The final four teams have varying degrees of injury problems heading into the two Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
Alabama’s had some big losses that the rest of the Tide have rendered barely noticeable. Washington’s missing two crucial defenders. Ohio State appears in remarkably good health, and Clemson’s a little iffy.
Let’s quickly run it down.
Alabama vs. Washington (3 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
Alabama has some big ones, though not all are new.
Star linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton tore his right ACL in the SEC Championship and won’t play. Hamilton is a load both against the run and in pass coverage, and his loss will hurt. His replacement at Mike linebacker is junior Rashaan Evans, another once-upon-a-time five-star recruit. At some point, the difference between Bama LBs is academic.
Alabama’s still missing safety and punt returner Eddie Jackson, who fractured a leg against Texas A&M in October. Anthony Averett and Tony Brown have filled in just fine. Bama still has Marlon Humphrey across the field, which doesn’t hurt. Jackson’s absence has been notable on punt runbacks, though: He averaged 23 yards, and replacement Trevon Diggs averages 11. Diggs did have a 47-yarder against Florida in the SEC title game, so maybe he’s getting better.
Reserve defensive end Dakota Ball shot himself in the finger in a hunting accident, and it seems like he’s out. Josh Casher, a backup offensive lineman, reportedly broke his foot against Florida, too. The Tide can presumably weather the loss of a backup or two.
Washington has two biggies, and they might really hurt.
The Huskies lost inside linebacker Azeem Victor when he broke his right leg against USC in the middle of November. For perspective on how important Victor is, consider that he’s still Washington’s leading tackler. He was important to Washington against both the run and the pass.
Against a team that pounds the ball like Bama and can throw to an all-world tight end like the 6’6 O.J. Howard, Victor leaves a gaping hole. His replacement is DJ Beavers, a redshirt freshman.
Washington has also been without defensive end/outside linebacker Joe Mathis since the beginning of November. Mathis had five sacks in seven games, and nobody else has more than six in 13. He was the team’s most prolific pass-rusher, and Jalen Hurts doesn’t have to worry about him.
Unlike Bama or Ohio State, Washington can’t just replace these players with five-stars off the bench, but the Huskies can still play good defense.
Clemson vs. Ohio State (7 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
Ohio State has some long-term injuries but looks extremely healthy.
The biggest loss was starting defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle after the first game of the year, but that’s given Dre’Mont Jones months of experience as his replacement. As a redshirt freshman, Jones has blossomed into OSU’s sixth-leading tackler. The Buckeyes also lost a backup linebacker, Justin Hilliard, right before Big Ten play.
Twenty-one of Ohio State’s starters have started all season, with a missed game here or there. The Buckeyes have spent the whole season without safety Cam Burrows, defensive end Darius Slade, defensive tackle Dylan Thompson, backup quarterback Stephen Collier, and offensive lineman Malcolm Pridgeon. None of this has been obviously problematic.
A few deep reserves and true freshmen who haven’t played are dinged up. But Ohio State seems to be at nearly full strength.
Clemson is getting some good news and seems generally OK.
Clemson’s getting healthier in at least one area. Defensive tackle Scott Pagano, who started four games earlier in the year and stayed a part of the Tigers’ rotation on the line, missed the last three games. But Clemson says Pagano will play against Ohio State. Richard Yeargin, another rotation D lineman who’d been hurt down the stretch, is listed on Clemson’s depth chart behind end Christian Wilkins and expected to play.
Receiver Trevion Thompson, a backup who had 11 catches in 13 games, got hurt in the ACC Championship and won’t play. But Clemson had six more prolific pass-catchers this year.
Starting offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen hasn’t played in the last four games and isn’t on the Fiesta Bowl depth chart. Backup guard John Simpson, who’s been injured, is also on Clemson’s depth chart. Receiver Hunter Renfrow missed a month early in the season and hasn’t had a big year statistically, but he’s been back for months.
Clemson seems pretty good overall. Most players who have started for Clemson all year are otherwise around, with some coming back in time for the Playoff.