Game of the Day: Thursday’s College Football Playoff

Capital One Orange Bowl

To be played at Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

(3) Oklahoma Sooners vs. Clemson Tigers (+4, 63.5)

CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL STORYLINES

1. Top-ranked Clemson is the lone remaining unbeaten squad and fourth-ranked Oklahoma has reeled off seven straight victories as they enter their College Football Playoff semifinal clash in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 31 at Miami Gardens, Fla. The Tigers are bidding for their first national championship since going 12-0 in 1981, while the Sooners are chasing their first national title since going 13-0 in 2000. Oklahoma’s lone loss came to Texas on Oct. 10, while Clemson has won 16 consecutive games since losing to Georgia Tech in mid-November of the 2014 campaign.
 
2. There is no disputing the notion that the top two quarterbacks in the country are playing in this contest as Clemson sophomore Deshaun Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting and Oklahoma junior Baker Mayfield placed fourth with the top two finishers both being running back. Watson is an all-around nightmare for defensive coordinators as he has passed for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for 887 yards and 11 scores while Mayfield has passed for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 420 yards and seven scores. “I think he’s exceptional,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops told reporters of Watson. “What a great athlete – thrower, runner, everything. I really have a great respect and appreciation for what a quality player he is.”
 
3. One aspect both teams are downplaying is that Clemson put a 40-6 thumping on the Sooners in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Watson missed the game with a knee injury and Oklahoma committed five turnovers and was never in the contest but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has been insisting that nobody should be bringing up that game. “That just absolutely has nothing to do with this year,” Swinney told reporters. “They’re playing as good as anybody in the country right now, maybe the best of anybody in the country, so we know they’ll be fired up to play us.”

TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Books opened Clemson as a 3-point dog before that moved to +4. The total is down to 63.5 from the opening 65.

WEATHER: Temperatures in the high-70s with a 28 percent chance of showers. Wind will blow toward the west endzone at around 9 mph.

INJURY REPORT:

Oklahoma – CB Jordan Thomas (Probable, personal), RB Daniel Brooks (Out, academics), DE Gabriel Campbell (Out, academics), S Prentice McKinney (Out, academics), RB Rodney Anderson (Out, leg), T Kenyon Frison (Out, suspension).

Clemson – WR Artavis Scott (Probable, knee), WR Mike Williams (Out, neck), S Korrin Wiggins (Out, knee).

CHEERLEADER WAR:

ABOUT OKLAHOMA (11-1 SU, 9-3 ATS, 8-4 O/U): The Sooners have averaged 52 points during their seven-game winning streak as senior receiver Sterling Shepard and sophomore running back Samaje Perine complement Mayfield’s prowess. Shepard has 79 receptions for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdown catches and ranks second in school history in receptions (226) and receiving yardage (3,395) while Perine has rushed for 1,291 yards and 15 touchdowns and has 3,004 career rushing yards to join Adrian Peterson (2004-05) as the only players to top 3,000 in their first two seasons as Sooners. Oklahoma allows 20.8 points per game and boasts solid players in senior outside linebacker Eric Striker (team-high 16 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks), junior cornerback Zack Sanchez (team-leading six interceptions), sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas (five interceptions), junior inside linebacker Dominique Alexander (team-best 91 tackles) and senior defensive end Charles Tapper (seven sacks).

ABOUT CLEMSON (13-0 SU, 6-7 ATS, 8-5 O/U):
The Tigers are hoping standout sophomore receiver Artavis Scott (84 receptions, 805 yards) will be in top shape by the bowl game after he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair meniscus cartilage in his right knee earlier this month. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has been superb with 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns and is 14 yards shy of surpassing the school mark set by Raymond Priester in 1996. Clemson allows 20.2 points per game with standout junior defensive end Shaq Lawson delivering a dominating season – he has a team-best 9.5 sacks and leads the nation with 22.5 tackles for losses – while senior middle linebacker B.J. Goodson (team-high 91 tackles), junior cornerback Condrea Tankersley (team-leading five interceptions) and junior defensive end Kevin Dodd (eight sacks) also are having strong campaigns.

TWEET BEAT:

TRENDS:

* Sooners are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games overall.
* Tigers are 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall.
* Under is 12-3-1 in Sooners last 16 games in December.
* Under is 5-0 in Tigers last five vs. Big 12.

COVERS CONSENSUS:
Fifty-six percent of Covers users are backing Clemson.


Goodyear Cotton Bowl


To be played at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

(4) Michigan State Spartans vs. (2) Alabama Crimson Tide (-10, 46.5)

GOODYEAR COTTON BOWL STORYLINES

1. Second-ranked Alabama is in the College Football Playoff semifinals for the second straight season as it faces third-ranked Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31 at Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide were ousted by Ohio State in last season’s semifinals and are again matched up against a Big Ten program. Only a one-point loss to Nebraska in early November prevented the Spartans from entering the playoffs with an unbeaten record while Alabama has won 10 straight games since losing to Ole Miss in mid-September.

2. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said his sprained throwing shoulder is improving and will be close to 100 percent New Year’s Eve. Cook has a 34-4 career mark as a starter, has thrown a school-record 71 career touchdown passes and ranks second in passing yards (8,984) behind Kirk Cousins (9,131 from 2008-11). “I’m pretty much doing everything in practice now,” Cook told reporters in mid-December. “I’m pretty confident.”

3. Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry topped 100 yards nine times – and 200 on four occasions – while rushing for an SEC-record 1,986 yards to go with 23 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. The Spartans know they will be seeing a lot of Henry with the football as he carried it a combined 90 times over the Crimson Tide’s last two games. “Whatever I have to do to help my team win,” Henry told reporters. “I don’t care how many carries it is. As long as it’s successful and we’ve got the ball, I’m all for it.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Books opened Alabama as 8.5-point faves but that now sits at -10. The total is down to 46.5 after opening at 49.

WEATHER:
N/A

INJURY REPORT:

Michigan State – S R.J. Williamson (Probable, bicep), QB Connor Cook (Probable, shoulder), FB Trevon Pendleton (Questionable, leg), DB Jalen Watts-Jackson (Out for season, hip), OL Dennis Finley (Out for season, leg), CB Vayante Copeland (Out for season, back), LB Ed Davis (Out for season, knee).

Alabama – WR Chris Black (Out for season, ankle), WR Robert Foster (Out for season, shoulder).

CHEERLEADER WAR:

ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (12-1 SU, 5-7-1 ATS, 6-7 O/U): Cook has completed 56.9 percent of his passes and been intercepted only five times and has a big-time target to work with in senior Aaron Burbridge, who has 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns on a school-record 80 receptions. Freshman LJ Scott rushed for a team-high 691 yards and 11 touchdowns and his last score was the biggest as he kept his legs churning on third-and-goal to score the decisive 1-yard touchdown to beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans allow 20.5 points per game with senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun (10.5 sacks) leading the way while sophomore nose tackle Malik McDowell (12 tackles for losses) and junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough (team-most 95 tackles) are also standout players.

ABOUT ALABAMA (12-1 SU, 7-6 ATS, 5-8 O/U): Henry carries the offense and takes pressure off of senior quarterback Jake Coker, who has thrown for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley emerged as a solid target with 75 receptions for 893 yards to help the Crimson Tide average 34.1 points and complement a defense that allows only 14.4 per game. Junior strong safety Eddie Jackson has a team-leading five interceptions – he has returned them for 230 yards and two touchdowns – while senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland has recorded a team-high 90 tackles and junior defensive Jonathan Allen has a team-best 10 sacks.

TWEET BEAT:


TRENDS:

* Spartans are 4-0 ATS in their last four bowl games.
* Crimson Tide are 5-1 ATS in their last six vs. Big Ten.
* Over is 8-2 in Spartans last 10 non-conference games.
* Over is 8-1 in Crimson Tide last nine bowl games.

COVERS CONSENSUS:
Sixty-seven percent of Covers users are backing Michigan State.

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