College football nirvana is nearly upon us.
As expected after Saturday's conference championship games, Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma comprise the top four seeds for this year's College Football Playoff.
The Tigers will face the Sooners in the Orange Bowl, while Nick Saban will coach against his old team as the Crimson Tide and Spartans are set for a Cotton Bowl clash in the other national semifinal.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee discussed this year's playoff in addition to the playoff structure in general:
With 40 games in a little under a month, you could argue bowl season has swelled to an unhealthy degree. Look no further than the fact that the NCAA had trouble finding 80 bowl-eligible teams as evidence of the problem.
Still, fans aren't complaining about getting to watch more college football. This time of year is a great showcase for not only the best teams in the country, but also those not afforded a national spotlight on a weekly basis.
Here's a full look at this year's bowl schedule.
|2015-16 College Football Bowl Schedule|
|Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl||Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T||Dec. 19||Noon||ABC|
|Cure Bowl||San Jose State vs. Georgia State||Dec. 19||7 p.m.||CBSSN|
|Gildan New Mexico Bowl||Arizona vs. New Mexico||Dec. 19||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl||BYU vs. Utah||Dec. 19||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Raycom Media Camellia Bowl||Ohio vs. Appalachian State||Dec. 19||5:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl||Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech||Dec. 19||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Miami Beach Bowl||South Florida vs. Western Kentucky||Dec. 21||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||Akron vs. Utah State||Dec. 22||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Marmot Boca Raton Bowl||Temple vs. Toledo||Dec. 22||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl||Boise State vs. Northern Illinois||Dec. 23||4:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|GoDaddy Bowl||Bowling Green vs. Georgia Southern||Dec. 23||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|Popeyes Bahamas Bowl||Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan||Dec. 24||Noon||ESPN|
|Hawai'i Bowl||Cincinnati vs. San Diego State||Dec. 24||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|St. Petersburg Bowl||Marshall vs. Connecticut||Dec. 26||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Hyundai Sun Bowl||Miami vs. Washington State||Dec. 26||2 p.m.||CBS|
|Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl||Washington vs. Southern Miss||Dec. 26||2:20 p.m.||ESPN|
|New Era Pinstripe Bowl||Duke vs. Indiana||Dec. 26||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Camping World Independence Bowl||Virginia Tech vs. Tulsa||Dec. 26||5:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Foster Farms Bowl||Nebraska vs. UCLA||Dec. 26||9:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman||Pittsburgh vs. Navy||Dec. 28||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Quick Lane Bowl||Central Michigan vs. Minnesota||Dec. 28||5 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl||Air Force vs. California||Dec. 29||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Russell Athletic Bowl||North Carolina vs. Baylor||Dec. 29||5:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl||Colorado State vs. Nevada||Dec. 29||7:30 p.m.||ASN|
|AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl||Texas Tech vs. LSU||Dec. 29||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Birmingham Bowl||Memphis vs. Auburn||Dec. 30||Noon||ESPN|
|Belk Bowl||North Carolina State vs. Mississippi State||Dec. 30||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl||Louisville vs. Texas A&M||Dec. 30||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|Holiday Bowl||Wisconsin vs. USC||Dec. 30||10:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl||Houston vs. Florida State||Dec. 31||Noon||ESPN|
|Capital One Orange Bowl||No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma||Dec. 31||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic||No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State||Dec. 31||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|Outback Bowl||Northwestern vs. Tennessee||Jan. 1||Noon||ESPN2|
|Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl||Michigan vs. Florida||Jan. 1||1 p.m.||ABC|
|Fiesta Bowl||Notre Dame vs. Ohio State||Jan. 1||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual||Iowa vs. Stanford||Jan. 1||5 p.m.||ESPN|
|Allstate Sugar Bowl||Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss||Jan. 1||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|TaxSlayer Bowl||Georgia vs. Penn State||Jan. 2||Noon||ESPN|
|AutoZone Liberty Bowl||Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Jan. 2||3:20 p.m.||ESPN|
|Valero Alamo Bowl||TCU vs. Oregon||Jan. 2||6:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Cactus Bowl||West Virginia vs. Arizona State||Jan. 2||10:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T||Clemson/Oklahoma vs. Alabama/Michigan State||Jan. 11||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
Players to Watch
Jared Goff, QB, California
This will, in all likelihood, be Jared Goff's last game in college. Not only is he considered one of the best quarterbacks in the 2016 draft class, but his current head coach, Sonny Dykes, might be on another sideline in 2016. Dykes interviewed for the opening at Missouri last week, per Yahoo Sports (via ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura).
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided an in-depth scouting report of the California Golden Bears star quarterback in September and drew parallels between Goff and a two-time Super Bowl winner:
Goff is close to perfect as a quarterback prospect, and his flaws are all fixable ones. Like Eli Manning, he has picturesque footwork in the pocket, aggressive downfield vision and the arm to make every throw in the playbook. Goff doesn't turn the ball over at Cal as much as Manning has in the NFL, but from a skills and athleticism perspective, they're very similar.
Since Goff plays the majority of his games on the West Coast, his work over the last three years might have gone unnoticed by a large segment of the college football fanbase. Bowl season could offer him one last chance to impress not only fans but also NFL scouts.
Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green
Matt Johnson, on the other hand, is unlikely to make a significant impact at the next level. That still won't erase the work the Bowling Green quarterback did over his sophomore and senior seasons.
A hip injury wiped out most of Johnson's junior campaign, but he recovered to lead the country in passing yards (4,700) while finishing second in passing touchdowns (43).
Scott Swegan, Bowling Green's assistant director of athletic communications, believes Johnson has left quite an impression on the Falcons' football program:
Part of the beauty of bowl season is getting exposed to players you have otherwise never heard of. Whether or not Bowling Green delivers a victory, Johnson and the Eagles offense should put on a great show for the fans.
Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
The fall of quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been the dominant storyline around Penn State in 2015. But the Nittany Lions wouldn't be bowling without their strong defense, which ranks 16th in Football Outsiders' S&P+ rating.
Few players on that defense have contributed more than Carl Nassib. He's first in the nation with 15.5 sacks and tied for second in the nation with 19.5 tackles for loss. Nassib joined a list of Penn State legends after winning the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award, per BTN Live:
It's quite a rise for a player who walked on at Penn State and only earned a scholarship ahead of the 2013 season.
Given the Nittany Lions' issues on offense this year, Nassib and the rest of the front seven will likely need to harass quarterback Greyson Lambert to get a win in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia.
Nassib has already earned an invite to the Senior Bowl, and bowl season will be one more opportunity for him to bolster his NFL draft stock.
Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
Like Nassib, Jeremy Cash is now the owner of his conference's Defensive Player of the Year award after edging Clemson's Shaq Lawson.
"I don't think you can say anything better about an athlete than they were a great teammate," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said, per Steve Phillips for TheACC.com. "Jeremy became a great teammate when he came here and had to sit out for a year after transferring. That experience taught me a lot about him and how much he cared about his team and his teammates."
Cash is one of the best safeties in the 2016 draft class and is a lock to hear his name in the first few rounds. He did a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils in 2015, as evidenced by his 101 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four pass breakups.
It's highly probable Cash's strong all-around game will lead to him making at least one or two big plays in his final college appearance.
North Carolina and Florida had a chance to create a little upheaval atop the College Football Playoff rankings, but they fell short, and the top four spots remained unchanged with the exception of Michigan State swapping spots with Iowa.
Here's a look at how Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma stack up against one another:
|CFP Teams By the Numbers|
|No. 1 Clemson||No. 2 Alabama||No. 3 Michigan State||No. 4 Oklahoma|
|Strength of Schedule||42nd||4th||44th||19th|
|Total Offense (YPG)||510.6 (12th)||422.5 (49th)||396.8 (68th)||542.9 (7th)|
|Total Defense (YPG)||295.7 (7th)||258.2 (2nd)||342.9 (26th)||350.7 (31st)|
|S&P+ Offense||41.3 (10th)||36.3 (27th)||36.5 (26th)||43.4 (3rd)|
|S&P+ Defense||15.0 (6th)||7.6 (1st)||18.8 (13th)||18.7 (12th)|
|F/+ Combined Rating||59.0% (2nd)||64.5% (1st)||44.8% (6th)||55.7% (3rd)|
|Sources: NCAA.com, Football Outsiders, Jeff Sagarin|
The Tigers and Tide made strong cases for being the most complete team in the country, and they each boast a dynamic playmaker who can carry the load. Running back Derrick Henry is the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner, while Deshaun Watson is among the top quarterbacks in the FBS.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, enters the playoff on a hot streak, having beaten Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State in succession to close out the regular season. Ohio State showed last year how valuable momentum can be in the playoff.
Most fans will likely discount Michigan State's chances. On paper, the Spartans are the weakest team of the four, but their tendency to win ugly could prove valuable in the playoff.
Some fans were a bit surprised Michigan State climbed from fifth to third following its victory over Iowa.
"Ultimately, Michigan State's two wins against Top 10 teams gave them the edge," CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long said, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.
The selection committee didn't do Michigan State any favors, however. The Spartans may be a higher seed than Oklahoma, but they arguably have the tougher matchup. Although Alabama may not be quite as good as some of Saban's other national-championship-winning teams, the Crimson Tide boast a dominant defense and an above-average-to-great offense depending on how Henry is running the ball.
Clemson vs. Oklahoma could be a national championship game by itself. The Sooners defense will be tested in a big way. Their offense was strong enough to navigate the Big 12, but that might not be enough to get past the Tigers, who are dangerous in their own right.