The day college football fans have waited for is finally here. After years of waiting, the College Football Playoff will finally kick off on New Year's Day.
First on the slate is the Rose Bowl, but the nightcap will feature two historic programs in Alabama and Ohio State facing off. A combined six national championships may have been won between the two coaches, but the players on the field will decide which one is playing for another on Jan. 12.
Ringing in a new era for college football will be left to stars like Amari Cooper and Cardale Jones, but the players who step up on the big stage will be the difference. Before the second semifinal kicks off, here's a look at the full schedule and X-factors heading into the Sugar Bowl.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Ohio State comes into the game as the underdog at the No. 4 seed, but one sophomore can make all the difference for the Buckeyes.
Michael Thomas, the team's leader in receptions, is often overshadowed by Devin Smith and Ezekiel Elliott. The tandem combined for five touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game, but it's Thomas who has been a steady force for the Buckeyes all season.
Overlooked coming out of high school by the likes of UCLA and USC, the Los Angeles native used his opportunity at Ohio State to break out. Thomas spoke about his experience heading into college, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
"It was kind of frustrating," he said. "But I knew if I ever got a chance I was going to make a statement."
On the opposite side, Alabama has a plethora of offensive weapons who also often get overlooked.
DeAndrew White, the Crimson Tide's second-leading receiver, had one of his best games in the SEC Championship Game with four catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Then again, when a receiver lines up across from Cooper, it's not too hard to figure out why he would be forgotten.
Anish Shroff of ESPN points out the disparity between receptions for the two top wideouts:
The senior has a chance to make a huge difference in his final game with the Tide. Meanwhile, a young running back will look to continue a strong finish of his own on the big stage.
Derrick Henry has been a brute force for Alabama in the last three games, piling up an average of 101.7 yards and five total touchdowns. Henry might also be asked to step up with T.J. Yeldon's status uncertain due to ankle and hamstring injuries, via D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News:
The recent streak of success doesn't appear to be a fluke for Henry, who can get the job done with five carries or 20 on any given week. Going against an Ohio State defense that allows just 21.2 points per game, his production will be a necessity in order for the Tide to continue rolling.
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