Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State are back

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The national semifinals in the College Football Playoff will take place on Friday (New Year’s Day) as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Rose Bowl, which has been moved from Pasadena, California to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to allow for family members of the players and coaches to attend the game. That will be followed by the Ohio State Buckeyes facing off against the Clemson Tigers in the Sugar Bowl.

The winners will meet Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to decide college football’s champion. Here’s a breakdown of the two semifinals and my picks for both games:

Rose Bowl: Notre Dame +20 vs. Alabama, Total 66: The point spread suggests that Alabama is expected to roll past Notre Dame and advance to the national title game. Notre Dame appeared to be more physically capable of competing with elite teams this season when they defeating Clemson during the regular season.

The concern I have is that Notre Dame simply took advantage of a Clemson squad without Trevor Lawrence at QB and four defensive starters in that game, including one of their captains in LB James Skalski. They all played in the ACC title game in which Clemson got their payback as they routed Notre Dame 34-10. 

The Crimson Tide certainly have the same capability to control the game on both sides of the football against the Fighting Irish and they have even more explosiveness on offense than the Tigers. Alabama scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season and have not been stopped by anybody.

This game could turn into an aerial show because both Notre Dame and Alabama are superior defensively against the run. The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide are allowing 3.7 yards per carry or less this season. These two defenses seem to be more vulnerable in the secondary with their pass defense. I’m not sure either team will be able to run the football with a great deal of effectiveness even though Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams and Alabama’s Najee Harris are talented running backs but may be hard pressed to break free against two really good run defenses.

I think Alabama wins the game but I am not comfortable laying almost three touchdowns. I think this game could find its way over the total of 65.5. Notre Dame will look to play very slow and keep Alabama’s potent offense off the field but I think Ian Book can hit on some passing plays against an Alabama secondary that yielded 408 passing yards to Florida in the SEC title game. 

If you’re looking for a prop bet, Mac Jones has thrown at least four TD passes in four of Alabama’s last six games. I will recommend betting Jones Over 2.5 TD passes at -130. NOTRE DAME and OVER

Sugar Bowl: Ohio State +7.5 vs. Clemson, Total 66.5: This is a rematch of last year’s college football playoff semifinal between these teams as Clemson erased a 16-0 deficit to come back and beat Ohio State 29-23 last season. Ohio State QB Justin Fields was intercepted in the end zone in the final minute to seal the win for the Tigers.

Ohio State will be fueled to avenge that loss but I’m not sure motivation will be enough for the Buckeyes who have a wide range of player personnel issues right now. 

Clemson is peaking at the right time. Since they got Lawrence back and got healthy on defense, the Tigers finished the season going 3-0 SU and ATS covering by a combined 36.5 points in those victories against Pitt, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. All of those wins came by margins of 24 or more points.

The Tigers have a balanced offensive attack which is hard to stop with Lawrence throwing (and running) the football plus RB Travis Etienne on the ground. Ohio State’s defense hasn’t been as good this season as in previous editions as the Buckeyes have allowed a lot of big plays through the air as their pass defense is a weak area for them. Ohio State has also faced a lot of weaker offenses and QB’s this season in their relatively light schedule and Lawrence will be the best QB they’ve faced by far.

I’m comfortable laying the points here with Clemson. They are playing their best football right now and Dabo Swinney’s track record in the postseason is spectacular. Clemson is 15-3 SU and ATS in ACC title games, bowl games and playoff games combined under Swinney and that is a track record worthy of support here. CLEMSON

Thursday

Mississippi State vs. Tulsa -2.5: Tulsa is bowling for the first time since 2016 and they have had a terrific season going 6-2 SU, 7-1 ATS heading into the Armed Forces Bowl. The defense led the way for them allowing just 340 total yards per game this season. They have an experienced QB in Zack Smith who might be coming off his best game of the season moving the football against a very good Cincinnati defense in the AAC title game in which Tulsa just fell short 27-24.

Mississippi State has had a rough first season under head coach Mike Leach but did end on a high note with a 51-32 win against Missouri. Leach has a very lackluster bowl record going 1-3 SU in his last four bowl games and I think Tulsa can notch the win here. TULSA

West Virginia vs. Army +7: There was concern Army would not get to play in a bowl game but they deservingly will get their chance here in the Liberty Bowl and I expect them to make the most of it.

Army’s defense has been strong and West Virginia has a very limited offense that lacks explosiveness and big play ability. On the other side, Army’s triple option attack will be difficult for West Virginia to prepare for as this style of offense is something they don’t see in the Big 12 and West Virginia will be without their best defensive player for this game who opted out.

West Virginia is on a 0-3 SU and ATS slide in bowl games while Army is 4-1 SU and ATS in their last five bowl games. ARMY

Friday

Cincinnati +7 vs. Georgia, Total 50: The key here is whether or not Cincinnati will be ready for this bowl game after the disappointment of being left out of the playoff.

I believe they will want to make a statement and will bring their best performance to the field here against the mighty Georgia Bulldogs. QB Desmond Ridder had a major breakout season for Cincinnati and the Bearcats’ offense was much more explosive than it has been in the past while their defense was tremendous holding foes to 16 points per game.

That will get tested here though by QB JT Daniels and a rolling UGA offense which piled up 31, 45 and 49 points in their last three games.

I’m on Cincinnati and Over in this game as I believe this will be a step up in class for these two defenses and it’s worth noting Georgia’s defense hasn’t been nearly as good this season. CINCINNATI and OVER

Last week: 1-3

Season: 20-36-1

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