Saturday Football: College Football Playoff preview edition
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Good morning and happy Friday! Oh, and also, happy new year! We’ve now officially changed the calendars to 2021 (even though this edition of the newsletter was actually finished in 2020). And, now, the real fun begins in the college football bowl season.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll get you prepared for tonight’s games. We’ll discuss the impact of Clemson not having OC Tony Elliott, whether or not Notre Dame actually has a chance against Alabama and more. Let’s get started, shall we?
ALABAMA VS. NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame will take on No. 1 Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Do the Irish actually have a shot?
Notre Dame had a great season, beating Clemson during the regular season before losing to the Tigers in the ACC Championship Game rematch. Now, the Fighting Irish are the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. Their reward? A game against undefeated No. 1 Alabama in this afternoon’s Rose Bowl.
Alabama is expected to win, and win big. But, we’ve seen major upsets in big games before. Do the Irish have what it takes to pull off a stunning upset? Let’s take a look at what’s being said about this matchup:
- Let’s start with ESPN’s Football Power Index. The FPI isn’t too high on Notre Dame’s chances, giving the Crimson Tide an 80.8% chance to win. To even have a chance, the Irish will have to stop Heisman finalist WR DeVonta Smith. Both Brian Kelly and DC Clark Lea addressed what makes Smith so difficult to defend. Meanwhile, Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian explained how Smith’s football IQ gives him the ability to move all over the field.
- This isn’t the first time Brian Kelly and Nick Saban have met. Following the 2012 season, Alabama and Notre Dame met in the BCS National Championship Game, and we all remember the 42-14 beatdown the Tide handed the Irish. Even if Kelly’s team loses to Alabama again, Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara writes that Kelly is a better coach than he gets credit for. Notre Dame QB Ian Book also doesn’t get as much hype as he probably deserves. Saturday Down South’s Phil Ervin takes you on a journey through Book’s life, from unheralded 3-star recruit to backup to ninth place in this year’s Heisman vote.
- Notre Dame is also a different team than it has been in years past. As Saturday Down South’s David Wasson writes, that’s both a good thing and a bad thing for Alabama. Finally, and most comprehensively, SDS writer Matt Hinton provides you with the ultimate Rose Bowl preview here.
Alabama looks like a juggernaut this year, but today’s game is important for Notre Dame to prove it belongs among the nation’s elite teams. Another blowout loss on the big stage may make the CFP committee hesitant to give the Irish another chance to play for a title in the future. We’ll see what happens in the Rose Bowl, but the pressure is certainly on for Kelly, Book and the Irish!
- We’re officially done with the nightmare year 2020 became. There was a ton of chaos, but there were also some good things that happened in the college football world. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara takes us back through the roller coaster season in this SEC Year in Review recap.
- The Florida Gators were trounced 55-20 by Oklahoma on Wednesday. Heisman finalist Kyle Trask struggled without most of his top receiving options, throwing three first-half interceptions (including a pick-six). Saturday Down South’s Neil Blackmon writes that Trask deserved a better farewell than the Cotton Bowl disaster.
- ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit will call the Sugar Bowl from home tonight. That’s because the popular analyst recently tested positive for COVID-19. But, the ESPN star will be back doing big in-person assignments soon enough. USA TODAY’s Brent Schrotenboer profiled Herbstreit’s rise through the college football media world.
- Alabama WR DeVonta Smith is one of the best players in the country. But, Alabama has produced some elite receivers in recent years. So, where does Smith stand among the Crimson Tide receiver hierarchy? Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde breaks down Smith’s legacy and why he’s the best receiver in Alabama history.
Clemson OC Tony Elliott will miss the Sugar Bowl due to COVID-19. How much will it impact the Tigers?
Now, we come to the other Playoff semifinal, which will take place in New Orleans. Yes, by now, you know that Clemson and Ohio State will be facing off in the Sugar Bowl with a spot in the title game on the line. But, the Tigers will be without a huge piece of their success.
That’s because OC Tony Elliott will miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols. How big of a deal is this? Let’s take a look at what’s being said about the talented Clemson coordinator:
- Elliott’s offense has been dialed in all year long for the Tigers. The Clemson offense ranks No. 3 in the FBS in scoring at 44.9 points per game. The passing offense puts up 343.8 yards per game, good for No. 7 in the FBS. It’s safe to say Elliott is in tune with the Clemson offense.
- So, how will Elliott’s absence impact the Tigers tonight? On “The Paul Finebaum Show” this week, analyst Greg McElroy said it’s a huge deal. He said he took some heat for saying Alabama wouldn’t miss Nick Saban during the Iron Bowl when the Tide coach had COVID-19. At that time, he said losing a play caller like OC Steve Sarkisian would be worse for Alabama. He doubled down on that this week while explaining Elliott’s importance to the Tigers. Head coach Dabo Swinney said he’s been preparing for this all season. It has been said by Swinney that former Clemson star RB C.J. Spiller has been elevated to the on-field staff to replace Elliott’s duties as RB coach. Meanwhile, QB coach Brandon Streeter will move up to the press box to help call plays. TigerNet.com breaks down Streeter’s history of calling plays.
- So, will this be enough to get the Buckeyes over the edge? Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara broke down the game and made his prediction here. Meanwhile, ESPN’s FPI gives the Buckeyes a narrow 50.2% chance of winning. Talk about a dead heat. It should be a fun game!
This game should be a close battle in New Orleans. A spot in the title game is on the line, so expect both teams to bring their best, regardless of who is there and who isn’t. We’ll see which team manages to win when all is said and done tonight at the Sugar Bowl.
JUST FOR FUN
For today’s quiz, let’s see how much you know about this year’s College Football Playoff coaches. We’ll give you the names of four cities. You tell us whether Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Ryan Day or Brian Kelly was born in each city. Ready? The four birthplaces are:
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Everett, Massachusetts
- Manchester, New Hampshire
- Fairmont, West Virginia
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
The 2020 bowl season is drawing to a close in the next couple of days. By the end of Jan. 2, every bowl game but the College Football Playoff National Championship Game will have been played. But, between now and then, we have eight more bowl games to get through!
Every bowl game other than the Rose Bowl Playoff semifinal between Alabama and Notre Dame is expected to be relatively close. Here’s a look at who is currently favored to win these big matchups:
Friday, Jan. 1
- Peach Bowl: Georgia (-7) vs. Cincinnati
- Citrus Bowl: Northwestern (-3.5) vs. Auburn
- Rose Bowl: Alabama (-20) vs. Notre Dame
- Sugar Bowl: Clemson (-7.5) vs. Ohio State
Saturday, Jan. 2
- Gator Bowl: Kentucky (-2.5) vs. NC State
- Outback Bowl: Indiana (-8.5) vs. Ole Miss
- Fiesta Bowl: Iowa State (-4) vs. Oregon
- Orange Bowl: Texas A&M (-7.5) vs. North Carolina
Will we see any major upsets? Any wild finishes? Who will advance to the CFP title game on Jan. 11? All of those questions will be answered over the next couple of days!
The answers to today’s CFP coaches birthplaces quiz are:
- Birmingham, Alabama — Dabo Swinney
- Everett, Massachusetts — Brian Kelly
- Manchester, New Hampshire — Ryan Day
- Fairmont, West Virginia — Nick Saban
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I told him after the game, just as a, you know, I know this is my profession but, also, as just a fan of college football, I very much appreciate him for what he did in high school, hanging through it when a lot of other people would have left. What he did playing in this game tonight, even though he’s got a really bright future ahead of him, I very, very much appreciate it. I hope college football can keep people like Kyle Trask involved. And all the respect in the world for him.”
– Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley shared his message to Florida QB Kyle Trask after the Cotton Bowl. Trask struggled, throwing 3 first-quarter interceptions without many of his top targets playing. Very classy message from Riley.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Florida LB James Houston provided plenty of bulletin-board material for Oklahoma ahead of the Cotton Bowl, saying the Sooners weren’t on the same level as the Gators or other SEC teams. Naturally, Oklahoma DL Isaiah Thomas and his teammates were quick to mock Houston’s comments after a 55-20 victory over the Gators.
This edition of the Saturday Football newsletter was written by Adam Spencer.