By Steve Silverman
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The NCAA has not done a lot of things right over the years, but getting rid of the Bowl Championship Series and instituting the College Football Playoff was a true home run.
It is not a perfect system, and it could probably be made better if eight teams were in the playoffs and had a chance to win the national championship, but that’s a matter of debate.
This is the second year of the playoff system, and the anticipation level is high. I predict that Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan State will compete in the college football semifinals, which will be played in the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31.
Actually, the only team that is pretty much in at this point is Oklahoma, because its season is over and it ran off with the Big 12 title.
Clemson, Alabama and Michigan State still have to win their conference championship games to get there.
Nick Saban and Alabama should have no problems in the SEC championship game against Florida. They are huge 18-point favorites
The Crimson Tide have a dominant running game, and Derrick Henry has been a true difference-maker. He has rushed for 1,797 yards and scored 22 TDs. Quarterback Jake Coker has completed 204 of 312 passes for 2,285 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Clemson is in the No. 1 spot as it prepares to play the ACC championship game against a strong North Carolina team that should push the Tigers well into the second half.
Clemson was challenged early in the season by Louisville and Notre Dame, and after it beat the Fighting Irish 24-22 in a monsoon-like rainstorm, it took off and established its dominance.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a legitimate Heisman candidate, completing 261 of 371 passes for 3,223 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has also rushed for 756 yards, and is just a brilliant athlete.
The most interesting and closest play-in game should be the Big Ten title game between undefeated Iowa and once-beaten Michigan State.
Iowa has exceeded all expectations in reeling off 12 straight wins, but a close look at its schedule reveals a couple of tough opponents in Northwestern and Wisconsin and a slew of cupcakes.
Michigan State may be the most battle-tested team in the nation after having beaten Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State. The victories over the Wolverines and Buckeyes both came on the road, and it has earned its opportunity to play for championship consideration.
Michigan State has a sensational quarterback in Connor Cook, who is likely to be a first- or second-round draft pick next spring. Cook has had a wonderful senior season, passing for 2,730 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.
He was named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year.
Aaron Burbridge caught 75 passes for 1,158 yards and seven TDs and he is Michigan State’s best wideout. Macgarrett Kings and R.J. Shelton are also top-notch receivers, while unheralded running backs LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes ran for 1,139 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
Michigan State should win this game, taking over in the second half after Iowa keeps it close for 30 minutes.
That would likely put No. 1 Clemson and Michigan State in the Orange Bowl and Alabama and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Michigan State should earn a spot in the finals. It has been among the top teams in the nation for the last several years, and its schedule was so tough this year.
It’s also hard to look past Alabama. Love him or hate him, Saban is one of the top college football coaches of the last 50 years, and he knows how to prepare his team to win.
Oklahoma is explosive and-high scoring – it have exceeded the 50-point mark six times this season, but the Crimson Tide are tougher, meaner and nastier.
Alabama was denied in the first College Football Playoff last year, but that won’t happen this year.
It will beat a stubborn Michigan State team as Henry and the powerful ground game will prove too much for the Spartans.
It starts this weekend, and it’s a clear relief that a legitimate playoff system has come to college football.