It’s New Years Eve. It’s time for your new tradition: watching massively hyped college football playoff games still masquerading as bowl games. Below are the TBL writers’ predictions for how the semifinals play out.
Clemson vs. Oklahoma (-4)
Duffy: Oklahoma has the best offense and defense Clemson has faced all season in palatable weather. The Tigers’ defense was quietly average over the season’s second half. The only team they held under 5.7 yards/play in their final six games was Wake. This is the biggest game of Dabo’s career. Bob Stoops has coached in a lot of big games. The Sooners get rolling for at least one half. Clemson does not have quite enough to keep up. Oklahoma 41-31
Koster: Clemson’s the lone unbeaten. Oklahoma has been publicly executing opponents since an inexplicable loss to Texas. Baker Mayfield has been a revelation and all DeShaun Watson did was post a perfect record en route to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York. The public loves the Sooners. On paper this should be a high-scoring affair. If this game had been played two weeks ago I would have liked Oklahoma, and big. But bowl games and long layoffs are weird. It sounds crazy this an upset pick, but I am. Dabo will dab on ’em in a surprisingly defensive-minded affair. Clemson 26, Oklahoma 21
Lisk: Oklahoma was a team I thought could make a run to the title back in early November, even though they were behind Baylor and TCU in the pecking order (and several others) at the time. They closed strong, and are very balanced. As my pick to win the title, I’ll stay with them in this matchup. Oklahoma 38, Clemson 30
McIntyre: Torn here, as I’m rooting for the Tigers because I’m a huge fan of DeShaun Watson, but it’s difficult to go against that fun-to-watch Oklahoma offense. This will be the best QB the Sooners have played this year – remember, they beat a lot of backup QBs in the Big 12. The Clemson defense dominated the inferior ACC and hasn’t seen an offense like this, led by a two-time walk-on in Baker Mayfield, who is a joy to watch. Buy it down to Oklahoma by a field goal or tease it up to Clemson +10. Close game, more pleasing on the eyes than the next one. Oklahoma 33, Clemson 30
Shamburger: This game is actually tougher to pick than I thought it would be. I like both teams offensively but give Clemson the upper hand defensively, even though as Ty pointed out, they have been quiet the second half of the season. Both quarterbacks are great and should provide a lot of excitement. Both coaches have been in big games and I don’t feel more confident about one over the other. So… Clemson 35, Oklahoma 27
Alabama (-10) vs. Michigan State
Duffy: It’s hard to out-Bama Bama. This one seems pretty cut and dry. Alabama has a better defense. Michigan State can’t run the ball well. The Spartans are resilient. Connor Cook will complete his share of stupid third and longs. But, Alabama stuffs the run, springs enough big plays, and pulls away on a killer Derrick Henry run in the 4th quarter. Alabama 28-17
Koster: This is the biggest game in Spartan football history. It’s just another brick in the wall for title-rich Alabama. Mark Dantonio will force Jake Coker to win this one through the air. Nick Saban’s defensive behemoths will attempt to bully a game offensive line. Connor Cook’s health is the great unknown. If he’s 100 percent I like MSU to pull the upset. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that’s the case. It’s been a storybook season in East Lansing but the clock should strike midnight (metaphorically) as the ball drops. Alabama 34, Michigan State 24
Lisk: Alabama getting a lot of respect with this number. They are the best teams at beating up on decent teams, with limited offenses–which they faced a lot in the SEC. Connor Cook is maybe the best QB they’ve played this year. Where he is physically is a question, with him declaring he was 100% a few days ago. I think this is a better matchup than the number, so I’ll take Michigan State to keep it close. Alabama 23, Michigan State 19.
McIntyre: Mark Dantonio is a tremendous coach, and one of the best in the country when the Spartans are an underdog. I can’t get one name out of my head: Jacob Coker. Arrived from FSU amid much fanfare – remember when he nearly beat out Jameis Winston for the starting job? – but he’s a below average QB and the worst one in the 4-team playoff. Besides QB, I give MSU the edge at WR (Aaron Burbridge is fantastic, and will make a great pro). Chalk isn’t fun, so … Michigan State 24, Alabama 23.
Shamburger: For some reason I think Mr. Koster is using some reverse psychology with his pick. As he said, this is the biggest game in Michigan State history and it’s interesting that it comes against a former coach. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of their last six seasons under Dantonio, who has also lead them to four straight bowl wins. Saban’s accolades are well known, but the Tide have lost two straight Sugar Bowls, which may be something Saban can use to his advantage. The biggest question for me is can the Spartan offensive line give Connor Cook enough time to throw on Bama’s secondary. That Bama defensive line is a monster that can’t be stopped, and come the second half, they’ll turn it on. I like Sparty and would love to see Dantonio make it to the big game, but I can’t bring myself to say they can win this one. Alabama 38, Michigan State 24