College Football Playoff: Five thoughts on who might be coming to Tampa
The College Football Playoff have announced the two semifinals that will decide who comes to Tampa for the Jan. 9 national championship: No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, and No. 2 Clemson plays No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now that the matchups have sunk in, here are my five thoughts:
1. Washington might not be an easy matchup for ‘Bama after all. Not stylistically. I still think the way to beat the Crimson Tide is through some shifts and formations, like what Florida showed in the SEC Championship, plus a running quarterback. That doesn't sound like Washington. But the Huskies do have some other traits that might help end Alabama's 25-game winning streak. The Tide's defensive weakness is its secondary, and Washington can challenge that. Quarterback Jake Browning is No. 5 nationally in passer rating, and receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis are in the top 10 in touchdown catches. And you can't turn the ball over against ‘Bama and expect to win. The Huskies are plus-21 in turnover margin - No. 1 in the country.
2. The Tampa Bay Tigers will get an enormous test. Clemson's receiving corps - including Artavis Scott (East Lake High), Ray-Ray McCloud (Sickles High) and Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech) - is the best in the country. Which is good for Clemson, because Ohio State's secondary is loaded, too. Only five teams have completed more than 50 percent of their passes against the Buckeyes. Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has revived his career as Ohio State's defensive coordinator; that might get him a head coaching job somewhere between now and the Dec. 31 semifinal.
3. Alabama's Nick Saban is (rightfully) regarded as a game-planning mastermind, but Washington's Chris Petersen isn't too shabby, either. He's 6-3 in bowl games dating back to his time at Boise State, including one of the biggest upsets in college football history - the 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The Tide's coaching staff could have to face the distraction of outside moves, too; offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is in the mix to become the next head coach at Houston.
4. I think Clemson might be able to contain Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel (704 yards, eight touchdowns), but I'm not sure about quarterback J.T. Barrett. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games, and the Tigers' defense has been burned by dual-threat quarterbacks before. Louisville's Lamar Jackson lit Clemson up for 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans rushed for two scores in Saturday's ACC title game.
5. My initial prediction on who's coming to Tampa: ‘Bama and Clemson. Again. The Tigers still seem stuck in a championship-game haze (like Florida State in 2014), but they're loaded with talent and experience. Having Heisman Trophy contender Deshaun Watson at quarterback doesn't hurt, either. And ‘Bama, simply, does everything really, really well. The two teams met for the title game last year, and it was a classic. I'd take another one like that at RayJay next month.