Final Four Preview

January 1, 2018 by Dave Congrove

Every team in the final four playoff - Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma - faced a top 20 schedule according to the Congrove Computer Rankings. The computer rates schedules based on the average power rating of every team they already faced, as well as the semifinal opponent that they are about to play. The 3rd-ranked schedule of the Tigers' was toughest among the four, followed by the Bulldogs (5th), Tide (12th) and Sooners (19th).

When the season began, the computer had Georgia ranked as the 19th most powerful team in the nation while Clemson was 8th, Alabama 6th and Oklahoma 5th. The computer's preseason forecast projected Oklahoma and Alabama, along with Ohio State and Florida State, as final four teams with the Tide winning the title.

Alabama is still the computer's projected title favorite, but it has very little separation between the four teams. In the semis, Georgia is favored over Oklahoma by 7 one-hundredths (0.07) of a point while Alabama has a 58 one-hundredths (0.58) of a point edge over Oklahoma.

On the field, there has been only one competitive semifinal game in the first three years of the playoff. That came in the inaugural season of the format when Ohio State edged Alabama 42-35. The other 5 semifinal games played to date have been decided by no fewer than 17 points, and 3 have been decide by 31 points or more.

Alabama vs. Clemson

Clemson (12-1) took on seven teams that are currently ranked in the top 43, defeating all seven. The only loss for the ACC champs came inexplicably at a Syracuse team that is currently 99, but the Orange were playing well at the time with Eric Dungey at quarterback and Clemson was without starting QB Kelly Bryant for the second half. Syracuse finished the season 4-8 by losing the last 3 games of the season with Dungey nursing a foot injury that eventually needed surgery. The Tigers' most notable victory came at home against Auburn, 14-6, in week two.

Alabama (11-1) faced seven teams ranked among the final top 52 and was undefeated before falling at Auburn in the season finale. That loss also knocked the Tide out of the SEC Championship game which Auburn ultimately lost 28-7 to Georgia.

Clemson and 'Bama faced two common opponents - Florida State and Auburn. Both teams defeated Florida State by 17 points. And as it has already been pointed out, Clemson beat Auburn, while Alabama did not.

The computer's preseason projections had both teams going 11-1.

Clemson has 5 consecutive traditional bowl wins. The Tigers and Tide are both 1-1 in College Football Playoff Championship games which, of course, were played against each other.

Georgia vs. Oklahoma

Kirby Smart's second season as the head coach at Georgia has been a smashing success. Even though the Bulldogs were the consensus top pick to win the SEC's eastern division, Georgia is the final four member that no one saw coming this far. Early in the season, the 31-3 win over a 3-0 Mississippi State team in week 4 seemed like a bigger deal than the 20-19 win at Notre Dame in week 2. Those victories helped Georgia race to a 9-0 start behind a defense that had allowed a total of 105 points up to that stage of the season. When the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings were released, Georgia was numero uno. But then came the 40-17 blowout loss at Auburn to seemingly take the 'Dawgs out of the national title picture as the committee dropped them to No. 7. Ultimately, Georgia got its shot at redemption when Auburn defeated Alabama to set up a Tigers and Bulldogs rematch which Georgia handily won 28-7.

Georgia's schedule featured 7 games against 6 teams ranked in the top 46.

The computer's preseason forecast had Georgia finishing 8-4 and Oklahoma going 11-1. Now, Georgia is seeking its second national title while Oklahoma shoots for its 8th. Georgia's only previous title came in 1980. Oklahoma won its last title in the 2000 season.

Oklahoma began this season with a 34-year-old offensive coordinator suddenly promoted to head coach at one of the most prestigious football schools in the country.  Lincoln Riley, a Lubbock-born Texas Tech alum, was promoted when Bob Stoops abruptly announced his retirement on June 7.

Riley navigated Oklahoma through a schedule that included 7 games against 6 teams ranked in the top 54. The top highlight of the season was avenging last year's loss to Ohio State with a victory over the Buckeyes in Columbus. But the Sooners wouldn't be here had they not twice overwhelmed TCU in the last four weeks of the season. The season lowlight was a 38-31 home loss to Iowa State in early October.