College Football's Final Four: Breaking down Saturday's semis

No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (12-1)

Peach Bowl in Atlanta at 3 p.m.

Line: Bama by 13 ½ (54½) . TV: ESPN

PLAYER TO WATCH: Beware the Crimson Tide’s tight end. O.J. Howard, the 6-foot-6, 251-pound senior hauled in two touchdowns (53 yards and 51 yards) during the College Football Playoff Championship win over Clemson last season. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is also now the head coach at Florida Atlantic, will have freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts (22 TDs; 9 INTs) looking Howard’s way for a long ball or three. Howard boasts the breakaway speed to separate from defenders in the secondary and the brute strength to block for Hurts when kept back at the line. No player on the field will carry more momentum into the contest than Howard.

Jalen Hurts of the Alabama Crimson Tide

Jalen Hurts of the Alabama Crimson Tide

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

COACH TALK: Nick Saban is now 65 years old and eyeing a chance at his sixth national title this week, but plenty of focus will be on playoff newcomer Washington coach Chris Petersen, a respected coach readying for a breakthrough performance on the national stage. Peterson has had enough time to prepare for Alabama. He will try to sprinkle into his game plans some of the magic he had at Boise State from his previous stop. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (42 TDs; 7 INTs) is the arm that can keep Peterson’s team in the game against an Alabama defense anchored by lineman Jonathan Allen.

TITLE CHASE: This is common ground for Alabama. Not only are the men from Tuscaloosa playing on the same field where the SEC Championship was won earlier this month, this is the third time the Tide has reached the national semifinal in the College Football Playoff’s third season. Ohio State clipped Saban’s squad in the first rendition at a Sugar Bowl semifinal, but the Tide has only risen since. The current win streak is at 25 straight victories. No. 26 is expected to come, but Washington insists it will not be a roll over.

PREDICTION: The Alabama machine marches on. Tide rolls, 35-14.

* * *

No. 2 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1)

Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. at 7 p.m.

Line: Ohio State by 2 ½ (59½) . TV: ESPN

Curtis Samuel of the Ohio State Buckeyes

Curtis Samuel of the Ohio State Buckeyes

(Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brooklyn’s Curtis Samuel will be expected to bring his Flatbush Ave. flavor to the Fiesta Bowl. He is a known playmaker, having capped Ohio State’s double-overtime victory over Michigan with a 15-yard scamper last month. For the season, he has rushed for 704 yards and caught 65 passes for another 822 yards. The Erasmus Hall product could prove to be the difference that propels the Buckeyes past the Tigers for the chance to play in the championship game. Look for the Buckeyes to spring Samuel early and often. Already a national champion as a freshman, he may be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season if he stays in Columbus.

COACH TALK: Dabo Swinney keeps collecting talent on the recruiting trail and assembling competitors in Death Valley. He introduced the world to a “Bring Your Own Guts” mentality on national television, but Urban Meyer remains one of the game’s most intense decision makers. Meyer, a winner of three national titles, maintains that this team might be a year ahead of schedule, but he has proven capable of finding the right rhythm, whether earlier this season in close games or in previous campaigns with Florida. Count on Meyer to find a way into the national title game with J.T. Barrett as his leader.

Deshaun Watson of the Clemson Tigers

Deshaun Watson of the Clemson Tigers

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

TITLE CHASE: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist each of the last two seasons, but he failed to bring the stiff-arm hardware back to Death Valley despite impressive performances and vote tallies. His task is to take a national title home after falling to Alabama in last season’s championship game. No Tiger team has collected a national championship since 1981. Watson’s passing and dashing will be tested, but no player is carrying more motivation to leave his mark on the game before graduating to the NFL Draft.

PREDICTION: Deshaun Watson throws Clemson into title game. Tigers escape Buckeyes, 28-27.

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