Washington (12-1) vs Alabama (13-0)
When: Saturday, December 31st 2016
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Time: 3:00 ET | TV: ESPN
The Alabama Crimson Tide begin their quest for a fifth national title in 10 seasons in this year’s Peach Bowl when they take on the Washington Huskies in the first of the College Football Playoff semifinals. The Crimson Tide defeated Clemson in last season’s title game and have won their last 25 games overall. Quarterback Jalen Hurts leads the offense and accounted for 34 scores (22 passing, 12 rushing) and is trying to join Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway (1985) as the only true freshmen quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title. Hurts passed for 2,592 yards and rushed for 841 and has two solid wideouts in sophomore Calvin Ridley (66 receptions for 727 yards and seven touchdowns) and junior ArDarius Stewart (52 for 852 and eight scores). The defense is what drives this team. Alabama totaled 14 non-offensive touchdowns, matching Southern Mississippi (2011) for the most in FBS since 1996. Alabama’s non-offensive touchdowns are as follows: five interception returns, five fumble returns, three punt returns and one blocked field goal return. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen won the Nagurski Trophy as the national defensive player of the year and his season includes 8.5 sacks and two fumble-return touchdowns for a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense (11.8) and total defense (247.8). The defense lost star senior safety Eddie Jackson to a season-ending broken leg, but they have plenty of depth to make up for it. Senior outside linebackers Ryan Anderson (team-high 17 tackles for losses) and Tim Williams (15.5 tackles for losses) and sophomore safety Mikah Fitzpatrick (team-best five interceptions) picked up the slack.
The Huskies have ascended quickly under third-year coach Chris Petersen and are enjoying their best season since the 1991 Don James-coached unbeaten team shared the national championship with Miami. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning passed for 3,280 yards and a school-record 42 touchdowns this season to lead the resurgence. Browning completed 63.2% of his passes and wide receiver Josh Ross totaled 76 receptions for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Huskies, who average 44.5 points per game. Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin rushed for 1,339 yards and 10 scores and junior backup Lavon Coleman ran for another 836 and seven scores while averaging a stunning 7.8 yards a carry. The defense allows 17.2 points per game and features standout junior free safety Budda Baker (65 tackles, two interceptions) and senior outside linebacker Psalm Wooching (team-high six sacks). Washington is still without two of its top players in senior outside linebacker Joe Mathis (foot) and junior middle linebacker Azeem Victor (leg). The Huskies are dangerous in the return game with Ross (one kickoff return score this season, four in his career) and Dante Pettis (two punt return TDs this season, five in his career).
Obviously, Alabama is the better team and should win this game. The question is whether or not the line is too high and how will Browning do against this stout defense. Browning struggled near the end of the season especially against a good USC team, so he might struggle here as well. I think Washington’s defense can slow down the Tide enough to keep this one within reach. I’ll take the points.
Pick: Washington +14