College Football Playoff Semifinals Kickoff on New Year's Eve

Karen Rosen
Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 8: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rolls out to pass during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Crimson Tide defeated the Razorbacks 49-30. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Old acquaintances won’t be forgotten New Year’s Eve in the College Football Playoff semifinals. If the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide defeat the Washington Huskies and the Clemson Tigers beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, we’ll see a replay of last season’s title game in Tampa on January 9.

Alabama prevailed 45–40 in that game, and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says of Clemson, “There’s no question that’s been driving them from the time they walked off the field last year.” Going back two years, Ohio State toppled the Tide en route to the first playoff crown, so that’s another potential rematch.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 29: Myles Gaskin #9 of the Washington Huskies runs the ball against the Utah Utes at an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) Local Caption ***Myles Gaskin

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl
The key matchup pits the Huskies’ balanced offensive attack, led by quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, “against by far the best defensive front and most athletic and tenacious defense they’ll have faced all year,” Herbstreit says. Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts “is as dangerous a runner as he is a passer,” and the Tide has rolled by getting to the outside. Nick Saban’s squad is playing in its third straight playoff, while Chris Petersen’s Huskies are in their first major bowl in 16 years. “The lack of experience in these games favors Bama,” Herbstreit says. But he adds that Washington’s players will get tired of hearing they’re the underdog. “The lack of respect will play into their hands and be an advantage for them.”

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 26: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers rushes the ball during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl
“When Clemson is hitting on all cylinders, they probably have the most explosive offense in college football with the most dangerous quarterback in Deshaun Watson,” says Herbstreit, who will call the game. Dabo Swinney’s stellar group of receivers goes up against an Ohio State secondary “that’s been really effective in not only coming up with interceptions but returning them for touchdowns,” Herbstreit notes. “And if there’s been an Achilles’ heel for Clemson this year, it’s been turnovers.” When Ohio State gets in trouble on offense, Urban Meyer “always seems to fall back on his old security blanket, [quarterback] J.T. Barrett running the football,” Herbstreit says. “You know it’s coming, and you’ve got to be able to stop it.”

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 29: Quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs with the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ohio Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

College Football Playoff

Saturday, Dec. 31, 3/2c, ESPN, Washington vs. Alabama (Peach Bowl)
Saturday, Dec. 31, 7/6c, ESPN,
Ohio State vs. Clemson (Fiesta Bowl),
Monday, Jan. 9. 8/7c, ESPN, National Championship, @CFBPlayoff

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