The College Football Playoff semifinals will ring in 2021, and there are four heavyweights on the state for New Year’s Day.
No. 1 Alabama meets No. 4 Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl Game – which was relocated to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. No. 2 Clemson meets No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in a rematch of last year’s thrilling semifinal.
Sporting News staff offers its predictions for this year’s semifinal games:
Alabama vs. Notre Dame predictions
Bill Bender: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 23
Alabama suffered a key loss with center Landon Dickerson’s season-ending knee injury in the SEC championship game, and that something to watch early in the game. Can Notre Dame match up on the interior lines on both sides of the ball? We remember what happened last time in the BCS championship game when the answer was an emphatic, ‘No.’ Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book will make a few big throws early, but Alabama presents too many matchup problems on the perimeter with its explosive offense. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith connect for a pair of TDs, and Najee Harris runs for three more.
Zac Al-Khateeb: Alabama 45, Notre Dame 24
Alabama’s trio of Mac Jones, Najee Harris and SN Player of the Year DeVonta Smith will be too much for Notre Dame to handle. Don’t be surprised, however, if the Crimson Tide’s offense is slow out of the gates with center Landon Dickerson out. Ian Book will string together some scoring drives, but look for Alabama’s defense to step up after a subpar performance against Florida.
Vinnie Iyer: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 21
The Crimson Tide have too much pop around Mac Jones with Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and others to be cooled down by a limited Irish defense. Ian Book will have too much on him to come through and will make more key mistakes than big plays in trying to make this a shootout.
Matt Lutovsky: Alabama 52, Notre Dame 21
Alabama can name the score here. We might be underestimating Notre Dame’s offense, but no matter how good it is, Alabama will be able to score more. How do you stop a team with three legitimate Heisman trophy candidates? You don’t. Just ask the rest of the SEC, who gave up over 49 points per game to the Tide during the regular season.
Mike DeCourcy: Alabama 44, Notre Dame 10
If the Irish had the stuff of champions, they would not have wilted in the red zone twice in the early minutes of their second game against Clemson. It was obvious they would need to score plenty to keep pace with Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers, because they’d had to in order to keep pace with his backup and eventually prevail in overtime of their first meeting. This time, they didn’t. It has been a while since a Brian Kelly team stood up to the pressure of a single, decisive game, probably going all the way back to the Cincinnati-Pitt game in 2009. He then walked away from an undefeated team and its bowl matchup to instead recruit at his new job, and what’s happened since? Destroyed in the 2018 CFP semifinals, destroyed in the 2012 BCS Championship game, a few wins in minor bowls. Sorry. It’s just hard to believe in them.
Clemson vs. Ohio State predictions
Bill Bender: Clemson 34, Ohio State 31
The temptation to pick Ohio State is there. Justin Fields can have success against Clemson’s secondary with the tandem of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and Trey Sermon’s emergence in the Big Ten championship game is the missing piece. The Buckeyes had this game last year, too. The difference this time? Trevor Lawrence has more time in the pocket, and he’s able to exploit that with a few deep shots. It’s going to be a shootout, and the Buckeyes can win this game and prove Dabo Swinney wrong. Lawrence, however, gets one more title shot by breaking Ohio State’s heart again in the final minutes.
Zac Al-Khateeb: Clemson 38, Ohio State 21
The Tigers are peaking at the right time, and Dabo Swinney can use his manufactured feud with Ryan Day to amp his team up further. Trevor Lawrence, who proved his value to Clemson in a rout of Notre Dame in the ACC title game, should have no issues against the Big Ten’s worst passing defense. Justin Fields will make plays, but not enough to keep Ohio State competitive.
Vinnie Iyer: Clemson 34, Ohio State 24
Trevor Lawrence is burning up again while Justin Fields remains a little off from the weird regular season. This won’t be a replay of last season as Lawrence is locked in for his final run at a national championship. Dabo Swinney’s gamesmanship gets backed up by his players.
Matt Lutovsky: Clemson 27, Ohio State 24
Trevor Lawrence will be the difference in a game that’s bound to get a little chippy. Ohio State’s defense failed to impress during its short regular season, while Clemson’s led the ACC in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense and finished second in run defense.
Mike DeCourcy: Ohio State 31, Clemson 28
The time off following the Big Ten Championship game has not been as abundant as it ordinarily would be, but still it has to help the Buckeyes to get closer to full strength entering the most important part of their schedule. This is the reason All-Americans Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade were so eager to return to campus once the Big Ten season was reestablished. This game. This event. COVID issues left them at lower strength for the Northwestern game, and Northwestern plays excellent defense, anyway. So OSU’s modest performance there has led many to conclude this game has been decided. But if the Clemson defense allows the Buckeyes the opportunities that were presented to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship, the Bucks will seize the opportunity.