The second semifinal of the College Football Playoff will be between Michigan State and the heavily favored Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, played at AT&T Stadium.
Alabama are the only team with two appearances in the College Football Playoff, last season slightly surprised by Ohio State (although it shouldn’t have been that surprising). Once again, their facing a Big Ten team, although one that’s less highly regarded than the Buckeyes from 2014, although the Spartans, just like the Crimson Tide, sport just one loss on their record. It came in a controversial call against Nebraska late in the game. That’s it. They beat Michigan, beat Ohio State, beat Iowa in a close game. It hasn’t been pretty, but they deserve to be where they are.
Just like a year ago, there are conspiracy theories regarding the seeding of the semifinals. Last season they said the committee wants Oregon and Alabama in the championship game. This season they’re saying the changed the Oklahoma and Michigan State rankings so Alabama wouldn’t have to play a scary looking Sooners team. Who knows – maybe the SEC bias is that strong. But maybe people just like talking about things that remain arbitrary, which is part of the charm and flaw of college football.
This game will be won on the line, in the line, below the lines. Alabama possibly have the best defensive line in college football, which helps them hide problems when it comes to throws over the middle and other minor issues. Their depth a the DL positions is incredible, with five or six NFL-caliber players rotations, keeping the defense fresh and aggressive for the entire 60 minutes. There’s a reason they haven’t given up over 16 points in the last five games.
The Spartans have the better quarterback in this game with Connor Cook, someone who isn’t a game manager, like Larry Coker is. But Alabama have the best player in college football according to the Heisman trophy. Derrick Henry waited for the Leonard Fournette hype to subside and took the SEC by storm, including in that LSU game (30-16 Alabama) that changed the entire perception about the two. Henry rushed for 1986 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, with just two games of under 90 yards this season. Everything begins and ends with how dominant Henry will be against the opposing defense.
Can Michigan State win this? Controlling the clock, like they did in their wins over Ohio State and Michigan, will determine whether they have a shot of upsetting Alabama, a team that’s always a favorite, regardless of the opponent, at least in the last four years of the Nick Saban dictatorship. And it’s going to take perfect execution of game plan that’s about testing the linebackers and secondary instead of the defensive line (which means giving Cook time to throw the ball) for Michigan State to win this one. Alabama don’t need so many good things to happen in order to win.