No. 1 Alabama (13-0) is favored by 13.5 points against No. 4 Washington (12-1), so the question for many heading into the Peach Bowl on Saturday isn’t can the Huskies beat the Tide, but can they simply keep it close?
“Yeah, I think they can,” CBS Sports college football analyst Randy Cross said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I like the way Jake Browning plays, I’ve seen quite a bit of them – they are really, really good. Their defense is pretty good. They’re the No. 1 team in the country in turnover ratio, which I can never, ever criticize or minimize. Lot of big-play potential, they run the ball really well – I think they can (keep it close).”
That is, of course, assuming they don’t turn the ball over.
“The problem when you play Alabama – and you saw (this) in the SEC Championship – their non-offensive touchdowns, their non-offensive yards, are what kills teams,” Cross said. “They might keep it within two scores, but with a defense scoring a touchdown or the special teams scoring a touchdown, suddenly the score board gets so out of whack. If there’s a hope for Washington, it’s that they kind of keep their breathing in line early on, don’t get too hyped up and don’t turn the ball over, play what they kind of like to do – that’s their chance. If it gets out of hand, it could get ugly.”
Alabama held six teams to six points or fewer this season and is coming off a 54-point outburst in the SEC Championship. The Tide scored on offense, defense and special teams, and, assuming they beat Washington, will be a tall task for either No. 2 Clemson (12-1) or No. 3 Ohio State (11-1).
Cross believes that Ohio State would give Alabama a better run for its money than Clemson would, but he doesn’t think the Buckeyes will get that opportunity.
“Last time I checked, Clemson sort of dispelled that unbeatable, all-time defense last year, and they lost 45-40, which isn’t exactly a bright spot if you’re a defensive coach,” Cross said. “I think the best game would be Ohio State and Alabama, but I think Clemson is going to beat Ohio State.”
J.T. Barrett has had a solid season, throwing for 2,428 yards, running for 847 and scoring 33 touchdowns (24 pass, nine rush) to just five interceptions. But he has looked pedestrian at times and went a combined 25-of-54 (46.3 percent) for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception in narrow wins over Michigan State and Michigan to close the season.
“That’s one of the reasons I think Clemson is going to take them out,” Cross said. “I think Clemson has a (great) front seven. They’re not only good against the run, especially with their interior guys, but I think they’re going to have the ability, when (the Buckeyes) do pass the ball, to not (let) J.T. Barrett (get comfortable).”
Alabama and Washington kick off this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, with Ohio State and Clemson to follow at 7 p.m. ET.