2016 College Football Playoff: Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl Preview

December 31, 2016

After four months of college football, the country will tune in to two games that will decide which schools play for the 2016-2017 college football national championship.

It’s really quite an amazing feeling to wake up on New Year’s Eve and remind yourself that now college football’s top division plays into a national title game, rather than being handpicked by executives and computer algorithms.

Although we may not be at the end of the playoff’s expansion, it’s hard to deny that arguing about the No. 5 team in the country seems a bit less dramatic than arguing about the No. 3 team in the country that doesn’t get a shot at a national title. No more split national titles, either, which has forever made naming college football national champions a difficult topic on trivia night.

Since these are without a doubt the most important bowl games on the schedule, I decided to dedicate an entire post to the Playoff semifinal matchups. Let’s take a closer look at these games.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

#1 Alabama vs. #4 Washington (Saturday, 3 PM ET – ESPN)

The Crimson Tide is back in the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive season, the only program that can still say it has qualified for every single playoff in FBS history. Although Alabama won last year’s national title, some are suggesting that this year’s defense may be the reason why Coach Saban has never coached a better team. Alabama’s opponent is by far the underdog in this matchup, but Chris Petersen has played this role before. The former Boise State coach is well attuned to upsetting favorites in big games and over the course of his head coaching career is 5-0 versus AP Top 10 teams.

If the biggest question for Alabama is whether or not a true freshman quarterback will be able to handle the spotlight, then Washington is going to have to put together a tremendous performance to win this game. Jalen Hurts has been nothing but consistent this season, something that you normally cannot say about a player in his first year at this level. The freshman leads the SEC in completion percentage and has thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns in just one game. His athleticism sets him apart from a lot of former Crimson Tide quarterbacks that have won national titles, but the thing that makes it so difficult for opposing defenses is that he has to rely on it so sparingly that it’s unclear the other ways he can actually beat you. Washington is definitely the right team to take on Alabama – its run defense is stingy and the +21 turnover margin is both insane and leads the country. Being opportunistic on defense isn’t usually the gameplan against a very disciplined Alabama offense, but what other choice do the Huskies have?

If you go back and look at the game against Southern California, the Huskies were completely stifled in the run game and held to their lowest point total of the season by 18 points. Alabama has the nation’s top run defense and have been held to fewer than 30 points just once in 2016. Washington will need to get a push on the offensive line unlike anyone else has been able to do against the Crimson Tide this season. Is it possible? Sure. But will Chris Petersen be able to rely on offensive trickery and sheer guts to win this game? Unfortunately, no. I’m honestly pulling for him to have a good showing against Alabama, but I think the Tide are just a bit too solid.

My Pick: 34-24 Alabama

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 41

Playstation Fiesta Bowl

#2 Clemson vs. #3 Ohio State (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

A rematch of the 2014 Orange Bowl has Dabo Swinney trying to become just the third coach to beat Ohio State twice in a bowl game. Although the victory would surely result in a well-choreographed dance by the Clemson head coach, it won’t be easy to repeat the success from a few years ago. Ohio State has had plenty of time to prepare for the potent Tigers offense and won’t have to deal with a threat like Sammy Watkins in the open field this time around.

Once you take a closer look at Clemson’s season, it’s very difficult to pinpoint where the Tigers aren’t doing as well as last season if you believe them to be struggling more in 2016. Deshaun Watson’s passing statistics are extremely similar to his 2015 numbers, and in fact the senior has thrown for two more touchdowns this season. Watson doesn’t have as many rushing yards, but Clemson in general has gone away from the running game this season. The defense doesn’t appear to the human eye to be as dominant as it was in 2015, but upon closer inspection it allows 313 yards per contest once again. The bottom line is, the target on Clemson’s back grew and every team was giving the Tigers their absolute best shot. It’s actually a testament to Dabo Swinney’s team that the only loss this season was to Louisville, and even in that game Clemson had a chance to win.

Ohio State may actually be the team that has changed more. J.T. Barrett has had issues with accuracy this season, something that didn’t appear to affect him as much in 2015. Perhaps that is the result of less confidence in the running game, which is still good with Mike Weber but admittedly not as dangerous as it was with Ezekiel Elliot lining up next to Barrett. If the Buckeyes are to win this game, Barrett needs to establish confidence in himself early. Nothing would be better for Ohio State than a quick drive orchestrated by several crisp, completed passes by Barrett to his arsenal of wideouts. Scoring against Clemson this season has looked easier, but if Barrett isn’t on his game then it won’t be for the Buckeyes.

My Pick: 41-35 Ohio State

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 39

If you’d like to share your opinion on Around The Corn for any of the upcoming bowls, shoot me an email with your thoughts and prediction to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. You can also like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two days before the game is to be played, I can assure you that your thoughts will show up in an article.

As this will be the last article on Around The Corn Sports Blog for 2016, I want to take this time to wish everyone a safe and Happy New Year. Thanks for reading my work, promoting it on social media, joking about it with me at parties, or whatever you may have done to help keep the conversation alive. I always say that the readers are what make me continue to want to do this, and that hasn’t changed.

I’m excited to hear from you all again in 2017!

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