The College Fottball Playoffs Preview
3-0 Friday with Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State!! Today It's the BIG ONE!
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
They're (finally) heeeeere! The 2016 version of the College Football Playoffs will ring out the old year with a smash-mouth twin-bill on Saturday afternoon/evening and -- before the famous "ball" drops in New York's Times Square -- we'll know whom are the only two teams standing in this year's chase for the championship.
Happy New Year's indeed!
PEACH BOWL: Georgia Dome - Atlanta, GA
#4 WASHINGTON (12-1) vs. #1 ALABAMA (13-0) - 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, so the smart guys out in Las Vegas don't give anyone out there a real great shot to beat 'Bama in this year's College Football Playoffs with the lone unbeaten team in this four-team field a hefty two-TD betting favorite here (keep in mind Alabama was favored by as many as 15.5 points a few days ago) and it's no secret that if the UW Huskies harbor any upset hopes that that well-documented turnover differential (plus 21) will have to save 'em. The Pac-12 team led the nation in that key stat category and so the mission here is to rattle Alabama QB Jalen Hurts who has suffered from some more-than-occasional turnover woes.
However, the $64,000 question is how do the Dawgs score against this Alabama defense that allowed 12 points or less on nine different occasions?
Well, QB Jake Browning (3,280 yards passing with 42 TDs and just 7 INTs) cannot flinch here - yes, we saw Browning get rattled a bit in Washington's 26-13 home loss to USC this year - and that likely means the Dawg slinger will probably have to take a few sacks but not chuck it away against a 'Bama stop unit that forced 24 enemy turnovers this season. On the flip side, Alabama true frosh Hurts (2,592 yards passing / 22 TDs / 9 INTs) has to be the ultimate "game manager" here but we believe his legs (see 841 rushing yards with 12 TDs) will be uber-important - if Hurts gets stopped on some third-and-short rushes or can't get to the chains with his scrambles, than this one could be closer than the "experts" think.
Spread Notes - Alabama is a rollicking 9-4 ATS (against the spread) this season and overall the Crimson Tide's 72-55-1 spreadwise under 10th-year boss Nick Saban. Note that this SEC club did cover three-of-four non-league affairs this year but date back to 2013 and you'll see 'Bama is just 7-10 ATS in non-conference battles. Meanwhile, Washington enters this national semifinal playoff game at 7-5-1 versus the vig this season and a collective 21-17-1 ATS under third-year coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies have not been dogs all year long - no less twin-figure pups - but in case you're interested Washington's 13-11 ATS as point-grabbers the past four years.
FIESTA BOWL: University of Phoenix Stadium - Glendale, AZ
#3 OHIO STATE (11-1) vs. #2 CLEMSON (12-1) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes had a been-there, done-that moment when it won the national title.
The 2015 Clemson Tigers had their shot but came up a tad short in a 45-40 loss-but-cover against Alabama in the sport's championship game.
Now, one of 'em is getting back to the title tilt - and odds are it'll be the team that makes more chunk plays here. No question that Clemson QB Deshaun Watson - the runner-up in this year's Heisman Trophy race - posted some eye-popping numbers this year with 3,914 yards passing and 37 TDs but was often was mistake-prone (see 15 picks) and now he's going up against a Buckeyes' defense that feasts off enemy miscues. Note that Ohio State ranks third in FBS play in the all-important turnover margin category (plus 16) and gotta believe Urban Meyer's crew will be shooting up an extra blitzer/pass rusher at Watson and then "dare" him to tuck it and run. So, maybe the key here is what Watson does with his legs - much as is the case with Alabama's Hurts in the earlier playoff game - and the bottom line is Clemson probably does not win here unless it runs for 150-plus yards, so RB Wayne Gallman (1,002 yards rushing / 15 TDs) also must factor in and dent the 'Eye interior defense with some nifty dashes.
No doubt much is being made of the fact Ohio State ranked third in the country in points allowed (averaged 14.2 ppg) but can't ignore the fact that this O-State offense has been very schizophrenic this year with 45-or-more points scored on six occasions and some lackluster showings against the likes of Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan State - so will the real J.T. Barrett please stand up here? The 'Eye signal-caller threw for 2,428 yards with 24 TDs and only 5 INTs this season but he often "froze up" in big moments and that's what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Company are banking on here.
Spread Notes - Clemson enters this playoff game with a sub-par 6-7 against the odds mark this '16 season but note the Tigers are 11-4 ATS as underdog sides since the start of the 2011 campaign. Ohio State's a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 against the Las Vegas prices this season and did you know the Buckeyes are a terrific 13-6 ATS the past three seasons?
In other College Bowl Games ...
On Saturday, it's ...
CITRUS BOWL: Camping World Stadium - Orlando, FL
#20 LSU (7-4) vs. #13 LOUISVILLE (9-3) - 11 a.m. ET, ABC
All the pre-game hullaballoo surrounds the bowl absence of LSU's superstar RB Leonard Fournette who - if truth be told - wasn't much of a wunderkind in the seven games he did play this year with just 843 rushing yards and 8 TDs. Heck, teammate RB Derrius Guice led the Bayou Bengals with 1,249 yards rushing (on 8 yards per pop) with 14 TDs and so now you know one reason why the lower-ranked Tigers are still 3.5-point betting favorites for this game in central Florida.
On the flip side, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson - the runaway Heisman Trophy winner - takes his bloated stats (see 3,390 yards passing with 30 TDs along with 1,538 rushing yards/21 TDs) against the country's 14th-best defense here and for the 'Ville to pull the mild upset gotta see Jackson go long a few times to stretch-the-field star WR Jaylen Smith who averages an eye-popping 22.2 yards per catch.
Spread Notes - Louisville is just 2-6-1 vig-wise this year following that hot 3-and-oh spread start while LSU has failed to cover four of its last five bowl tilts.
TAXSLAYER BOWL: Everbank Field - Jacksonville, FL
GEORGIA TECH (8-4) vs. KENTUCKY (7-5) - 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Not sure why this one's being played on New Year's Eve - neither club is ranked and generally this is a game you'd have gotten on Dec. 26th or 27th but, what the heck -- one thing worth mentioning is G-Tech beat archrival Georgia while Kentucky did not but the UK Wildcats do own the country's 16th-best rushing attack that stars the tag team of Boom Williams (1,135 yards rushing, 7 TDs) and Benjamin Snell, Jr. (1,057 yards rushing, 13 TDs) while the Yellow Jackets rank 10th in the land in rushing while averaging 257.4 ypg - note GT's a 3.5-point betting fav here.
Spread Notes - Georgia Tech is just 4-8 against the odds as betting favorites these past two seasons while Kentucky bounced back from a 3-8 ATS mark last year to go 7-5 against the numbers in '16.