The third College Football Playoff begins on Saturday, with a pair of New Year’s Eve clashes: Alabama against Washington at the Peach Bowl and Clemson against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl. The day begins with the Crimson Tide and Huskies at 3 p.m.
Alabama is a convincing favorite. The Tide are 13-0 and have looked somehow even more dominant this year than in past national title seasons under Nick Saban. They figure to have a significant home-field advantage at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, which is a relatively short drive from Tuscaloosa and a cross-country flight from Seattle. It’s also the same venue where Alabama’s beaten Florida in the SEC Championship Game in back-to-back years, including earlier this month. There should be a comfort level.
Washington has a herculean task ahead of it. The Huskies should be able to slow down Bama’s passing game to some extent, but they’ll still need to deal with the run and find ways to score on the country’s top defense. A lot needs to go right.
The winner plays Ohio State or Clemson for the national title on Jan. 9 in Tampa. It’ll probably be Alabama, but college football throws curveballs sometimes. Maybe this could be one of those curveballs.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 3 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN. The announcers are Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe.
Radio: Alabama and Washington
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Additional coverage: ESPN3, ESPN Radio, SEC Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Deportes Radio. Full information on ESPN’s array of Playoff coverage is here.
Spread: Alabama is favored by just more than two touchdowns.
Make friends: SB Nation’s team blogs are all over this game: Roll Bama Roll and UW Dawg Pound.
Three big things to know
1. The best matchup, broadly, is when Washington has the ball. Alabama’s defense is what it is. The Tide have the country’s top scoring defense for a reason. They have All-American talent at every level. But Washington’s got a lot going for it, too. Jake Browning is a top-five quarterback, and receivers John Ross, Dante Pettis, and Chico McClatcher will make their share of plays. Whether UW running back Myles Gaskin can run at all against Bama’s front remains to be seen — my guess is he cannot — but the Huskies are one of the few teams that could score points on the Tide.
2. When Bama has the ball, expect a chess match. Tide freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has had a brilliant season, and it’s not like he hasn’t seen good defenses in the SEC. He did just fine against Florida. But Washington’s defense is probably the best he’s seen, and the Huskies have the kind of secondary that can make a few plays against Bama receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. The question is whether Washington can stop Alabama’s perimeter playmakers without leaving itself vulnerable to getting gashed in the running game.
3. If there’s a coach suited to pull off this kind of upset, Chris Petersen might be it. Petersen made his name by turning Boise State into a mid-major powerhouse, beating teams it wasn’t supposed to beat (the best example being Oklahoma in the 2006 season’s Fiesta Bowl). Petersen’s got some upset history, and he’s an offensive innovator with a penchant for throwing trick plays into the mix.