College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Schedule and Bracket Predictions

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06: Amari Cooper #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide warms up before the SEC Championship game against the Missouri Tigers at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It's finally (almost) here—the inaugural College Football Playoff.

We talked about it before the season, anticipating who would be in before games were even played. We talked about it all during the season, critiquing every weekly rankings put out by the CFP committee.

But now that the teams are announced and the bowl season is just about in full swing, it's time to put all the talking aside and get ready for two semifinal games that promise to live up to the billing.

Let's jump right in and look at everything you need to know for the first-ever CFP.

College Football Playoff Schedule, Predictions
DateRose Bowl GameTime (ET)TVOddsPrediction
Jan. 1No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State5 p.m.ESPNORE -9.5Oregon 41-30
DateSugar BowlTime (ET)TVOddsPrediction
Jan. 1No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State8:30 p.m.ESPNALA -9.5Alabama 31-24
DateNational ChampionshipTime (ET)TV-Prediction
Jan. 12TBD (Predicted: Alabama vs. Oregon)8:30 p.m.ESPN-Oregon 28-25
ESPN.com / Steven Cook's picks

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 20

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

Looking back, the first year of the four-team CFP format could not have come at a better time for Florida State.

If we still had the BCS format for this year, the unbeaten Seminoles would have been the first team out. And considering they're in the midst of a 29-game win streak, the madness in reaction would have been ear-piercing.

Alas, Florida State has made it into the group of four and will be intent on proving its plethora of ugly wins this season are an aberration. Doing so against the No. 2 Oregon Ducks—who have enough to prove on their own—won't be a walk in the park.

Jameis Winston seems to make the winning plays whenever he feels it's needed, but he'll face a fast Duck defense giving up just 17 points per contest in their last five. Oregon will, however, be without star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu after his practice injury.

That won't be the side of the ball that leads to Florida State's demise, though. Instead, this experience of Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III—who helped the Wildcats beat Oregon earlier in 2014—explains the trouble ahead for the Seminoles, per Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk:

Daniel Berk @DSBerk

Favorite part of Scooby walking down red carpet. Florida State fan yelled to him "Hey Scooby, how do you stop Mariota? We need to know!"

Well, Wright doesn't know anymore—nor does anyone. His Wildcats were drubbed 51-13 in a Pac-12 title game rematch, with Marcus Mariota dominating via the air and ground.

With 38 passing touchdowns to just two picks, Mariota will take care of the ball and make the big plays to get Oregon the early lead. He'll get some good play from the Ducks' speedsters and bowling-ball running back Royce Freeman, but the Seminoles' stout defensive line means Mariota will be taking it upon himself to make the plays.

There won't be a lot of space for him to air it out, but that's not really Oregon's style, anyway. They exhaust defenses with a run-heavy attack and short passing prowess, and Florida State's defense has been exhausted more than a few times this season.

Oregon's defense won't shut Winston and the Florida State offense down by any means, but it will do enough to stay alive and get to Arlington, Texas.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

In the middle of the season, this destination seemed improbable at best for Ohio State and even Alabama. But here they are, two of college football's powerhouses gearing up for a date in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

The Crimson Tide's season doesn't nearly match up to Ohio State's in that regard, though. The Buckeyes lost two star quarterbacks throughout the season, fell 35-21 at home to Virginia Tech and still found a way to rattle off 11 straight wins—including a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin that got them over the hump.

His team's resolve hasn't been lost on Urban Meyer, who gave a striking superlative to his team, per ESPN College Football:

ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB

"Most improved group of guys I've ever been around" -Urban Meyer on @OhioStAthletics football this year #ChampDrive http://t.co/7yshPENhvR

Don't forget how impossible the Crimson Tide's championship hopes looked at times, too. They had to battle back all season after a loss at Ole Miss, and their hopes looked all but dead at times against LSU and Auburn.

Alabama's offensive resurgence has been perhaps the biggest reason that they're still around, and it will prove huge again versus a stout Ohio State defense featuring Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry. 

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06:  Amari Cooper #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is interviewed after their 42 to 13 win over the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Gett
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Offensive success should be expected from Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and Co., but the big X-factor is Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. He was magnificent in his first start against Wisconsin, but Alabama's strong run defense means he won't be able to lean on Ezekiel Elliott quite the same.

Elliott's impact will be stalemated by Alabama up front, putting the onus on Jones to lead Ohio State to a win. He has the ability to, but it will prove an impossible task against a Crimson Tide defense smelling a trip to the national championship.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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