Alabama headlines college football's final four
The debate is done, and depending on which team you root for, the College Football Playoff committee either got the final four teams right or made an egregious error.
Whatever the case, the matchups are set as No. 1 Alabama will take on No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, while No. 2 Clemson will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Both games will be Dec. 31 with the winners meeting in the national-championship game Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.
Here’s a look at the matchups and which teams might square off for the national title:
No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (12-1)
The Crimson Tide enter as the defending champions and were rarely tested this season on the way to another SEC championship. A national championship for Alabama would be its fifth in the last eight years and if it does so, it would become the first NCAA team to win 15 games in a season since Yale and Penn did so back in the 19th century. The Crimson Tide boast the top defense in the nation as defensive end Jonathan Allen has 8½ sacks and has returned two fumbles for touchdowns. Linebacker Ryan Anderson has eight sacks and 17 tackles for a loss, while linebacker Reuben Foster leads the team with 94 tackles and cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick has five interceptions. Offensively, Alabama averages 245 yards on the ground with four players gaining more than 500 rushing yards, led by 983 yards on 132 carries from running back Damien Harris as well as 841 yards and 12 touchdowns from quarterback Jalen Hurts, who also has thrown for 2,592 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Washington comes into the playoff after being the only playoff team not in the top six in the preseason Associated Press top 25. However, the Huskies suffered only one blemish — a loss to Southern Cal — on its way to a Pac-12 championship on the arm of quarterback Jake Browning, who has thrown for 3,280 yards and 42 touchdowns or an offense that ranks No. 22 in the nation. The Huskies were balanced, however, as running back Myles Gaskin has run for 1,339 yards and 10 touchdowns, while receiver John Ross has hauled in 76 passes for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns. Washington has 37 sacks, led by six from linebacker Psalm Wooching, while defensive back Taylor Rapp has four picks.
Washington hasn’t played the schedule Alabama has, making the Crimson Tide the heavy favorite to reach the title game.
No. 2 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1)
The Tigers got pushed in the ACC championship game but came out on top against Virginia Tech and improved their ranking by a spot over the idle Buckeyes. Clemson averages more than 500 yards in total offense, ranking 13th in the country behind the play of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has thrown for 3,626 yards and 34 touchdowns this season while running for 441 yards and another four scores. Mike Williams is Watson’s favorite target with 79 catches for 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Tigers also get after teams defensively, with the ninth-ranked unit in the country, having collected 42 sacks. Carlos Watkins leads the way with 7½ sacks, while Jadar Johnson has five interceptions and the Tigers have returned two for touchdowns.
The Buckeyes got in the playoff without even winning their division in the Big Ten because of a loss at Penn State. However, they have wins over the likes of Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan, which was enough to get them in the field. The No. 4 defense in the nation is full of playmakers, with Malik Hooker intercepting six passes and returning three for touchdowns, Tyquan Lewis recording 7 1/2 sacks and linebacker Raekwon McMillan netting 87 tackles. Offensively, J.T. Barrett is effective through the air and on the ground, accounting for more than 3,200 yards and 33 touchdowns. Running back Mike Weber (Detroit Cass Tech) had a breakout year with 1,072 yards rushing and nine scores, while receiver Curtis Samuel had 822 yards and seven touchdowns.
Clemson will be looking to get back to the national-championship game after losing to Alabama a year ago while Ohio State is back in the picture after winning it all two years ago.