By Brad Carroll
It's a new era in college football and we all finally get to enjoy what everyone has clamored for since seemingly the beginning of time, a postseason tournament to determine a national champion. It may just be four teams, making up two semifinal games and then a championship, but it's a giant step forward for college football and everyone who loves the sport.
The first ever College Football Playoff national semifinals feature No. 1 Alabama playing No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Oregon taking on No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The winners of those two New Year's Day bowl games will then play to determine a national champion about a week and a half from now.
Alabama, Oregon and Florida State were locks to make the final four tournament after working their way through the regular season and conference championship week. Ohio State, on the other hand, jumped into the four-slot during the final rankings put together by the college football playoff committee. The Buckeyes jumped TCU and Baylor to get into the tournament, making for some very irate fans of the Horned Frogs and Bears, but the Buckeyes and their fans were certainly ecstatic.
One team each from the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten will play for the right to call themselves champions. We preview and our college football experts pick the Sugar Bowl against the spread below and the Rose Bowl against the spread here. Make sure to follow us on Twitter for our latest picks and much more.
[Rose Bowl National Semifinal, Oregon vs Florida State, picks]
College Football Playoff National Semifinal
Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)
The Spread: Alabama -9; Ohio State +9
The Breakdown: Almost everyone expected Alabama to be in the first ever College Football Playoff coming into the year, and the Crimson Tide did not disappoint, beating five ranked teams after a surprising loss in early October to roll into the championship semifinals. After losing a shocker to Ole Miss, Alabama won eight straight games. The Crimson Tide beat then-No. 1 Mississippi State in mid-November to make their jump to the top spot themselves and followed that with wins over Auburn and then Missouri in the SEC championship game. Alabama has done it with defense as always, allowing 16.6 points per game, third best in the country. But this year, the offense has been explosive as well, with Lane Kiffin calling plays as offensive coordinator and quarterback Blake Sims and wide receiver Amari Cooper making plays on the field. The Tide average 37.1 points per game, 16th best in the nation. There is no doubt why Alabama is the favorite to win the national championship. While nearly everyone though Alabama would punch its ticket to the Playoff, very few though Ohio State would jump it, and nobody gave the Buckeyes much of a chance after losing to Virginia Tech at home in the second week of the season. But Ohio State won 11 straight games, including huge victories over Michigan State that catapulted it into contention in mid-November. The Buckeyes took a giant hit to their Playoff hopes when J.T. Barrett went down with a leg injury in a victory over Michigan in the regular season finale and were an underdog the following week in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin. But the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 59-0 with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones running the show. He will start again for the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl. That impressive victory was enough for the playoff committee to move Ohio State above both TCU and Baylor and into the final four. Ohio State developed an explosive offense this season that didn't miss a beat with Jones at quarterback. The Buckeyes average 45.2 points per game, fifth best in the country. The defense is solid as well, allowing 21.2 points per game. While Ohio State bucked the odds to make it to the semifinals, the magic it found this season won't last against a superior team in Alabama. The Crimson Tide have too much offense and way too much defense not to beat the Buckeyes by double digits and to advance to the national championship game.
Brad's Score: Alabama 42, Ohio State 28
Craig's Score: Alabama 35, Ohio State 20
Glenn's Score: Ohio State 27, Alabama 24 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Alabama 38, Ohio State 35
Rose Bowl National Semifinal, Oregon vs Florida State, picks
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