With the holiday season in full swing, college football is set to add to the New Year's festivities with its Orange and Cotton Bowl semifinal games. Usually two of the big New Year's six bowl games anyway, these matchups have an added incentive to win with a trip to the national championship on the line.
As we inch ever closer to these national semifinal games, here is a look at the current odds and who could end up punching their ticket to University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 11. All odds are courtesy of OddsShark.com.
|2015 Orange and Cotton Bowl Information, Odds|
|Orange||No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Clemson||4 p.m.||OU -1.5|
|Cotton||No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama||8 p.m.||ALA -9.5|
Orange Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma defeats No. 1 Clemson 38-35
Yes, Clemson is undefeated and played in a true conference championship game unlike Oklahoma. But Oklahoma has had a far more difficult road to the semifinals.
The Tigers were able to run the table against a schedule that was ranked No. 41 in the nation according to Sagarin Ratings, playing three ranked teams in 13 games.
That's how many ranked teams Oklahoma played in a three-week span to end its season, defeating No. 6 Baylor, No. 18 TCU and No. 11 Oklahoma State on a schedule rated No. 19 by Sagarin.
With the way these two offenses work, there will be plenty of points scored in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners carry the third-best scoring offense in the nation, averaging over 45 points per game, while Clemson scores about seven points less.
Their defenses aren't too shabby, either, as they both allow less than 21 points per game. Clemson's is better by just a hair, giving up 20.2 points per contest while Oklahoma concedes 20.8.
The Tigers also have a Heisman finalist leading their offense in quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is one of the most dangerous dual-threat weapons in the nation. Watson gained over 4,400 combined yards and scored 41 total touchdowns on the season. It accounted for over 68 percent of the Clemson offenses' touchdowns.
Watson does have a solid option in the backfield in running back Wayne Gallman, but the quarterback is the preferred choice for the Tigers. In 2015, Watson threw or ran the ball 576 times while Gallman saw the ball just 261 times.
Thus, Oklahoma's defense has a target to zero in on.
Clemson's defense isn't so fortunate. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is stacked with weapons on an offense that includes running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
While Perine has seen the ball more than 30 times less than his counterpart, Gallman, he has five more touchdowns and is averaging more than half a yard better per carry with 6.1. Add a sprinkling of Joe Mixon, who is averaging a little less than seven yards per carry, and Oklahoma's backfield alone has options.
Shepard, one of the best senior receivers in the nation, leads the Sooners in receptions this season with 79 and has almost 400 yards more than Clemson's leading pass-catcher, Artavis Scott. Yet Scott has five more receptions than Shepard and has still been outgained by a wide margin. It just shows how big of a playmaker Shepard can be.
It's going to be too much for Clemson's defense to handle, as it hasn't faced an offense like this during its run to No. 1.
Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Alabama defeats No. 3 Michigan State 34-21
This one is a bit more cut and dry than the other semifinal game as Alabama has a once-in-a-generation talent with running back Derrick Henry, along with an immovable defense.
Michigan State has put together a magical season that's included last-second wins and shocking upsets, but the Crimson Tide are just too strong of a team.
Henry, who led the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards, is the Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most bruising backs the game has seen in quite some time. Possessing such a large frame, Henry has deceptively impressive speed. He can outrun opponents as well as run them over.
Even with their seventh-ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 113.1 yards per game on the ground, the Spartans won't be able to slow Henry down. No one has been able to.
Their best chance of winning would be to outscore Alabama, and with the Crimson Tide's defense, that likely won't happen. Alabama has the third-ranked total defense in the nation and hasn't allowed more than 16 points in each of its last six games.
Talal Elmasry of SaturdayDownSouth.com has watched the Alabama defense dominate all season:
That group has made offensive fronts look invisible while stuffing runs and flattening quarterbacks... Finding a weakness in this Tide defense is like trying to find that oasis in the desert. It’s not there, and you’ll die trying to find it.
Against a talent like Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who is an NFL draft first-round prospect, Alabama won't have an easy time trying to contain him. But the Tide's one saving grace is his lack of mobility.
Cook didn't run for more than 48 yards in a game, as he is the definition of a pocket passer. Alabama has 46 sacks this season, the most in the nation. That isn't a good combination for Michigan State. Forcing Cook out of his comfort zone and making him attempt risky passes will only bode well for Alabama.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com