Kramer: An early College Football Playoff semifinal preview

By Adam Kramer  (VSIN.com) 

December 5, 2022 06:06 PM
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In the end, there wasn’t drama. There wasn’t controversy or chaos. There wasn’t a moment when you wondered what teams would be selected to the College Football Playoff.

I have wanted these moments since the playoff inception. When the rankings finally mattered, thanks to a few losses over the past few weeks, conference championships offered very little in terms of intrigue when it came to these results.

Sure, USC losing to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship was a moment. But it wasn’t controversial. The Trojans fell, Ohio State rose and the postseason was set in that moment. Unless TCU lost by 50 points to Kansas State, we were done here.

The argument against expanding the postseason has been straightforward: It will water down the regular season. But if conference championship weekend is this mundane, how exactly is the current format thriving? (It isn't.)

A 12-team playoff, which is officially coming in 2024, would have featured the following.

Georgia, Michigan, Clemson and Utah would have earned byes as a result of winning their conference. The rest of the first round would look like this: No. 5. TCU vs. No. 12 Tulane, No. 6. Ohio State vs. No. 11. Penn State, No. 7. Alabama vs. No. 10 USC, No. 8. Tennessee vs. 9 Kansas State.

In a word, yes. Sign me up.

From a sheer gambling standpoint, those matchups are loaded with intrigue. I hate to look at it as basic as this, but that’s where I fall on the discussion. I’m here for entertainment, and the current postseason has largely failed in that department.

It hasn’t failed to give us the best teams, and it won’t once again. But another lackluster final weekend of the season is enough for me.

Bring on expansion. Bring on more point spreads. Bring on more football.

2024 can’t come soon enough. 

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. We will get a handle on bowl games in the coming days as spreads emerge, but here are a few underappreciated matchups that jump out. Troy-UTSA in the Cure Bowl is one heck of a way to kick off bowl season. Seriously, do not miss that game. UCF-Duke is another fun matchup in the Military Bowl that could feature a ton of points. In terms of weirdness, bring me Illinois-Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl. I didn’t think I needed this football game in my life, but I am glad I have it.

1a. Speaking bowl season, here is our plan. We will be previewing each week of bowls in depth every week, just like I did during the regular season. As we get closer to the playoff, we will do a deep dive into the matchups and what they mean. To begin, we’ll explore the semifinals at a surface level. (Patience, friends.) Next week, our extensive bowl coverage will kick into gear.

2. I don’t know if Deion Sanders at Colorado will work, but I can’t wait to watch it. The Buffaloes were dreadful this year, and I mean dreadful. They won one game and covered the spread a grand total of two times. Jackson State, meanwhile, did not lose a game this year. Sanders will bring life and energy to a program that needs it, and I can’t wait to see what the impact is. Perhaps more important in the short term, Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son, is also heading to Colorado. The sophomore QB accounted for 41 touchdowns this past season, and he could become a star at his new school.

3. Cade Klubnik is the future QB at Clemson, and that means DJ Uiagalelei’s time with the program is done. The Tigers throttled North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game, easily covering the touchdown spread. They did so in large part because of the play from Klubnik, who came in for Uiagalelei early in the game. He promptly threw for 279 yards, ran for 30 yards and scored two touchdowns. One can’t help but wonder what Clemson’s season would have looked like if Dabo Swinney went to his freshman sooner. Regardless, Uiagalelei is now in the transfer portal, where he’ll probably have a substantial market. Klubnik, on the other hand, seems destined for a spot high on the preseason Heisman odds board next season.

4. Speaking of Heisman odds, Caleb Williams is your winner. As of Sunday morning, the USC QB was -2500 to win the award, followed by Max Duggan (+2000) and Stetson Bennett (+3000). He’s going to win, although I am curious by how much. It’s a weird year for the award considering the top contenders both lost games this weekend. I certainly would have loved to see how a healthy Blake Corum could have challenged him, but the buzz never arrived for another player. Still, Williams was sensational all year long. While USC’s playoff bid ended abruptly, he deserves the hardware.

5. There’s still time, but Luke Fickell feels like the best hire of Silly Season. I like a lot of the moves being made, but Fickell is a tremendous match for Wisconsin. Stylistically, the two just seem to align brilliantly. The fact that Jim Leonhard will reportedly stay on the staff in the defensive coordinator role is also an enormous boost. This could be a massive Big Ten shakeup in the making.

6. Beware the opt outs and transfer portal. The coming days and weeks will be loaded with announcements from players departing current teams destined for bowl games. Some will leave early for the NFL; others will leave for other programs through the transfer portal. All of the movement, plus the addition of interim coaches, makes betting on the bowl season a challenging task. Head on a swivel.

7. Michael Penix Jr. announced that he is returning to Washington next season. This is massive in a few ways. Penix had a sensational season for the Huskies, and he’ll likely be a prominent name on the Heisman odds board in 2023. The greater impact could be on the Pac-12, where Penix and Caleb Williams will duke it out at some point in LA. Massive news for one of the hottest teams in the sport.

An Early Look at the College Football Playoff Semifinals

Fiesta Bowl: Michigan (-9, 59.5) vs. TCU

The difference in size and speed between these two teams will be significant at pretty much every position, except when TCU’s goliath wideouts and tight ends matchup against Michigan’s secondary.

Outside of that, however, the Wolverines will have the more talented roster. That is not a knock on TCU; it’s merely a reality of the situation. While the situations are not the same, the game could look a lot like what we saw between Alabama and Cincinnati last year.

The Bearcats were good. Heck, they had a bunch of NFL players on that roster. But the longer the game went on, the more noticeable the differences became. It feels like we could see the same in a matchup like this one.

A few notable elements stand out. While Michigan might have size and speed advantages, TCU QB Max Duggan, who should be invited to New York City for the Heisman, is a warrior. If he plays well, the Horned Frogs can stay in the game.

The other player worth a deeper dive is Donovan Edwards. Michigan’s sophomore running back had to fill the void left by the injured Blake Corum, and he has done a brilliant job. He has totaled more than 400 yards rushing in the past two games, and he’s become a big-play machine.

We’ll hold off on making a pick for now, but the early lean is Michigan. TCU is resilient, and that’s scary with a big number -- but the Wolverines are a machine.

Peach Bowl: Georgia (-6.5, 61) vs. Ohio State

This is unquestionably one of the best semifinal games we have been given since the playoff’s inception. No matter how you feel about Ohio State’s inclusion, this part is undeniable.

Ohio State had a horrible half of football against Michigan, which could be looked at a few different ways. Maybe it was just a bad 30-minute stretch, which is possible. Or maybe the Buckeyes caved when they were bullied on the football field.

If the second part is true -- and it might be -- this is not a good matchup for Ohio State. Georgia has Michigan qualities, especially up front, and Ohio State needs to do some serious soul searching before then.

On the plus side for the Buckeyes, this will likely be the healthiest version we see all year. We’ll hear more on wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba soon, although the time should help running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams heal.

Offensively, C.J. Stroud should still be a threat against a Georgia defense that allowed more than 500 yards passing against LSU on Saturday. Yes, it was a blowout. But make no mistake about it; Georgia is likely not thrilled with this matchup.

I have mixed feelings about this game out of the gate. I actually lean a little towards Ohio State, although I’m going to wait to hear more about some of the injuries the Buckeyes are managing.

No matter where I land, I cannot wait for this football game.

Let’s Bet on Army-Navy, Shall We?

We still have a football game to play this week, and it is always a must-see. Army is a 1-point favorite over Navy. The total is a very Iowa-esque 33.5.

Army has covered the spread in its last six games. Also, four of those games have gone over the total. Navy has covered the spread in the last three. The Midshipmen have hit the over in five of their last seven.

The game will be played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Saturday’s forecast, as of now, looks solid.

This is actually a fabulous football game given how both teams have played of late. I like Navy, and I also kind of like the over. That is a dangerous game in this series, but I am ready to go there. 

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