The first semifinal of the 2015 season college football playoff will be #4 Oklahoma playing against #1 Clemson in the Orange Bowl, in a repeat with much higher stakes of a bowl game from last season.
The Tigers crushed Oklahoma a year ago in the Russell Athletic Bowl to even up the all-time series between the schools at 2-2. Clemson have won another bowl game against the Sooners back in 1987, while Oklahoma have two wins from 1972 and 1963, ancient history, that has nothing to do with today’s college football, and especially with the players who will be representing both schools in their first ever CFP appearances.
Clemson are trying to complete one of the more dominant seasons in recent history, while becoming the first team to go 15-0 in a season. They’re 13-0 right now, having outscored opponents 500-263 this season. They’ve had some close calls, none closer than their two point win over Notre Dame, but they’ve yet to trail in a fourth quarter this season and usually find ways to take control of the game earlier on, like in their 45-37 win over North Carolina in a highly entertaining ACC championship game.
All eyes turn to Deshaun Watson, who had no problem filling in for Tajh Boyd when he graduated. The sophomore out of Gainesville, Georgia, completed 69.5% of his passes, threw 30 touchdown passes and ran for 11 more in a season that resulted in him finishing third on the Heisman voting, got named to the All-America team and won the ACC offensive player of the year. According to his coach, Dabo Swinney, Watson is about the championship, not personal awards, and the same goes for ACC defensive player of the year and another All-American, Shaq Lawson, maybe the team’s most important player.
As good as Clemson are, few teams are as hot as Oklahoma going into this game. The Sooners did lose to Texas midway through the season, but have won seven straight since then, including an impressive finish to claim the Big 12 title for the ninth time in Bob Stoops’ tenure in Norman, beating TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State, all ranked and undefeated teams until late in the season, to erase all the disappointments in recent years and make it to the Orange Bowl in its various forms for a 20th time.
Baker Mayfield will be the quarterback on the other end trying to lead Oklahoma to the championship game. A transfer out of Texas Tech, he sat out last season due to restrictions, while Watson missed the game with an injury. Trevor Knight starter for the Sooners and looked awful, which pretty much doomed his career with Oklahoma, helping his recent decision to transfer and find somewhere to play in what remains of his college career.
Mayfield threw for 35 touchdowns this season with just five interceptions on his 354 attempts. He also rushed for 7 touchdowns, giving him one more overall than Watson, although he isn’t the runner Watson has shown to be. Both teams can put up point and are exceptional when running the ball. Oklahoma rely on that ability more, and this game will be determined by how Clemson deal with Samaje Perine (1291 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Joe Mixon (749 yards, 7 touchdowns). If Oklahoma are forced to win this game on Mayfield’s arm alone, Clemson are going to be quite pleased.