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College Football Playoff semifinals predictions

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DECEMBER 29, 2016

It has been a little more than three weeks since the final college football rankings were released, and to no surprise, there was debate as to who deserved to be in them. The only way to summarize these final rankings is that conference championships have now become a contributing factor to the playoff system and are likely no longer the determining factor as to who’s in and who’s out.

Regardless of the outcome, this New Year’s Eve will bring forth two exciting semifinal games to wrap up the year.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 4 Washington Huskies (12-1, 8-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0, 9-0)

Alabama comes into this game as the most qualified team to have earned a spot in this year’s playoffs without question. The reason as to why the team was so dominant all season is its outstanding defense. Bama’s defensive stances proved to devastate opposing teams as they were held on average to 11.8 points per game. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the Alabama defense was responsible for scoring nine touchdowns and sacking quarterbacks 45 times.

Having a defense of that caliber would at times overshadow how good of an offense the Crimson Tide had. The offense was led by Jalen Hurts, who went on to throw 2,592 yards and 22 touchdowns. If he wasn’t finding success in the passing game, Hurts used his read option ability to rush for more than 800 yards and make 12 touchdowns.

During one of the rare occasions when the defense slacked, the Alabama offense demonstrated the capability to win a shootout in a 48-43 road win against Ole Miss. It went up against its presumptive best matchups and rolled over them in consecutive weeks in wins over then-No. 9 Tennessee (49-10) and then-No. 6 Texas A&M (33-14). Finally, the Crimson Tide solidified themselves as the complete package when they found a way to win a slugfest versus rival LSU in a 10-0 shutout.

The Washington Huskies, on the other hand, began the season with their 127th-ranked non-conference schedule — an aspect that has loomed over their playoff worthiness as they head into Atlanta as 14-point underdogs.

If anybody has anything to say about this it would definitely be their quarterback, Jake Browning, who’s had a Heisman-like season. Browning threw for 42 touchdowns due in part to receiver John Ross, who caught 17 of them. The Huskies blew by teams with ease, and they will have to rely on these two to get the team going from the start, as well as a defense that leads the FBS with 33 takeaways.

With Alabama being the clear favorite, Washington can only hope its quarterback comes with his best game. Because when Browning doesn’t, the Huskies have been known to stumble as they did with their only defeat against USC.

Prediction: Washington 13, Alabama 31

Playstation Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1)

This matchup is arguably the more intriguing out of the two. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Clemson’s two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson are no doubt going to deliver us a showdown to bring in the new year.

Clemson, like Alabama, brings a stifling defense that is ranked second in the country with 46 sacks. Although their defense has carried the team through much of the year, the Tigers have been shaky — and to some extent, lucky — all season to be in this position. We wouldn’t even be watching them play Saturday if it weren’t for a missed game-winning field goal by NC State’s Kyle Bambard, as another loss would follow to Pittsburgh later in the season.

The Buckeyes were able to sit back with a secure spot during championship week because of how well they responded when they did get challenged. Their non-conference road thumping against then-No. 14 Oklahoma was likely the determining factor as to why they got in. Slipping up against Penn State wasn’t going to be enough to take them out of the final four as their win against then-No. 3 Michigan sealed the team as one of college football’s best.

Now, looking at what it’s going to take to win the bowl game starts with the Buckeyes’ suspect offensive line. They haven’t been able to protect Barrett down the stretch, which has led him to struggle in the pocket. The concern only grows as opposing teams have sacked Barrett 19 times since Oct. 22, which is the third-most in the FBS in that span.

For Clemson, we all know what a dual threat Watson can be. But now that Watson is going up against the sixth-ranked passing protection and 14th-best run defense, it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. The Buckeyes know that Watson isn’t just looking to beat Clemson in the air but will try to utilize his legs and create plays. Ohio State will try to collapse the pocket and see how well Watson can play with patience as he looks for the open lane or wide receiver. This has everything written to be an instant classic, as one can only imagine that it will come down to the last possession.

Prediction: Ohio State 21, Clemson 24

Contact Oscar Oxlaj at [email protected]

DECEMBER 29, 2016