After an exciting slate of conference championship games, the 13-member College Football Playoff Selection Committee, led by University of Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullins, had the challenge of choosing which teams would participate in the fifth College Football Playoff.
With Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame undefeated, their trips to the playoffs were assured, while the final spot was widely debated. The candidates were SEC runner-up Georgia, Big 12 Champion Oklahoma and Big Ten Champion Ohio State.
While Georgia had the most challenging schedule, and played Alabama closely, Ohio State’s wins over Penn State and Michigan were the most impressive of the three teams in contention for the final playoff slot.
The committee selected Oklahoma, who avenged its only loss all season to Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Alabama Crimson Tide:
Alabama was the most dominant team in college football this season. Running backs Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs lead a deep and versatile rushing attack. Offensive lineman Jonah Williams is one of the best in college football, and Alabama’s receiving core is as deep as any in college football.
Their defense is littered with NFL talent. If there is any chance to beat Alabama, Georgia had the blueprint on December 1 in the SEC Championship game. They were not afraid to attack one-on-one match ups downfield and avoided turning the football over.
Clemson’s season has not been easy, but an undefeated season has them in the playoff for the fourth straight season. While quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been outstanding in replacing Kelly Bryant, maybe the best true freshman quarterback in recent college football history, Clemson’s offense has been powered by running back Travis Etienne. Etienne earned ACC Player of the Year recognition and had 1463 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. Clemson has the best defensive line in college football, with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant expected to be top picks among defensive linemen in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Clemson’s secondary, which gave up over 500 passing yards to Jake Bentley and South Carolina, is its biggest weakness.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish:
The only team in the field making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame is the ultimate wild card. Since they also do not have any conference affiliation, they are the most difficult team to measure.
The Irish elevated to another gear when they made a quarterback change to Ian Book. In the nine games since, they scored more than 24 points in all of their games except two. The emergence of running back Dexter Williams has helped round out the Irish offense, averaging 117 yards on the ground per game since his debut against Stanford.
Led by 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and first overall draft pick quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners had the most dangerous offense in college football. In 2018, the Sooners offense still carries that title.
Quarterback Kyler Murray’s play this year has matched, and maybe exceeded Mayfield’s play. Murray has accounted for 4945 total yards and 51 touchdowns, putting him near the top of the Heisman conversation. Two of Murray’s weapons, receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb provide a difficult matchup for opposing secondaries.
Oklahoma struggles defensively, and gives up an average of 448 yards per game, which ranks 108 out of 130 FBS teams. Before the Big 12 Championship, there was a stretch where Oklahoma’s opponents scored 46, 47, 40, and 56 points.
Orange Bowl, Alabama vs. Oklahoma:
While Brown and Lamb should be able to win some one-on-one match-ups that Murray should be able to capitalize on, I expect Alabama to make enough stops to put the game in the hands of their offense, which should score with ease against the Sooners. Watch out for speedy wide receiver Jaylen Waddle to have a few big plays in this game. Alabama 45, Oklahoma 28.
Cotton Bowl, Clemson vs. Notre Dame:
I think this game will be lower scoring than most people think, at least early on. But in important moments, I expect Clemson’s defensive front to make a significant impact in this game, and Trevor Lawrence will have breakout moments late in the game to push the Tigers toward another championship game against Alabama. Clemson 31, Notre Dame 17.
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