 2 key things coming into this game, at least from my perspective, was the health of Kerryon Johnson and the chatter by the Golden Knights. Johnson, who led the SEC in rushing with 1,320 yards and added an SEC second best 17 rushing TDs, says he's healthy, Gus Malzahn says Johnson's ready to go, so I agree, he's ready. But not only will Kerryon need to play well, so will Jarrett Stidham, who has completed 218-of-327 passes, 67%, for 2,827 yards, 17 TDs against only 4 interceptions. Stidham was pretty terrific when Auburn got on a tear in the latter half of the season and sensational against the Crimson Tide in a 26-14 Auburn victory, but struggled with Johnson not near 100 percent in the SEC title game. A healthy Johnson really helps Stidham. Stidham's main target, the awesome Ryan Davis, caught 76 passes for 768 yards and 5 TDs. Darius Slayton added 23 receptions for 574 yards and 5 TDs. Johnson was an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He caught 23 passes for 188 yards and 2 TDs. He also threw a jump pass for a TD against Alabama. On defense, the great defensive end Jeff Holland is a one man disruptive force for the Tigers. Holland posted 11 1/2 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks. He's a sensational player. Linebacker Deshaun Davis led the team in tackles with 75 and posted 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Super cornerback Carlton Davis is unfortunately out for this game, so Nick Ruffin or Jeremiah Dinson will need to fill in and play well. Stellar safety Tray Matthews is second on the team with 53 tackles and has an int and is the leader on defense.
Central Florida plays some really good offense with quarterback McKenzie Milton having completed 249-of-360 passes, 69%, for 3,795 yards, 35 TDs and 9 ints. His leading target is Tre'Quan Smith, who has 54 receptions for 1,082 yards and 13 TDs. Running back Adrian Killins is the leading rusher having rushed for 762 yards and 10 TDs. Outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin is the leader on defense and a stellar player. There was a terrific story on Griffin in Sports Illustrated 3 weeks ago or so. He lost his right hand when he was 4 because of a disease he was born with, but he has registered 10 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks and looks like a serious NFL prospect since he's a senior. it's a pretty moving story. He's had to battle through the handicap, but has made himself a fantastic football player. Safety Kyle Gibson and corner Mike Hughes lead the Golden Knights in interceptions with 4 apiece. Hughes has taken one back to the house. UCF has 18 interceptions on the season, tied for 10th nationally.
Auburn's a really good football team. They've had a super year and the future is incredibly bright on the Plains. I have a feeling the Tigers are angry with some of UCF's talking with one of their players saying the SEC is not as fast as their team. That's not the case. I like Kerryon to play well and Auburn to take care of business in Atlanta. UCF may keep it pretty close for a while, but I like the Tigers to play well and get the job done Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Auburn 45, UCF 28