THURSDAY’S BOWL GAMES
Orange Bowl (CFP semifinal)
OKLAHOMA (11-1) vs. CLEMSON (13-0)
When: 1 p.m. (ESPN). Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Oklahoma by 4. Series: Tied 2-2.
Story line: Clemson is seeking its first national title since 1981 and trying to become the first team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to finish 15-0. None of that happens unless the Tigers can get past Oklahoma, a team they routed 40-6 last season in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Sooners are perhaps the hottest team in the country — averaging 52 points over their last seven games — and are eager to show just how far they’ve come since their last bowl appearance. Both quarterbacks are worth watching. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, a former walk-on, has completed 68.6% of his passes for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns with five interceptions. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist who has completed 69.5% of his passes for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also is the Tigers’ second-leading rusher, with 887 yards.
Cotton Bowl (CFP semifinal)
MICHIGAN STATE (12-1) vs. ALABAMA (12-1)
When: 5 p.m. PST (ESPN). Where: Arlington, Texas.
Line: Alabama by 10. Series: Alabama leads, 1-0.
Story line: Alabama is trying to erase the memory of last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State. The Crimson Tide was about a 10-point favorite against a Big Ten Conference champion in that game too. Michigan State is looking for its third straight major bowl victory after winning the Rose and Cotton bowls to end the last two seasons. A key matchup will take place in the middle of the line, where 6-foot-6 Michigan State nose tackle Malik McDowell goes against Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, the Rimington Trophy winner as the best center in the nation. Alabama wants to run Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry between the tackles. To do it, Kelly will have to handle McDowell.
HOUSTON (12-1) vs. FLORIDA STATE (10-2).
When: 9 a.m. PST (ESPN). Where: Atlanta.
Line: Florida State by 7. Series: Houston leads, 12-2-1.
Story line: For Houston and the American Athletic Conference, respect is on the line. Coach Tom Herman says his team has proved it belongs in one of the six major bowl games, but a lopsided loss would support doubters who refused to rank the Cougars higher despite their having only one loss. Florida State’s seniors could become only the second class in the nation with 50 wins, following Boise State (2008-11). Houston ranks 12th in the nation, averaging 40.6 points; Florida State is sixth in scoring defense, giving up 15.8. A key for the Seminoles has been a revived pass rush. One year after ranking 108th in the nation with 17 sacks, Florida State has 30 — 10 1/2 by end DeMarcus Walker.