The Four Things That Will Decide The College Football Playoff

Major key alert. Now that our playoff palate has been satiated by the “who’s in” announcement, we can turn our attention to the “who is going to win it all” debate. The College Football Playoff committee did what it had to do, naming Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington the top four in that order. Now it is our job to figure out who will win it all, with a little help from NCAA Football National Title odds. With newcomer Washington facing a very scary Alabama team, the favorite to win it all, and a classic college football matchup in Ohio State vs. Clemson, the first round is almost anybody’s game.

Whether or not the committee got it right or if it’s time for a bigger field are questions for a different article, although I believe (begrudgingly) that it did and agree that it is time for more than four. But let’s focus on the how: How can one team win it all? What will it take?

Here are four major keys for the team that wants to win it all. Check it out and adjust your bets accordingly.

1. Beating (or being) Alabama

As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In this case, if you can’t beat Alabama, then your best bet to getting to the finish line is to play like the Tide. The problem is, the Tide is hard to replicate, and there is only one Nick Saban.

So to beat (or be like) Bama, the other three teams need to control the line of scrimmage, keep their run game strong, employ quarterbacks who can run as well as throw (it doesn’t hurt if said quarterback is a freshman) and possess a simply suffocating defense. Alabama’s offense averages 40.54 points and 471.3 yards per game while only allowing opponents 11.77 points and 247.8 yards per contest. Having a solid special teams squad is the kicker. Being able to turn those kinds of plays into points is the difference maker when dealing with four solid programs.

2. Coaching

The great Chuck Noll, Hall of Famer and former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, once said: “Some coaches pray for wisdom. I pray for 260-pound tackles. They’ll give me plenty of wisdom.”

I feel like I want to just leave that quote right there for y’all, but some explanation might be needed. This year’s CFP field has four great coaches, three veterans and one playoff rookie.

Think of this year’s coaches as family members at your house for Christmas: If Saban is the wise old-timer telling sardonic war stories, then Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is the charismatic uncle whose positivity is nine parts endearing, one part annoying until he drinks too much eggnog and busts out Napoleon Dynamite-worthy dance moves. Ohio State’s Urban Myer is like your dad, who is the most efficient present opener anyone has ever met, making sure everyone waits his turn. That leaves Washington’s Chris Petersen, who is like your new brother-in-law — much to prove but based on the wedding and subsequent reception party with open all-night bar, you can’t help but like and root for the guy.

All those qualities individually — experience, confidence, charisma and congeniality — serve a purpose on the field, but the coach who can put them all together and add a little Harbaugh-esque gutsiness to the mix will come out on top.

3. Balanced Offense

This may seem like a no-brainer, but as we saw in the Washington vs. Colorado Pac-12 Championship Game, being able to surprise a team with a scheme it didn’t necessarily know was coming can put an opponent on its back. Yes, Jake Browning is amazing and has thrown for 3,280 yards and 42 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. And yes, he boasts a 176.5 QB rating. But the difference maker at Levi’s Stadium last Saturday was UW’s run game.

Running back Myles Gaskin carried the ball 29 times for 159 yards while freshman Lavon Coleman had a huge game as well: 18 carries for 101 yards and one touchdown. The ground game picked up the slack for Browning, who completed only nine passes. Alabama has a similar game plan in place in case freshman QB Jalen Hurts ever struggles, and their names are Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough.

Also this, via Independent Mail:

“Since the birth of the College Football Playoff in 2014, six of the eight teams that have reached the final four have rushed for at least 199 yards per game. The two teams that didn’t suffered the worst defeats of the playoff era.” (Florida State in 2014 and Michigan State in 2015)

4. The No Fly Zone

Everybody knows that line play wins games, but when both lines are stuck in gridlock, it becomes the secondary’s job to clean up the mess.

Close your eyes, Ed, it’s about to get all statistical.

Alabama only gives up 184.46 passing yards to opposing offenses and has yielded only 11 passing touchdowns. Washington only gives up 192.62 passing yards and has surrendered 13 passing touchdowns. On the other side of the bracket, Clemson only allows 157.4 passing yards and has allowed 12 passing TDs while Ohio State gives up 164.5 passing yards and has given up 10 passing touchdowns. The Buckeyes have grabbed 19 interceptions for a return of 443 yards, and they are tied for second in the nation with only nine turnovers lost and five interceptions thrown by QB J.T. Barrett. UW is tied for eighth with only 12 turnovers lost and seven interceptions thrown by Browning.

Numbers aside, when the linemen inevitably have their hands full in the trenches, the open-field battle becomes key. Whichever team can cause turnovers at the line and miscues in the air will emerge victorious.

Good night, and good luck.

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