No. 1 Alabama (13-0) will play No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the College Football Playoff on Saturday, and just about everyone is predicting a Tide victory. After all, Alabama is undefeated and favored by 14 points.
But Rick Neuheisel believes this game could be much closer than people think.
“It’s just easy to say Alabama is dominant, especially on that defensive side of the ball, and given the length of a football game – 60 minutes – it’s just too hard to sustain anything against those guys,” the CBS Sports college football analyst said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Four times this year had Alabama had their offense just stay on the bus, they still win the game – because their defense outscored the opponent offense. So that’s an easy take. But I don’t think we have had a coach, at least in the modern era, that has better gotten David ready to play Goliath than Chris Petersen. His Boise State Broncos took on all comers and made us all remember (the game) against Oklahoma (in January 2007). It’s an unbelievable attack that Petersen has in store.”
But will that attack work against Alabama? After all, the Tide have flummoxed just about every offense they’ve faced this season, holding six opponents to six points or fewer.
“I don’t know that the entire (Washington) attack works against Alabama,” Neuheisel said. “I think they’re going to have to be boring by their own standards and just hit the short pass and let Jake Browning be surgical, if he’s capable of doing that. I think that’s their best way because no one’s been able to run the ball against Alabama. It would be amazing to see somebody find a way to crack that code.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, their one loss came against a team with elite athletes. Washington lost, 26-13, to USC on Nov. 12 – a game in which Browning finished 17-of-36 for 259 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Browning was hurried and hit early and often.
“I think that that was an off night for the Huskies,” Neuheisel said. “They’re going to have to be spot on. They’re going to have to play terrific football. But I do believe Browning is capable of that. There’s guys like John Ross and Dante Pettis and Myles Gaskin that can make plays in space. If they can muster up some field position and not turn the ball over, I think they can make this a very competitive game.”
Neuheisel believes that the Alabama/Washington winner will face No. 2 Clemson (12-1), which he believes has too much offensive firepower for No. 3 Ohio State (11-1).
“For the Buckeyes, it’s going to take J.T. Barrett having a great throwing night – like he did against Oklahoma when they traveled to Norman,” Neuheisel said. “He had four touchdown passes to Noah Brown in the first half of that game. If he can have that kind of throwing game, which he really has not been able to duplicate since that time, then I think they have a great chance to win the game. But right now, I think because of the offensive firepower at Clemson, I think the Tigers get to the final.”
Kickoff for Alabama/Washington and Clemson/Ohio State is slated for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.