Illustrations by Ben Kirchner

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ULTIMATE COLLEGE
FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
PREVIEW

ULTIMATE
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
PREVIEW

ULTIMATE
COLLEGE FOOTBALL
PLAYOFF PREVIEW

ULTIMATE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEW

Four teams remain alive to play for the national championship. The semifinals will feature four blue bloods, the Heisman Trophy winner, three elite defenses and one team going for back-to-back titles.

4 Alabama
vs
1 Clemson
3 Georgia
vs
2 Oklahoma
http://a.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20171212_cfpPreview/images/matchup_head_mascot_ala@2x.png0.1 4 ALABAMA #0000cf
http://a.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20171212_cfpPreview/images/matchup_head_mascot_cle@2x.png-0.1 1 CLEMSON #4a4a4a

4 ALABAMA VS 1 CLEMSON

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET | ESPN, ESPN App

The Sugar Bowl will be the third installment of a true heavyweight matchup, but this year could be strikingly different from the past two meetings. Gone are Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and Alabama's star-studded pass-rushers. It could be Alabama's power running game vs. Clemson's crushing defense that will decide the rubber match of this trilogy.

FPI PROJECTIONS

42
CLEMSON
58
ALABAMA

Odds to win national championship

CLEMSON
22.9
ALABAMA
35.4

SCOUTING CLEMSON

With goal to go, the Tigers use the jet sweep to draw the opposing linebackers' eyes while pulling the backside guard and tackle. Get those big boys moving and bulldoze a path straight to the end zone. That allows QB Kelly Bryant (11 rushing touchdowns in 2017) to pull the rock and get six. -- Matt Bowen

How you beat CLEMSON

"You have to account for the fact that [Bryant] is a runner. They'll dress it up with a motion, and the quarterback runs a counter. His skill set is, he runs like a tailback." -- Anonymous ACC coach

SCOUTING ALABAMA

Bama creates a big play over the top by dressing up the Yankee route -- a deep post paired with an underneath crosser off play-action. Show the jet sweep to pull the linebackers down and give QB Jalen Hurts time to scan the field. With the crosser occupying the safety, the Tide have a one-on-one with WR Calvin Ridley on the post. -- Matt Bowen

How you beat ALABAMA

"Alabama doesn't have that difference-maker rushing the passer as it did in the past. Without a Jonathan Allen or a Tim Williams getting after the quarterback, the defense has been put in a bind: Do you expose your secondary by giving the quarterback too much time or do you expose them further by rushing a safety or cornerback? It's a win-win for the offense, no matter what." -- Anonymous SEC coach

HOW THEY STACK UP

Based on efficiency ratings, defenses should take center stage in New Orleans as Clemson has the highest-rated defense in the playoff.

CLEMSON ALABAMA

Overall

90.7

Overall

92.9

Offense

80.6

Defense

87.9

Defense

91.1

Offense

88.2

Special teams

45.9

Special teams

53.8

Both teams appear evenly matched, so the metrics might not say anything that wasn't known. Whichever defense does the best job containing or neutralizing the other should move on to Atlanta.

MATCHUPS THAT MATTER

CLEM: Dexter Lawrence, DT vs ALA: Bradley Bozeman, OL

Opponent
rush YPC
3.1
Total
defense YPG
277.9
6.0
Yards
per rush
263.5
Rushing
YPG

The Clemson defense is known for its pass rush (and rightfully so with an FBS-high 44 sacks this season), but, led by Dexter Lawrence, it has been great against the run as well. The Tigers rank ninth in the FBS in opponent yards per rush (3.1). That means opposing offensive lines have struggled to get a push against them. Anchored by center Bradley Bozeman, the Tide's offensive line has been a driving force behind the team's rushing success. Alabama leads the SEC with 6.0 yards per rush this season (seventh in FBS) including an SEC-best 3.7 yards before contact per rush (fifth in Power 5).

RECRUITING ON ROSTER

Alabama is the sport's premier recruiter, stacking the roster with ESPN 300 talent. The Tide have more four-stars, but Clemson capitalizes with stars at impactful positions, including defensive end and skill positions.

RECRUITS
AVG
CLASS RNK (Last four years)
CLEMSON
CLEMSON
Five-star2
Four-star49
Three-star21
8.5
ALABAMA
ALABAMA
Five-star6
Four-star66
Three-star10
1.25

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE

Clemson's D-line and RB Travis Etienne lead the Tigers in a close one -- Adam Rittenberg

1 Clemson
27
4 Alabama
24
http://a.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20171212_cfpPreview/images/matchup_head_mascot_ga@2x.png0.0 3 GEORGIA #cf0000
http://a.espncdn.com/prod/styles/pagetype/otl/20171212_cfpPreview/images/matchup_head_mascot_ok@2x.png-0.1 2 OKLAHOMA #4a4a4a

3 GEORGIA VS 2 OKLAHOMA

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET | ESPN, ESPN App

These two historic programs meet for the first time in college football's best setting -- the Rose Bowl. The game also features a lot of star power, with Heisman winner Baker Mayfield leading Oklahoma and Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith at the center of Georgia's D.

FPI PROJECTIONS

47
OKLAHOMA
53
GEORGIA

Odds to win national championship

OKLAHOMA
17.7
GEORGIA
24

SCOUTING OKLAHOMA

Pull the guard, ride the running back on the play fake and sneak FB Dimitri Flowers out of the backfield. With the linebackers taking the bait and playing downhill, Flowers releases up the seam. Mayfield fires a quick-strike throw to him in the open field -- catch-and-go, with room to run. -- Matt Bowen

How you beat Oklahoma

"Offensively they're as good as anybody I've ever seen. The thing you have to do is make them one-dimensional. You have to stop something. The perfect recipe is to stop the run, try to keep [Mayfield] in the pocket and make him beat you from there. But then good luck with that. Nobody has been able to do it." -- Anonymous Big 12 coach

SCOUTING GEORGIA

Three tight ends lining up, plus Chubb in the backfield, screams power football -- and the D is already playing aggressively for the run from the jump. But off the fake crack toss, TE Isaac Nauta releases downfield, offering a layup toss for QB Jake Fromm. And no one is home to stop it. -- Matt Bowen

How you beat Georgia

"There's no question you have to load up to stop the run. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D'Andre Swift are dynamic. There's no doubt you have to take away the run and find ways affect the quarterback." -- Anonymous SEC coach

HOW THEY STACK UP

By the efficiency numbers, this is a match of two elite, and opposite, units in Oklahoma's offense and Georgia's defense.

OKLAHOMA GEORGIA

Overall

86.8

Overall

92.4

Offense

96.9

Defense

88.7

Defense

53.2

Offense

86.4

Special Teams

38

Special Teams

54

The Sooners' offense is the highest-rated unit in the playoff. It is simply elite, with the best quarterback running things. Oklahoma's offensive line giving Mayfield time against an athletic front seven and balancing with the power running game will be the Sooners' best chance.

MATCHUPS THAT MATTER

OU: Baker Mayfield, QB vs UGA: Lorenzo Carter, LB

Total
QBR
93.1
Completion percentage
vs. pressure
53
25
Total
QB pressure
12.8
Average
PPG allowed

Mayfield leads the FBS in Total QBR (93.1), completion percentage (71 percent) and yards per attempt (11.8) this season, and pressure hasn't been a problem. He completes 53 percent of his throws under duress with 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and 8.6 yards per attempt (Power 5 average is 5.6). Georgia counters with Carter, the Bulldogs' leader in QB pressures. In four games against ranked teams this season, the Georgia defense held opposing quarrterbacks to an SEC-best 14.1 Total QBR, fifth best among 106 FBS teams to face a ranked opponent in 2017.

RECRUITING ON ROSTER

Georgia has the most five-stars of any team in the playoff and capitalizes on a prime location. Oklahoma had its best class in a decade last year, headlined by WR Marquise Brown and RB Trey Sermon.

RECRUITS
AVG
CLASS RNK (Last four years)
OKLAHOMA
OKLAHOMA
Five-star1
Four-star39
Three-star33
14.75
GEORGIA
GEORGIA
Five-star7
Four-star52
Three-star21
6.75

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE

Can't go against Baker Mayfield in this one. -- Adam Rittenberg

2 Oklahoma
31
3 Georgia
29