Oklahoma vs. Clemson. 4:00 pm Eastern. Sonners favored by 4:
Hard to believe the number-one team in the country is an underdog, but that's Clemson's situation right now. This should be a high-powered, offensive explosion type of game. The loser of this game could score in the 30's. When you look at the Oklahoma defense, it seems like they're a good unit, until you dig deeper. They defeated both TCU and Baylor when those teams were playing terrible quarterbacks, not the regular guys. Yet they still gave up 29 and 34 points. Can they stop Deshaun Watson? No. They cannot. And will not. Clemson is scoring 40. Mark it down.
Can Oklahoma score 41? It's possible. The Sooners have a big-time offense, and they can run it and pass it effectively. They're going to put up points against Clemson. But the Tiger defense just might be able to put together a few more stops than the Sooners and get the victory. Clemson's defense suffered from late season injuries and got hurt by both North Carolina and South Carolina, but other than those two games and a game with North Carolina State, they were pretty solid.
The Clemson defense put up some great efforts against Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State and Louisville, and this might be the difference in a shootout. This is a tight game to handicap, but in the end I'm riding with Watson over Baker Mayfield in a pressure spot. There's no doubt Mayfield and the Sooners can win, but I'm seeing the Clemson defense stopping them enough, and Watson taking the Tigers on a game-winning drive at the end.
PREDICTION: Clemson 42 Oklahoma 40.
Michigan State vs. Alabama. 8:00 pm Eastern. Crimson Tide favored by 10:
This game figures to be a lot closer than the point spread, and I think Michigan State will be with Alabama right to the final whistle. But can they win this game? Or just keep it close? This is a tough spot for the Spartans with Nick Saban looking for revenge for last year's playoff loss to the Buckeyes. Alabama has a great front-seven, and running the football is going to be tough for the Spartans.
For the Spartans to win, Connor Cook has to play well. They will need to throw the football, maybe often, to pull off the upset. Michigan State must win the turnover battle. It would be a huge help to start fast, and force Alabama to play catchup. That puts the game on Jacob Coker's shoulders, and in a QB battle I'm going with Connor Cook. If Alabama starts fast, and blows out to a 17-3 lead, the Spartans are going to get Derrick Henry coming at them 45 times.
Michigan State has enough physicality to limit Henry's damage, which should force Coker to have to make throws against a suspect Spartan secondary. I expect Mark Dantonio to jam the line of scrimmage to stoip Henry, and play man on the outside and live with the consequences. If Coker gets over the top to Calvin Ridley a few times, you take your butt whipping and go home. But if they stop Henry, and force Coker into mistakes, the Spartans can win this game.
Michigan State needs to keep it close, and win the fourth quarter. This formula has worked often in big games the past few years, and they have a lot of quality wins recently. The Spartans are extremely well coached, and play the game with a nastiness that I love. Can they hang around, and take down the Tide in the final minutes? I think they can. And I think they will.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 27 Alabama 21.
BONUS DAY COVERAGE:
It might not be the biggest game of the bowl season, but I also think Houston under Tom Herman can beat Florida State. The Seminoles will not want to play in this game, and Houston just might jump them early, and then hang on for the win after the Noles wake up. This is a huge game for Herman, while it's not very attractive to Florida State. Herman has had a great year for the Cougars. This will be a good capper on his season.