How College Football Playoff Teams Compare
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Before Georgia defensive back Chris Smith sat down for his virtual Orange Bowl press conference, a blue disposable mask covered the lower half of his face.
Even as professional leagues change their schedules due to the Covid-19 outbreaks, the message from the college football playoffs is clear: we will take precautions, but playoff games will not be postponed. If no team is able to compete in the domestic title match in January, no champion will be crowned this season.
Several boules games have been canceled due to outbreaks, but a list of the main boules arrives on Friday and Saturday.
Here’s a look at how the semi-final teams and a few bowl contenders match up:
Every hour in the East.
SEMI-FINALS OF THE College Football Qualifiers
COTTON BOWL: 1 ALABAMA against 4 CINCINNATI
3:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN
The Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0) of the Group of Five erased their opponents from the American Athletic Conference with strong defense. The Bearcats’ playoff resume is highlighted by a declared victory over Notre Dame in October and a win over Houston in the AAC Championship game. New to the playoffs, Cincinnati is looking to become the first team outside of the Power 5 conferences – The Atlantic Coast, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, and the Southeastern – to win it since its debut in 2014.
Alabama (12-1) temporarily quit their position as the nation’s top-ranked team after an October loss to Texas A&M and a narrow victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide returned to the top spot after beating Georgia for the SEC title in one of their best overall performances in a somewhat inconsistent season.
Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winner quarterback Bryce Young led the Crimson Tide’s electrifying passing offense, propelling Alabama to their seventh playoff appearance. When Alabama’s offense stuttered, it was Young’s playing ability that often kept the team out of harm’s way. In the performance that helped secure his status as the nation’s top quarterback, Young threw more than 400 yards against Georgia’s much-vaunted defense.
While Alabama may have the best player in the game in linebacker Will Anderson, a voracious passer, the Bearcats’ defense is experienced and athletic. Cincinnati’s defensive front features two first-team All-AAC defensive linemen, Curtis Brooks and Myjai Sanders, and its secondary has Jim Thorpe award winner (presented to the nation’s top defensive back) Coby Bryant.
Jameson Williams, the explosive receiver for Alabama who transferred from Ohio State, is his main big play threat with more than 1,400 receiving yards this season. Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati, who appears to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, is the kind of cornerback who forces opposing quarterbacks to look elsewhere for receivers. A defensive back who is rarely thrown against a receiver who has been nearly impossible to cover. Who wins?
ORANGE BOWL: 2 MICHIGAN against 3 GEORGIA
7:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN
In the era of the spread of college football, when elite offense typically beats elite defense, Michigan (12-1) and Georgia (12-1) have built their identities on their defenses.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who won a semifinal game but not a championship in the playoff era, has built a historically good defense in the regular season. The Bulldogs allowed just 9.5 points per game as they stomped on every team they faced, with the exception of an embarrassing game against the Crimson Tide in which they allowed 41 points. Alabama featured Bulldogs star defensive lineman Jordan Davis, who won the Bednarik Award (awarded to the nation’s top defensive player). And Georgia’s defense, made up of elite rushers – one of whom, Nakobe Dean, won the Butkus award for the country’s best linebacker – failed to register a sack for the first time this season.
Michigan has the best offensive line in the country, which gave quarterback Cade McNamara the protection he needed to pass over 64 percent of his passes.
The Wolverines’ best player, however, is Aidan Hutchinson, the 265-pound defensive end who is a projected No.1 pick overall. He has 14 sacks this season, a single-season program record, including three against Ohio State. And the attention he commands to the line could make room for players like David Ojabo, the other talented Wolverines edge forward, to make plays.
The Bulldogs were the top-ranked team in the country for much of the season, posting 16 straight wins in two seasons before falling to Alabama in the SEC title game. Michigan’s only record flaw was its loss to Michigan State, but a victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game secured Michigan’s place in the playoffs for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era. Friday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Will be the two teams’ first meeting since 1965.
OTHER BOWL GAMES TO WATCH
FIESTA BOWL: 5 NOTRE DAME against 9 STATE OF OKLAHOMA
1 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Notre Dame (11-1) was still in the playoff race when Brian Kelly, her longtime head coach, left the program to take on the role of Louisiana State Head Coach. Marcus Freeman, the Irish defensive coordinator, was promoted shortly thereafter and will attempt to guide Notre Dame to her first victory in one of the six best New Years bowl games in more than two decades. The Irish opened the season with an overtime victory over Florida State, and their only loss was against Cincinnati. But they will be deprived of their main rusher in Kyren Williams and one of their best defensive weapons, security Kyle Hamilton, both. announcement their plans to skip the bowl game and enter the NFL Draft.
Oklahoma State (11-2) missed the playoff pitch by inches after Baylor’s goal line halted their attempt to touch down goals in the Big 12 Championship game. Coach Mike Gundy’s team was in Iowa State in October. In a conference little known for its defense, the Cowboys led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
ROSE BOWL: 6 OHIO STATE vs. 11 UTAH
5 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Utah (10-3) had never reached the Rose Bowl before winning their first Pac-12 championship in program history to earn a spot for the game in Pasadena, Calif. The Utes won the conference title with a dominant 38-10 victory over Oregon, just two weeks after the Ducks’ 38-7 loss to Salt Lake City. Utah’s strength in attack is his running game, highlighted by running back Tavion Thomas and quarterback Cameron Rising, who is a legitimate threat to the run.
Despite an early loss to Oregon, Ohio State’s playoff aspirations lasted until late November, when they lost to Michigan in a 42-27 blowout. The Buckeyes (10-2) will play at the Rose Bowl for the first time under coach Ryan Day. Led by freshman quarterback CJ Stroud and his top receiving targets, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Ohio State had one of the best offensives in the country. Olave and Wilson opted out of the Rose Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft, leaving Smith-Njigba, who has led the team in receiving yards this season.
SUGAR BOWL: 7 BAYLOR vs 8 MISSISSIPPI
8:45 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Mississippi worked their way to a 10-2 season behind one of the nation’s most powerful passing attacks. Quarterback Matt Corral threw over 3,000 yards to lead the Rebels to their first major appearance in a Lane Kiffin-era bowl.
Baylor have a solid running game and defense that kept them in the domestic top 10 despite losing two. After going 2-7 in coach Dave Aranda’s first season, Baylor went 11-2 in 2021, including a season-ending victory over Oklahoma State. The Bears’ goal line stoppage on the fourth down barred the Cowboys from making the playoffs and secured the Big 12 title for Baylor.
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