College Football Playoffs/Heisman

Well, that’s it. The college football regular season has ended and the playoffs are set. The storm that was the 2015 season has finally passed, leaving countless highlight plays, unforgettable mistakes and unfathomable miracles in its wake. Out of last weekend’s conference playoffs come a group of conference champions now setting their sights on what has been the goal since August for most teams: a spot in the second College Football Playoff.

This year, the Pac-12 will replace last year’s Big-12 “co-champions” for the Power 5 conference unrepresented in the playoff bracket. Though Stanford won the Pac-12 with a convincing defeat of USC, their two early losses hurt them in the eyes of the always enigmatic selection committee. While Stanford will still go to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, undefeated ACC champ and #1 overall Clemson will face off against Oklahoma, winner of the Big-12, in the first semi-final. Later that night, the Big-10’s Michigan State will play Alabama of the SEC.

In spite of their perfect record, Clemson will face a serious challenger in Oklahoma, a team that has surged lately with wins against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma St., all currently ranked in the top 17. Clemson had trouble against an incomplete North Carolina team and needed a botched call by the referees on a last minute onside kick to ensure the win. The compelling matchup in this game is that of the two quarterbacks. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has charged into the Heisman race as of late with huge numbers both passing and running the ball, while Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma’s play-caller, has led his team with consistent performances throughout the 2015 campaign. For me, this game is a toss-up, but I see Clemson coming away with a close win.

Alabama should have little trouble beating Michigan State. The two teams are similar in their styles, with both offensive coordinators favoring their run games, but Alabama is just better. They will have to play to their strengths and stay relatively mistake-free, but behind running back Derrick Henry and his dominance of what seems like all of college football, the Tide should roll to the National Championship.

In their only loss this season, Alabama suffered a close defeat at the hands of Ole Miss in week three of the season. The Rebels proved that beating ‘Bama is possible, but needed a handful of big plays to do it, one of which was a 66-yard pass deflected into the hands of an Ole Miss receiver. Since then, the crimson and white have been an unstoppable force, comfortably winning the rest of their games.

With Alabama almost certainly into the final, Clemson seems to have the better chance of denying the Tide a ring. A big play machine, Watson has been electric for the Tigers and would have no trouble tearing apart the Alabama secondary with both his legs and his arm. If Clemson can limit Alabama’s run game, they will win the title. But if Alabama can get Derrick Henry going, something they’ve been able to do every game for the record-setting running back, there is little the Tigers can do to stop Henry and the Crimson Tide.

Before any of this, though, will be the crowning of this year’s Heisman Trophy winner. The three finalists for 2015’s most outstanding player are Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey and Henry both set major records this season; Henry surpassed Herschel Walker for most rush yards in a single SEC season, while McCaffrey passed up Barry Sanders for his NCAA record for most all-purpose yards in a season. The jury is still out on which record is more important; rush yards are hard to come by in the stingy, defense-centric SEC, but McCaffrey has asserted himself as the best all-around athlete in this year’s season and is drawing comparisons to Reggie Bush, one of the all time college greats. Unfortunately, McCaffrey is the only player in the group whose team is not in the playoffs, something that will undoubtedly hurt his chances. Watson cannot be counted out in an era where quarterbacks dominate Heisman winners, but 2015 has not been a quarterback-friendly year, and other players have stood out much more. The last non-quarterback to win the award was Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009.

Henry’s dominance of the SEC this season will culminate in his winning this year’s Heisman in New York on Saturday. McCaffrey will get second place as a testament to his eclipsing of Barry Sanders’ long-standing, impressive record.