In any given season of the College Football Playoff’s brief seven-year history, at least two schools among the quartet of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame have always been selected. Today’s semifinals will be no different.
Even though Notre Dame received a drubbing at the hands of Clemson two weeks ago and Ohio State only played a six-game slate, the selection committee saw no reason to deviate from the teams we’re most accustomed to seeing. Alabama is making its sixth appearance in seven years, Clemson its fifth, Ohio State its fourth and Notre Dame its second.
The Sugar Bowl is a rematch of last year’s semifinal Fiesta Bowl, in which the Tigers’ Trevor Lawrence led a comeback from a 16-0 deficit against the Buckeyes, culminating in a game-winning drive with under two minutes to go. The Rose Bowl is a showdown between two historical juggernauts—either Alabama or Notre Dame has claimed a national title in more than a quarter of the past 100 years.
The on-field success of these four programs is correlated to their massive spending in football. Clemson has the smallest athletics budget of the group, ranking 20th among 130 FBS schools, but all four rank among the top six in football spending at over $50 million apiece annually.
Despite the familiar presence of college football’s financial powerhouses, nobody will mistake this for a normal year. The Rose Bowl plans to allow just 16,000 fans to the game, while the Sugar Bowl will be more cautious, limiting capacity to only 3,000. The restrictions have caused ticket prices to skyrocket on the secondary market, particularly for the more exclusive Sugar Bowl.
In the CFP era thus far, we still haven’t gotten two quality semifinal games in the same year. Eight of the 12 matchups have been decided by at least 17 points, while only three results have been by single-digit margins.
Don’t get your hopes up for this year, either. Alabama is favored by 20 points over Notre Dame, and 70% of the handle on BetMGM is backing the 2015-16 and 2017-18 national champions.
Clemson is also favored by more than a touchdown at -7.5, and the betting public is pounding the Tigers. If last year’s Fiesta Bowl was any indicator, though, tonight’s Sugar Bowl could be a primetime nailbiter. It would be a nice way to ring in the new year.