The sixth edition of the College Football Playoff Semifinals begin on Saturday, with the #1 Fighting Tigers of LSU (-13.5) taking on the #4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Later that night, the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes face the defending national champions, #3 Clemson (-2), in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Even if you aren’t a fan of any of these four schools, if you enjoy good quarterback play— and speculation as to which will be “on to Cincinnati”— these are the games for you.
The story of these playoffs— and the college football season in general— has been the performance of transfer quarterbacks. The Tigers are led by Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, winner of the Heisman Trophy, and more hardware than True Value. The Bayou Bengals also led the nation in total offense, racking up 47.8 points per game (third in the nation). They also have, arguably, the best secondary in the nation, featuring All-Americans Grant Delpit and Derek Stingley. Coach Ed Orgeron, in his third full season, was this year’s Coach of the Year.
Alabama transfer, and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Jalen Hurts led the Oklahoma Sooners to their third consecutive Playoff appearance under head coach Lincoln Riley, and fifth straight Big 12 title. Hurts also led the team in rushing, adding 1,255 yards to his 3,634 passing yards. The Sooners’ offense was second in total yards, and fifth in points per game. All-American CeeDee Lamb is one of the nation’s best wide receivers, with 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, Oklahoma will be without starting defensive end Ronnie Perkins, who led the team in sacks this season. He and two other players were suspended last week for failed drug tests.
Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia, and finished third in the Heisman voting, quarterbacks the Ohio State Buckeyes. Fields hurled 40 touchdown passes against only one interception— “Go ahead, read that stat again,” invites CBS Sports— and added another ten rushing touchdowns. He, and running back J.K. Dobbins are big reasons why the Buckeyes led the nation in scoring, averaging 48.7 points per game. With the Playoff field boasting four of the nation’s best offenses, it may be Ohio State’s defense that separates itself from the quartet. Led by Led by All-American defensive end Chase Young— himself a Heisman finalist— and defensive back Jeff Okudah, the Silver Bullets are capable of stopping anyone in the country.
By contrast, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the one quarterback this weekend who has spent his entire, two-year career in the same place. All he did last year was lead the Tigers to their third national title— and second in the Playoff era— en route to 28 wins in a row. This year, “Sunshine” racked up 3,172 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. He was assisted by ACC Player of the Year Travis Etienne, who rushed for an even 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. All-American linebacker Isiah Simmons leads the defense, and coordinator Brent Venables’ schemes have been keeping opposing offenses guessing all season. That the Tigers are ranked third, however, means the defending champions will also be playing with something to prove.