Quick Reactions: Alabama draws ideal foe in Michigan State for College Football Playoff
Here are three off-the-cuff reactions to the final College Football Playoff rankings, highlighted by the national semifinal pairings of Clemson versus Oklahoma (Orange Bowl) and Alabama versus Michigan State (Cotton Bowl).
1. Alabama was fortunate to draw Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl … and that’s coming from an MSU alum
Yes, Alabama has only played Michigan State once (the 2010 Capital One Bowl), but that’s an irrelevant component to the upcoming clash in Texas — considering how the programs are virtual mirror images.
Obviously, the Crimson Tide (15 national titles, 25 conference crowns) have a few more notches on their championship belt; and yes, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (8,974 career passing yards, 71 TDs) — a potential top-15 pick in next year’s draft — has a substantially higher ‘Q’ rating than Tide QB Jacob Coker.
But after that, it’s hard to discern any major differences between MSU and Alabama. Both programs perpetually honor the notions of:
a) Being big, deep and physical in the trenches (offensive/defensive lines);
b) Committing to the running game, regardless of opponent or climate conditions;
c) Draining the clock at all times;
d) Playing tight coverage against the pass;
e) On the defensive side, being particularly stingy in the red zone;
f) Maintaining an even keel throughout a game or season.
The last item shouldn’t surprise anyone, since MSU head coach Mark Dantonio (five 10-win campaigns since 2010) represents the most successful branch from the Nick Saban coaching tree. (Saban was also Michigan State’s head coach from 1995-99, adding to the intrigue.) Dantonio also possesses some of Saban’s personality traits, namely focus, discipline, intensity and attention to detail.
(It’s a tight race, but Dantonio smiles more than Saban.)
Which brings us to this: All four semifinalists have an equal chance of winning the national championship, but in a parallel universe, the Crimson Tide coaches and players would likely prefer making preparations for the Spartans’ no-frills, pro-style offense … compared to the spread-attack machinations of Clemson and Oklahoma.
There’s also another major reason why Alabama should be thankful to see Michigan State in its bracket …
2. The CFP committee was correct to send No. 4 Oklahoma to Miami
I’m not buying the conspiracy theory of how the committee ignored the specter of an Alabama-Oklahoma semifinal — on the presumptive rationale of the Crimson Tide (12-1 overall, SEC champs) and Sooners (12-1 overall, Big 12 champs) being the nation’s two best teams.
However, I will accept the notion of how No. 2 Alabama (ranked second nationally in total defense) would have been penalized for playing Oklahoma in the heart of Big 12 country: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys).
The whole perk of being a 1- or 2-seed lies in venue proximity, perhaps more than matchup; and the Crimson Tide shouldn’t be obliged to play a de facto road game in the semifinals — as the higher seed.
3. The scheduling gods, both past and present, had a stealth hand in determining the Playoff matchups
Did you catch Clemson’s 40-6 assault on Oklahoma in last December’s Russell Athletic Bowl?
It was perhaps the most lopsided outing of the bowl season … and the Tigers didn’t even have Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
Instead, Cole Stoudt — who passed for only 2,634 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2011-14 — spearheaded the Clemson demolition, passing for 319 yards and three TDs.
As such, it’ll be interesting to gauge Oklahoma’s rematch reaction for this year’s Playoff.
Yes, the Sooners will undoubtedly breathe fire over the matchup, wanting revenge for last year’s embarrassing rout; but they also have minimal frame of reference for dealing with a spread-option quarterback of Watson’s caliber — which wouldn’t have been the case if TCU’s Trevone Boykin had been healthy a few weeks ago.
As for the other semifinal, Alabama dumped Michigan State from its 2016 and 2017 schedules two years ago … on the anticipation of the SEC expanding its in-conference commitment to nine games per school.
But that change never took place in the SEC. Ironically, the Big Ten will be moving to a nine-game conference format next year, enhancing the absurdity of the Spartans’ revised 2016 schedule — featuring a quirky bye on Sept. 10 … followed by 11 straight games over 11 straight Saturdays.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.