The best game of this season’s New Year’s Six bowl games might be the College Football Playoff Semifinal between No.1 Clemson and No.4 Oklahoma. The Tigers are the only FBS team still without a loss, but they are underdogs against a Sooner team that is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.
Oklahoma has the edge on offense, but both teams have scored at least 500 points this season with the ability to move the ball without much trouble. Clemson ranks higher defensively, but they are giving up just 0.6 fewer points per contest.
Below is a closer look at Thursday’s matchup.
Key Offensive Player: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
The biggest reason why Clemson remains undefeated is because they are led by the best quarterback in college football. In addition to Watson’s 3,512 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions, the quarterback has rushed for 887 yards and 11 scores this season. Few teams have been able to limit Watson’s effectiveness, and he’s totaled at least two touchdowns in all but one game. Notre Dame had the most success against the quarterback, forcing him to throw for a season-low 84 yards in a game that saw the Tigers narrowly beat the Fighting Irish by two points.
Key Defensive Player: Oklahoma CB Zack Sanchez
The cornerback has made more big plays than most defenders in 2015. Only one defender from a Big Five conference has more than his six interceptions this year, and Sanchez’s 14 career interceptions are the most for any Sooner in the last 27 years. Sanchez has a chance to change the game for Oklahoma by forcing a key turnover, though his aggressive style sometimes leads to big plays for the opposing offense.
Why Clemson Will Win
Clemson might not play in the best conference, but the Tigers have successfully taken on every challenge that’s come their way. With wins against Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina, Clemson has three wins over top-10 opponents. They are a well balanced team with no holes, ranking eighth in total offense and 13th in total defense. Clemson has relied on creating turnovers in a few of their near-losses, though it will be tough for them to do so against an Oklahoma team that doesn’t have many giveaways. When the Tigers squeaked by Notre Dame, they won by creating four second-half turnovers. Clemson was almost upset by Louisville in their third game of the season, but a last-second interception helped them win by a field goal.
Why Oklahoma Will Win
The Sooners are an offensive juggernaut that few teams have a chance of stopping. They rank third in the country with 45.8 points per game, and Oklahoma has scored at least 52 points in five of their last seven games. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been the driving force with 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. The only thing that might slow down the Sooners is a subpar performance from the signal caller. Oklahoma lost the only game in which Mayfield didn’t throw more than one touchdown pass, scoring a season-low 17 points against Texas. When Mayfield had his only two-interception game, Oklahoma scored just 17 points in regulation and needed two overtimes to defeat Tennessee.