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College Football Playoff preview

On New Year’s Eve, the College Football Playoff will get underway. The top four teams in the nation will get after the national championship, playing in a pair of semifinal contests. The first of the two will pit the Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners against each other before the Alabama Crimson Tide and Michigan State Spartans square off.

While Clemson is the top team and the only undefeated group in the country, it is actually seen as the underdog. Deshaun Watson is arguably the best quarterback around and was a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he will be going against the most powerful offense in the land. Oklahoma features a tremendous quarterback in Baker Mayfield, who has a top target on the outside in Sterling Shepard. In the backfield, the Sooners feature a nice tandem in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

Down the stretch, Clemson struggled on defense. The Tigers made it a close game against the woeful Syracuse Orange while allowing the North Carolina State Wolfpack and North Carolina Tar Heels to stay in the game. This is likely the chief reason that the Tigers are 3.5-point underdogs in the contest against Oklahoma, which won the Big 12 championship and only lost once this season, albeit in a stunner against the Texas Longhorns.

In the other semifinal in AT&T Stadium, Alabama and Michigan State will be getting after it in a good old fashioned brawl. There are not two more physical programs in the country, and both teams intend to impose their wills from the start.

Alabama comes into the contest as the SEC champion, with its only loss coming at home against the Ole Miss Rebels, who took the Crimson Tide apart before they got rolling. Since, Jake Coker has taken over as a senior leader at quarterback, while running back Derrick Henry went on a proverbial tear. Henry nearly rushed for 2,000 yards and become just the second Alabama player in school history to win the Heisman Trophy, with the other being Mark Ingram.

Michigan State does not have the star power of Alabama, with the exception of quarterback. Connor Cook has been a star for years for the Spartans and continues to put himself toward the top of the heap when it comes to quarterback prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. Cook will be facing one of the toughest defenses in the country, with Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson posing problems in the front seven.

Alabama is favored by 9.5 points, making the Spartans heavy underdogs to upend Nick Saban and his chargers. Still, Michigan State can also play defense, so look for a tight contest throughout.

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