A Closer Look At The Four College Football Playoff Contenders
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide are making a repeat performance in the college football playoffs. Their physical brand of football along with their running game have worn people down all year. The good thing for Alabama is they have succeeded all year offensively being a run-first team despite everyone knowing they are looking to run the football. They can throw the football and are solid there, but their bread is buttered by their burly running back. Derrick Henry set a new Southeastern Conference rushing record Saturday when he ran his total to 1,986 yards in this season and he has been a wrecking ball all season. It will be tough for teams to stop him. Defensively the Crimson Tide have an advantage because they can constantly get pressure only using their front four. That allows Alabama to put more people in coverage and make windows smaller for quarterbacks to throw in. Also, Alabama is very stingy against the running game and that usually forces teams to be one-dimensional, playing right into their hands.
The positives are there for Alabama to make a run at the title. But there is also some negatives that appear. Everything that Alabama does is based off the reaction to the running game honestly. So if the running game is not going, can Alabama pass the ball with quarterback Jake Coker to win? He has stepped in a done a great job, but asking Coker to carry the offense is something he may not be ready for. On defense, the Crimson Tide are strong in the front seven. But the defense contains 11 people and that is where the secondary comes in. The Tide’s secondary can have some issues covering opponents when they decide to pass. Add an athletic quarterback for a defense with issues covering and this team could have some issues if they face Oklahoma or Clemson.
The Tigers have some incredible things going for them. First, offensively the Tigers can put up numbers rather quickly. Whether they are running the football or throwing it, they are equally effective either way. And with quarterback Deshaun Watson at the helm, the offense now has that added dimension of a quarterback running the football. Defensively, the Tigers have been solid all season long. They have playmakers at all three levels and they can put the clamps on teams defensively when they need to. Altogether, they are a very solid team on both sides of the ball.
It’s pretty hard to find some negatives for the Clemson football team, but there is one. It seems like they can relax just a little sometimes on either side of the ball. It almost caught up to them when they were playing against North Carolina in the ACC Championship. They have not done like in the past and had an inexplicable loss, but now the pressure has picked up even more. Each team they will face from here on out will be very good. The interesting thing to watch will be if their defense was as good or the competition was not so great. We should find that out when they play their first game. They are the favorite whether people want to acknowledge it or not. And the championship is theirs to lose.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State is one physical team offensively. They can line up and run the ball on anyone as they proved when they lined up and ran the ball at will on Ohio State without their starting quarterback, Connor Cook. This type of physical running attack will give fits to anyone they face because they are deep in their running back rotation and they have an underrated offensive line. And as far as the passing game, Cook has one of the best weapons no one is talking about in wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. The Michigan offense has balance and can give many teams problems. As far as the defense, the Spartans have been physical all season long. They went toe-to-toe with Ohio State and stopped one of the best running backs in America (Ezekiel Elliot). And throughout the year, they have been solid in each game.
The Spartans do have a balanced offense, but they also have a quarterback that is inconsistent. Cook is talented and many are looking at him as one of the top quarterbacks heading into the 2016 Draft. But his bouts with inconsistent throws can cost this team in the playoffs. Some see his 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but folks look right past his 56.9 % completion rate. And for a guy that does not make up for his inconsistent throws with his feet, this completion percentage is not that great. Defensively, the Spartans do not have anyone that great a defensive backfield. It was shown a little bit this season and going into the playoffs, opponents could try and expose that flaw.
The Sooners lost one to Texas earlier this year and many thought their chances were done. But needless to say, Oklahoma kept plugging away and now they are in the playoffs. The offense they have has been dynamic all season long. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has proven to be a tough customer. In addition to using his arm, he has proven to give teams fits with his legs as well. Combining his dual-threat ability with the two-headed running back monster of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon can give any defense problems. Mayfield’s top target in the passing game, Sterling Shepard, has been excellent this season despite being the focus of defenses in that area. Defensively, the Sooners have got after quarterbacks all year long. Eric Striker is the undoubted leader of this defense. His intensity on the field is unmatched by many. And with cornerback Zach Sanchez and the secondary rounding into shape, the Sooners can be a worthy opponent for anyone in the Top Four.
Consequently, the Sooners can have some moments. Although they have only had one blip on the radar screen, that loss showed us that there is still some potential faults in this team. Offensively, one thing that comes to mind first is that if Shepard is taken out of the game, the Sooners tend to struggle in that area. Against a team that has some good cornerback play, that can be an issue. At times, the Sooners give up some pressure up front as well. Mayfield was able to cover up for it, but that is something that will be tougher to do at this level of play. Defensively, the Sooners can be ran on. The Texas Longhorns proved that. They will definitely have to shore that up if they have hopes of winning the title.
The matchups have been set. Oklahoma is the four seed and they are taking on the top seed Clemson. And Alabama, the second seed, it taking on three-seed Michigan State. Both matchups should be entertaining to see. It will also be interesting to see what team exploits the others weaknesses. All four teams have some time to work on some wrinkles for their playoff semifinal game so it will be good to see what they all come up with. The college playoffs are here folks. Now the real competition begins.