After last Saturday’s frenzied finish to the regular season, the four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) field has been set.
The New Year’s Day festivities begin at 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time (EST), when second-ranked Oklahoma (12-1) meets third-ranked Georgia in the Rose Bowl.
As one half of the CFP Semifinals, the 104th edition of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is likely to live up to its reputation as the “Granddaddy of Them All,” with two 12-win conference champions taking the field.
Georgia claimed the SEC Championship last week by beating then second-ranked Auburn (10-3), as the Bulldogs avenged their only loss of the year in a 28-7 beatdown. To decide the Big 12 Championship, Oklahoma also faced a formidable conference rival in then 11th-ranked TCU (10-3), but for the second time this season, the Sooners easily handled the Horned Frogs in a 41-17 rout.
Oklahoma sports the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring offense at 44.9 points per game, but they’ll be tested against Georgia’s fourth-ranked scoring defense (13.2 ppg).
Expectedly, the linemakers at online sportsbook Bovada have opened betting with the Rose Bowl as a straight pick’em.
The other half of the CFP Semifinals begins at 8:45 p.m. EST, when top-ranked Clemson (12-1) continues its national title defense against fourth-ranked Alabama (11-1) in the Sugar Bowl.
When the Tigers take on the Crimson Tide at the Superdome in New Orleans, it will mark the third straight year that Clemson and Alabama have clashed in the postseason. Two years ago, the Tide rolled 45-40 to win the national championship, and last year Clemson returned the favor in a 35-31 comeback classic.
Clemson had superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson leading the way in both of those title tilts, but he’s since moved on to the NFL, leaving Kelly Bryant to take the reins. The Tigers offense hasn’t missed a stride, scoring to the tune of 35.4 ppg, but the defense has joined in the fun by limiting opponents to only 12.8 ppg.
That’s good for the second-ranked scoring defense in all of college football – second only to Alabama, which limits opposing offenses to 11.5 ppg.
The first two rounds of this trilogy were shootouts to be sure, but this year could bog down into a defensive battle, so Bovada leans slightly toward the Tide as 2.5-point favorites.
Fifth-ranked Ohio State (11-2) won the Big Ten Championship by handing then fourth-ranked Wisconsin (12-1) its first defeat, and many prognosticators put the Buckeyes through to the CFP final four. Instead, the committee decided to elevate Alabama, leaving Ohio State to settle for a Cotton Bowl consolation game against eighth-ranked USC (11-2).
The Trojans took the Pac-12 Championship by downing then 12th-ranked Stanford (9-4), but like the Buckeyes, two losses on the year – including a big blowout – left USC on the outside of the CFP picture.
Ohio State holds a major edge on both sides of the ball, boasting the fifth-ranked scoring offense (42.5 ppg) and 22nd-ranked scoring defense (19.9 ppg) – while USC ranks 24th and 60th, respectively.
The Cotton Bowl takes place in Dallas on December 29 at 8:30 p.m. EST, and based on the disparities above, the early line favors Ohio State by a full 7 points.
Sixth-ranked Wisconsin had its chances to reach the CFP semifinals, but a weak schedule and that Big Ten Championship loss sent the Badgers to the Orange Bowl. There, they’ll face 10th-ranked Miami (10-2), yet another team with CFP aspirations late into the season.
The Hurricanes have the benefit of hometown advantage, with the Orange Bowl held in the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, but the team limps in on a two-game losing streak. Miami was winless until a shocking upset at the hands of Pittsburgh (5-7), but the ‘Canes still had a shot at the ACC Championship, until Clemson rolled them 38-3 last week.
Despite the benefit of playing in front of friendly Floridians, the Hurricanes haven’t impressed when the pressure ramps up, leading to a wide 7-point spread in favor of Wisconsin.