College Football Playoffs Seminfinals: What the Four Teams Need to Win

Karen Rosen
NCAA Football: ACC Football Championship Game-Clemson vs North Carolina
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoffs semifinals on New Year’s Eve will ring in two contenders for the national championship, to be held Monday, January 11, on ESPN. College GameDay host Rece Davis takes a look at what each team needs to do to keep the party going.

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl (4/3c)

Key for Clemson to win: The Tigers’ offensive line must stand up to Oklahoma’s defensive front. “The last thing Clemson needs is for its offense not to be able to sustain drives and to continually put its defense back out on the field,” Davis says. “Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a terrific passer. He can also give them an extra-man advantage when running the football that really helps their running attack.”
Key for Oklahoma to win: The Sooners must continue to find balance on offense between quarterback Baker Mayfield’s strong passing while keeping up their rushing game. “They have been, in my judgment, a completely different team and arguably are playing the best football in the country since their loss to Texas [on October 10],” Davis says. “That loss also coincides with a time when they have doubled their rushing output.”
Rematch ramifications: Clemson crushed Oklahoma a year ago, 40–6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. “Rest assured,” Davis says, “that game stuck in Oklahoma’s craw.”

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No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl (8/7c)

Key for Alabama to win: The Crimson Tide need to make plays down the field in the passing game. They must force Michigan State to spread out its defense “in order to loosen up that box and give running back Derrick Henry some more running room,” Davis says.
Key for Michigan State to win: The Spartans have to protect quarterback Connor Cook. He’s had a shoulder problem, and Alabama leads the nation in sacks. “Cook is a proven winner who makes big plays on big stages, but he needs time to function,” Davis says.
Hangover from last year: “The Big Ten certainly got a lot of mileage out of Ohio State as the No. 4 seed taking down top-seeded Alabama (in the semi),” Davis says.

 College Football Playoffs, Thursday, Dec. 31, 4/3c and 8/7c, ESPN