Football Playoff Game Breakdowns

Alabama College Football

Football Playoff Game Breakdowns

After much debate, prognostication, and metric evaluations, the first-ever FBS college football playoff bracket was unveiled Sunday afternoon.  It took the committee two months to determine whom they believed were the best four teams in the FBS.  It appears that in their first go-round, the committee got it right.

The seeding is as follows: 1. Alabama, 2. Oregon 3. Florida State, 4. Ohio State.  The committee’s job was made a little bit easier by Alabama and Oregon decimating their opponents in their respective championship games. Florida State, for as shaky as they have looked at points this season, also left no doubt as they remain the only undefeated team in the FBS after grinding out a nice win against Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. The fourth seed was really the wild-card.  After Ohio State stunned everyone by routing Wisconsin 59-0, they vaulted over the Big 12’s top two (Baylor and TCU) to earn the Big Ten Championship and a berth in the playoff. 

There is much debate over whether or not Baylor (No. 5) and TCU (No. 6) deserved to get into the tournament. Just last week TCU was slotted at No. 3. Ultimately, the committee weighed quality conference championship games over the Big 12 teams’ body of work.  In fact, committee chairman Jeff Long said as much in his interview with ESPN.  It is easy to come up with reasons why one team should get in over another.  Metrics and “the eye test” vary depending on whom is doing the evaluating.  At the end of the day, it is hard to argue against dominant performances from the Big Four conference champions.  Any way you look at it, it appears the committee got it right.  Let’s take a closer look at the semi-final matchups:


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State, January 1st, 8:30 ET

What sticks out more than anything about this matchup is the battle between arguably the best two coaches in the country.  Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have won everywhere they have coached.  Now at two of the most storied college football programs in the country, every year is a battle for a national championship.  What better way to determine a champion than to have two heavyweights going against each other. 

Alabama boasts a stout run defense that will attempt to shutdown Ezekiel Elliott and company.  Quarterback Blake Sims has had a great season after replacing AJ McCarron. Ever since his third interception against Auburn, he has been playing unbelieveable football. He has been smart and has thrown some deep balls with beautiful touch. It helps that he is throwing to Amari Cooper, the best wide receiver in the country. Big with great hands, Cooper can generally be penciled in for eight catches a game. He is a matchup problem for any defense. This is an Alabama team firing on all cylinders at the right time of the season.

What Ohio State has done is remarkable. Down to their third quarterback, they dominated a very good Wisconsin team. Cardale Jones went 12-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s pretty impressive for a guy in his first start. For as much credit as Ohio State’s defense gets – and it should get a ton of credit; they limited Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon to less than 100 yards rushing – this offense is among the best. Elliott has 1,402 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Their best outside receiver, Devin Smith, generally determines their fate. When he scores, the Buckeyes don’t lose. No matter who is under center, this offense hums along seemingly without issue. Jones passed his first test at quarterback. Now, going against their toughest opponent this season, how will he do?

It’s going to be a great matchup. Ohio State has not played anyone close to Alabama’s caliber this year, so it will be a good test for them. As good as Alabama is, they have been susceptible to deep throws. Look at the Auburn game. Jones will have to find Smith early and often to really apply the pressure to the Crimson Tide. It should be a good one.

Prediction:  Alabama 31, Ohio State 24


No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State, January 1st, 5:00 ET

Whereas the first matchup is about a coaching chess match, this one is about the quarterbacks. Jameis Winston of Florida State is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Marcus Mariota of Oregon is all but assured his own Heisman this weekend in New York. Winston has never lost as a college quarterback. Mariota has been responsible for nearly 40 touchdowns this season. There will be an epic highlight reel after this one.

Both teams play fast, but Oregon runs more spread and gets their players in open space to attack with their great speed. Freshman running back Royce Freeman is a stud. His ability to get yards after contact is phenomenal. Between Freeman, Mariota, Thomas Tyner, and freshman Charles Nelson, the Ducks have a lot of options on offense that help keep a defense running ragged. They are without their best receiver in Pharoah Brown, but they have so many weapons it is difficult to notice who is missing. The offense will get their yardage (third nationally at 546 yards per game). It will be up to the defense to play over their heads. If the defense can play like it did against Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game, then this team will be hard to beat. They held an explosive Wildcat offense to 3-of-15 on third down and only 3.2 yards per rush. They must be just as stout against a physical offense in Florida State.

The Seminoles certainly have a gripe being seeded third when they have a zero in the loss column. They have not been dominant this season like they were last season. Often times they would find themselves in a significant deficit in the second half of games this season, only to stage incredible comebacks and walk away as winners. The spotlight is always on Winston. His off-the-field antics are baffling. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has to reel him in sometimes. On the football field though, Winston hones in. This season has not been nearly as good as last year for the sophomore, but he finds ways to win. He makes plays and can fire the ball down field as well as anybody in the country. He has top-level receivers in Greg Reid, who is an exceptionally big target, and Nick O’Leary, his sure-handed tight end who has been on fire recently. Perhaps most importantly for the offense has been the emergence of freshman Dalvin Cook. He took over the game against Georgia Tech. Every time the Seminoles needed a first down, he was their man. He will be key moving forward. 

This will be an interesting game. At first glance it looks like this game will be a shootout. The X-factor is going to be the defenses. Florida State has a much better defense than Oregon, but they have not been locking teams down this season like they did last season. For Oregon, the question is which defense will show up, the one against Arizona the first game or the one that shut them down the second game? One thing is for sure: both of these defenses are sure to be winded late in the game. There is going to be a lot of vertical running. It’s going to come down to which stellar quarterback makes more plays than his counterpart. They have contrasting styles, but they do have one important trait in common:  they win.

Prediction:  Oregon 42, Florida State 38


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