We are inching closer and closer to the inaugural College Football Playoffs. Although the South Carolina Gamecocks won’t be participating this year, it’s safe to say all eyes will be on the four teams vying for the national championship. This has been a long time coming, and the match ups are promising enough that it shouldn’t disappoint. Here’s a look at what makes each semifinal exciting, and who the oddsmakers are picking to advance to the final.
Alabama vs. Ohio State
A Battle For Validation
It seems strange to say that either of these teams requires validation, as they’re two of the most recognizable powers in college football. But Alabama is looking to assert itself as the dominant force in the game when, really, a tiny shift here or there could have seen a different team emerging from the SEC. Ohio State, meanwhile, was the last one into the four-team playoff, edging TCU and Baylor when all three had legitimate arguments for inclusion. Both teams are looking to prove their worth.
Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer
Not much more needs to be said when you see those two names squaring off. They’re arguably the two best coaches in the game, they’re former SEC rivals, and Meyer is attempting a feat only Saban has accomplished before: winning a national championship with two different schools.
Quarterbacks Vying For Stardom
Blake Sims vs. Cardale Jones. It’s not quite a big-name match-up just yet, but give it another season and they could be two Heisman contenders. Sims has done a wonderful job leading the Alabama offense in its first year since AJ McCarron’s graduation, and Jones is a relative unknown who looked like a superstar in his debut against Wisconsin. Bleacher Report’s semifinal preview points out that Jones benefited from a weak Wisconsin run defense that allowed him to lean on his runners. But nevertheless, he stepped in as Ohio State’s third QB (two bona fide stars having gone down to injury) and beat Wisconsin 59-0 with a playoff spot on the line. If one of these teams wins the national championship, its QB will be a superstar overnight.
It’s difficult to predict such a big game when one of the QBs is an unknown. But the current odds on Bet Fair for the CFP are giving Alabama a fairly significant edge. They have Alabama as a 1/4 favorite to win this matchup, and sitting at even odds to win the championship. We see it being a little closer, but would lean toward Bama as well.
Oregon vs. Florida State
The Heisman Duel
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was a runaway Heisman winner this year and frankly put up absolutely ridiculous stats. But FSU QB Jameis Winston won it a year ago, and while his stats weren’t up to par this season, he was incredible during the important moments. Two active Heisman winners vying for a spot in the national championship may just be the best story of the CFP.
The Alabama-Ohio State game could conceivably become one about defense, as Bama’s stout front line will cause problems for the OSU rushing game and challenge Jones to make plays. But this one has shootout written all over it. We know Mariota likes to air it out, and if he gets hot FSU will have no other option than to try and keep up. That could make this the more entertaining of the two games for people who like to see offense.
How Good Is Winston?
Earlier this season, analyst Jesse Palmer got trashed for comparing Jameis Winston to Michael Jordan, suggesting the young QB has a similar feel for big moments. That comparison was a little bit (OK, a lot) of a stretch, but at the same time anyone who’s watched Winston for two seasons can understand where Palmer was coming from. Many expect Florida State to flop in the CFP, having scraped and clawed through a pretty weak schedule to get here. But people doubted them all season too. Even when the team didn’t show up to play, Winston found a way to win again and again. He’s not Michael Jordan, but there does appear to be something untouchable about the FSU QB.
The odds favor Oregon with a 1/4 chance to win. The Ducks are also listed at 6/5 to win the championship, well behind FSU but still the second favorite to come out on top. We’d lean toward Oregon, but we aren’t discounting FSU as quickly as most seem to be.