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College Football Playoff 2018-19: Odds, Schedule and Predictions for Semifinals

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2018

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is going to try to lead Clemson to a playoff win over Notre Dame.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is going to try to lead Clemson to a playoff win over Notre Dame.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The old version of college football's postseason offered a mix of thrilling matchups and one-sided blowouts that meant little other than changing a few ranking spots in the end-of-year college football polls. 

The College Football Playoffs allows the sport to determine a definitive champion. While many critics wish that the playoffs included the top eight teams, the four teams that will compete in the playoff are representative of the best of college football.

The semifinal round will be contested December 29, with the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish meeting the second-ranked Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, while fourth-ranked Oklahoma and No. 1 Alabama will play in the Orange Bowl.

The Tigers and the Crimson Tide are both double-digit favorites, but the Fighting Irish and the Sooners both have enjoyed tremendous success and have a chance to break up the expected Alabama-Clemson matchup in the championship game.

           

College Football Playoff Semifinals (All times Eastern)

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Saturday, December 29

Cotton Bowl (Playoff Semifinal): No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Clemson (-13) (4 p.m., ESPN), Notre Dame 28, Clemson 27 

Orange Bowl (Playoff Semifinal): No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Alabama (-14) (8 p.m., ESPN), Alabama 45, Oklahoma 28    

Odds via OddsShark

Dexter Williams is the key to Notre Dame's ground game.
Dexter Williams is the key to Notre Dame's ground game.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Cotton Bowl

Notre Dame vs. Clemson

The odds favoring Clemson (13-0) have shot up a bit in recent days, as the Tigers have moved from 11.5-point to 13-point favorites.

It's hard to find fault with the Tigers, who have a tremendous 1-2 punch on offense with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and Travis Etienne at running back.

Lawrence sees the field well and knows how to deliver the ball in rhythm and on time to his receivers. He has completed 212 of 326 passes for 2,606 yards with 24 TD passes and just four interceptions.

Lawrence has taken good care of the ball throughout the season, and one of the reasons is that opposing defenses really can't come after him too hard because Etienne is so dangerous running with the ball.

He is one of the best at his position in the country with 1,463 yards and 21 TDs. He is also averaging 8.3 yards per carry.

Tee Higgins is Lawrence's most prolific receiver, and he has caught 52 passes for 802 yards and 10 touchdowns. Amari Rodgers is the No. 2 receiver, having caught 47 balls for 519 yards and four touchdowns.

The Clemson defense has been powerful all season, and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is a dominating centerpiece. He has 4.5 sacks, while defensive end Austin Bryant has 6.5 QB traps. While Wilkins and Bryant are the two glamour players on defense, linebacker Tre Lamar is the blue-collar worker. He has 68 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Despite their underdog status, Notre Dame (12-0) is not going to roll over.

The Fighting Irish have some huge victories on their resume this season, as they defeated Michigan in the season opener, and they added wins over Stanford, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Syracuse and USC during the season.

Notre Dame has a fine leader in quarterback Ian Book, who is one of the most accurate passers in the nation. He has completed 197 of 280 passes for 2,468 yards with 19 TDs and just six interceptions.

Running back Dexter Williams has rushed for 941 yards and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and he has 12 rushing touchdowns.

Book has a couple of outstanding receivers in Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. They have combined for 102 receptions, 1,434 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

Notre Dame also has a hard-hitting defense, and linebacker Te'Von Coney has 107 tackles and 9.0 TFL. Safety Jalen Elliott has 63 tackles and four interceptions.

The experience factor favors Clemson, but Notre Dame will bring a steely and determined attitude in this game. As long as the Irish can stay within a touchdown in the early going, we see Notre Dame staying on relatively even terms.

Notre Dame will come through in the final five minutes, and advance to the CFP Championship Game.

Orange Bowl

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

The debate over the Heisman Trophy is likely to continue through game time, but once the Sooners and Crimson Tide hit the field in Miami, the only thing that will matter is advancing to the championship game.

Alabama (13-0) has been a resounding 14-point favorite since the matchup was announced, and they remain at that same level. While the Crimson Tide struggled before beating Georgia in the SEC title game by a 35-28 margin, they won all 12 of their other games by 22 points or more.

The Crimson Tide has been a dominant team for years, and this year's version may be the best team that Nick Saban has ever had. However, the key in this game is the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who injured his ankle against Georgia.

He was unable to finish that game, and that's one of the key reasons he was unable to secure the Heisman after being the front-runner all season. Tagovailoa is expected to play in this game, but even if he can't, backup Jalen Hurts is an effective leader. 

Tagovailoa has completed 199 of 294 passes with 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a strong arm, does an excellent job of reading defenses and can throw the ball with touch.

Tagovailoa has quite a bit of help from the Alabama running game, which features Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. Damien Harris has 771 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, Najee Harris has 679 rushing yards and four touchdowns and Jacobs has 495 yards 11 touchdowns.

The Alabama receiving foursome of Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III and Irv Smith Jr. has caught 180 passes for 2,217 yards and 36 TDs.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was able to win the Heisman as he led the Sooners (12-1) to the Big 12 championship.

Murray completed 241 of 340 passes for 4,053 yards with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 892 yards and scored 11 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

Running back Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon are a pair of dynamic ground gainers and they have combined for 1,949 yards and 24 TDs. Marquise Brown is Oklahoma's top receiver with 75 receptions, 1,318 yards and 10 scores.

Oklahoma has a strong team, but the Crimson Tide appears to be at another level. Oklahoma's struggles on defense makes it difficult to believe they can keep this game close once the game gets to the second half.

The Crimson Tide rolls into the championship game.  

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