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College football: Playoff preview, game times, prospects to watch

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Which two teams will meet in the College Football Playoffs National Championship?

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the College Football Playoffs semifinal round. Two of today’s games will determine which two teams will meet on January 9th to play for the National Championship.

There are two other games on, so let’s get to those first.

Citrus Bowl (11 a.m., ABC)

LSU

LSU’s top prospect is obviously running back Leonard Fournette. However, Fournette has decided to skip the bowl game and focus on preparing his body for the NFL draft. However, there will still be plenty of talented players on the field. Also, LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith will miss the game with a knee injury.

Jamal Adams (S) - Without Fournette on the field, Adams is the most highly regarded prospect. A do-it-all safety, Adams brings size and punishing tackles, but can play free safety, strong safety, and even slot corner, and play them all well. He is the kind of versatile player that defensive coordinators love.

Tre’Davious White (CB) - White may not be in the running for the title of top corner in the nation, but he is still talented. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior doesn’t quite have the length that the NFL is looking for in top corners, but he is solid (albeit aggressive), and has very good feet. He could likely find a home as a third corner at the next level.

Ethan Pocic (C) - Currently regarded as the top center in the class, Pocic is a bit tall for the position at 6-6, but has enough girth at 310 pounds. He is an athletic and mobile center, equally adept at pass protection and run blocking. His frame and athleticism suggest that he could have some positional versatility to play guard, or possibly even tackle, at the next level.

Travin Dural (WR) - Somewhat reminiscent of Martavis Bryant, Dural is a long, lean speedster of a wide receiver. He has the potential to be a true deep threat in the NFL, but shoddy quarterback play and the need to get the ball to Fournette hamstrung Dural’s production at LSU. Given good QB play in the right system, Dural could put up monster numbers.

Malachi Dupree (WR) - Much like Dural, Dupree’s production was severely limited by the rest of LSU’s offense. However, he too is a talented prospect, though he doesn’t appear to have Dural’s long speed.

Louisville

The real star of the game, especially without Fournette on the field, will be reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. The Louisville freshman QB is the most exciting player in college football, and has already drawn comparisons to a young Michael Vick.

Devonte Fields (OLB) - This year’s Noah Spence, Fields has a troubled history, but undeniable talent on the field. He got his start in 2012 for TCU, instantly making a name for himself with 18.5 tackles for a loss and 10.0 sacks as a freshman. Then off-field troubles forced him to transfer to Louisville. As a pass rusher Fields is athletic and flexible, able to win quickly with his first step and bend around the edge. He also looks to have enough ability to play in space to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Fields has the talent to be a high-round (even first round) pick. However, his off-field issues (including being accused of punching an ex-girlfriend and threatening her with a gun) could well have him off the Giants’ board.

Peach Bowl (3 p.m., ESPN)

Washington

John Ross (WR) - Ross might be a bit under-sized, but his ability to blow the top off of a defense will make teams overlook his 5-11, 190-pound frame. Teams will need to do their medical homework on him after a pair of knee injuries (including a torn ACL), but after seeing Philip Dorsett, Brandon Cooks, Corey Coleman, and Will Fuller all go in the first round, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear Ross’ name called early in the draft.

Sidney Jones (CB) - Washington boasts one of the, if not the, best defensive backfields in college football with Sidney Jones and Budda Baker. Jones is smaller than the NFL prototype at 6-foot, 180 pounds, but that doesn’t matter. He is an excellent cover corner who has six passes defensed and three interceptions on the year.

Kevin King (CB) - Where Jones is a bit undersized, King has the kind of size at 6-3, 195 that suggests he should be getting fit for a Seahawks jersey as I type this. Surprisingly fluid for a tall corner, King also has impressive ball skills.

Budda Baker (FS) - Athletic, aggressive, and talented. Those three words sum up Budda Baker. Baker brings it every play, notching 65 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and a pair of interceptions on the season. Baker is a true free safety, with the range to take away deep passes, but he has no qualms about getting his hands dirty in run support.

Elijah Qualls (DT) - Linemate Vita Vea is generally regarded as the more talented prospect, but as a 24-year-old red-shirt sophomore, it’s tough to say whether or not he will declare. But Qualls is talented in his own right. at 6-2, 320 pounds he is a rock in the run game, but has a surprising amount of agility for a big defensive tackle.

Alabama

Jon Allen (DL) - It’s next to impossible to pigeon-hole a position for Allen at the next level, mostly because he could probably be a pro-bowler at three. At 6-2, 290 pounds, he looks like an undersized 3-technique, and he certainly has more than enough speed and power to disrupt the interior offensive line. He has often been the defensive end in Alabama’s 3-4 front, a position he excelled at as well, using his strength to hold blockers, freeing other players to make plays. Finally, he has an incredible first step and flexibility for such a stoutly built player, and should have no problem playing a base (left) defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He isn’t quite the freakish physical specimen that Myles Garrett is, but Allen is a monster in his own right.

Tim Williams (EDGE) - Alabama’s best pass rusher, Williams shows a very quick first step, the ability bend the edge, and convert speed to power to either blow past tackles or push them around. He has 15 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a batted pass this season. And at 6-4, 250 pounds, he could put his hand in the dirt and play as a 4-3 defensive end.

Ryan Anderson (EDGE) - Not far behind Williams as a pass rusher, Anderson isn’t quite as athletic, but equally productive. Anderson finished the 2016 season with 51 tackles, 17 for a loss, 8 sacks, three forced fumbles and two batted passes.

Rueben Foster (ILB) - Yet another talented defender, surrounded by talented defenders, Foster is an intriguing linebacker. He doesn’t have the size that past ‘Bama inside linebackers have boasted, but he might be the most athletic, and the biggest hitter. Foster flies around the field and is always around the ball, taking hyper-aggressive angles that leave him with little room for error, but when he arrives, it is with bad intentions.

Cam Robinson (OT) - Currently the top offensive tackle in the country, Robinson has a prototypical build and plenty of athleticism to live on the edge in the NFL. Robinson’s play can be inconsistent, but at his best he is a solid pass protector and a good run blocker.

O.J. Howard (TE) - Howard has spent much of the year as many people’s number 1 tight end. With a 6’6”, 251lb frame and intriguing athleticism, it’s easy to see why. However, Howard hasn’t consistently played up to his tantalizing athletic potential, nor has he largely been involved in Alabama’s offense, outside of his blocking.

Fiesta Bowl (7:00pm, ESPN)

Ohio State

Malik Hooker (S) - One of the breakout stars of 2016, Hooker has been absolutely everywhere for the OSU defense. Notching 67 tackles, 5 for a loss, 5 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 6 interceptions (3 touchdowns), Hooker has been amazingly productive. It has been, however, his only truly productive year for the Buckeyes. That is why some have questions as to whether or not he can sustain his success, or whether he will even declare for the draft. If he does, the debate could be furious between himself, Jamal Adams, Budda Baker, and Jabrill Peppers for the title of top safety.

Pat Elfein (C) - Generally considered the number 2 center behind Pocic, Elfein has a good frame for a center at 6’2”, 300 pounds. Elfein is a strong run blocker and OSU coaches have reportedly raved about his character and work ethic. A guard before the 2016 season, Elfein has positional versatility, and his ability to quickly adapt to, and excel in, a new position should be big pluses.

Curtis Samuel (WR/RB) - The success of the Green Bay Packers in converting Ty Montgomery from receiver to running back could be a boon for Samuel. An explosive playmaker for the Buckeyes, he has over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns this year. As a receiver he has 822 yards (12.6 ypc) and 7 touchdowns, while he has 704 yards (7.7 ypc) and 8 touchdowns on the ground. Get him the ball and he will make plays.

Tyquan Lewis (DE) - Probably OSU’s third best defensive end, Lewis is still productive (7.5 sacks, 10 tfl, 3 forced fumbles, and two passes defensed on the season). He has a solid frame for a defensive end at 6’3”, 265, and could be a mid-round steal for a team running a 4-3 defense.

Raekwon McMillen (ILB) - McMillen has been a steady presence in the middle of the defense for the Buckeyes. He is a strong run defender, but isn’t as athletic or capable in space as some linebackers. That could limit him to a 3-4 defense, or even just a 2-down linebacker at the next level. However, he has been very productive at the college level.

Clemson

Deshaun Watson (QB) - Considered the best quarterback prospect in the country coming in to the 2016 season, Watson wasn’t able to build on a fantastic 2015 campaign. That isn’t to say, however, that he isn’t talented. Coaches and scouts rave about his football IQ, leadership, and work ethic. His athleticism and arm strength leap off the screen, but his accuracy, particularly down the field, hasn’t been great this year. He is also a bit undersized at 210 pounds, and the time it will take to adjust from Clemson’s spread offense to an NFL offense could also help to add some size and better absorb the pounding he will take over an NFL season.

Mike Williams (WR) - Arguably the top receiver in the draft, Williams has everything scouts look for in a “Number 1” or “X” receiver. He has size, speed, body control, and soft hands that bring to mind players like Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. One Giants’ scout told NFL 24/7 that he “loves” Williams and that he could have been playing in the NFL this past year.

Carlos Watkins (DT) - The force in the middle of the Clemson defensive line, Watkins is a stout run defender but with 10 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks, he is a terror as a run defender. Watkins has a longer, leaner frame for a defensive tackle at 6’3”, 300 pounds, but he uses it well to penetrate and disrupt behind the offensive line.

Cordrea Tankersly (CB) - A good-sized and athletic man-coverage corner, Tankersly could be yet another quality NFL corner to come out of Clemson. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism to run step for step with some of the fastest receivers, but he is still solid in coverage and is willing in run support.

Jordan Leggett (TE) - A talented and athletic tight end in a draft class filled with them. Leggett was inconsistent with a tendency for being “lazy” during the week in his first two years at Clemson, but the light seemed to come on and he transformed as a player in 2015. There can’t be any question of his athleticism or versatility as a player, but teams will want to be comfortable that getting an NFL contract won’t bring out bad habits, but reward his good ones.

Wayne Gallman (RB) - The 2017 draft class is simply overflowing with talent at several positions, and running back is definitely one of them. Gallman plays bigger than he measures (roughly 6’1”, 210 pounds), with the power to run between the tackles, but also the quickness to pick out running lanes and make tacklers miss.

Tyrone Crawford (OG) - Tyrone Crawford is a big, strong, diesel, bully of a right guard guard. Excelling as a run blocker, Crawford knows how to put his massive 6’2”, 340 pound frame to work moving defenders. He plays with excellent leverage, often getting under defender’s pads and putting them on roller skates on power runs. Crawford often goes looking for work, and when he gets his hands on a defender it’s all over. The question, however, is whether or not he has the foot speed for zone blocks or to hold up in pass protection against quicker interior defenders.