The greatest week of the year is here!! College Football Playoff week (also Christmas is good too) but real college football fans are more excited about this Saturday! Arguably the best group of teams we have had in the playoff yes, at least on paper. This year, for the first time features three undefeated teams in the playoffs and unless Oklahoma wins it all will feature our first undefeated National Champion of the College Football Playoff era.
The first game of the day is the match up between Clemson and Notre Dame in a battle of unbeaten schools taking place in Dallas TX. Shortly following that game we will have the other match up between the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide and the Big12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners. Below I will give a breakdown of each game and what to expect.
Clemson vs Notre Dame
Clemson comes into this game a 13 point favorite and have rolled basically everyone they have played this year. Clemson had a 2 point win over Texas A&M week two and a 4 point win over Syracuse but besides they haven't had any other games within 20. Notre Dame on the other had have been in some very close games this year including a 7 point win over USC, 5 point win over Pitt, 5 point win over Vanderbilt, and an 8 point win over Ball State. This could play in favor of the Irish especially if it is a close game late because they have been in that spot before and have much more experience than Clemson closing out close games, at least this season.
As you can see from the graphic above, Clemson beats out Notre Dame in every single offensive and defensive category, which really doesn't surprise me considering the way Clemson has pretty much blown out every opponent they have played. The numbers aren't that far off really, I mean Clemson out passes Notre Dame for less than 5 yards per game and gives up less than 50 total yards per game than the Irish.
One thing I notice about Clemson is how balanced they are both on offense and defense. The Tigers average over 250 yards on the ground and through the air which is rarely done in college football and on defense give up less than 200 yards a game through the air and less than 100 yards a game on the ground. Like I said, Notre Dame isn't that far off and they show good balance on both sides of the ball as well.
I think Clemson is definitely the better team here and I don't think many people out of South Bend would disagree especially what we have seen of the Tigers lately. That being said I do think Notre Dame can win this game and it won't necessarily take a miracle to do so. At the end of the day the Irish are still undefeated and find way to win ball games no matter if they are playing Michigan or Vanderbilt. For Notre Dame its going to be important to stay balanced on offense and slow down Clemson when the Tigers have the ball.
I know you're thinking that is a pretty obvious statement but what I mean by that is, when Notre Dame has the ball they need to stay committed to the run. Clemson has one of the top run defenses early and if Notre Dame starts out with say 14 yards on 8 carries in the first quarter they may just start throwing a lot. I think Notre Dame needs to continue to run and get creative on how they run because if they end up passing 4/5 plays in the second half I think Clemson's secondary and pass rush will eat up Ian Book. On the other side of the ball like I said just slow down the Clemson offense. Don't come in expecting to shut out the tigers or do too much because that's how you get beat. Just slow them down, keep everything in front of you and if you can turn a couple of TD's into field goals then you may have a chance late in the game to go all out and make a big stop for the win.
Like I said, Clemson is the better team and it will take a great game by the Irish to pull this one out and I just don't see that happening. Notre Dame has yet to play an entire game up to their full potential really and any mistakes against Clemson will be deadly. I like Clemson pulling this one out 41-17 over the Irish.
Alabama vs Oklahoma
The second game of the day I think is the more anticipated of the two games just because of the fact that it features a match up of the Heisman winner and Heisman runner up. It also features one of the best offenses in college football history against one of the best defensive minds in college football history. Heading into this week, Alabama sits at a 14 point favorite but the health status of Tua Tagovailoa is still in question. The Alabama QB is expected to play but after a few lower body injuries that have piled up over the course of the year it will be interesting to see how effective he is. If unable to perform at his full potential it could open things up for a struggling Oklahoma defense to make a few big plays.
Looking at the numbers above you'll notice the offenses are both fairly similar in their numbers and approach. Each side has nearly identical pass numbers with Oklahoma rushing for about 50 yards more per game. The other side of the ball is where it's different. I know you have heard all year about how bad Oklahoma's defense is and about how they are only that bad because they are in the Big 12 but Oklahoma ranks 108th out of 130 FBS teams in yards allowed per game and 96th in points allowed per game. To say it's just because they are in the Big 12 is a bad excuse because they are second to last in the Big 12 in terms of points per game allowed and that's without playing the best offense in the league...their own.
With Notre Dame I said don't try to make the big play and just slowly slow down the Clemson offense. With Oklahoma my advice is the exact opposite. The Oklahoma defense will not be able to stop Alabama if they try to just slowly work the ball down the field. You look at Oklahoma's past two games against Texas and WV and the defense has made one or two huge plays each game to seal the win and that's what they need. Oklahoma will need a few turnovers and probably a defensive or special teams score to beat Alabama which is easier said than done but for Oklahoma stopping Alabama it doesn't mean keeping them out of the end zone, it means keeping them off the score board or end zone every few drives.
For Alabama it will just come down to making a stop or two against Kyler Murray and then making Oklahoma one dimensional by having an early lead. I think the Alabama defense this year isn't quite as good as it has been the past few years especially in the secondary so it will be very important to keep Kyler Murray contained and make him a pocket passer and limit his running.
Overall I think this game will be closer than most people do and think it will be a similar type of game as the rose bowl from last year with a similar result for Oklahoma. I think the Crimson Tide end up winning this one 45-41.