The College Football Playoff field is set.
No. 1 LSU (13-0) will play No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Peach Bowl and No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) will meet No. 3 Clemson (13-0) in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28.
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This year’s Playoff, the sixth in its history, is wide-open; all four teams have a chance to win it. Each one ranks in the top five nationally in total offense and points per game.
SN looks at why each school will win the title — and why it won’t:
Why it will win: The Tigers’ offense has been almost unstoppable. Joe Burrow is going to win the Heisman Trophy, and he can spread the ball to the receiving trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr. with remarkable efficiency. The Tigers have the best red-zone offense of the playoff field. They have scored 50 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals in 65 trips. That conversion rate will continue against Oklahoma and in the CFP championship game, which will be in their backyard in New Orleans. Head coach Ed Orgeron did not seem too concerned about where the Tigers would play or where they would be seeded. Maybe that’s because he knows he has the best team.
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Why it won’t: The Tigers’ defense allowed 21.2 points per game and leaked against the run at times this season. The secondary is solid around Derek Stingley Jr. and Grant Delpit, but there is danger anytime a team engages in a shootout with Oklahoma, Clemson or Ohio State. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady is an excellent bet to win the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant, but will he be a head coach somewhere else before the Playoff starts? Clemson and Ohio State have been better at generating turnovers than LSU, too.
Why it will win: The Buckeyes have played with an edge all season under first-year coach Ryan Day, and this team seems ready to show it belongs back on the Playoff stage. The matchup with Clemson — which beat Ohio State 31-0 in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl CFP semifinal — is fitting. The Buckeyes have the best rushing attack in the Playoff; one that averages 272.1 yards per game. Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins are a dynamic duo. Fields also has passed for 40 touchdowns, to just one interception. Ohio State has the best defensive player in the country in Chase Young, who leads the FBS with 16.5 sacks. It has the best red-zone defense in this Playoff, too. Depth on the defensive line always counts in the heavyweight matchups, and these Buckeyes have it.
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Why it won’t: The Buckeyes did not play their best game against Penn State, Michigan or Wisconsin. All three teams found ways to move the ball, and they don’t have the skill-position talent or quarterback play Ohio State will see from Clemson or the winner of LSU vs. Oklahoma. The Buckeyes’ secondary will need to heal before the Playoff. Clemson will not be intimidated by Ohio State — the Tigers have beaten the Buckeyes in the postseason twice this decade. Day has not lost yet as head coach, but Playoff challenges are bigger than those in the Big Ten.
Why it will win: The Tigers have won 28 games in a row and have the most experience on the big stage. Coach Dabo Swinney lives for these moments, and he has been able to play the disrespect card with a roster that includes Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins on offense and Isaiah Simmons and Tanner Muse on defense. The Tigers allowed the fewest first downs and picked up the third-most first downs in the FBS this season. They play complementary football better than any other team, but their success will come down to Lawrence. The sophomore quarterback is 24-0 as a starter, and he has thrown 20 TDs to no interceptions over the Tigers’ last six games.
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Why it won’t: Clemson has not seen competition this season that’s even close to what it will face in the Playoff. That is, in part, a knock on the ACC. It will be interesting to see what happens if Lawrence commits early turnovers against the Buckeyes. The Tigers have the lowest team completion percentage of the bunch, and a few three-and-outs could be the difference in the game. Ohio State is out to prove itself after that 31-0 loss in 2016; how will the Tigers respond?
Why it will win: The Sooners are the one-loss team playing with house money this year. If this is a Playoff that endorses shootouts, then Oklahoma should feel comfortable. Jalen Hurts presents a matchup issue with his legs, and he will get the ball to CeeDee Lamb (1,035 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Charleston Rambo (711 yards, five touchdowns) on the perimeter. Perhaps a hot start can make LSU uncomfortable and Lincoln Riley can finally knock off an SEC team in the semifinals after losses to Georgia and Alabama the past two seasons. From there, Oklahoma would take its best swing against Ohio State or Clemson as it attempts to win its first national championship since 2000.
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Why it won’t: The Sooners’ defense has improved from last year, but it still allowed the most points (24.5 per game) among the four Playoff teams. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has a problem with LSU’s receivers, and he will have to find a way to generate a pass rush against Burrow. That won’t be easy. OU will also be playing in SEC country in Atlanta. It cannot afford to turn the ball over, something that has been a trouble spot this year. The Sooners ranked 110th in the FBS with a minus-7 turnover margin. That could be the difference against the Tigers.