By Steve Silverman
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College football has corrected a long-time mistake and has turned the process of determining a national champion in the right direction.
It’s Year 2 of the College Football Playoffs, and Oklahoma, Clemson, Alabama and Michigan State are the foursome that have been invited to participate.
They appear to be the right teams based on the way they played in the regular season. Eventually, the four-team tournament will become an eight-team fest, with three rounds needed to crown college football’s kingpin.
That sounds about right, and look for that scenario to become reality no sooner than five years from now and more likely closer to 10.
Oklahoma is functioning at the highest level right now, while Clemson is the only team of the four that is undefeated going into the tournament.
The Sooners will take on the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, while Crimson Tide and Spartans meet in the Cotton Bowl. Both games are on New Year’s Eve.
Oklahoma is led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who may be the most interesting player to watch in the semifinals. Mayfield is one of those rare college quarterbacks who is equally adept at passing from the pocket or making plays on the run.
Mayfield has the receivers to cause problems for any defense, and that includes Clemson’s. The Tigers have defensive back Mackensie Alexander, one of the top cover men in college football, but the Sooners are going to unleash Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, Durron Neal and tight end Mark Andrews, and that will be just too much for the Tigers to defend.
Deshaun Watson is Clemson’s outstanding triggerman, and he has the speed and quickness to light up the scoreboard. Oklahoma must get a dominating game out of its front four, or Watson will put his signature on this game.
This is a game that will see both teams put up more than 30 points, but the one that gets to 40 first will move on. Oklahoma has the slight edge because of Mayfield’s superb passing, and, in my opinion, will survive and advance.
Oklahoma and Clemson are the flash and dash of the semifinal round, while Alabama and Michigan State are the two heavyweights.
Both of those teams want to establish their physical dominance with heavy-duty running games, dominating offensive lines and defenses that throw haymakers.
For college football aficionados who are not thrilled with the high-octane offensive games that proliferate, the matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Spartans will get their juices flowing.
This game will feature a ton of hard hitting and nastiness.
It will also be a tremendous chess match between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. A generation ago, Saban was Michigan State’s head coach and Dantonio was on his staff. Each knows how the other thinks, and the one that can anticipate his counterpart’s next move the best will have an advantage.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is a full load of a running back who can be impossible to stop once he gets a full lather going after his 15th carry of the game. One of the primary reasons Michigan State is here is because it stops great running backs. That’s just what the Spartans did when they corralled Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State during the most important game of the season.
The Spartans may not stop Henry, but they will slow him down and they won’t be intimidated.
Michigan State has a three-headed running game with LJ Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes that will test Alabama’s staunch defense.
Quarterback Connor Cook is the X-factor in this game for the Spartans. His 24-to-5 TD-to-interception ratio is very impressive, but his 56.9 completion percentage is cause for concern. Cook has not seen a defense as prolific as Alabama’s — sorry Ohio State — and that completion percentage could drop even further.
But Michigan State is battle-tested and has been winning big games and bowl games for years. TheSpartans will not be intimidated at the sight of Saban and Alabama, and they will play their best game.
That should be enough to get Michigan State a tight win.
That will leave a sensational matchup between Oklahoma and Michigan State in the championship game, giving college football a fitting climax to what has been a memorable season.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy