By Brad Carroll
The long-awaited College Football Playoff semifinals are finally here, a day earlier than expected, however, as New Year's Eve plays host to the final four instead of the typical big day for games, New Year's Day. Granted, it will be tricky to see what the ratings for each game does considering most will be worried about other things than football as the ball is getting ready to drop in Times Square, but here we are.
Don't worry, though, as we preview, analyze and our four college football experts will pick against the spread both semifinal games, plus the Peach Bowl, so you can worry about everything else. Check out our past, present and future college football bowl picks here. And follow us on Twitter for all of our latest updates here. We promise to follow you right back.
No. 18 Houston vs. No. 9 Florida State, Atlanta, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Houston +6.5; Florida State -6.5
Analysis: The big news in this matchup is Florida State quarterback Everett Golson will not play, and did not make the trip to Atlanta for personal reason. ESPN reports that it is because of a death in the family, which makes it a sad end to a once promising career for the former Notre Dame quarterback. Sean Maguire starts for the Seminoles, and he just might have started the game anyway considering how the season has gone so far. Florida State started the season 6-0 but a stunning loss to Georgia Tech, where the Yellowjackets blocked a potential game-winning field goal and returned it for a touchdown, ruined its hopes of making a run at a second consecutive Playoff appearance. Florida State would also lose to Clemson by 10 for its two defeats on the season. The Seminoles beat then-No. 12 Florida 27-2 in the regular season finale. Florida State averages 32.3 points per game on offense, and allows just 15.8 points on defense. That defense will be put to the test by Houston, which is 12-1 on the season, the lone loss coming against UConn when the Cougars didn't have their starting quarterback for the majority of the game. Greg Ward Jr. has 19 touchdown passes and has run for another 19 scores this season. He leads an offense that averages 40.6 points per game. Even with the loss, Houston gets to play in a marquee bowl game against a historic opponent, so players and coaches should be hyped for the chance. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook should make the difference in a Seminoles win, but Houston will keep the game close throughout.
Brad's Score: Florida State 27, Houston 23
Craig's Score: Florida State 35, Houston 20
Glenn's Score: Florida State 42, Houston 24
Matt's Score: Florida State 56, Houston 20
College Football Playoff Semifinal
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Clemson, Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Oklahoma -3.5; Clemson +3.5
Analysis: These two teams actually played each other in a bowl game last season, the Russell Athletic Bowl, which is just a little different from the meaning of this College Football Playoff semifinal. In that game a year ago, Clemson won in a rout, 40-6. That likely won't be the final score in this national semifinal, but with the way the Tigers are playing, anything is possible. Clemson could be the first team to go 15-0 in a season, and if it does, the Tigers will be national champions. But getting by this Oklahoma squad to get there will be difficult, and the Sooners are actually the favorites in this game. Oklahoma's only slip-up this season was a shocker, a 24-17 loss to Texas that many thought would eliminate the Sooners from Playoff contention. But Oklahoma won seven games after that, including against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State, all ranked teams, to win the Big 12. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has become a star, leading an offense that averages 45.8 points per game. Mayfield has thrown for 35 touchdowns against just five interceptions. The Oklahoma defense is solid as well, allowing 20.8 points per game in the high-octane Big 12. For Clemson, there isn't a blemish in its record, and the Tigers have marquee victories over Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina, the latter in the ACC championship game. Clemson has an outstanding quarterback as well, with Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, who has 30 touchdown passes and is a threat to run the ball. It makes the Clemson offense, which averages 38.5 points per game, hard to defend. The Tigers defense allows 20.2 points and under 300 yards per game. There should be plenty of offense in this one, and Clemson will have just enough to pull the upset and advance to the championship game.
Brad's Score: Clemson 42, Oklahoma 38 (upset pick)
Craig's Score: Clemson 38, Oklahoma 31 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Clemson 38, Oklahoma 28 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Oklahoma 42, Clemson 17
College Football Playoff Semifinal
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama, Arlington, Texas, 8 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Michigan State +9.5; Alabama -9.5
Analysis: This is going to be a big-time, smash-mouth football game, with the running backs and defense taking center stage over the sparkling offense that many programs run today. Alabama is the unquestioned favorite, and the favorite not just here, but to win the national championship as well. The Crimson Tide are nearly double-digit favorites, which is both disrespectful to the Spartans and the Big Ten, but also a nod to how great the Tide are and can be. Alabama has Heisman trophy winning running back Derrick Henry leading the way for an offense that averages 34.1 points per game. Henry has rushed for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has four games where he rushed for at least 200 yards, including a 210-yard, three-touchdown performance against LSU that sparked Alabama to the semifinals and Henry to the Heisman trophy. If quarterback Jake Coker doesn't turn the ball over, the Tide will be hard to beat, especially because of their defense. Alabama allows just 14.4 points per game. Michigan State survived a loss against Nebraska this season, and got a miracle win over Michigan, to make the national semifinals. The Spartans cemented their spot with a 16-13 win over previously-undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State, which averages 32.1 points per game, average 236.1 yards passing and 160.7 rushing yards per game. They are led by quarterback Connor Cook and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. Cook has thrown for 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions, while Burbrigde has caught 80 passes for 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns. Michigan State's defense allows 20.5 points per game. This game should be a low-scoring affair, with Alabama pulling out a close victory and advancing to the national championship.
Brad's Score: Alabama 24, Michigan State 21
Craig's Score: Alabama 21, Michigan State 17
Glenn's Score: Michigan State 24, Alabama 17 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Michigan State 21, Alabama 17 (upset pick)