College Football Playoff 2017-18: Odds, Schedule and Predictions for Semifinals

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2017

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 02:  Kelly Bryant #2 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with the MVP trophy after defeating the Miami Hurricanes 38-3 in the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

We're 16 days away from one of the most anticipated rematches in recent college football history, and the first meeting between two historic programs in the College Football Playoff. 

No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama have plenty of history, and the Sugar Bowl could end up being the finale in a terrific three-game series that has entertained in every way.

The Rose Bowl pitting No. 2 Oklahoma against No. 3 Georgia is a classic clash of styles and a showdown between the best teams from the Big 12 and SEC. 

We might not hear much from the four programs over the next week or so before they leave for New Orleans, Louisiana, and Pasadena, California, but inside each facility there will be rigorous preparations taking place.

              

College Football Playoff Schedule

Rose Bowl (No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia) 

Date: January 1, 2018

Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN 

Sugar Bowl (No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama

Date: January 1, 2018

Time: 8:45 p.m. ET 

TV: ESPN 

             

Predictions

Georgia (-2) vs. Oklahoma

After opening as a 1.5-point underdog, the Georgia Bulldogs are now favored to win the Rose Bowl over the Oklahoma Sooners by a slim margin. 

By now, you've heard what kind of matchup this will be. Oklahoma has the Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield leading its high-powered offense, while Georgia possesses one of the best defenses in the country led by Roquan Smith. 

On the other side of the field, Georgia's running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will try to wear down the Oklahoma defense that hasn't faced this type of test yet this season.

Georgia's defense will rely on pressure from a group led by Smith to keep Mayfield from settling into a rhythm in the pocket. Smith is the unquestioned leader of the defensive unit, with 113 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, but he'll need help to contain Mayfield. 

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 02: Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers is tackled by Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C.  Co
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That's where the Georgia secondary comes into play. Mayfield is going to get off plenty of passes, but the final destination of those throws can be altered by the unit headlined by J.R. Reed and Aaron Davis. The Bulldogs have picked off 10 passes, with Dominick Sanders leading the unit with three picks. 

If Georgia's defensive backs play well in coverage and force an early turnover, it could turn the tables in favor of the Bulldogs. 

Oklahoma's defense has the same mission in the trenches, one that will be led by Emmanuel Beal and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Georgia's offensive line is going to have to find a way to block both of those players out of the game while creating holes for Chubb and Michel. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14:  Ogbonnia Okoronkwo #31 of the Oklahoma Sooners forces a fumble by Sam Ehlinger #11 of the Texas Longhorns in the first quarter  at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Okoronkwo is the biggest danger to the success of the Georgia running game, as he's made 17 tackles for loss. If he works his way through the Georgia offensive line early, he could force a few three-and-outs that might set up Mayfield to strike early and open up a sizable advantage.

Prediction: Oklahoma 24, Georgia 20

                   

Alabama (-2.5) vs. Clemson 

The third installment of the Alabama-Clemson series has the Crimson Tide entering as the favorite right now in the eyes of the oddsmakers, but the top-ranked Tigers will be picked to come out on top by many fans and experts. 

Alabama is going to try to find a way to establish the run early through the combination of Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Jalen Hurts, but that won't be an easy task against the intimidating front seven of Clemson. 

On the defensive line resides one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL draft in Clelin Ferrell, and behind him at linebacker are two ferocious players in Kendall Joseph and Dorian O'Donnell. 

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 16: Clelin Ferrell #99 of the Clemson Tigers in action during a game against the Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. Clemson won 47-21. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Clemson defense boasts three players who have more than 10 tackles for loss, with Ferrell having the most at 17.5, while Austin Bryant has 14.5 and O'Donnell has 10.5 to his name. 

The Tigers will try to smother the Alabama backs before they get back to the line of scrimmage in order to put Hurts into long-yardage situations on third down. Hurts can counter that with a few long completions to Calvin Ridley, who may be the most important X-factor in either College Football Playoff game due to his ability to stretch an opposing secondary with his speed and route running.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 18:  Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs this reception in for a touchdown against the Mercer Bears at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Kelly Bryant-led Clemson offense has a plethora of threats in both the passing and running game, but the biggest key for the Tigers may be the short passing game against an Alabama linebacker corps that has been banged up all season. 

If Bryant succeeds at bringing the Crimson Tide defense closer together and completes a few passes 15 yards or less, it will open the door for big plays whether it be through deep passes or long runs that gain traction as Alabama concerns itself with the short passes. 

Bryant has Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster to rely on when it comes to running the ball, and he can also take off if it's required. The quarterback also has a bevy of weapons when he chooses to throw the ball in the form of Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud. 

Although both teams have playmakers on offense, the Tigers seem to have the slightest of edges over the Crimson Tide because of their well-rounded, experienced attack. 

Prediction: Clemson 21, Alabama 16

             

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All statistics obtained from Sports Reference.

Odds obtained via Oddsshark.com.

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