The first of the two College Football Playoff semifinals will be the Peach Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Washington in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon.
The undefeated Tide will be playing their second straight game in the Georgia Dome after dominating Florida 54-16 in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama has not played in a single-possession game since Week 3 against Ole Miss (48-43) and the oddsmakers expect that 10-game streak of double-digit point wins to continue as the Tide come in as a 14-point favorite over the Huskies.
Washington faces an extremely tall order in trying to take down the undefeated Tide, especially trying to crack the code of Alabama's top-ranked scoring defense. The Huskies are as well equipped as any offense to find some success against the Tide with a balanced attack that ranks No. 36 and No. 31 in rushing and passing offense respectively and is fourth in scoring.
Players to watch
Jake Browning, QB, Washington: The only team that's come close to beating Alabama is Ole Miss and the biggest reason that game ended as a single-digit affair was the play of quarterback Chad Kelly. Alabama's defense has few flaws, but the Tide will challenge receivers in one-on-one coverage and will allow opportunities for big plays through the air. To this point, only Kelly has truly taken advantage of those chances to the tune of 421 yards and three touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes.
Browning has the arm talent to take advantage of opportunities presented down the field -- much like Kelly -- and has the weapons on the outside in John Ross and Dante Pettis to pressure the Alabama secondary over the top. The pressure will be on Browning to recognize when his receivers have a step or two and to take advantage of those opportunities with accurate throws. There may be only five clear cut. big play opportunities offered to Washington's offense, so it's crucial that Browning not miss a read nor miss a throw when given that window.
If he can do that, Washington can find points and give a scare to the Tide. If he gets antsy due to the Alabama front four pressuring him or under throws those deep balls, the Tide will turn bad plays into six points going the other way in a hurry. Browning will be walking a fine line against the Alabama defense, but Washington will need him to turn the ball loose over the top and have a phenomenal game if it is to pull off the upset.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama: I know, putting both quarterbacks as the players to watch isn't especially creative, but in this game, they will be the most important players on the field. I do think this will be a game where Washington will put up some points and the Tide's offense will be forced into making plays, which will put pressure on Hurts.
If Hurts is asked to make plays that also means he must protect the football, something that at times has been an issue for him. Alabama's defense almost always bails him out on those turnovers, but Washington's offense is the best the Tide have faced this season so they won't want to test that. Washington's defense is also the best in the nation at forcing turnovers, so Hurts will have to be on his best behavior with ball security as both a passer and runner.
Hurts is a dynamic playmaker that has given the Alabama offense an added dimension this season, and his arm talent and foot speed can make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. However, if he is not careful, the Huskies will turn him over and the easiest way for a favored team to find themselves in a dogfight is by turning the ball over and giving a good offense short fields to work with.
Alabama's team speed on defense is absolutely terrifying. The Tide will snuff out any play that goes laterally, often before it gets past the line of scrimmage. The front four applies tremendous pressure without needing to blitz, which makes the windows on short-to-intermediate routes extremely small. However, I think Washington's offense has the players to find some success over the top against the Tide, enough so to put up two to three touchdowns.
With a very good defense of their own, the Huskies can slow the Tide's offense and might turn Hurts over a time or two. I expect Washington to play very well and push Alabama in a way the Tide have rarely been pushed this season. That said, Alabama is the better team with more depth and in the fourth quarter, I fear Washington's defense will slow down and having to rely on the big play against the Alabama defense is not something I trust to work well late in a close game. I think Alabama wins this game 34-24 to earn a second straight trip to the national title game in a narrow Washington cover. Pick: Washington +15.5