The second national semifinal of the second College Football Playoff once again matches the champions of the SEC and Big Ten, with Alabama hoping to right a wrong from last year and Michigan State hoping to repeat Ohio State’s success in the Sugar Bowl a season ago.
On the first day of 2015, the Alabama Crimson Tide were the favorites to win the first-ever College Football Playoff, they faced the champions of the Big Ten and were shocked. On the last day of 2015, Alabama is once again the favorite to capture the College Football Playoff. They are facing the champions of the Big Ten.
Ohio State, last season’s Big Ten champions, was seen by many as an afterthought for the national championship, a team seen as often only doing the minimum to get by, one seen as being quite fortunate just to get there. Michigan State, this season’s Big Ten champions, is viewed by many exactly the same way—a team with much talent in no way properly prepared for the big, bad SEC on the playoff stage.
So which is it? Will the script be flipped, or will the Big Ten continue to enjoy the bragging rights so grievously won by Ohio State? The Tide has won 10 straight, with a dominating defense and a powerful running game. The Spartans have won four straight since their controversial last-minute loss to Nebraska, featuring speed and athleticism much in the mold of Ohio State.
Alabama is led by Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry whose 1,986 rushing yards set a new SEC single-season record. Jacob Coker has started every game at quarterback since the Ole Miss loss and supplies a steady hand, freshman Calvin Ridley providing a big-play target like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper before him. It truly is a team effort on defense, one that is as fine as any Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa.
Michigan State is led by senior quarterback Connor Cook, a likely first-round NFL Draft pick come April. L.J. Scott is a typical mix of speed and power from the tailback position, with Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, Jr. providing very capable threats in the passing game. Cook has been dealing with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the Ohio State game and seemed to slow him in the win over Iowa. He is expected to be 100% for this game.
Neither team are strangers to AT&T Stadium. Michigan State won last year’s Cotton Bowl over Baylor, while Alabama played their season-opening win over Wisconsin there. Alabama is the better team, almost across the board, but they appeared to be against Ohio State. Still, if they can impose their will and convert in the red/crimson zone, a championship appearance should be theirs.