College Football Playoff Coaches Talk About Opponents “X-Factors”

12/6/18 Atlanta, GA

With the College Football Playoff stage set but still weeks away, there is plenty of time to break down and analyze each and every statistic, statement and storyline.

Last week in Atlanta, a few hours before the CFB Awards show the four playoff-bound head coaches sat down to chat with the media about their impending matchups. In a small auditorium, just a floor above the College Football Awards red carpet, the coaches fielded questions ranging from how to determine the best teams in college football to who they thought deserved the Heisman. Here is what I learned from Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

Opening statements were standard.

When asked about their opponents “X-factor,” the coaches offered up some variation of players knowing how to finish out and win games, teams being proven and battle tested by a tough schedule or coaches boasting an explosive offense.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talked about Clemson’s ability to close out close games, like the ones against Texas A&M and Syracuse. He also mentioned the Tigers ability to win and how it is more than any one player – it’s a culture that Swinney has woven into the fabric of the program.

Swinney reciprocated by saying that Notre Dame is a dangerous team, due to its confidence – a swagger obtained by the trials, tribulations and triumphs of this past season. He emphasizes that the Irish don’t make any mistakes and that their balance makes them extremely difficult to play.

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley pointed to the unselfishness of Alabama’s program and how that makes them so dangerous as a team. He praised Jalen Hurts specifically, saying that college football needs more players like him. He also said that head coach Nick Saban does a great job managing great players in different positions. Basically, Alabama is explosive offensively and fantastic defensively making them extremely difficult to beat.

Saban hailed Oklahoma as one of the most dynamic teams he has seen in a long time, singling out quarterback Kyler Murray specifically as an extremely athletic and talented individual. He talked about their balance, saying they know how to run the ball and commended their players for knowing how to win – both in close games and come-from-behind games. Saban says that it’s clear the players believe in Riley, causing them to execute extremely well.

As we patiently await the December 29thmatchups between No. 1 Alabama and No.4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl Semifinal and No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl Semifinal, here is a look at how the matchups break down.

Alabama is a heavy favorite heading into its bout with Oklahoma, but the exciting quarterback matchup levels the playing field a bit. Sure, the Crimson Tide sports both a stellar offense AND defense while the Sooners rely heavily on putting up more points than the other team to win games, with Heisman winner Kyler Murray scoring an average of almost 50 points per game. But Oklahoma will need to find a way to make some big stops if they want to stand a chance against Bama.

Clemson vs. Notre Dame is a slightly more even matchup – both teams are undefeated and both boast less than impressive resumes. Watch for Notre Dame senior running back Dexter Williams to make Clemson’s life difficult while the Irish’s pass defense keeps Trevor Lawrence in check. At the end of the day, the Tigers have been here before. And like Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said – the Irish are the new kids on the block. I don’t want to say it comes down to experience, but it probably will. Either way, it won’t be a particularly pretty game which is why I’m glad it’s the early appetizer game, not the main course.

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