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College Football Playoff picks: It’ll be the Buckeyes and ’Bama

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett has a 25-3 record as a starter. Only a junior, he’s the school’s career record holder in touchdown passes, with 69. He has thrown for over 6,200 yards, completing better than 63 percent of his passes, and rushed for nearly 2,500 — with 31 touchdowns — bringing his total TDs to a natty 100.

Simply put, Barrett is one of the most productive dual-threat QBs of his, or any, era.

Yet he isn’t perfect. As Clemson safety Jadar Johnson sees it, Barrett is far from it.

“He’s pretty good, but we’ve definitely faced quarterbacks better than him,” Johnson said. “I feel like if we can limit him on the ground with his running, then we’ll be pretty good. I don’t think he’s a very accurate passer.”

Ohio State junior J.T. Barrett is the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes, with 69. (AP/Mel Evans)

So there you have it. Bulletin, meet board.

In case anyone was searching for a story line to attach to the second of Saturday’s playoff semifinals — No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State (6 p.m., ESPN) in the Fiesta Bowl — there’s a great one surrounding Barrett. He’ll go against a Tigers defense that doesn’t appear to have a great deal of respect for him. And he’ll play the opposite number to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, the top quarterback in the college game over the last two seasons.

Watson has better receiving targets at his disposal, though he throws more interceptions than Barrett and doesn’t run quite as well. Everyone on the field in Glendale, Ariz., will want this victory in the worst way, but Barrett might have an extra ounce of desire thanks to Johnson.

“I know how I feel about myself,” he said. “I’m comfortable in my skills and in the guys we have on our offense and our team.”

The Buckeyes (11-1) are favored by a field goal, which is a bit of a surprise considering they aren’t the most experienced squad and Clemson (12-1) made it to the national title game last season. I love Watson, but I believe in coach Urban Meyer and his ability to get the most out of his top-shelf young talent over the course of bowl prep. I believe in Barrett, too. OSU by a touchdown.

The other semifinal pits No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington (2 p.m., ESPN) in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. It’s a mismatch, right? The Pac-12 champion Huskies (12-1) are fast, explosive and certainly terrific, but this is a step up in class for them the likes of which they’ve never attempted. There’s only one Alabama (13-0).

Shocker: Tide coach Nick Saban has elevated the Huskies — 13½-point underdogs — to Goliath status.

“This is, by far, the best all-around team that we’ve played all year long.”

Forget that Alabama blew the doors off USC, which later doubled up the Huskies 26-13 in Seattle.

No doubt in my mind Washington could play with — and maybe beat — Clemson or Ohio State. The Huskies have an outstanding quarterback in Jake Browning and game-breaking weapons in Myles Gaskin and John Ross, and their defense can rush the passer, create turnovers and run all day. And you have to love unflappable coach Chris Petersen, who always seems to have a clever, perfectly timed play call up his sleeve.

Yet stages like this one have turned Saban into a living legend.

“This guy is focused, man,” Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “You can literally be ringing a bell right next to him, he would not even notice it. That’s how focused he is. It’s really tunnel vision. When he wants to get something done, he gets it done.”

The Tide will fun the football. Defensively, they’ll overwhelm the Huskies up front as needed. And they’ll roll, 38-20.


Music City: Nebraska vs. No. 21 Tennessee

The facts: Friday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN.

The records: Nebraska 9-3, 6-3 Big Ten; Tennessee 8-4, 4-4 SEC.

The line: Volunteers by 6.

The story line: It’s the Medical Bowl. The Huskers likely will be without quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (hamstring), putting backup Ryker Fyfe on the spot. Jordan Westerkamp (knee), the team’s best receiver, won’t play. The Vols won’t have standout linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder), return man Evan Berry (knee) or a handful of linemen on both sides of the ball. But the Vols have more depth, and the game is in Nashville.

Greenberg’s pick: Tennessee, 34-20.

Orange: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State

The facts: Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN.

The records: Michigan 10-2, 7-2 Big Ten; Florida State 9-3, 5-3 ACC.

The line: Wolverines by 7.

The story line: This is a chance for the hugely talented Seminoles, led by quarterback Deondre Francois, running back Dalvin Cook and 15-sack man DeMarcus Walker, to make up for the disappointment of the regular season. Yet the Wolverines have been, especially on defense, playoff-good all season — and quarterback Wilton Speight is healthy again. Best non-playoff matchup on the board? Yep.

Greenberg’s pick: Michigan, 31-27.

Citrus: No. 13 Louisville vs. No. 20 LSU

The facts: Saturday, 10 a.m., Ch. 7.

The records: LSU 7-4, 5-3 SEC; Louisville 9-3, 7-1 ACC.

The line: Tigers by 3.

The story line: The spectacle of Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson, going against a killer SEC defense is a must-watch. But the star of this game could be LSU running back Derrius Guice, the backup to superstar Leonard Fournette. If you didn’t know, Fournette has taken a pass on this game to preserve his NFL future. Guice? He’s just as good, and maybe better.

Greenberg’s pick: LSU, 38-16.

Outback: Iowa vs. No. 17 Florida

The facts: Monday, noon, Ch. 7.

The records: Iowa 8-4, 6-3 Big Ten; Florida 8-4, 6-3 SEC.

The line: Gators by 3.

The story line: Florida was seriously banged up in the SEC title game against Alabama, but its 54-16 defeat said absolutely nothing good about Jim McElwain’s team. Iowa wrapped up the regular season by beating Michigan, then crushing Illinois and Nebraska by 28 and 30 points, respectively. The Hawkeyes are more balanced offensively and can run the ball effectively in short-yardage situations. That’ll be the difference.

Greenberg’s pick: Iowa, 20-14.

Cotton: No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 Western Michigan

The facts: Monday, noon, ESPN.

The records: Wisconsin 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten; Western Michigan 13-0, 8-0 MAC.

The line: Badgers by 8.

The story line: The P.J. Fleck train is rolling like never before at Western Michigan, and it’s only a matter of time before the young coach moves on to a glittery Power 5 job. His team is unbeaten — with victories over Northwestern and Illinois — a wonderful achievement. But will the Broncos hold up against a Big Ten power? The battle up front favors the Badgers big-time.

Greenberg’s pick: Wisconsin, 30-20.

Rose: No. 5 Penn State vs. No. 9 USC

The facts: Monday, 4 p.m., ESPN.

The records: Penn State 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten; USC 9-3, 7-2 Pac-12.

The line: Trojans by 7.

The story line: One of the great stories of the season has been Penn State’s play in the second halves of games — the Nittany Lions are never out of the fight. This is the wrong matchup at the wrong time, though. USC has better players (QB Sam Darnold is a strong pick for the 2017 Heisman Trophy) and the Trojans are 8-0 since the start of October.

Greenberg’s pick: USC, 41-24.

Sugar: No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Auburn

The facts: Monday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN.

The records: Oklahoma 10-2, 9-0 Big 12; Auburn 8-4, 5-3 SEC.

The line: Sooners by 3.

The story line: Oklahoma’s offense is off-the-charts good. Auburn’s defense can be wickedly effective. The difference: Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Sooners are on an incredible roll, having blown through the Big 12 without a loss. Tigers running back Kamryn Pettway could have a huge game that swings things, but OU’s run game is just as potent and its passing game is miles ahead of Auburn’s. Can’t pick against the Sooners here.

Greenberg’s pick: Oklahoma, 34-24.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com