By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Saturday, December 31st
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl – CFP Semifinal – Alabama (13-0) vs. Washington (12-1) 3PM ESPN
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Line: Alabama -14
Alabama Points For: 40.5 Points Against: 11.8
Washington PF: 44.5 PA: 17.2
Alabama had another dominant season. It’s becoming very redundant at this point, but after a while you just have to admire and respect what the Crimson Tide have done since 2009. They’ve won 4 titles since then, including last year’s championship victory over Clemson. Last year Alabama lost to Ole Miss in the regular season and in 2009 they went 14-0, but if Alabama runs the table this year, they will be the first team in college football history to go 15-0. Washington, Clemson and Ohio State all fell to a conference opponent during the season this year, Alabama did not. And they were only really tested two times, at Ole Miss and at LSU.
If Alabama wins this game, it will be with its fourth different starting quarterback. Greg McIlroy was the QB in 2009, A.J. McCarron in 2011 and 2012, and last year it was Jake Coker. This year, true freshman Jalen Hurts took over, and the offense didn’t skip a beat. Some might say it was more dynamic than in years past. Hurts broke a few QB records at Alabama this season. He was the first Alabama QB to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 in a game (against Mississippi State) and he set the record for most rushing yards by a QB in one season in a week 11 victory against Chattanooga. He finished the season with 34 total touchdowns and 841 yards rushing. WR’s ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley and TE O.J. Howard are his favorite targets.
Alabama’s defense is another unit where the names keep changing, but the results stay the same. This season the defense was led by Jonathan Allen. Some thought that Allen should have been the defensive representative in NY at the Heisman Trophy ceremony, not Michigan’s Jabril Peppers. Allen had 8.5 sacks this season and 13 tackles for loss. Tim Williams (8.5 sacks) and Ryan Anderson (7.5) were the ones terrorizing the opposing QB when Allen wasn’t. Minkah Fitzpatrick led the team with 5 interceptions.
Washington was supposed to take the next step this season, and be better than a 6-7 win team in Chris Petersen’s third year as Head Coach from Boise State. The Pac-12 was supposed to be a very deep league this year with Oregon, USC, UCLA, Stanford and Utah all candidates to win the league along with Washington. Washington separated themselves from the rest of the pack very early.
After beating up on a few out of conference cupcakes, Washington’s first true test came on a Friday night at home against Stanford. The Huskies throttled Stanford 44-6 and that’s when people really started paying attention. They followed that up by hanging 70 on an Oregon team that had just started to fall off a cliff. Their only other true tests came against USC (their only loss, 26-13) and at Utah (a hard fought 31-24 win). They creamed Washington State on the road 45-17 in what was one of the most anticipated Apple Cup’s in recent memory and then took apart Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game with ease, 41-10.
Washington’s offense is led by QB Jake Browning. Browning totaled 46 touchdowns and only threw 7 interceptions. Three times he has thrown at least 5 touchdowns in a game. He had a rough two game stretch against USC and Arizona State where he threw 4 interceptions with only 3 touchdowns. Take away those two games and he was lights out with 39 passing touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. Browing’s two favorite targets are John Ross (76-1,122-17) and Dante Pettis (50-796-14). They are very well balanced on offense as RB Myles Gaskin rushed for 1,339 yards and 10 touchdowns and Lavon Coleman added 836 and 7.
The Huskies are led on defense by dynamic defensive back Budda Baker. Baker is usually all over the field. He was 2nd on the team in total tackles with 64, and added 2 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions as well. The team totaled 36 sacks as a whole unit.
There is absolutely no reason to doubt either team or how they got here. Alabama did it by completely dominating for 90% of the season and making good opponents look average or bad at times. But Washington is not just a good team; they are a great team and a worthy opponent. They will not just roll over and die in this game. They believe they belong on the same field as Alabama. Alabama’s fans might be taking Washington lightly, but you can bet Nick Saban and his players aren’t. I’m sure if Saban had any indication that this was the case in the preparation leading up to this game, all he would have to do is turn on the tape from 2014’s game against Ohio State. This game will be closer than the line suggests, but much to the chagrin of the rest of the country, Alabama will prevail.
Alabama 34 Washington 24
Saturday, December 31st
Playstation Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State (11-1) vs. Clemson (12-1) 7PM ESPN
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Line: Ohio State -2
Ohio State PF: 42.7 PA: 14.2
Clemson PF: 40.8 PA: 18.4
Ohio State has looked like the best team in the country at times this season, and their resume backs that up. Their resume is also one of the reasons that they are playing in this game even though they didn’t even play in their Conference championship game, and even though their only loss of the season came at the hands of Penn State who was the Big 10 Champion. But no other team in the country has the collection of wins that Ohio State has. Ohio State beat Tulsa, Oklahoma on the road, Wisconsin on the road, Nebraska at home and Michigan at home in one of the season’s best games. The loss to Penn State was shocking, but Penn State has been rolling since then, and finished the season as the #5 team in the country, so it’s a little more excusable now.
QB J.T. Barrett had a better season than last year, but not quite as good as two years ago. Barrett is extremely excited to be leading the Buckeyes in this year’s semifinal after watching Cardale Jones lead the team to a championship two years ago when Barrett broke his ankle in the season finale against Michigan. He didn’t have his best game of the season against Michigan this year, but he got it done when it mattered the most. RB’s Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, along with Barrett combined for 26 rushing touchdowns. When Barrett is putting the ball in the air, Samuel and WR Noah Brown are his favorite targets. Safety Malik Hooker had 6 interceptions and 5 tackles for loss on the season and he’ll be tasked with trying to slow down Clemson’s high powered offense.
A lot of experts have been comparing this year’s Clemson squad to the 2014 Florida State team. A veteran team that didn’t quite play to the level that they are capable of playing at times, but still scratching out wins throughout the season. The difference is that Clemson was actually tested by some pretty good teams this year. Florida State’s schedule in 2014 wasn’t nearly as tough as what Clemson faced this season.
They tested themselves at Auburn, and also played Sun Belt Conference Champion Troy. They had the toughest cross division schedule in the ACC, playing Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, and then beat Virginia Tech in the conference championship game. In conference the only team they played that did not make a bowl game was Syracuse. They even ended the season with a 56-7 win over in-state rival South Carolina, who also made a bowl game. They don’t have the high end wins that Ohio State does, but they probably have the best collection of total wins in the country.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson returned to NY as a Heisman Trophy finalist this year and followed up last year’s 3rd place finish with a 2nd place finish this season. If he returns next year will he finish first? Chances are Tiger fans won’t have the option of finding that out. Watson is almost for sure going to declare for the NFL draft whenever his season ends. Clemson is hoping that it won’t be tomorrow and that they’ll get another shot at winning the title, maybe even a rematch against Alabama.
Ben Boulware is the defensive star for Clemson. He led the team with 105 total tackles, 9 for loss and 4 QB sacks. Carlos Watkins led the team with 8.5 QB sacks and Jadar Johnson led the team with 5 interceptions. While Clemson’s defense struggled at times to stop very good offenses (giving up a total of 148 points to Louisville, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech), they are very athletic and do have a ton of playmakers.
Yesterday I said that the Orange Bowl was the 2nd best scheduled bowl game, second only to this semifinal game. Well the Orange Bowl set a pretty high bar with a crazy 4th quarter and 33-32 final. While you can’t get any closer than 1 point, save for a possible overtime game, I do think that this game will live up to the hype and be one for the ages.
Clemson 33 Ohio State 30
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