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.
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.
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.
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.
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.