Over the past few years, it seems like it’s the same-old same-old, Clemson and Alabama making the College Football Playoff, and have played each other the past 3 years, including 2 of the past 3 National Championships. This year, however, features some new headlines. Alabama QB sensation Tua Tagovailoa has an injury to both of his ankles, and Clemson DL Dexter Lawrence, who is probably the best defensive lineman in the country, failed a drug test which will force him to be out vs. Notre Dame. Could this be the year that Oklahoma and Notre Dame take down the dynasties?
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: #2 Clemson vs. #3 Notre Dame, 4PM EST, ESPN
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney benched QB Kelly Bryant in favor of freshman QB Trevor Lawrence, people wondered if this was the beginning of the end for Clemson’s playoff chances. Bryant had been such a valuable piece to the team, going 16-2 in his 18 starts, and taking them to the College Football Playoff the season before. Lawrence, on the other hand, was the #2 recruit according to the ESPN 300, and while he had tons of potential and talent, he was only a freshman. Lawrence, however, took what was a stagnant offense (well, for Clemson, at least), and turned it into an undefeated season, and Clemson scored its most touchdowns ever in Clemson history. To help ease the pressure off of Lawrence, Clemson’s defense was 2ndin scoring, allowing just 13.7 points per game to opponents.
Notre Dame had the same issues with quarterback as well yet did not have the same expectations on them as Clemson did. Senior Brandon Wimbush started off the first 3 games, yet after having a 1:4 TD-to-INT ratio over 3 games, it was time for junior QB Ian Book to come in. Much like with Lawrence for Clemson, Book gave the spark the team needed offensively to compete with the best-of-the-best and give Notre Dame their first College Football Playoff berth.
Notre Dame in their last 5 Bowl Games are 0-5, having lost all by double-digits, but the fact that according to Vegas, Clemson is a 13-point favorite over Notre Dame is beyond me. The game will come down to the run game of both teams against the defensive lines. Can Clemson’s D-Line hold up without Dexter Lawrence against Ian Book and Dexter Williams in the Read Option game, or will Travis Etienne and Co. manhandle Notre Dame. Book and Lawrence will do their things, but Williams vs. Etienne will be the difference. As well as Clemson has run the ball all season, averaging 259 yards per game on the ground, Dexter Lawrence not being out there has resulted in almost double the yards per carry for opposing teams (1.7 yards per carry with Lawrence, 3.0 yards per carry without). He is easily the best defensive lineman in the country, and his absence will be felt. Williams should take advantage of that, and then set up the play-action game for Book to utilize. Notre Dame gets the upset.
Capital One Orange Bowl: #1 Alabama vs. #4 Oklahoma, 8PM EST, ESPN
Much like Clemson and Notre Dame, Alabama switched quarterbacks, this time from Jalen Hurts to Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts had taken the team to back-to-back championships and won both, except in the 2ndone (last year vs. Georgia), he exited the game with an injury, and in came Tua, a Hawaiian kid whom no one had heard about who somehow managed to lead the miracle comeback from 20-7 down in the 4thto win 26-23 in OT. Had the injury not happened, Tua would not be a started, Hurts and Alabama’s dynasty would be over, and we would probably be discussing a Georgia-Oklahoma playoff game, yet instead, Tua’s heroics have us here. Tua, for much of the season, was the Heisman front-runner. Then he injured his ankle, and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray took the trophy home. Tua then injured his other ankle against Georgia this year in the SEC Championship game, again vs. Georgia, Hurts stepped in, and Hurts led a miracle comeback victory. So, the question becomes yet again, will Tua be healthy, and even if he is, is he better than Hurts?
On the other side, Heisman winner Kyler Murray has his sights set on the National Championship trophy now. He represents Oklahoma as a school that has had back-to-back Heisman winners now (Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield having won last year), and now leads Oklahoma to back-to-back playoff berths. Oklahoma’s one-loss season was criticized by many as a season which wasn’t playoff-worthy, having lost to a Texas team that wasn’t very good at the time. That being said, Oklahoma still has the tools to be able to beat a high-powered team like Alabama.
Much like last year, Oklahoma’s high-flying offense against a top defense in the country looms large. Alabama will come in with their usual gameplan if Tua plays, which is to let Tua be Tua. Alabama coach Nick Saban will be more than happy to see him throw the ball deep against this suspect secondary of Oklahoma. That being said, Oklahoma’s defense has stepped up quite a bit as of late, and if Tua isn’t 100% and still plays, Oklahoma can send pressure and force turnovers. The more turnovers they force, the more Kyler Murray can lead the charge. Time of possession will be the story of the game, but against Alabama, Oklahoma’s defense has to be the best it has ever been and force takeaways. With Tua’s status unknown and Kyler’s Heisman ability, I don’t see a way that Alabama’s offense will be able to match Oklahoma’s scoring ability.
2019 National Championship: #3 Notre Dame vs. #4 Oklahoma
Assuming this is the National Championship, this would be one of the most entertaining National Championships we have seen in years. Notre Dame would have a chance to continue its glorified history, and Oklahoma could turn themselves into one of the most prestigious college football programs in the country. Notre Dame’s season simply has just been the type that many programs dream of, but I do not believe it will end as a perfect season. Oklahoma’s pro-ready offense is going to be too much for Notre Dame to overcome, but it will surely be one of the best National Championships yet if it happens.