On January 1, 2016, the second annual College Football Playoffs will begin. After another amazing and unforgettable season, four teams remain in the fight for a national championship.
#1 Seed Clemson (13-0 Record Overall, 9-0 Conference Record): With a prominent and historical reputation as “chokers”, Clemson wouldn’t normally be considered amongst the top four in college football this late in the season. This year’s Clemson team, however, appears to be different. The undefeated Tigers have won a slew of close, tough fought games against good teams like Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a top five Heisman Trophy candidate, and his phenomenal performance this season is paramount to Clemson’s success in 2015. While Clemson’s passing game has been great, their effectiveness in running the football will be their key to winning a national championship in January. Their defense, which has stood out even against good teams, will also need to maintain or even elevate their play to have a shot at this year’s championship. Deshaun Watson has willed the Tigers to the playoff thus far, but he will not be able to carry the team to a title on his own.
#2 Seed Alabama (12-1, 8-1): Another year, another chance at a national title for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Alabama returns to the college football playoffs after losing to Ohio State last season. This Alabama team is superior in many ways to the semifinalist of last season, as Heisman candidate running back Derrick Henry and a suffocating, elite defense have propelled them to this year’s playoffs. After a stunning home loss to Ole Miss in September (a game in which Alabama had an uncharacteristic and shocking five turnovers), the Crimson Tide have played near flawless football,winning ten straight games following the loss. They have won these games despite a difficult schedule, beating LSU on the road and Florida in the conference championship. Quarterback Jake Coker has proven to be a great game manager, allowing his defense and running game to make plays and lead the team to victory. However, if Alabama wants to win in the playoffs against very talented teams, Coker will need to play mistake free football and make some plays of his own.
#3 Seed Michigan State (12-1, 8-1): The Michigan State Spartan’s season has been nothing short of a roller coaster, and their wild season will continue come January. Early in the season, their offense looked sluggish and they barely managed to beat meidocre teams Rutgers and Purdue. Their win at Michigan, one of the best games of the season, was unearned and the result of a last second fumbled punt on the last play of the game. A November loss to unranked Nebraska appeared to expose the Spartans and end their shot at a championship. However, the loss remains their sole blemish on their record, as they stunningly defeated Ohio State without the help of their future NFL quarterback Connor Cook before defeating Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Michigan State has triumphed in a slew of close games, and they are clearly battle tested for what will surely be an interesting playoff. Michigan needs to overcome their inconsistent and at times anemic offense if they want to find themselves champions in January. However, coach Mark Dantonio and the red hot Spartans seem primed to make a playoff run in January.
#4 Seed Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1): Even with one horrible loss this season, the Oklahoma Sooners are the unquestionable champions of the Big XII, and they deserve a shot at the title. Dismissed by the national media following their stunning loss at Texas, Oklahoma rallied back, dismantling the rest of their conference and looking like a top four team in the country throughout. Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield quarterbacks the Sooners’ successful offense, and their defense played well in a conference known for its poor tackling and lackluster defense. Oklahoma has a slew of impressive wins on their resumé, defeating Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State in recent weeks. Their sole blemish on their record, albeit an extremely negative one, came early in the year against Texas, and this Sooners squad does not resemble the team that was embarrassed by the Longhorns. Baker Mayfield will need to continue his sharp play, and the Sooners’ defense will need to prove that their defense can step up against power running football teams, but head coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners seemed primed to continue their impressive run. At this point, no team in the country is playing better football than Oklahoma.
Picks from The Hyphen sports editors, Ryan Kimball ‘17 and Zeli Grey ‘17
#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma
Ryan’s Pick: 31-20 Clemson
Zeli’s Pick: 31-24 Oklahoma
#2 Alabama vs #3 Michigan State
Ryan’s Pick: 27-10 Alabama
Zeli’s Pick: 31-24 Alabama
Predicted National Championship:
Ryan: Alabama 21, Clemson 20
Zeli: Alabama 24, Oklahoma 17
Your 2016 national champions: The University of Alabama