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CFT Predicts: The College Football Playoff

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The match-ups are set. Now it’s time to get down to what’s really important: our predictions for said match-ups.

For the second consecutive year, the CFT staff has predicted the CFP semifinals and finals. Here’s hoping this year’s effort goes better than our maiden voyage, when not one of us had Ohio State beating Alabama and claiming the crown.

John (@CFTalk)

ORANGE BOWL: Oklahoma over Clemson, 34-24
COTTON BOWL: Michigan State over Alabama, 31-30
TITLE GAME: Oklahoma over Michigan State, 48-24
BOTTOM LINE: Ohio State rolled to a national championship as a No. 4 seed in the first year of the College Football Playoff; it’s lather, rinse, repeat in 2015 as Oklahoma, the best team in college football over the last two months — sound familiar, OSU fans? — carries the momentum from the regular season on into the postseason and gives No. 4 seeds back-to-back titles.  Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (41 total touchdowns in 13 games) will certainly prove to be a stiff test for OU, but Baker Mayfield (42 total touchdowns in 12 games) has the offensive firepower to match, plus a defense that was 21st in points allowed (20.8 ppg) in the offensive-centric Big 12 (the Tigers were 18th at 20.2 ppg).  Michigan State’s resume is superior to that of Alabama’s, and the Spartans have arguably been the second-best team in college football over the last month and a half (three wins over teams ranked in the CFP top 14 in that span). The Spartans will find their Waterloo in the title game, however, as the Sooners are too good, too balanced to be denied. In the end, Bob Stoops channels his inner “Big Game” moniker and his Sooners will bring the hardware back to Norman.

Zach (@zach_barnett)

ORANGE BOWL: Oklahoma over Clemson, 41-38
COTTON BOWL: Alabama over Michigan State, 24-20
TITLE GAME: Oklahoma over Alabama, 35-24
BOTTOM LINE: I may be the dumbest person on Earth, but I’m picking Mark Dantonio and Michigan State to lose a close game to a top-5 opponent. The Spartans will be well prepared for Derrick Henry and Alabama’s ferocious front seven, but a Cyrus Jones punt return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter proves to be the difference. Oklahoma and Clemson stage an absolute fire-breathing classic in the Orange Bowl that sees Deshaun Watson vault his Tigers to the lead with 1:45 remaining, only to see Baker Mayfield find Sterling Shepard in the back of the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 7-yard line with 18 seconds left to play. The title game proves what many of us think as the ball drops on 2016 as Oklahoma and Clemson appear to be a cut above the rest when the Sooners rally from a 17-14 halftime deficit to put the game away with three unanswered touchdowns over the course of the second half. A Henry breakaway touchdown with two minutes to play touches up the final score but cannot mask the fact that, for the second consecutive year, the committee didn’t get the seeding right on the outset.

Kevin (@KevinOnCFB)

ORANGE BOWL: Oklahoma over Clemson, 38-36
COTTON BOWL: Michigan State over Alabama, 23-20
TITLE GAME: Michigan State over Oklahoma, 31-20
BOTTOM LINE: In what should be an offensive shootout, Clemson should once again flex enough muscle against Oklahoma by the time the clock hits triple zeroes. Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield make for a great QB matchup, but Oklahoma’s ability to run the football with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is what gives the Sooners a slight edge. Oklahoma’s revenge tour of 2015 wraps up with a wild win. Both Michigan State and Alabama will bring plenty of defense to make this a low-scoring affair. Michigan State will be put to the test trying to slow down Derrick Henry, but these Spartans do not back down against any body under Mark Dantonio. Michigan State has the decisive edge at quarterback with Connor Cook if he is healthy. If he is, Michigan State will win a second Cotton Bowl this calendar year and hand Alabama a second straight early exit against a Big Ten team. Michigan State will continue to play good, strong defense, but now they will be asked to stop two strong running backs. That could pose a problem a week after a grueling contest with Alabama. The travel may also come into play as Oklahoma looks to open things up in Lincoln Riley’s offense. Michigan State’s defense this a wall, but Cook has a winning recipe and Dantonio finally reaches the top of the college football world to further validate Michigan State’s place among college football powers, and the Big Ten wins a second straight national title.

J.J. (@JJStankevitz)

ORANGE BOWL: Oklahoma over Clemson, 37-35
COTTON BOWL: Alabama over Michigan State, 28-13
TITLE GAME: Oklahoma over Alabama, 41-31
BOTTOM LINE: A healthy Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine are enough to get the Sooners into the title game in what should be a high-scoring affair in South Florida. Derrick Henry wins the day as Michigan State’s offense sputters against a ‘Bama defense that should do well in facing a pro-style attack. I’m buying Lincoln Riley‘s spread over Kirby Smart‘s blitzes here. Mayfield has a big game to lead Oklahoma to the Big 12’s first title in a decade.

Alabama losing special teams staffer to the New England Patriots

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The Alabama kicking game needs all the help it can get but will have to soldier on without a key member of the coaching staff.

According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, assistant special teams coordinator Joe Houston is leaving Tuscaloosa for a position with the New England Patriots.

Houston certainly has become a fast-riser as a coach. He was kicking field goals for USC from 2007-10 and got into coaching just recently. He served as an assistant special teams coach at Iowa State prior to joining the Crimson Tide staff.

While Houston is highly regarded off the field, his slim small body of work at Alabama was a mixed bag. Kickers Joseph Bulovas and Will Reichard combined to made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts in 2019. That includes a critical miss in the Iron Bowl that knocked the team out of the Playoff chase.

The Tide should still be okay on special teams come 2020 though. Reichard was injured early and hopes to be healthy after signing as the top prep kicker in the country a year ago. Highly regarded special teams coordinator Jeff Banks also returns.

Houston’s move to Foxborough no doubt came with a recommendation from Saban to his old pal Bill Belichick. The latter also struggled with the kicking game last season. Hopefully for both, this latest move will boost both teams in the critical third phase of the game.

Colorado closing in on hiring… Karl Dorrell?

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The unexpected Colorado coaching search may have an unexpected conclusion.

In a move first reported by Yahoo! Sports, the Buffs are supposedly close on hiring Karl Dorrell as their next head coach. USA Today later confirmed the news. He replaces Mel Tucker, who left for Michigan State in early February.

Bringing Dorrell in is, needless to say, a surprise move. The school had flirted heavily with former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian before parting ways. As it turns out, Colorado was looking at the wrong former coach in Los Angeles.

Dorrell spent five seasons in Westwood as head coach at UCLA from 2003-2007. The tenure had a high point of going 10-2 in 2005 but otherwise floated around .500. It didn’t help either that Pete Carroll had things humming across town at the same time as Dorrell was trying to get things turned around at his alma mater.

Since his firing, Dorrell has mostly been in the NFL. He had a one season stint as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2014 but is otherwise been coaching in the pros. That includes two stints in Miami and others with the Houston Texans and New York Jets.

Less than 24 hours before his reported hire at Colorado, Dorrell was promoted to assistant head coach of the Dolphins by Brian Flores.

Though Dorrell reached a bowl game in all five of his seasons in Westwood, his meddling record saw him pushed out the door. His replacement then? Former Buffs coach Rick Neuheisel. The two memorably helped lead the Bruins to the 1984 Rose Bowl together at the school.

Now Dorrell once again has the goal of getting back to Pasadena. Just not where anybody expected it to happen.

SEC says no to Arkansas spring game in Little Rock

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Arkansas has long been one of the more unique programs in college football in playing their “home” games roughly 200 miles away from campus. As much as playing down the road in Little Rock has become a way of life for the Razorbacks though, it won’t be a part of fans first close up with new head coach Sam Pittman.

In a release this week, UA confirmed that their final practice of spring ball would be held Saturday, April 25 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. That was not originally the plan however, as the team was hoping to host the scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The reasoning? It had nothing to do with scheduling conflicts but rather the conference office.

“As part of our ONE Razorback initiative, our goal remains to engage fans throughout Arkansas and beyond,” Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the necessary waiver to accommodate the spring game at War Memorial Stadium as originally planned. However, we will continue to explore additional opportunities to enhance the numerous events already being held throughout the state to help bring the Razorbacks closer to our fans.”

SEC bylaws require the league to approve any off-campus spring practice. They didn’t despite Little Rock truly being the team’s home away from home for nearly a century.

The school just recently negotiated a new deal with War Memorial that runs through 2024. That was supposed to result in spring games being held at the venue in even years and a trio of conference games against regional rival Missouri in the Fall of every odd year.

It’s not known if the SEC’s decision was more of a one-off or if spring games in 2022 and 2024 will have to be scrapped.

The news is certainly a blow to those in the Southeast part of the state who were hoping to get a glimpse of the Hogs in their backyard instead of making the trip deeper into the Ozarks. Arkansas won’t have a presence at all in Little Rock this season as a result (for the first time since 1931) and will instead be fully confined to Razorback Stadium for all seven home games plus the spring scrimmage (for the first time ever).

It wasn’t too long ago where the Hogs were called in the state capital three or four times a year. That sadly is no longer the case now as a result of the league office putting a kibosh on things this spring.

Voice of Notre Dame Stadium to retire after 2020 season

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It’s the end of an era at Notre Dame Stadium.

The longtime public address announcer at the famed cathedral of college football, Mike Collins, is stepping down after the 2020 season. The school confirmed the news on Friday.

“I told my wife, ‘If Fr. Ted (Hesburgh) can retire at 75, that’s good enough for me,’” Collins said in a statement. “There is no one reason, but I can walk out with my head held high, good health and be proud that I’ll be better for my last game than my first. I’ve always viewed myself as an ambassador of Our Lady’s University, not merely an employee of the athletics department. I was able to do that for the most prestigious institution in the world, which just happened to be my alma mater.”

Collins’ voice has been the soundtrack for Fighting Irish games under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus since 1982. His first game that season came in a win over Michigan that doubled as the first ever night game the stadium as well. 

The Pittsburgh native hasn’t stopped since then. Upon the conclusion of the team’s contest against Louisville on Nov. 21, 2020, Collins will have called 233 straight Notre Dame games at the stadium.

No word on how the university will about finding a new public address announcer for the venue but they did note plans to celebrate Collins’ tenure will be announced later this year. 

While it always is going to be hard to call it quits given how good a gig it is, at least Collins will be going out with a bang given the slate ND has this season. The home opener will be against Arkansas on Sept. 12 while traditional rivals like Stanford join ACC foes like Duke and Clemson in coming to South Bend later in the year. All those games will be broadcasted on NBC. 

Western Michigan is also on the docket for the Irish at home in addition to contests like playing Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and a season-opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.