Clemson is the lone unbeaten left in college football, ranked atop the polls. Oklahoma is perhaps the hottest team in the country, and the Sooners are actually favored to win. The week leading up to the game has included plenty of drama, but as kickoff approaches, here are three reasons to tune in for the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Thursday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN).
1. The quarterbacks: Deshaun Watson was in New York as a Heisman finalist. Baker Mayfield believes he should’ve been (and the numbers tend to support that notion). Arguably, this game features college football’s two best QBs, which should mean a terrific matchup. Both are exceptional athletes, capable of extending plays with their legs and doing damage in the running game. But don’t peg them as just mobile quarterbacks. Both are more than capable of beating defenses downfield, too. Watson has 13 touchdown passes on throws of 25 yards or more (tops in the Power 5) and Mayfield has six TDs and no picks on such passes.
2. Shepard vs. Alexander, Part II: In the run-up to the game, neither Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard nor Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander would take the bait offered by reporters hoping for some trash talk. But make no mistake, it’s coming. Alexander demurred during media day, but when asked his thoughts on Shepard, he simply offered: “He’s No. 3. He’s 5-10. And he plays for OU. There’s nothing for me to say about him.”
Shepard didn’t offer much more respect for Alexander. “If he thinks he’s one of the top corners, so be it,” Shepard said. Sound like that matchup might get a bit chippy? Yeah, we think so, too.
3. It’s the playoff! After last season’s 40-6 Clemson win in the Russell Athletic Bowl, there’s ample familiarity here. These teams don’t seem to like each other much, and both are carrying a sizable chip on their shoulders. Add in the big stakes of the playoffs, and it’s hard to imagine any game will feature two teams more amped for battle. Both Clemson and Oklahoma are known for up-tempo offenses that can put up points in a hurry, but expect this one to have plenty of big hits and high energy, too, with the winner destined for Arizona and a chance for a national title.