College Football Playoff Breakdown

Everything you need to know about this year’s college football playoffs.

College Football Playoff Breakdown

Around 1 on Sunday afternoon, December 6th, the College Football Playoff committee released their final rankings including the top four teams that made the playoffs:

1. Clemson (13-0)

2. Alabama (12-1)

3. Michigan State (12-1)

4. Oklahoma (11-1)

These rankings are based on strength of schedule, championships won, head-to-head competition (if any), and comparative outcomes of common opponents (regardless of margin of victory). All these teams are the champions of their respective conferences. Below will be a breakdown of each team, how they got here, predictions, and everything you need to know for the College Football Playoffs.

4. OklahomaSooners
Oklahoma won the Big 12 conference and were unofficially the first team to lock in a spot in the playoffs. They were ranked number 3 heading into their final game, which they won, making them a safe bet for the playoffs. With their incredible quarterback, Baker Mayfield, two pro-level running backs coming out of the backfield, a strong receiving core, and a fast and explosive defense, the Sooners are one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs.

How they got here…

It has been a tough road for Oklahoma. They started off the season with some impressive wins, including a double-overtime win at then-ranked #23 Tennessee and a convincing 44-24 against newly-ranked #23 West Virginia.

They were number 10 in the country and rising when they rolled into the Red River Rivalry game against a struggling 1-4 Texas team. Then the unthinkable happened, a 24-17 loss. They were stunned and fell back to number 19 in the rankings. Winning the Big 12 would be tough with three undefeated teams: TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. But they then won four games in a row and beat the then undefeated #6 Baylor.

Next week they had a thrilling 30-29 that was sealed when they stopped a two-point conversion attempt by 18. TCU in the final minute. For their last game of the season they beat their rival, 11. Oklahoma State in a game that would decide the winner of the Big 12. Both teams were 10-1 and ranked in the top 15 heading into the Bedlam Series game. Oklahoma was a small favorite, but ended up proving themselves with a 58-23 win that showed them worthy of the playoffs.

Additional things to know…

Oklahoma has played three of the best offenses in the country three weeks in a row and held each under 30 points.

What they need to happen…

They need to establish the run and pass to keep a good balance on offense. This has kept the pressure off their defense, allowing them to play exceptionally.

3. Michigan Statesparrrrrrrtans

Michigan State is starting to look like a team of destiny. They have had multiple last second wins, including maybe, the most unlikely and miraculous win in college football history. They are led by fifth-year senior quarterback, Connor Cook, who has compiled the most wins by a starting quarterback in Michigan State history.

The Spartans have one of the strongest defenses in the nation. They may be the best in the country in this department, with great size and power making them a handful for opposing offensive lines. On offense they are balanced, good running and good passing. They are a real power, old-school, smash-mouth football team.

How they got here…

Michigan State has been the team of destiny this year. They played four top 15 teams this year, each time winning by as little as four points or less, a go-ahead score with 27 seconds left in the Big Ten championship, and two wins on the final play of the game! They could have just as easily had five losses instead of having their one. The Spartans wasted no time in making a national statement, as the number 7 Oregon Ducks came to town in just their second game. The game was Oregon’s high-powered, high-flying, hurry up spread offense versus the stifling defense of Michigan State. It was back and forth all day, but MSU held a 31-28 lead late in the fourth quarter. Oregon would get their shot when quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. lofted a pass to a wide-open receiver. It would have given Oregon a touchdown, the lead, and likely the win. But the pass was off by merely inches, and Michigan State held on to their lead and the victory.

After four-straight wins, they went to in-state rival #12 Michigan at the Big House. Michigan had not given up a point in three straight weeks. It was an absolute battle, but it appeared Michigan had pulled off the upset. There was ten seconds left and the score was 21-23 in Michigan’s favor. All they had to do was punt the ball and the game was likely over. Then, the play of the season happened. The ball was snapped and it was dropped! The punter tried to salvage the play by scooping the ball and punting it, but that was blocked and the ball landed right in the arms of Michigan State, who streaked into the end zone for the win.

Michigan State shocked themselves in a 39-38 loss to a struggling Nebraska team. MSU would then prove themselves again two weeks later. They traveled to the undefeated defending national champions, Ohio State. With their starting quarterback hurt and a big underdog, the Spartans kicked a game winning field goal as time expired in 17-14 upset, which ultimately put them into the Big Ten championship.

The game was in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, #5 Michigan State versus undefeated #4 Iowa. With time running out, the Spartans orchestrated a drive for the ages: 22 plays, 82 yards in just over 9 minutes. It was capped off when they stretched across the goal line for the touchdown with 27 seconds left, giving them 16-13 win. Not only did it give them the Big Ten championship, but it proved them worthy of the playoffs.

Additional things to know…

This team had the closest games of the season, and kept winning versus Alabama, who has had two close games, one of which they lost.

What they need to happen…
They just need to keep it close and get the ball last, they have proven this as their formula for success.

CrimsinTide2. Alabama…
Ah, the dynasty of the Crimson Tide. The only team in the playoffs both this year and last year. The perennial favorite for the championship. This team is top-to-bottom filled with the best players in the country. Led by head coach Nick Saban, Alabama can’t be stopped. This is a team that has been in the national championship contention every year for what seems like a lengthy time now.

This year seems no different. They have just a smothering defense, it is almost impossible to run on these guys. LSU’s Leonard Fournette was averaging over 200 yards a game before he faced off against Alabama, where he was held to just 31.

On offense, Alabama is not as great as they have been in years past, but are still effective. They have maybe the best running back in the nation, Derrick Henry, who won the Heisman Trophy. This is a guy whose size is above average for a running back, mixed with speed, power, and great vision. He can find the open hole, make a guy miss, and then outrun everyone else. They tend to give him the ball more than 40 times a game on average.

Throwing the ball has not been as good though, although they have not really needed to. Quarterback Jake Coker is not as good as ‘Bama quarterbacks in the past, which means if they need to start throwing the ball, they could be in trouble. Although they do have some very talented wide receivers and a great line, so maybe it will not be that serious. My point is, we don’t know what will happen if the game is rested on Coker’s arm. If I were to make a guess though, Nick Saban will be prepared for it, so Alabama fans should not worry… too much.

How they got here…

Alabama’s first and only loss came against Ole Miss, the only team to beat them in the regular season last year. This year the game was at home and ‘Bama was not looking to be shocked by them again this year. Unfortunately though, turnovers and sloppy play gave them a 37-44 loss. The game was capped by Ole Miss’s game winning touchdown off of a tipped pass.

Other than a close call against Tennessee, the Tide has been rolling. They dominated #2 LSU in a 31-6 win that put them back into the title conversation.

They cruised to the SEC Championship Game where they faced off against the Florida Gators and their speedy defense. They had a convincing 29-15 win, sending them to the playoffs.

Additional things to know…

Last year they lost in the playoffs to a very similar Big Ten team, Ohio State, who was beat by Michigan State.

What they need to happen…

They need Derrick Henry to continue running the ball well to keep the pressure off their passing game to help avoid turnovers. This is how they will be able to keep control of the game along with smothering defenses.

1. Clemson…Tigers
Clemson is the only team in the FBS, that is 128 teams, that is the only one left without a loss, undefeated, 13-0, and for good reason. This team has played extremely well all season.

The Tigers have, possibly, the best quarterback in the nation, Deshaun Watson, who leads the charge on offense with both throwing and running. He is especially good at throwing the deep ball. They also have a solid running game with great wide receivers and tight ends for the passing game.

On defense, they are among the best in the country. Starting at the defensive line they are fast and physical, as is the case with their linebackers, and the secondary. This is a tough defense that will be able to slow anyone down.

How they got here…

They have posted some very impressive wins: 24-22 vs. #8 Notre Dame, 23-13 vs. #9 Florida State, and 45-37 vs. #10 North Carolina.

Against Notre Dame was likely their closest game of the year. Notre Dame scored a touchdown with seven seconds left to bring them within two. Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, the Fighting Irish quarterback Deshone Kizer tried to run it in himself, but was denied by the Clemson defense.

When they played Florida State, they held a 16-13 lead late in the game. They had not had their usual success scoring tons of points, but strung together a seven play, a 60 yard touchdown drive with a two-and-a-half minutes left, to give them a 23-13 win.

In the ACC Championship Game, they played the surging North Carolina Tar Heels and their high scoring offense. The Tigers managed to hold a comfortable lead most of the game. But then the Tar Heels came surging back, scoring two late touchdowns to bring them close with over a minute left. They attempted an onside kick with no time to spare and appeared to recover it, but was called back due to an offsides penalty. It was later revealed through instant replay that UNC was not offsides, but a penalty cannot be reviewed, giving Clemson a controversial win.

Additional things to know…

Clemson beat Oklahoma 40-6 last year in the Orange Bowl. Hopefully they can repeat that effort again this year.

What they need to happen…

The Tigers need to make stops on defense and avoid turnovers, their offense will put up enough or more points to win.

Before my predictions are revealed, here are some non-playoff things to know:
Three other interesting bowl games to watch…
#4 Iowa vs #5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl
#8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl
#15 Oregon vs. #11 TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
Favorite moment of the 2015 season…
Being shocked after Michigan State pulled of the unlikely victory on the final play of the game after Michigan fumbled the snap and the ball was taken back for a touchdown. If you have not seen this play, I recommend that you go watch it.


#2 Alabama vs. #3 Michigan State, Sugar Bowl, December 31

Look out! Emperor Nick Saban is leading his Crimson Tide empire against the Spartan rebels. Its dynasty vs destiny.

Alabama wants to run the ball, but Michigan State has, what I am calling, the best defensive line in the country. So when they are forced to throw, Jake Coker’s quarterback flaws will be exposed by the Spartans strategic head coach, Mike D’Antonio.

Offensively, Michigan State will look to throw the ball. ‘Bama was lit up by Chad Kelly of Ole Miss earlier this year. I think Connor Cook is better than Chad Kelly, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he will have more success, but I believe he will have enough.

I have a general rule when it comes to picking against Alabama: don’t! But my dad gave me some advice of his own: “In basketball or football, never pick against Michigan State”. So this one is for you, dad.

Prediction: Michigan State 23, Alabama 19

X factor: Special teams have won two games for Michigan State on the last play of the game twice this year, and Alabama nailed five field-goals and blocked two kicks against Florida last week.

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma, Orange Bowl, December 31
Clemson, even though they are undefeated, is an “underdog” in this game. Oklahoma is a slim favorite by two and a half points.
Both teams feature two of the best quarterback around. Expect them to be the ones to get the scoring going for their teams. Oklahoma will try to establish the run, but expect a well-coached Clemson defense to shut that down. When they can focus on the pass, that is when they force turnovers.

On offense, Clemson is going to be able to gain yards on Oklahoma, but not necessarily.

When it comes down to it, Oklahoma may not have enough answers for this deep and talented Clemson team. Their offense and defense are both just too good.

Prediction: Clemson 33, Oklahoma 27

X-factor: Whoever plays better in the red-zone wins and the difference between field goals and touchdowns will come back to haunt you.

#1 Clemson vs. #3 Michigan State, National Championship, January 11

Welcome to the National Championship! After weeks of games, rankings, and excitement, the Spartans will attempt to tame the undefeated Tigers.

We have the two most balanced teams in the nation, so the difference is who will be more than balanced: who will be explosive?
Michigan State is going to be playing physical with Clemson. Physical teams like Notre Dame and Florida State have been able to slow them down this year, so the Spartans are going to most likely be doing the same thing. Offensively, a heavy run attack will wear down their defense so they can have their long touchdown drives late in the game.

Clemson on offense will most likely try to get big-run plays, followed by play-action with the pretty deep ball from quarterback Desean Watson. Michigan State gave up an 85-yard touchdown pass to Iowa last week, and Clemson will try to replicate that. On defense, if they can control Connor Cook and the pass game, they will be able to shut down the run.

At the end of the day, these teams are extremely evenly matched even though they differ in styles. This will be the closest game of the year, but I think Michigan State’s luck will run out.

It is the year of the Tigers.

Prediction: Clemson 31, Michigan State 27