The 2015 College Football Playoff Promises To Be Incredible

On Sunday the two matchups for the second College Football Playoff were announced. The No. 1 seed Clemson Tigers will the face No. 4 seed Oklahoma Sooners at 4 p.m. Eastern in the Capital One Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, the No. 2 seed, will face off against the third seeded Michigan State Spartans in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at 8 p.m., also on New Year’s Eve. Both games will be televised on ESPN.

Both games look to be great matchups, but there are also some interesting off the field storylines that will make this year’s college football playoff even more interesting than last year.

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma: This game is a rematch of last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl during which Clemson stomped Oklahoma 40 to 6. It was a sweet win for Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who faced his former team for the first time since he was fired in 2011. Clemson dominated the game from the very beginning as Oklahoma only managed to gain 275 yards of total offense.

Clemson hopes to do the same thing this year as it again boasts one of the nation’s best defenses. Led by players such as defensive tackle Shaq Lawson and safety Jayron Kearse Jr., Clemson has the nation’s 5th ranked passing defense, is 7th in total yards allowed per game, and has recorded over 38 sacks, good enough for 12th in the nation (NCAA statistics).

But outside of North Carolina and Florida State, Clemson hasn’t’ faced an offense as good and with as many athletes as Oklahoma’s.

But Clemson’s offense is just as good if not better this year under the reigns of true sophomore quarterback and Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson.

Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney have had a great season and have finally put to rest the slur of “Clemsoning”.

Last year, Watson missed the bowl game after tearing and playing with a partially torn ACL during the season’s final month, but he’s been playing like a man possessed this year. Watson won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year award, as he threw for 3500 yards, rushed for nearly 900, accounting for 41 touchdowns.

Bob Stoops looks to get some payback for last year’s embarrassing lose and earn a shot to win his second national championship. The Sooners’ offense, under the direction of coordinator Lincoln Riley, has torched teams in the air and on the ground. Former walk-on Baker Mayfield, considered by many to be a Heisman snub, has played fantastic and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon (a coveted high school player who sat out his freshman year for a domestic violence incident) are two of the better backs in the country. Senior wide out Sterling Shephard has also been one of the best wide receivers in the country during his four years in Norman.

Despite the Big 12’s reputation as pass happy, basketball on turf, Oklahoma fielded one of the better defensive units in the nation. The Sooners held opposing offenses to less than 21 points per game, recorded the 4th most sacks in the nation (38), and forced 26 turnovers (NCAA statistics). Eric Striker, properly named, is one of the nation’s premier pass-rushing linebackers, and cornerback Zack Sanchez has recorded six interceptions this year.

With two high powered offenses I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned into a track meet where the team with the ball last wins.

But if it’s soggy or raining in Miami, defense could ultimately determine who wins.

Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney have had a great season and have finally put to rest “Clemsoning”, but I’m going with Oklahoma in this game. The Sooners are much more battle tested after having played in a fairly strong schedule against the Big 12 and a decent Tennessee team out of conference.

Final score prediction: Oklahoma 42-Clemson 35

#2 Alabama vs #3 Michigan State: Clemson and Oklahoma will be fast paced with lots of scoring, but this game will be more reminiscent of “old man football”. Both teams like to play smash-mouth football by running the ball down opponents’ throats on offense and stifling them with tough defense.

This game features another matchup of a coach going against his former school as Nick Saban leads the Crimson Tide against the Spartans. From 1995-1999 Saban led Michigan State and also employed current Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio. These two teams last met in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, a 49-7 Alabama victory.

These teams are so similar in regards to their playing style and philosophies, but Alabama just has better talent.

The Crimson Tide really has only one strategy on offense: giving Derrick Henry the ball. Henry has been a monster this year, shredding defenses on his way to one of the best seasons in the history of college football. Even when they know it’s coming, defenses have been unable to stop him. He broke Herschel Walker’s single season SEC rushing record with 1,986 yards and his 23 rushing touchdowns are currently tied for the SEC record with Tim Tebow and Tre Mason.

With teams selling out to limit the rushing attack and Henry, Alabama has enough of a passing attack to make them pay.

Jacob Coker hasn’t lived up to the enormous hype and expectations of Alabama fans, but he does enough to win games by avoiding turnovers and scrambling to avoid sacks. Calvin Ridley, a talented true freshman wide receiver, emerged as a playmaker alongside Ardarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard.

What hasn’t already been said about Alabama’s defense? Arguably the most talented front seven in the nation, the Crimson Tide are loaded on the defensive side of the ball.

In the secondary, Eddie Jackson has flourished after a move from corner to safety and Cyrus Jones has become an elite corner and return man. Linebacker Reggie Ragland draws comparisons to Bama greats Don’t’a Hightower and CJ Mosely, while the defensive line has potential NFL first round draft picks Johnathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, and Jarran Reed. This defense is simply lights out with the only concern being Kirby Smart’s possible source of distraction as he tries to balance his new job as Georgia’s head coach.

Michigan State follows a blueprint similar to Alabama on both offense and defense. Senior quarterback Connor Cook was receiving preseason Heisman buzz, but battled injuries and inconsistency all year. As the winningest QB in Spartan history, Cook has big game experience and when he’s hot he can beat anyone in the country. True freshman LJ Scott, the hero of the Big 10 Championship game, emerged as the leading running back this year and looks to continue his success against the best run defense in the nation.

Although they lost some talent to the NFL last year, Michigan State once again had one of the best defenses in the nation. Shilique Calhoun was a terror on the defensive line as he tallied up 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss and the Spartans ranked 7th in the nation in rush defense and turnovers forced.

These teams are so similar in regards to their playing style and philosophies, but Alabama just has better talent.

Michigan State prides itself on recruiting overlooked players to develop and coach up, while Alabama annually recruits the best athletes in the nation and produces numerous NFL draft picks. If this were 2013 or last year, I think Michigan State would have a great chance to win this game but they’ve been inconsistent at times this year (struggled against Western Michigan, barely beat Michigan, and lost to Nebraska). Meanwhile, Alabama has been out for blood since their home loss to Ole Miss in September.

Final score prediction: Alabama 23-Michigan State 10

Cover Photo Credit: John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr (CC by –SA 2.0).

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About the Author
Sean Moran currently a junior history major/biology minor at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. Sean enjoys reading works by Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy, hunting, and dreams of a day where Star Trek and Star Wars fans can admit that both franchises are awesome in their own way. On Twitter @SEANPM_61

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