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We'll admit that it's going to be a little odd ringing in the new year with the two most important games of the college football season. However, with the College Football Playoff comes a whole new era of the sport we all love, and if the second edition of football's "Final Four" is anywhere near as good as it was last year, we'll all be in for a huge treat.
In the opening act of the playoff, the Clemson Tigers will take on the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Tigers have been ranked No. 1 in the land ever since the first College Football Playoff rankings were released, and there hasn't been any wavering whatsoever in the eyes of the selection committee over who has posted the best resume in the land.
The Sooners were essentially the first to wrap up their spot in the last four, beating Oklahoma State on the road in the final game of the regular season. That was their ninth win over what turned out to be bowl teams this year. They slipped just a bit in the rankings from their No. 3 spot in the penultimate rankings to No. 4 in the final slot, but the fact of the matter is that they're better off here in Miami than they would've been going against Alabama in Arlington.
In the other semifinal, the SEC winners, the Alabama Crimson Tide will face off with the Big Ten winners, the Michigan State Spartans. It's the second year in a row that the SEC and Big Ten will be matched up in one of the semis, as Ohio State beat the Tide last year.
The SEC was probably down this season, as there isn't another team outside of Alabama which finished the year ranked in the Top 10. However, the Crimson Tide rebounded nicely from an early-year loss to Ole Miss to storm back into the playoff picture by crushing all contenders.
Michigan State is arguably the luckiest team in the land, but there isn't a man alive who watched college football this year who can't admit to the Spartans earning their way into the show. Sure, the game against Michigan required a stroke of luck, but Sparty did the job thereafter, storming back to beating Ohio State and Iowa from behind in the fourth quarter with a pair of mammoth drives.
Both of these games feature rematches of recent bowl games. In the 2011 Capital One Bowl, Michigan State had absolutely nothing going right from the get go and was whipped by Alabama 49-7. Last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl, another game ironically played in Orlando, Clemson beat up on Oklahoma 40-6.
A Heisman Trophy finalist will be on display in both of these games. Derrick Henry, the winner of the award, will be running the ball a ton for Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, while Deshaun Watson, the man who finished third, is the dynamic quarterback for the Tigers.
There's an interesting contrast of styles in the two games as well. Michigan State and Alabama are both run-first teams, and they're going to try to move the ball on the ground to setup deep shots down the field in the passing game. Neither team exceeds 30 points all that often, and it would be a shock to see either team get much beyond 30 in this one.
Meanwhile in the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma and Clemson had two of the best offenses in the land this year. The Sooners finished the season ranked No. 3 in scoring at 45.8 points per game. The Tigers might've slipped up just a bit at the end of the season offensively, but they still averaged 38.5 points and 510.6 yards per game.
Alabama opened up at -10 in the Cotton Bowl and quickly moved down to -9.5 where it sits as of the publication of this article. The total has dropped from the opening number of 49 down to 46.5.
Clemson is a 3.5-point underdog in spite of the fact that it is the undisputed No. 1 team in America. The total has held relatively firm all bowl season long at 64.5.
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