College Football Playoff Preview: Defense reigns champion

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College Football Playoff Preview: Defense reigns champion

NCAA

College Football Playoff Preview: Defense reigns champion

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After much speculation and debate throughout the season, we finally know which four teams will be playing in the college football playoff. This season was filled with loads of drama, excitement, and upsets but in the end, the final weekend of the college football season was anything but that. The only true upset that occurred was Alabama beating previously unbeaten Georgia but to any college football fan, we can’t really call that an upset. 

With their win in the SEC title game against the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide earned a spot in the playoff and the committee believed they were to the best team in the country thus ranking them at number one.

Coming in at number two is the Michigan Wolverines, who before the season were unranked and this special season is something nobody saw coming other than those kids in the locker room. Finally getting over the hump and beating Ohio State was the push that Jim Harbaugh and this team needed, and they are being rewarded with a chance to compete for a national championship.

At three, we have the Georgia Bulldogs who looked dominant all season long until they matched up with the Crimson Tide, a team that has had their numbers in recent memory. Georgia can take this loss and learn from it and in the end, they may be better for it.

And finally coming in at the number four spot is the Cincinnati Bearcats, making history as the first group of five team to reach the playoff. Previously, it was speculated that a group of five team had no shot at the playoff but the Bearcats shattered that belief and remain the only undefeated team in the country. 

With these four teams in the mix, the playoff features four teams all ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense. Georgia, Michigan, and Cincinnati all rank in the top four while Alabama sits right at number 20. All four teams are in the top 13 of total defense with Cincinnati and Georgia ranking second and third in passing yards allowed per game. Georgia and Alabama are ranked third and fourth in rushing defense allowed so these games have the potential to be dogfights. With all the offense going around football in today’s game, it remains clear that defense still is key to winning. 

With the final rankings, we have Alabama taking on Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl down in Arlington and Texas and Michigan going up against Georgia in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. It is time to break down the games and preview the outcomes:

*Cotton Bowl: #1 Alabama vs. #4 Cincinnati

It finally happened, a group of five team has made the college football playoff! Cincinnati has broken through and will look to keep it rolling. They came within a field goal of Georgia last season with a less experienced team and then this season won all their games, including a win on the road against Notre Dame who happens to be the fifth-ranked team in the country.

The Bearcats arguably have the best pair of cornerbacks in the country in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant, both of which could cause Alabama some fits. Gardner has not allowed a touchdown in his career but will have his hands full with Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, who completely lit up Georgia’s secondary with seven catches for 184 yards and two scores. If he can at least contain Williams, the Bearcats would be in decent shape, especially with Alabama losing stud wide receiver John Metchie to injury. 

Both offenses showcase strong quarterback play in Bryce Young and Desmond Ridder. Young will likely be the Heisman choice this season after an impressive year leading the Crimson Tide. He totaled 461 yards of total offense in the SEC title game, the most by any player ever in that game. He has shown major poise throughout the season and rarely makes mistakes.

As for Ridder, he is the Bearcats’ all-time passing touchdown leader and was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons. This season leading Cincinnati to an undefeated record, he threw for 3,190 yards, 30 touchdowns, and completed 65.9 percent of his passes. However, he has rarely seen a defense like the one Alabama will throw at him when the teams kickoff later this month. 

Experience will likely come into play in this game as the Crimson Tide are essentially in the playoff every season and are still the defending national champions. Cincinnati has a chance to prove they belong in the conversation with the “big” teams, and this is their chance. They wanted this opportunity and now have it against the juggernaut that Alabama has been as of late.

If Cincinnati were to win the game or even keep it close, it would show the college football world that group of five teams can compete with the Power-Five. There is a lot riding on the shoulders of Cincinnati, not only to win the game but to make sure other group of five teams have the same opportunity if they earn it.

Cincinnati has proved everyone wrong thus far this season, breaking down all the challenges they’ve faced but now comes Nick Saban and the Tide. However, this Cincinnati team is anything but just happy to be here as they think they can beat mighty Alabama and if they do, it may just completely send the college football world into madness.

*Orange Bowl: #2 Michigan vs. #3 Georgia 

All season long, Georgia looked to be the favorite to win the national championship but after getting punched in the mouth by Alabama, it remains to be seen how the Bulldogs will respond. They’ll have a few weeks off to rest and prepare for the game, but Michigan won’t be an easy opponent.

On defense, the Wolverines boast star Aidan Hutchinson, who looks to be a top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. His ability to get to the quarterback may be a problem for Georgia. Hutchinson has 14 sacks on the season and 58 total tackles with 15.5 of them for loss. He can be a game-changer alone but alongside him is David Ojabo who himself has posted 11 sacks and 35 total tackles with 12 of them going for a loss.

This duo for Michigan gives them one of the best defenses in the country and will certainly be something that head coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs will need to try and scheme against. 

However, Georgia also boasts a strong defense led by defensive lineman Jordan Davis who can just as easily cause headaches for opposing offenses. This Georgia defense was special all season leading up to the game against Alabama and I’m sure they’ll be looking to get back to form. If they can get to Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara, it could be a long day for the Wolverines offense. 

For Michigan, their strongest asset on the offensive side of the ball is the running game and they have two solid backs who can cause damage. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have caused issues all season long and are one of the main reasons that Michigan finds themselves in this spot. Haskins has rushed for 1,288 yards and 20 touchdowns this season while Corum has rushed for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns. This duo could present problems for this Georgia defense due to the physical nature of the Michigan offensive line. 

On Georgia’s offense, it is uncertain who will start at quarterback, and Kirby Smart will need to decide between Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels for the semi-final. Bennett came in during the season for Daniels after he got hurt and had played the majority of the games but showed an inability to pick up the defense on an off night against Alabama.

The one knock on Georgia all year has been the question mark about how they would respond to a close game or being hit in the mouth as they were blowing teams out all season. They’ll need to respond, and the offense will need to step up against this strong Michigan defense. 

All season long, Georgia seemed like the team of destiny, until they weren’t as they walked off the field after playing Alabama. Michigan now seems to have some of that magical feel to them, but magic won’t beat the Bulldogs. This matchup features strength against strength and could be one of the better college football playoff semi-finals in recent memory.

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