by Chad Peltier
We're going to get the national championship game we deserve -- and the one that the BCS would have given us as well. Top-ranked Clemson is likely to be an underdog against Alabama, but these are the clear top two teams in the country this year. Both teams (moreso Alabama) pulled away from their playoff opponents with relative ease on New Year's Eve, leaving little doubt that they belonged.
Interestingly, the stars and Heisman finalists for both teams weren't the stars in their playoff games. Derrick Henry was held under 4 yards per carry by the still-stout Michigan State defense, while Deshaun Watson was out-dueled by Baker Mayfield, finishing with a 52 percent completion rate and only 6 yards per attempt. Instead, Jake Coker and Calvin Ridley were the star duo for the Tide (Ridley finished with eight receptions for 138 yards as Coker's clear go-to receiver), and Wayne Gallman was the constant for Clemson (running for 150 yards on 26 carries).
In the run-up to the championship game, look out for how explosive the Clemson offense can be against the Crimson Tide defense. We'll break it down in depth in a special Seventh Day Adventure column next Monday, but the Tigers had four explosive passes against the Oklahoma defense and a number of big runs as well. Alabama's defense is statistically up to the challenge, but Clemson's explosiveness combined with Deshaun Watson's improvisational abilities should be a huge matchup to watch. Finally, can Clemson contain Derrick Henry like Michigan State did? They bottled up Samaje Perine to fifteen carries for 58 yards in the Orange Bowl.
Outside of the playoff games, we have had a series of blowouts in not just the big New Year's Six bowls, but for almost all of bowl season. So far we have had 18 bowl games decided by more than two touchdowns. All of the New Year's Six games were decided by more than two touchdowns, with an average margin of more than 24 points.
- The Crimson Tide looked like they don't have a weakness against an over-matched Michigan State team. After a scoreless first quarter, the Tide began to pull away in the second quarter before a three-touchdown third quarter sealed the win. We knew the Crimson Tide defense was good, but it allowed only three scoring opportunities for the Spartans, or just 23 percent of Michigan State total drives. We knew Michigan State would have problems running the ball (at 98th in rushing S&P+ against the top overall rushing S&P+ defense), but they managed only 29 yards on 26 carries. The Spartans only had three plays go for more than 5 yards on the ground. Connor Cook needed to play an explosive, nearly perfect game to give the Spartans a chance to win, but the Crimson Tide secondary forced two interceptions as Cook only averaged 5.4 yards per pass. His counterpart, Jake Coker, had a 57 percent passing success rate and three explosive passes while missing on only five attempts.
- It was a bad bowl season for teams in Florida. You could argue that Florida State wasn't motivated to play Houston, but the fact is that Houston just played much better in a 38-24 win over the Seminoles. Florida State quarterback Sean Maguire threw for 392 yards, but also had four interceptions as the Seminoles couldn't turn promising drives in to points. Until the fourth quarter, the Seminoles had just ten total points. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was surprisingly efficient against the stout Seminoles secondary, throwing for 238 yards and completing 15-plus-yard passes to five different receivers.
Outside of the Seminoles, Michigan blew out Florida 41-7 as the Gators couldn't find any offense. Treon Harris completed only 8-of-21 passes, and the Gators' running backs averaged only 4.4 yards per carry. Jake Rudock ended his remarkable only season under Jim Harbaugh's tutelage throwing for 278 yards on 9 yards per attempt against the talented Florida secondary. Oh, and Miami lost to Washington State, but that was more expected.
- Ohio State went up by 14 in the first quarter and never looked back even if Notre Dame refused to quit. Though both teams have excellent defenses, they took early hits, with the country's best linebacker, Jaylon Smith, going down with an apparent knee injury in the first quarter and Joey Bosa ejected early for targeting. Ohio State was then down three starting defensive linemen (defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt were suspended and injured, respectively) for the final three quarters. This, combined with Notre Dame's explosiveness and Ohio State's efficiency, led to a surprising shootout. Notre Dame opened the game with two three-and-outs, but scored a touchdown in its first drive following Bosa's ejection. Notre Dame's Will Fuller escaped for an 81-yard touchdown catch-and-run and the Irish added two more explosive runs, but those were the only three explosive plays the Irish managed despite the Buckeyes' relative weakness allowing explosive plays. The Buckeyes were incredibly efficient in the second half, scoring touchdowns on four out of five scoring opportunities, then settled for field goals on three straight fourth-quarter scoring opportunities. But the Buckeyes' per-play efficiency -- 67 percent rushing success rate and 55 percent passing success rate -- led to an incredible 82 percent drive scoring opportunity rate.
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- The demolitions weren't limited to New Year's Six games. Notable Group of 5 blowouts included Boise State dismantling Northern Illinois 55-7 and Georgia Southern running all over Bowling Green 58-27. Boise State was favored by eight and had an S&P+ win projection of two points, but the two were closely ranked in the S&P+ at 59th and 63rd, respectively. But Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien went off on the Northern Illinois defense, throwing for 377 yards on 29-of-40 passing. The Huskies defense was 62nd in passing S&P+, but the Broncos were incredibly efficient. In the GoDaddy Bowl, Bowling Green was a top-ten S&P+ offense and was favored by 7.5, but Georgia Southern ran all over the other Eagles. Favian Upshaw, one of two starting quarterbacks for the Georgia Southern Eagles, only needed 12 carries to hit 199 rushing yards, while Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson had just a 44 percent completion rate.
- Jeff Driskel has had a rocky career. After alternating offensive coordinators for his entire tenure at Florida, the former blue-chip quarterback transferred to Louisiana Tech to finish up his college eligibility. He has been excellent in his redemption year, ranking 15th in overall quarterback rating, averaging 9 yards per attempt, and throwing just eight interceptions. Against Arkansas State -- who had the 31st passing S&P+ defense coming in to the game -- Driskel finished 26-of-38 for 458 passing yards, with three touchdowns and 12.1 yards per pass.
- Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. With a performance like he had against Iowa -- the 26th S&P+ defense -- it's a shame Christian McCaffrey didn't win the Heisman. He set a Rose Bowl record 368 all-purpose yards, which was his fourth game this season with 350-plus all-purpose yards. He led the second-leading all-purpose yards player by more than 1,200 yards. McCaffrey had only 18 carries, but ran for 172 yards, led the team in receiving with 105 yards on four catches, and returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown. No player this season dominated games in all facets like Christian McCaffrey.
- Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor. Backup Baylor running back Johnny Jefferson started the night with 701 rushing yards on the season. By the end of the night against North Carolina, he had 1,000. Jefferson was central to the Bears' ground-based attack (they only threw 18 passes, completing 11 for 111 yards), carrying the ball 23 times for 299 yards (13 yards per carry) with a 63 percent success rate and five explosive runs.
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- Jake Coker, QB, Alabama. Jake Coker didn't throw for the most yards of any quarterback in bowl season -- Jeff Driskel, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, and others all had far more passing yards -- but for once, Coker was the primary offensive threat for the Crimson Tide. Coker went 25-of-30 for 286 yards (9.5 yards per attempt) and no interceptions. Derrick Henry averaged just 3.8 yards per carry against a Michigan State defense that was clearly geared to stop the run, so Coker took over and proved he can handle himself in big situations.
- Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss. The star offensive tackle added another achievement to his list -- a touchdown. Tunsil got a 2-yard receiving touchdown on a fake option tackle screen to close the first half against Oklahoma State. Tunsil also was part of an Ole Miss offensive line that allowed Chad Kelly and Jordan Wilkins to average 7.3 and 9.6 yards per carry, respectively.