Happy New Year everyone!
Today is the day of the college football playoffs (and some other games) which is always exciting. They sure make the second game end late, but that’s alright, I’ve got enough juice for at least one more late night CFB binge before the offseason.
I’ve written four previews of these playoff games so far. My big overview for Football Outsiders that comes complete with tables showing the statistical breakdowns of these matchups (S&P+ likes the SEC teams in both games).
And then some SB Nation breakdowns of:
Since I was writing for Saturday Down South this season I got a great look at the SEC this season, I always get a great look at Oklahoma every year, and I tried to catch up on Clemson when it became clear they were gonna emerge as the fourth team rather than the flawed but well situated Wisconsin team I had picked.
Before the season I actually picked Auburn (didn’t throw down the field enough), Wisconsin (couldn’t pass protect well enough), Florida State (collapsed like a dying star), and USC (devastated by injuries). So I missed pretty spectacularly. Last postseason though I picked Alabama to roll over Washington and figured Ohio State would grind out a win against Clemson. Before the final I adjusted to what Clemson was capable of and picked them to pull out a victory over Alabama.
This year my reasoning basically boils down to:
Normally Mayfield trumps Stoops but Mayfield got dengue fever or something in New York and now there’s some question as to whether he’ll be 100%. The margins are pretty razor thin with this defense and how much Oklahoma relies on blowing people away with their offense.
Meanwhile Mike Stoops, in what is perhaps his last game coaching the Sooner defense, has his own dilemma…
The central dilemma for Oklahoma in this game is that the structure of their defense is designed to rely on Caleb Kelly near the box to thwart opponents and Georgia’s run game has features to allow them to isolate linebackers and force good overlap play from the safeties. Oklahoma doesn’t have the kind of box safety that Mike Stoops made his name with back in the 90s and 2000s this year, or if they do it’s Caleb Kelly and he’s on the perimeter.
But restructuring the Oklahoma defense for this game is a risky bet since these players have routinely demonstrated that they can’t just absorb and execute whatever Stoops throws at the wall that week. The right call is to play their base 3-4 defense, clog up the interior with their big DL, and hope that Georgia can’t run the ball well enough to match their own offense in a shootout. It’s not a terrible bet, so I’m picking Oklahoma.
Clemson vs Alabama is pretty even.
Alabama is vulnerable, they rely very heavily on their three safeties who are no. 1, 2, and 3 on the team in tackles, which is dicey when facing a team that will force you to play from sideline to sideline and try to pick through weak spots. To score some points in this game Clemson has to find ways to isolate the Alabama linebackers and to do so in a way that leads to explosive plays. I expect to see heavy doses of Hunter Renfrow and wheel routes to the RBs with Deon Cain asked to move the chains on hitches and slants when Alabama leaves their cornerbacks on him without help over the top.
I doubt Clemson scores a ton, but they probably don’t need to. Brent Venables is going to destroy this “Jalen Hurts in a pro-style offense” deal that Alabama has been leaning on. The Tide will score some because they have a good OL and amazing athletes at every skill position as well as at QB. Overall I think the matchups favor Clemson but it worries me that Alabama is less likely to turn it over and more likely to make a game-changing play on special teams.
I’ll take Alabama to eek out a win due to an ill-timed Kelly Bryant interception and then a healthier Baker Mayfield beats the Tide in a shootout for the final while everyone ponders the ramifications for defense.