The time has finally come for college football that really matters – the College Football Playoff.
Really, it’s the only thing we should take seriously during bowl season, even if your favorite school or alma mater happened to earn a berth in the Boca Raton or New Mexico Bowl. We’ve lived through – and still must endure – countless bowl games with strange sponsors (Cheribundi?) and half-empty stadiums.
But now the fun begins.
So, let’s hope Saturday’s two semifinal games will, at the very least, be entertaining. That’s all we should expect.
The obvious storyline in this one surrounds star Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, who along with two of his teammates, will miss the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. Whether or not to believe Lawrence’s story that he had no clue why he failed the test can fill another 500 words, so forget about breaking that down.
What fans probably want to know is if not having Lawrence (44 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles) will make a difference. Las Vegas does not think so. As of late Thursday evening, Clemson (13-0) was a 10-point favorite over the Irish.
Keep in mind, the Tigers have three other dominant front-line defenders in Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. They are far more than one man, and should be good enough to overcome the loss.
While we know Notre Dame (12-0) could have its hands full with that Clemson defense (13.7 points per game allowed), it will be just as interesting to see if it can stop the Tigers offense. That unit is averaging 45.4 points, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence has not played like a freshman.
So, do the Irish have a legitimate chance at pulling off the upset?
Anything is possible, but remember back to the 2012 season when Notre Dame was routed 42-14 by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. It’s tough to get those images of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon running wild over the Irish, and easy to believe they may be in store for another long day.
That Notre Dame squad had a defense that allowed 10.3 points per game, this one is giving up 17.3 a contest. Not shabby, but will it be tough enough to keep this game interesting for more than a half?
This is the big one, though, if only to see Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa on the same field in the biggest game to date for both teams. The difference is Alabama’s defense is one of the best in the nation (14.9 average points, 295.4 yards allowed) and Oklahoma’s one of the worst (32.4 points, 448.1 yards allowed).
That’s a major reason the Crimson Tide (13-0) are giving 14 points to the Sooners (12-1). However, that does not mean this matchup won’t be entertaining. This very well could end up being a high-scoring affair, especially if Murray and Co. catch fire early.
That all makes this game quite intriguing. And there is perhaps something else – or someone else – to keep an eye on: the role Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts will play.
A lot has been made this week about whether Hurts’ collegiate football future will be in Alabama. For the moment, however, Tagovailoa’s ankle is not 100 percent and won’t be at game time. Hurts helped the Crimson Tide win the SEC title game in relief and could be asked to again come out of the bullpen for the save in this one. Then again, Alabama’s third-string signal-caller might be able to take down that Sooners defense.
In the end, we should only ask these four teams to simply entertain us and set the stage for what we hope is another memorable championship game.