The New Year’s Six Starts TODAY! Our College Football Playoff Semifinal matchups take place tonight, with a battle of traditional powerhouses to start us off in the Peach Bowl. Here are my selections for the day:
(7) Michigan over (10) Florida | 12/29, 12:00pm ESPN
The New Years’ Six opens up with a clash of schools rooted in history. The Wolverines and the Gators. They have played each other only four times in history, all of which coming in this century, and will be playing for the second consecutive season (and third time in four seasons; previously 2016 Citrus Bowl and 2017 Advocare Classic). When we last saw Michigan, they went down in stunning fashion at the horseshoe to Ohio State, dashing their Big Ten title and Playoff hopes; meanwhile, Florida has rebounded off of their back to back home losses to Georgia and Missouri, with three straight wins against South Carolina, Idaho, and a blowout win at Florida State. While not the most impressive stretch of games, their season has been one of success, with wins at Mississippi State and against then #5 LSU. Both teams are very similar in their dynamic, each carry a dynamic passing attack with a running game to back it up. But, the biggest difference comes in their defenses, with the Wolverines winning on that side by a great margin. While there is a dynamic nature to the Florida defense, which they’ve provided many times, can they get a stop once the Michigan offense starts rolling? I think not.
Virginia over South Carolina | 12/29, 12:00pm ABC
Always a treat to watch, the Belk Bowl brings in two programs that are on the rebuild in their respective conferences. The Gamecocks are only a few pieces away from being a mid-level contender in the SEC West while the Cavaliers showed their ability earlier this year, but faded into the background in the weak ACC. The Belk Bowl gives us a glimpse into this matchup of 7-5 teams, both very evenly matched, and see where the future will lie between them. Virginia has fallen after two back-to-back overtime losses on the road, and is still seeking just its second win away from home. Meanwhile, South Carolina has shown a bit of their ability with QB Jake Bentley, but with the turnovers they’ve had this season, it’s easy to see why their record is what it is. A few less turnovers and this season could have been very different. This will be a battle of who can keep the ball, and I find Virginia to be a bit more reliable in that sense, and more reliable in forcing turnovers.
Arkansas State over Nevada | 12/29, 1:15pm CBSSN
A very close game is expected in Tucson when the Wolfpack and the Red Wolves faceoff at Arizona Stadium. Nevada won the inaugural edition of this game in 2015 and looks to take their second with a record of one better. They looked enroute to five straight to end the season until they lost a close one in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon against rival UNLV. As for Arkansas State, their season was defined by wins against all their easy opponents and four losses to Alabama, App State, Georgia Southern, and UL Lafayette. This will be their toughest ask since that game against the Ragin’ Cajuns. I liked this Nevada team earlier in the year – a team that could score easily and was in the game with anyone, but they haven’t shown me enough lately to warrant that type of pick here.
Cotton Bowl Classic – First Semifinal
(2) Clemson over (3) Notre Dame | 12/29, 4:00pm ESPN
Our first College Football Playoff Semifinal Game will take us to Jerry World for a matchup of two great defenses. The Fighting Irish and the Tigers have met each other three times, with a home-and-home series in ’77 and ’79 starting it off and then most recently in 2015, with Clemson getting the edge in Death Valley 24-22. This season has a different feel for both squads; Notre Dame has built themselves up playing a more modern offensive style with a quick defense (much different than that 2012 team) while Clemson has become a high-powered offense under freshman wonder Trevor Lawrence, while their defense hasn’t missed a step. Both Brian Kelly and Dabo Swinney have their schools in positions to continue this success for years to come… but next year is meaningless in the scope of Saturday. Clemson will be without Dexter Lawrence, who is suspended after a drug test came back with traces of a banned substance; I can’t see this being too much of an effect on the defensive line, with the amount of depth that this team has – Higgins and Wilkins have been stars for Clemson all season and have produced just as well if not better than Lawrence has. It is a loss, but one that this team can easily overcome. Meanwhile, Ian Book’s team has been phenomenal on offense since he has taken over – they’ve controlled the game and possession throughout the season and have made it difficult for teams to catch-up. By far, this will be their toughest ask though. This will be the most well put together team either side has faced this season. It is hard to pick a winner here, with many unknowns. Notre Dame has played better football throughout the season, but the running game of Clemson with Travis Etienne and one of the most ferocious defenses in the nation will be the undoing for the Irish. Tigers march on for a matchup in the National Title Game.
Orange Bowl – Second Semifinal
(4) Oklahoma over (1) Alabama | 12/29, 8:00pm ESPN
Boomer Sooner. Roll Tide. Two storied programs – 24 National Championships, 9 Heisman winners, and 154 Consensus All-Americans between them, two premier coaches in Nick Saban and Lincoln Riley, and two fan bases that are louder than almost any other will set the stage in Miami for what may be the best Orange Bowl we have seen in many years. One of the biggest keys to this game will lie with what Alabama’s offense can do. While Tua believes that he will be healthy and at 100% for the game, his ability resides in the strength that he has in his legs, hips, knees, and ankles. His throw is very much like hitting a home run in baseball, a lot of momentum change and hip movement from his back foot to his front foot. Anything less than 100% and this offense will look much like it did for three quarters against Georgia. Jalen Hurts would be better suited to run this offense, but I don’t think he has what it takes to win this game. On the other side of the field, Heisman winner Kyler Murray looks to cap off his football career with a National Championship. The Big 12-style offense that Lincoln Riley runs has been potent and much is due to Kyler’s ability with his legs, extending plays and finding ways to score when the passing option is out the window. However, the key will be with running back Kennedy Brooks. Getting a running game going against Alabama, and finding ways to get Brooks into the offense, is a major way to beat this Crimson Tide team. Take a tip from FCS The Citadel, which ran the ball with much success over Alabama in the first half of their game – which was 10-10 at the half. SEC teams have tried to pass against the Crimson Tide secondary, with little success, but if Brooks can get going, that should open up the deep ball of Kyler Murray, and put away Saban and Alabama. This should be the changing of the guards style game in Miami.