Since TJ does such a great job with his MLB Playoff Predictions each season, I thought I’d take a crack at my own. This time, with the College Football Playoff. Today, I’ll talk the first game of the playoff, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which pits the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide against the Washington Huskies. Kickoff is 3:00 pm on December 31st.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The bread and butter of the Tide under Nick Saban has been their vaunted defense. Truthfully, they’re so good that little analysis is necessary, and this year, it’s no different – the Tide have only given up an average of about 185 passing yards and 63 rushing yards per game. Their unit is lead by senior linebacker Reuben Foster (94 tackles) and sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (5 picks, 7 passes defensed), and those are just two of the most notable names they’ll trot out there. ‘Bama gets to the quarterback early and often, as they have the 5th most sacks in college football. And on top of that, they have 24 takeaways.
Offensively, the Tide seem to be to be more formidable than they have been in recent years. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’d probably start with Jalen Hurts. A true freshman, I kept waiting for Hurts to fall off. But after 34 total touchdowns (22 through the air, 12 on the ground) against only 9 interceptions, it’s clear that he’s real. ‘Bama has done a great job at making Hurts’s life easy – the big guys up front do a great job protecting him, and their passing plays include many high-percentage throws. Hurts isn’t alone – he’s flanked by great receivers everywhere you look. Sophomore Calvin Ridley is on one side and Ardarius Stewart (9/10 name) on the other, with OJ Howard lining up at tight end. Plus, he’s got Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough coming out of the backfield.
I would go out on a limb and say, in my opinion, this is the most complete team that Nick Saban has had since he got to Tuscaloosa.
I never really was sold on Washington at any point this season. I’m not sure if it’s because of I perceived an offense-now, defense-later mentality, or because they play in the PAC-12, or for some unknown reason. But I’m here to say now that I’m wrong for now, because they’re probably going to lose. In a playoff that features many great coaches, Chris Peterson is right up there with them.
Washington grabbed people’s attention this year by running teams right out of the stadium on the right shoulder of sophomore quarterback Jake Browning. He finished 6th in the Heisman voting, and he probably should’ve finished higher, to be honest. Browning threw for over 3,200 yards and 42 (!) touchdowns against 7 picks, completing 63% of his passes. His favorite targets were wideouts John Ross and Dante Pettis. However, Washington boasted a complete offense this year. Running back Myles Gaskin nearly had a 1,400-yard season with 10 touchdowns, while Lavon Coleman chipped in 7 more scores from the ground.
As great as Washington is offensively, it’s actually their defense that is ranked higher; Peterson’s squad is the 11th best unit in America. In fact, the Huskies have the best turnover margin in college football, with 33 takeaways against 12 turnovers lost. 12 different players have recorded an interception this season for Washington, which is ridiculous. To beat Alabama, Psalm Wooching (9.5/10 name, 6 sacks) is going to have to lead the charge in getting to Hurts. As a unit, Washingon averages just short of 3 sacks per game, but against a team like Alabama, they’re going to need a career day.
As I said earlier, I was skeptical of Washington because they play in the PAC-12, which in my opinion, isn’t a good football conference. In fact, Washington’s only loss came to a USC team that ‘Bama beat 52-6 earlier this year. It’s not impossible for the Huskies, who are 14 point underdogs, to beat Alabama – they do boast the best offense and best quarterback the Tide have played this year by far (it’s been a very down year for the SEC). The biggest thing with the Huskies is that they have to go out and control the clock, because I think they’re going to have a tough time with ‘Bama’s explosive weapons. This means short, high-percentage passes, not allowing the Tide pass rush to get to Browning, and taking care of the football.
Alabama beats Washington 34-22. I think Washington puts up a fight through three quarters, but they won’t be able to last against the Tide.
Come back tomorrow to see my prediction for the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Cover photo from 12NEWS.com.