By Andrew Nason
This long, crazy, upset filled college football regular season has come to an end, and now we are left with 4 teams competing for the national championship; the reigning champion Clemson Tigers, the Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners, the SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs, and the apparent 4th best team in the nation, Alabama Crimson Tide. While the worthiness of certain teams named to the playoff is still up for debate, the fact is these are the final 4 teams, and one of these teams will be crowned the national champion on January 8th. Here’s my breakdown and predictions of the semi finals and my pick for the national champ.
(January 1st, 2018 5:00pm @ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California)
#2 Oklahoma Sooners vs #3 Georgia Bulldogs
The Sooners, led by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Baker Mayfield, rolled through the Big 12 on the way to their 3rd straight conference title, while also topping Ohio State on the road in non-conference play. The Sooners led the nation in yards a game at 583, while scoring 44.9 points, good for 4th best in the nation. The juggernaut offense features Mayfield, led the nation in quarterback rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt, while finishing 2nd in passing yards and touchdown passes, mammoth left tackleOrlando Brown, a likely 1st round pick in next years NFL draft, and red zone threat tight end Mark Andrews, a 6-5 tight end who finished the year with over 900 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns.
Georgia makes it’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1943, after getting revenge on Auburn for their only loss of the season after dismantling the Tigers in the SEC title game. Kirby Smart bring his tenacious defense, which was 4th in the nation in both yards allowed per game and points allowed. On the offensive side, the Bulldogs are led by true freshmen quarterback Jake Fromm and a two-headed monster running back duo consisting of Nick Chubb and Sony Mitchel, who combined for over 2,000 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.
Defense wins championships, and if I had the choice between the best Big 12 defense and a 5th or 6th best SEC defense, I’d take the SEC every time. Big 12 offenses have always been known for putting up big numbers, which is due to a combination of pure offensive personnel talent, spread offenses, and bad defenses. The last time Oklahoma made the playoff, they met ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl and only managed 17 points. Going up against a top ranked SEC defense will prove to be too much for Mayfield and the Sooners, who may also be without starting running back Rodney Anderson, who is facing a rape charge, resulting in another semi final loss for the Sooners.
All State Sugar Bowl
January 1st, 2018 8:45pm @ The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
#1 Clemson Tigers vs. #4 Alabama Crimson Tide
For the 3rd straight year, these 2 teams will face off in the College Football Playoff. The last 2 meeting were for the national championship, with Alabama winning in 2016 and the Tigers taking the title last year.
The Crimson Tide have the nation’s top defense, featuring many future NFL stars including safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, linebacker Rashaan Evans, and defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand. On the other side of the ball, the offense is led by 2nd year quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is not only a threat throwing the ball to star wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but is also one of many running threats, along with running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Najee Harris, who each averaged over 5 yards a carry.
The reigning champion Tigers return to the playoff with new, dual threat quarterback Kelly Bryant leading an offense stacked with playmakers such as wide receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow, and an offensive line anchored by likely 1st round left tackle Mitch Hyatt. The defense features the best and most terrorizing defensive line in the country, headlines by defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins in the middle, and Clein Ferrell and Austin Bryant coming off the edge.
This game comes down to the trenches, which team can impose their will on the other long enough to outlast the other. Offensively, aside from a 4-point differential in points per game favoring Bama, these teams are pretty even. Defensively, the Tigers have a clear pass rush advantage, leading the nation with 44 sacks, compared to the Crimson Tide’s 31. That pass rush will force Bama to become 1 dimensional, allowing Clemson to stack the box against their run game. In a battle of heavyweights, Clemson’s defensive line and swagger make it easy to take them. Dabo Sweeney has built a powerhouse, which could soon easily become a dynasty like the one Nick Saban has built at Alabama.
College Football Playoff National Championship
January 8th, 2018 8:00pm @ Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
#1 Clemson Tigers vs #Georgia Bulldogs
The only team that has managed to shut down Georgia’s running game this season was Auburn, and the Tiger’s defense is much more talented up front. The Tigers will want to force true freshmen quarterback Fromm to try to beat them through the air, something he hasn’t had to even attempt yet during his short college career. Clemson’s offense will have two tough tests in a row with the 2 best SEC defenses, but should be able to do enough to give Dabo his 2nd straight championship.