December 29th may be one of the most anticipated days in the upcoming month for NCAA Division I football fans. College football heavyweights will collide to fight for the opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship and prove they are the best team in the nation. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee didn’t have too controversial of a decision to make when selecting its top four teams from this past year’s regular season, choosing 4 extremely talented, successful, and historic football programs to face off: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Clemson Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Oklahoma Sooners. Here is what you should expect along with how and when to watch the action unfold on December 29th:
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
When: December 29, 3:00 PM CST – Watch on: ESPN & ESPN App
This premier match-up features two undefeated teams that haven’t met since Clemson defeated Notre Dame in the pouring rain in 2015 on Clemson’s way to a Championship game appearance. Minus the rain, I expect this game to turn out similar. Clemson’s front seven is simply scary, and while they don’t have the defensive backfield that they used to, they are making up for it on offense with several exhilarating playmakers like freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who took over the Clemson offense from star Kelly Bryant when he left the program to transfer to Missouri.
Notre Dame is unquestionably having a magical season after facing many more challenges than it expected at the beginning of the season. The Fighting Irish boast a deep and talented secondary that could potentially give Trevor Lawrence nightmares in Arlington. Unfortunately, while I believe the Irish’s running back, Dexter Williams, is absolutely a stud, I don’t believe he will have much success against Clemson’s ferocious defensive front. If Notre Dame wants to win this game, it’s going to have to come from quarterback Ian Book. Book has looked good all season, but he has his work cut out for him trying to get past the Clemson defense.
FiveThirtyEight currently is giving Clemson a 69 percent chance of making the title game, and I agree with them. This game is just another step in Clemson’s long journey from losing to Alabama in last year’s semifinal, and Dabo Swinney looks hungry as ever to capture a second championship. Clemson is used to being in the College Football Playoff now making its fourth straight appearance, and Swinney’s experience in games like these will show.
Score Prediction – Clemson 38, Notre Dame 20
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
When: December 29, 7:00 PM CST – Watch on: ESPN & ESPN App
This match-up is may be the most intriguing match-up of the entire bowl season. Pitting the two most exciting and arguably talented players in the country, Heisman winner Kyler Murray and runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, against each other for what could be the most exciting game of the year. Both teams are loaded with talent, and this game will be much closer than most college football enthusiasts think. Oklahoma could pull an upset in this one, and I think atmosphere surrounding this game is remarkably similar to the 2014 and 2015 Sugar Bowls, both where Alabama was bested by Oklahoma in 2014 and Ohio State in 2015.
The interesting match-ups to watch in this game will be how both quarterbacks perform against the defenses. Oklahoma will have trouble defending the pass with a physically small defensive backfield against Alabama’s extremely talented receiving corps, including the nation’s best receiver, Jerry Jeudy. Tua Tagovailoa could have a field day picking this defense apart, but Oklahoma can counter this with effective blitzing strategies and if their defensive front four come to play. After all, games are won in the trenches, and Oklahoma will either have to win that battle or hope Tagovailoa has a bad game. Tagovailoa also struggled a bit and threw two interceptions in the SEC Championship before exiting the game in the fourth quarter. If she shows up with that sort of performance, it may be too late for Nick Saban to throw in Jalen Hurts to save the day.
If Oklahoma can’t stop the Alabama offense, they should be comforted by the fact that they boast one of the nation’s top offenses headlined by this year’s Heisman behind center. Kyler Murray is incredibly quick in and out of the pocket, making him almost impossible to contain. Alabama’s defense has historically been tenacious, and they’ll need it to be in order to deal with the problems a dual threat quarterback can pose for SEC defenses like theirs. Murray has weapons and the ability to get the ball to them and expect the Alabama defense to have problems dealing with this.
Overall, the defenses aren’t going to let the offenses go crazy. Each team’s defense is going to come hungry to play and stop each other’s top-rated offenses. Expect an entertaining game, but not a complete shootout getting point totals into the 40’s. With the uncertainty of Tagovailoa’s health and quality of performances, I think Oklahoma has every resource to maximize on the weaknesses Alabama showed in the SEC Championship Game just enough to squeak out an upset. One thing is for sure, and it’s that this game will be one for the ages.
Score Prediction – Oklahoma 35, Alabama 30