Can you believe that college football bowl season is here?
Championship weekend didn’t disappoint, and in fact, it set us up for success as fans. Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma have been pegged as the “final four” of this year’s College Football Playoff, and we’re looking at two very good semifinal matchups.
Alabama and Michigan State will meet in the Cotton Bowl, while No. 1 Clemson and Oklahoma will meet in the Orange Bowl.
You honestly couldn’t ask for two more intriguing matchups.
But with that said, those two games won’t be the only contest worth watching this bowl season, and there are still plenty of very good teams out there looking to impress in their respective bowl games. In all, it projects to be a very exciting time for college football fans.
Let’s talk about it in the latest (and greatest) Today’s U Roundtable:
Question No. 1: Let’s take a look back for one quick question. Of all the championship games this past weekend, which one was your favorite and why?
Mark Carroll: For me, it was the ACC Championship Game because we got a chance to see so many things we didn’t already know. How was Clemson going to play against the best and fastest offense it has seen all year? How was UNC going to fare against the most complete team it had seen all year? Not only was it an exciting game from start to finish, but we got a chance to see just how good Clemson’s defense is. In my eyes, it was also a signature game for Deshaun Watson as far as his Heisman hopes. We can pick apart box scores all day, but his playmaking ability in key moments really showed against the Tar Heels. UNC’s late-game comeback made it even more interesting, and despite the controversy toward the end, it was just an outstanding football game with lots of scoring.
Kyle Kensing: While the ACC and Big Ten Championships were ultimately more competitive in their final scores, the Pac-12 featured the greatest individual performance I’ve ever seen live. Christian McCaffrey’s 461 all-purpose yards (not including his 11 yards on a touchdown pass to Kevin Hogan) booked his place in the Heisman ceremony, and may well have won him the award. Incredibly, both he and Hogan scored on a run, pass and reception. For two players to do so in the same game is remarkable.
Tom Shanahan: Clemson-North Carolina was spoiled by ACC referee blunders that robbed North Carolina of a chance for a last-second comeback, Alabama-Florida was a bore won by a boar coach and Stanford-USC was a rout that happily spared us USC exploiting the rematch revenge factor to win a conference title with four losses (8-5 after the Stanford victory). Michigan State and Iowa played an old-style smash-mouth game with drama up to the end. The Spartans’ drive used up 9:04 of the 9:31 left in the game when they took possession and mounted a 22-play, 82-yard drive to score with 27 seconds to play on L.J. Scott’s 1-yard run and reach with the ball to break the plane for a touchdown. An ordinary back would have been stopped at the 1, but Scott is a special talent who pivoted away from the hit to an opening that allowed him to extend the ball. It was the best Spartans’ touchdown reach since 1966, when Bob Apisa scored on a fourth-and-1 for an 11-8 comeback victory at Ohio Stadium that preserved Michigan State’s unbeaten season to set up the Game of the Century with Notre Dame (that ended in a 10-10 with a co-national championship). Ohio State coach went Woody Hayes went apocalyptic on the sideline, inciting a riot among Ohio State fans who threw bottles at the Spartans. Michigan State’s team buses needed a police escort to the airport. That was Hayes, the bully for whom the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award is named.
Jason Hall: The Big Ten Championship. I’m not sure what the spread was, but it had to be the closest of any conference matchup and the final score indicated such. It wasn’t the most exciting game as far as having a lot of scoring, but it was closer than most of the other conference title matchups.
Andrew Kulha: I’ve got to go with Tom and Jason here, and that’s not just because I was at the game covering it. The atmosphere of this matchup was electric, especially if you’re a fan of defensive football. I can see how some would be bored by this type of Big Ten slugfest, but as someone who appreciates defense, this was a beauty. Both MSU and Iowa’s defenses were stout, and there was that district feeling in the fourth quarter that the game was hanging in the balance. Who wanted it more and who would make the big play? It turned out to be Michigan State with that epic game-winning drive, and those are the types of games I personally like watching. I want to watch a game where literally one play and one inch can make the difference, and that’s what this game was all about. I spent the last five minutes on the field in the end zone the Spartans were driving toward, and being able to see that gritty touchdown run happen right in front of me is something I won’t forget. MSU was clutch there, but credit the Hawkeyes for playing a great game as well. Also credit Iowa fans, because they really took over Indianapolis that weekend. It felt like the attendance was 75-25 in Iowa’s favor.
Question No. 2: What were your first thoughts on the reveal of the college football playoff Top 4?
Mark Carroll: The conversation would have been a lot more interesting had the ACC, SEC or Pac-12 title games played out differently, but the committee’s job of selecting the Top 4 after Saturday was pretty easy. Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma were each deserving of a Top 4 spot, and there was really no debate. What stood out to me more than anything was Iowa filling the No. 5 spot. If UNC had upset Clemson or Florida had upset Alabama, could Iowa really have jumped two conference champions for the final spot in the playoff? At the very least, Stanford would have had good reason to be really upset. As for the Top 4, though, it was pretty much a no-brainer.
Kyle Kensing: No surprises there. The committee got it right, largely because it couldn’t possibly have gotten it wrong. This season managed to break in such a way that the Playoff could be crafted completely free of controversy: Clemson was a clear No. 1 as the sole unbeaten, with two Top 10 wins. Alabama’s play since losing Week 3 warrants No. 2. Michigan State deserved to jump Oklahoma on the strength of the Spartans’ second Top 10 win, and OU successfully navigated the most top-heavy conference.
Tom Shanahan: The College Football Playoff committee remained consistent throughout the year. Those four teams were placed about as expected, although not necessarily in that order. A case could have been made that the Alabama-Florida game was so bad maybe Alabama should be No. 4, or at 5 with Stanford replacing the Crimson Tide.
Jason Hall:. I wasn’t surprised. Clemson and Alabama have topped the rankings for weeks and it should have been assumed that Michigan State would have made the jump with a win over Iowa. Oklahoma has been in the mix for weeks and deserves to be even without a conference championship. So nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Andrew Kulha: I’m satisfied with the outcome because I believe these two semifinal games are going to be very good. Clemson/Oklahoma could put up a lot of points and be a very exciting game, and MSU/Alabama should be one of the more physical games we’ll see all season. Still, I can’t but help dream of an eight team playoff. Just imagine with me for a moment: Clemson vs. Notre Dame, Alabama vs. Ohio State, Michigan State vs. Stanford and Oklahoma vs. Iowa. That. Would. Be. Epic.
Question No. 3: Which lesser-known bowl game is going to be the best watch?
Mark Carroll: Everyone absolutely needs to watch the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl between LSU and Texas Tech. I’m not saying this because I think it’s going to great game, but I do think it could potentially be a record-breaking day for LSU running back Leonard Fournette. All the ingredients are there. Fournette is leading the nation in rushing yards per game. He wasn’t invited to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. As a sophomore, he’ll be back next season, so it will be a shot for him to establish himself as the 2016 preseason Heisman favorite. Oh, and he’ll be facing one of the worst run defenses in all of college football. Texas Tech should be terrified over what Fournette is about to do because there is nothing the Red Raiders can do about it. I can wait to see what Fournette does in that game.
Kyle Kensing: The fledgling Boca Raton Bowl scored quite the coup with Temple and Toledo, two of the best Group of Five teams this season. This is a Top 25-caliber matchup, even if Toledo dropped from the rankings. Bronko Nagurski Award winner Tyler Matakevich leading a stout Owl defense against one of the nation’s most multifaceted and effective rushing offense should set the tone for this one.
Tom Shanahan: First, I’d like to repeat the sentiment from my Today’s U Monday story that the Army-Navy Game Saturday is much like a bowl game and worth watching. But as for the actual bowl games, Indiana and Duke is interesting because of the persistence that Hoosiers’ coach Kevin Wilson and Blue Devils’ coach David Cutcliffe have shown to build football teams at basketball schools. This is Duke’s fourth straight bowl trip and Indiana’s first since 2007. The game also is a contrast of styles. Indiana plays a wide-open spread offense and Duke a pro-style offense. The Blue Devils’ strength has been their defense. Indiana has needed to outscore teams.
Jason Hall: The Birmingham Bowl. Memphis seemed like a juggernaut for most of the season while Auburn failed to live up to preseason hype. Both Tigers have plenty to prove, especially Memphis, which lost head coach Justin Fuente after he accepted the job at Virginia Tech. Auburn has the advantage in talent but Memphis already proved it could play up to an SEC opponent against Ole Miss earlier in the season
Andrew Kulha: I’m not sure this is a lesser-known bowl game, but my must-see matchup has got to be the Russell Athletic Bowl. Baylor vs. North Carolina? That’s enough to get me to tune in. The Bears head into this game ranked first in the country in points per game with a cool 48. North Carolina is 11th with 40.9. Earlier I pumped up close, defensive smash-mouth football, but there’s a place for this type of offensive matchup in my heart as well. The points could end coming fast and furious in this bowl game—especially if Baylor can get something out of and figure out its quarterback position—and that’s an exciting watch no matter who you are.