Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bowl Projections 2015: Predictions for CFP Championship and Biggest Matchups

The field for the 2015 College Football Playoff remains unfinished, but with only one more hurdle for those teams in line for the top four, projecting the likely semifinalists at this stage is a less than perilous pursuit.
Oklahoma and one of Iowa or Michigan State already have one foot in the playoff. Clemson and Alabama—both favored in their conference championships—will earn a top-four seed with victories Saturday.
North Carolina, Stanford or Ohio State could potentially sneak into the playoff, but they all need a lot to go right, especially the Tar Heels and Cardinal.
These questions continue to hover around those schools most likely to qualify for the playoff.
Some will argue the idea that momentum impacts a team/player's performance is a fallacy. Others, however, contend momentum undoubtedly has an effect—albeit one difficult to quantify.
No team will enter the playoff on a hotter streak than Oklahoma. In their final three games of the year, the Sooners beat Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State by an average of 12 points.
Like Ohio State a year ago, Oklahoma is saving its best football for the end of the season. The Buckeyes didn't truly look like a national title contender until their 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Then came the victories over Alabama and Oregon, and Ohio State's greatness was undeniable.
Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley identified the defeat to Texas as a demarcation point in the team's season, per Dan Wolken of USA Today:
Oklahoma is unquestionably one of the best teams in the country. According to Football Outsiders' F/+ combined rating, the Sooners are No. 3 behind Alabama and Clemson. They boast one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Baker Mayfield, and a two-headed monster in the backfield—Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine—who could give anybody headaches.
Oklahoma was firing on all cylinders to end the regular season, and if it takes that form into the playoff, then it should win the national championship.
Barring any surprises, Derrick Henry will win the Heisman Trophy.
It's like Nick Saban has an assembly line of powerful running backs in Tuscaloosa, going from Mark Ingram to Trent Richardson to Henry. The junior has run for an NCAA-best 1,797 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Simply put, whomever plays the Crimson Tide in the playoff, should they reach that stage, can't afford to let Henry run riot. Ole Miss allowed him to get 127 yards and a touchdown in its win over Alabama, but the Rebels also forced five turnovers.
You have to make Jake Coker win the game. SEC Network's Peter Burns offered a less-than-convincing bit of praise for the senior quarterback:
Coker's numbers aren't gaudy, but they aren't terrible, either. He has 2,285 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions this year, with Henry's presence in the backfield limiting how much the Tide need to rely on the passing game.
Coker is well aware how valuable his running back is, per Rick Karle of in Birmingham, Alabama:
Alabama won two national titles with AJ McCarron as its starting quarterback. McCarron was better under center than Coker but not to a demonstrable difference. This isn't the NFL where you almost must have an MVP-caliber quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
In addition, Coker showed signs of improvement in the Tide's last few games of the regular season.
Still, the secret to success against the Crimson Tide will be making Coker win the game. Doing so will throw the Alabama offense out of rhythm.
Ole Miss did a great job of making the Tide rely heavily on the passing game, and Coker completed just 21 of his 45 passes while throwing two interceptions.
Alabama's biggest weakness so far has been its passing game, and exploiting that is the easiest way to knock the Tide out of the playoff.
Before Ohio State beat Alabama and Oregon en route to a national title last year, a large swathe of college football fans thought the Big Ten was far inferior to the truly great conferences in the country, particularly the SEC.
A year later, that same level of skepticism hovers around Michigan State and Iowa.
Some would argue the Spartans and Hawkeyes are both weaker than last year's Buckeyes team. At the very least, the numbers would bear that out:
In the most basic terms, Iowa and Michigan State lack an offensive star the quality of Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 476 yards and six touchdowns against the Ducks and Crimson Tide.
Connor Cook is the closest thing the Spartans have to an Elliott-type playmaker. He is one of the better quarterbacks in the country but struggled a bit against Oregon and Michigan, two of Michigan State's tougher opponents.
C.J. Beathard has done well under center for Iowa, especially when it comes to limiting turnovers. He doesn't look like the kind of quarterback who can almost single-handedly win a game, though. Jordan Canzeri has been extremely reliable in the backfield, but like Beathard, you wonder if he can excel in back-to-back games against the best teams in the country.
It would be foolish to simply write off Michigan State or Iowa as having no chance of winning a national championship. At the same time, they look the weakest among the playoff hopefuls, excluding North Carolina and Stanford.

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