Orange Bowl: #1 Alabama v.s. #4 Oklahoma
The selection committee chose against putting two SEC teams in the playoff for a second consecutive year and instead went with Big 12 champion Oklahoma for the final seed. Oklahoma brings a historically great offense that ranks first in yards per play (8.6, a full yard ahead of second place) and points per drive (4.2). It’s led by junior quarterback Kyler Murray, a terrific athlete whose produced 4,981 total yards and 52 total TDs. The defense, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The Sooners rank 91st in yards per play allowed (5.9) and 107th in points per drive (2.75). Alabama brings a more balanced squad to the table. The Crimson Tide sit one spot behind OU in yards per play (7.6) and points per drive (4.04), but unlike their opponent have a defense to match it. Stocked with next-level talents like linemen Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis, safety Deionte Thompson and linebacker Mack Wilson, Alabama’s defense is second in points per drive (1.01) and sixth in yards per play (4.3). Alabama is on one of the most dominant runs in college football history with four national championships in the last nine years. Yet its somehow done that without a truly great quarterback (sorry, A.J. McCarron). Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagobailoa has brought an explosiveness to Alabama’s offense that’s never been seen, which makes some people think this version of the Crimson Tide is the best yet.
Cotton Bowl: #2 Clemson v.s. #3 Notre Dame
This is the only bowl that features two undefeated teams. Clemson is in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year. Those last three trips include a runner-up finish in 2015 and a national championship in 2016. Clemson is led by a nasty defensive line that starts three All-ACC first teamers (Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence) and a third-teamer (Austin Bryant) who will all have their names called early in April’s NFL Draft. The offense has a game breaker at running back in Travis Etienne (1,308 yards, 19 TDs) and a young but talented in quarterback in true freshman Trevor Lawrence, whose completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards with 24 TDs and only 4 INTs. This is Notre Dame’s first invitation to the playoff party and it comes into this matchup as a double-digit underdog. This is because the Fighting Irish’s undefeated run was less dominant, with half of their 12 wins coming by eight points or less. Clemson had only two such close calls out of 13. Notre Dame’s defense, which ranks fifth in points per drive (1.28) and eighth in yards per play (4.4), is ahead of the offense. But if junior quarterback Ian Book and senior running back Dexter Williams get hot, watch out. Book didn’t start until the season’s fourth game and Williams was suspended until the fifth, which negatively skews the offensive numbers a little bit.
Rose Bowl: #6 Ohio State v.s. #9 Washington
For the second straight year, an embarrassingly lopsided loss to a mediocre team cost Ohio State a chance at the playoff. Last year it was a 55-24 defeat to 7-5 Iowa and this year a 49-20 shellacking at the hands of 6-6 Purdue. The Buckeyes sported their worst defense in some time as they allowed 5.6 yards per play (66th in the country) and 1.89 points per drive (40th). Big play prevention was a major problem. Going into the Big 10 Championship game, Ohio State had given up 36 plays of 30-plus yards, seventh-worst in the nation. Washington doesn’t exactly have the explosive type of offense to take advantage of that, though. The Huskies’ senior backfield duo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Miles Gaskin has been a bit disappointing. Browning threw just 16 touchdowns, 27 less than he had when he guided the Huskies to the college football playoff in 2016. Gaskin’s 1,147 rushing yards on the season are the lowest of his career and his 4.9 yards per carry don’t even rank in the top 100 of NCAA backs. The matchup of Ohio State’s offense v.s. Washington’s defense should be strength on strength. Sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins set a Big 10 record with 4,508 passing yards. Washington’s D finished 16th in yards per play and 12th in points per drive.
Peach Bowl: #10 Florida v.s. #7 Michigan
UCF finished its second straight undefeated season and again wasn’t seriously considered for inclusion into the playoff. This means the Golden Knights will be miffed and pumped up to prove their doubters wrong against an LSU team that might not be as excited for this matchup in the desert. UCF lost its best player when quarterback Mckenzie Milton went down with a serious knee injury in the regular season finale, but backup Darriel Mack Jr. was good enough to lead the Golden Knights to a come-from-behind victory in the AAC Championship Game with six total TDs (four rushing, two passing). LSU is a big step up from Memphis, however, and that could be incredibly problematic for UCF’s defense. The Golden Knights fall well short of the gold standard in stopping the run, where they rank 96th in yards per carry allowed. LSU prides itself on being a tough, physical football team and will certainly test that front seven early and often. Group of five teams are 3-1 in New Year’s Six Bowl Games since the advent of the College Football Playoff. UCF beat Auburn 34-27 in last year’s Peach Bowl under similar circumstances and claimed a “national championship” to much uproar. If the Golden Knights do it again, expect another “national championship” parade in Disney World.
Peach Bowl: #10 Florida v.s. #7 Michigan
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