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Inside the Pocket: CFB Playoff filled with star-studded matchups


There was always going to be controversy with the move to the College Football Playoff, and as many predicted, the outrage shifted Sunday from the Nos. 2-3 spots to Nos. 4-6. Two Big 12 fan bases are still stewing about being left out while four others are counting their lucky stars that they're in.

» Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Ohio State in College Football Playoff

But for all of the hemming and hawing over the playoff in a wild, unpredictable season, let's not lose sight of the fact that the selection committee gave us some extremely appealing matchups. Debate the teams all you want -- from the standpoint of X's and O's as well as the players involved, the committee gave us two appealing semifinal games and a host of other bowls that will make for a terrific postseason.

As soon as the bracket was revealed, many jumped in joy at the prospect of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban locking horns once again. The pair gave us some classic SEC Championship games a few years ago, when Meyer was coach at Florida, and there's little reason to suggest we won't be entertained when they face off at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. Yes, Meyer is down to his third-string quarterback, but as the team showed in the Big Ten title game, it has plenty of athletes across the board that can make it a competitive game.

Take, for example, Alabama's offensive line. It's held up well in league play despite youth and inexperience, but it'll be tested by Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. The same can be said of the Tide's secondary, which was sliced up by Auburn in the Iron Bowl and by Missouri in the SEC title game and now has to deal with Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith and others. The OSU defense did a terrific job on Melvin Gordon, but containing T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will be a different matter in New Orleans. Then, of course, there's that Amari Cooper fellow they'll have to double-team.

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Though they won't be on the field at the same time, perhaps the most appealing battle during bowl season will be last year's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston against this year's likely winner in Marcus Mariota. Winston is undefeated as a starter at Florida State, and Mariota has an incredible career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 102:12. The winner might soon become the No. 1 overall draft pick if things shake out as many expect, and the loser probably wouldn't be too far behind that. It doesn't get juicer than that at college football's most hallowed venue with the sun setting on the San Gabriel mountains on New Year's.

Beyond the quarterbacks though, we'll get to see senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu line up against savvy wideout Rashad Greene, and Oregon's combo of defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, fresh off their best games of the season, face a pair of highly rated prospects in Cam Erving and Tre Jackson on FSU's offensive line. Throw in the nation's most athletic secondary against the Ducks' skill position players, and it doesn't get much better than that.

Even the rest of the New Year's Six bowl games have intriguing matchups before the semifinals to kick off. Defensive mastermind Gary Patterson and his TCU team might be a mismatch against Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace in the Peach Bowl, but seeing Hugh Freeze's top-notch landshark defense try to contain Trevone Boykin should be fun. Likewise, Pat Narduzzi's Michigan State defense trying to stop Bryce Petty and the rest of the Baylor offense will be worth putting the Cotton Bowl kickoff time on your calendar. While we're at it, throw in Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney reading the option attack of Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Yes, there will be plenty of folks upset at the final four this year and in years to come. But at least on Sunday, the selection committee got things right when it came to giving us all some entertaining matchups on the field.

» 10 things we learned from the final CFB Playoff rankings

Stat of the week

College football: Week 15

Thanks to its share of the Big 12 title, TCU has won conference championships in six leagues. The Horned Frogs hoisted a trophy from their fourth league in the past 14 years Saturday. They also joined Miami, Florida State and Tennessee as the only programs to play in the six bowl games that now make up the College Football Playoff system: the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach.

Stats to chew on

» Marcus Mariota has thrown a touchdown pass in every game of his career, a streak of 39 games that is second all-time in the FBS record books behind Marshall's Rakeem Cato, who extended his streak to 45 games.

» TCU has scored more than 30 points in 14 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. It has also recorded at least one sack and interception in 14 straight games, also the longest streak in the nation.

» Despite missing the final three games of the season and most of a fourth, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday still finished fourth in the country in passing yards with 3,873. Three of the top five passers play in a version of the Air Raid for either Mike Leach or somebody on his coaching tree.

» Sack happy? The top three players in the country in sacks play in the Pac-12: Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha, Utah's Nate Orchard and Arizona's Scooby Wright III.

Sound from Saturday

Here's Paul Keels call of Ohio State QB Cardale Jones 45-yard touchdown throw to Devin Smith that put an exclamation point on the Buckeyes' Big Ten title.

Tweet of the Week

Sideline standouts

College Football 24/7 Hot Topics:

Gold medal: Don Pellum, who took his shots earlier in the season but called a masterful game against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game for Oregon's dominating defense.

Silver medal: Mike Gundy, who pulled off a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime and eventually win the Bedlam game against Oklahoma in dramatic fashion to secure a bowl game for Oklahoma State.

Bronze medal: Tom Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach who only turned the team's third string signal-caller into the Big Ten championship game MVP.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.



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