Happy New Year's Eve, Dawg fans! We've got a solid slate of games going today, but tomorrow, we'll finally get back to the traditional full slate of bowls that are being played on New Year's Day. Macondawg has covered most of them for you already earlier today, but I have the pleasure of previewing the only two games that are anything more than glorified exhibition games: the College Football Playoff semifinal games.
It looked earlier in the season like we might get some truly wacky entries in the first 4-team playoff bracket that Division I-A has ever seen, but once all the dust had cleared, we were left with the bluest of the blue bloods in today's college football landscape. That doesn't mean the games won't still be entertaining, though, and the fact that all 4 of the teams are household names certainly should help boost TV ratings, which is really what bowl season is all about.
With that said, let's get to the games! (As usual, all times are Eastern.)
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual - Jan. 1, Pasadena, CA, 5:00 PM (ABC)
The defending national champions, who are the only team in the country who has gone through the last two entire seasons undefeated, come rolling into the college football playoff... and they're only ranked #3. And what's more, they are an 8-point underdog to a team with a history of running it up against poor teams but struggling with good teams.
On paper, that all sounds well and good, but FSU has only managed to remain undefeated in 2014 through an impressive combination of smoke, mirrors, and one incredibly controversial pass interference call. Jameis Winston looked like an unstoppable machine in 2013, but this season has been an entirely different story for everyone's favorite crab legs enthusiast. The Noles have practically made it their team mantra to start slowly, allow their opponent to build a multiple-score lead, and then storm back with a furious 2nd-half rally that wins the game for them. If they try to pull that little trick against Oregon, however, the Ducks are going to be up 31-0 at halftime, and they ain't never gonna look back.
We also said that about the ACC Championship Game, mind you, and FSU came out and played as complete a game as they had put together all season in methodically dispatching the Engineers. They knew they couldn't get 2 possessions behind a Georgia Tech offense that can practically bleed half a quarter away every time they have the ball, and they didn't. They're going to have the opposite problem with the Mighty Mallards, however. Oregon can score in less than a minute every single time they have the ball, and they're more than happy to keep doing so as long as you let them.
And make no mistake; you can't stop the "touchdown from Niketown" express. You can only hope to contain it. The puddlejumpers have only scored less than 40 points in a game twice this year; once in a win against Washington State (38-31) when Marcus Mariota spent as much time on the ground as he did behind the center, and the following week against Arizona, when Oregon's only loss (31-24) came with Mariota attempting to play through the injury he suffered in that Wazzu game. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner definitely won't be injured on Thursday night, though. He'll be at full strength. FSU, by comparison, has only scored more than 40 points three times this year, and those tallies came against mighty foes NC State, Wake Forest, and Louisville.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: The Pac-12 is a much better conference than the ACC, and Oregon mostly dominated the Pac-12, while FSU struggled to go undefeated in the ACC. The Seminoles might have the 29-game winning streak, but they're simply not as good a team as Oregon. If the Ducks play their best game and the Noles play their best game, as well, noted avian benefactor Phil Knight will be smiling at the end of the game.
Final Score Prediction: Oregon 48, FSU 38
Allstate Sugar Bowl - Jan. 1, New Orleans, LA, 8:30 PM (ESPN)
The ESPN hype machine has latched onto this game as a massive battle between two coaching titans, but the last time I checked, neither Nick Saban nor Urban Meyer will actually be playing in the game. Both men are clearly great coaches, but both are also limited by the tools they have at hand on offense.
It might sound funny to read that, since Ohio State left a greasy spot on the pavement where Wisconsin's defense used to be in the B1G Championship Game, but Alabama's defense is not the Badgers' defense. Also, Ohio State is still playing with their 3rd-string quarterback, even though he's a very solid, capable 3rd-string quarterback, and you can bet that Nick Saban has pored through every minute detail of every second that Cardale Jones was on the field for the nuts in their last game.
And on the other side of the ball, the problem is that for all the ballyhooing about Lane Kiffin and Blake Sims, the fact remains that Alabama's offense has been very streaky this season, running white-hot for periods of time, then growing ice-cold for equally long stretches, especially when they've faced a competent defense. On top of that, Bama's special teams play has been... well, let's just say that Frank Beamer would faint if his special teams squads looked like Alabama's. With that said, though, the Tide has managed to get it done when they needed to do so, and they pounded a very respectable Mizzou squad into the dirt in the SEC Championship Game.
Nick Saban will have his team prepared, motivated, and ready. We know that. So the ultimate question here is whether we'll see the Ohio State team that vaporized Wisconsin or the Ohio State team that struggled to put away Penn State, Indiana, and a woeful Michigan team. I think Cardale Jones is good, but I don't think he'll be good enough. The wildcard is Bama's special teams, and if they give the Bucks too many opportunities, it might not turn out well for the boys from the Yellowhammer State. Ultimately, I think 9 points is a little too much chalk for my taste. I think Bama wins, but I'm taking Ohio State and those tasty 9 points.
Final Score Prediction: Alabama (Roll Tide), Ohio State (Not Roll Tide). Roll Tide.
(Translation: Alabama 28, Ohio State 24)
Let us know in the comments whether you agree or disagree, but remember... Don't Bet On It!