What to Watch in the College Football Playoff Semifinals

Four of the most fabled packages in school soccer — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame — nonetheless have hopes of successful the championship in certainly one of the most chaotic, unsure, week-to-week seasons in the sport’s historical past.

On Friday, the College Football Playoff will maintain its semifinal video games at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Rose Bowl in Arlington, Texas. (You learn that proper; the Rose Bowl was moved from California due to coronavirus circumstances and public well being restrictions.) The winners will advance to the championship recreation, which will likely be on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The Rose Bowl

four p.m. Eastern time in Arlington, Texas (moved from Pasadena, Calif.)

The mightiest dynasty in fashionable school soccer desires one other crown. But the 14th workforce of Coach Nick Saban’s tenure makes offense look simple, and, in that method, it’s strikingly totally different from a few of its predecessors.

Players to watch: Three of Alabama’s offensive stars — quarterback Mac Jones, working again Najee Harris and wideout Devonta Smith — completed in the high 5 for this season’s Heisman Trophy. (The winner will likely be introduced on Tuesday.) But don’t overlook Patrick Surtain II, a junior cornerback who allowed 25 yards receiving or fewer in eight of 11 video games this season.

Something Alabama loves: Alabama is averaging virtually 50 factors a recreation. When Saban gained his first championship at Alabama in 2009, the identical season Alabama’s beginning tailback earned the Heisman Trophy, the Tide managed about 32.

Something Alabama detests: Alabama has misplaced seven fumbles in this shortened season, almost double its toll from final season.

Alabama’s warning mild: Alabama’s narrowest margin of victory this season was 6 factors, in a win over Florida, and Notre Dame’s protection is best, permitting fewer than 19 factors a recreation. Saban mentioned this week that the Fighting Irish would pose “a challenge for our offense to finish,” so Alabama followers must be nervous in the event that they see Will Reichard repeatedly head out for field-goal makes an attempt. (He has been glorious thus far — 12 for 12 — however hasn’t gotten that many probabilities. Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer has tried 22 this season.)

Navigating the pandemic: Aside from disclosing Saban’s November bout with the virus and an earlier false positive for the coach, Alabama has said little about the reach of the pathogen inside its football program. But Alabama did not have any games rescheduled because of its own virus troubles.

Extra point: Saban is seeking his sixth national championship as the Crimson Tide coach, a mark that would equal Bear Bryant’s record at Alabama.

Notre Dame’s lone playoff outing, a 2018 semifinal game against Clemson, was a debacle: a 30-3 loss. A game against Alabama is one of its best opportunities for gridiron glory, even if the Fighting Irish are entering as underdogs.

Players to watch: Ian Book, the quarterback, “kind of makes them tick,” Alabama’s defensive coordinator said this week, but he also highlighted Kyren Williams, a sophomore tailback, who has run for 1,061 yards this season. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a 215-pound linebacker, and Kyle Hamilton, a sophomore safety, have 56 tackles each, tied for the team lead.

Something Notre Dame loves: Book has thrown just two interceptions this season. In the preceding 10 seasons that Brian Kelly coached the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame’s quarterback corps averaged about a dozen interceptions a year.

Something Notre Dame detests: History, or at least talking a lot about it. Aside from a regular-season victory over Clemson in November, Notre Dame has struggled in marquee games. There was the 2018 semifinal, but also a 16-point loss to Ohio State to end the 2015 season and the 28-point loss to Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series title game for the 2012 season.

Notre Dame’s warning light: Book was sacked a season-high six times in Notre Dame’s loss to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Nearly two-thirds of Alabama’s 32 sacks have come in the last four games. Early penetration from Alabama could signal a dismal day ahead for the Fighting Irish, but look for Notre Dame to try to improve on a running game that gained only 44 yards in the A.C.C. title matchup.

Navigating the pandemic: A September game against Wake Forest was postponed because Notre Dame was facing a surge of cases around its football team. The game was later canceled, the A.C.C. said, “to preserve the integrity” of the league championship game.

Extra point: Ordinarily an independent in football, Notre Dame played in the A.C.C. for the 2020 season and will become the first team to appear in the playoff after losing a league championship game.

The Sugar Bowl

8 p.m. Eastern in New Orleans

Source link Nytimes.com

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