By Matt Brown and David Ubben
Despite years of established traditions, the leaders of college football are convinced that they can change the New Year's paradigm. While the College Football Playoff semifinals occurred on Jan. 1 last year -- a date traditionally filled with important games -- every two out of three years the two games will occur on Dec. 31. That starts now.
Some people may choose to stay home and consume eight hours of football in the privacy of their own homes, but for much of America, the New Year's Eve party must go on.
If the games are on and the party conversation turns to the playoff, one must be prepared to make conversation. So how can you sound smart, make friends and influence other partygoers? Our college football reporters are on-site in Miami and Arlington to help deliver the necessary talking points.
Sound smart talking about the Orange Bowl
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
4 p.m. ET; Miami Gardens, Fla.; ESPN
1. Taking point No. 1: "Watson and Mayfield take different paths to similar games"
Clemson's Watson is the former five-star recruit who has quickly risen to stardom. Oklahoma's Mayfield is the former overlooked recruit who walked on at Texas Tech, then transferred and walked on at Oklahoma. Mayfield thrives on any perceived slights and disrespect, and thus he's surely still seething over the fact that third-place Heisman Trophy finisher Watson was invited to New York as a finalist and Mayfield, who finished fourth, was not. Mayfield is quickly becoming the hero or the villain of the playoff, depending on your perspective. Choose wisely. Root against him, and he might call you out in a press conference.
Watson and Mayfield may have had much different paths to success, but they have emerged as similar quarterbacks, pushing their offenses to new heights. Watson -- who will be missing dangerous deep threat Deon Cain, who was sent home -- throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the country and is one of the nation's top running quarterbacks. Mayfield has been highly efficient as a passer and is unmatched at making things happen with his arm and/or legs when plays break down. The Sooners and Tigers both have excellent defenses, but the dual-threat ability of Watson and Mayfield poses crucial challenges, because you never know how a defense is going to react to improvisation.
2. Talking point No. 2: "Oklahoma could be this year's Ohio State."
We're always looking for familiar narratives, and after one team survived an early-season loss to go on to win year one of the playoff, it's natural to try to find a potential parallel in year two. Enter Oklahoma. In 2014, Ohio State lost to a mediocre Virginia Tech in September, only to rally down the stretch and morph into the best, most balanced team in the country by early December. Oklahoma had first-half struggles this fall, leading to a dismal October loss to rival Texas, who went 5-7. Since then, the Sooners have become arguably the most complete team in the country, meshing stingy defense with a Heisman candidate quarterback and a playmaking one-two punch at running back with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Like Ohio State, Oklahoma was outside the top 10 when the season's first playoff rankings were released. Like Ohio State, Oklahoma made it into the playoff field as the No. 4 seed. Unlike Ohio State in last year's Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Oklahoma is actually favored over the top-seeded Tigers. If you believe that history repeats itself, you may be a Sooner.
3. Talking point No. 3: "Dabo Swinney may have killed the Dab. But he's got a killer catchphrase."
Need dancing lessons? Clemson coach Swinney is here to help. In pushing the Tigers to an undefeated record, the charismatic Swinney has gained a reputation for his dancing
expertise attempts following their big victories. He did not, however, invent The Dab, even if he'll enthusiastically do it in the locker room after a win ... among other dances:
Swinney's postgame performances aren't limited to merely dancing. After Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame 24-22, a joyful Swinney coined a new phrase for Tigers football, saying:
"You know, it ain't always perfect, but what I told them tonight is, 'Listen we give you scholarships, we give you stipends and meals and a place to live. We give you nice uniforms. I can't give you guts, and I can't give you heart.' And tonight, it was B.Y.O.G. -- bring your own guts. And they brought some guts and some heart, and they never quit until the last play."
B.Y.O.G. hats are, of course, available for 5 for anyone trying to find the perfect topper to a New Year's Eve party outfit. As Clemson continues to shake its past reputation for underperforming at inopportune times, Dabo will hope to be dancing long into the New Year's night, assuming no more players get into trouble.
Sound smart talking about the Cotton Bowl
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State
8 p.m. ET; Arlington, Texas; ESPN
1. Talking point No. 1: "If the Spartans can contain Derrick Henry, watch out."
Did you know Michigan State almost never lines anyone up more than eight yards off the line of scrimmage? Watch them, even on passing downs. It's part of the reason the Spartans defense has helped them go 36-4 over the last three seasons with two Big Ten titles.
MSU lost its defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, last year when he became Pitt's new head coach, but the defense is still pretty much running the same scheme. It's part of why Michigan State is so good at stopping the run. Even when the Spartans are prepared for pass plays, they have at least seven guys in the box and the safeties aren't far off, ready to help in run support. The Spartans have been in the top five in defensive yards per carry in each of the last five seasons.
2. Talking point No. 2: "Those guys on the Crimson Tide can eat."
Alabama's defensive linemen average 313 pounds -- more than 30 pounds more than Michigan State's. Those 313 pounds are 10 more than the average 3-4 defensive line in the NFL. Both Michigan State and Alabama feature physical, run-heavy defenses, but sheer size is why Alabama is pretty good at stopping the run, too. There's no Terrence Cody on this line -- he was 365 pounds -- but the Tide are the nation's No. 1 team in run defense. Teams average only 2.38 yards per carry, and LSU's Leonard Fournette managed just 1.6 yards a carry when he played Alabama. Sheer power helps Alabama do it. How do you create gaps when a 312-pound guy with a beard this fearsome is getting a push up front?
3. Talking point No. 3: "Henry runs angry, doesn't he?"
Heisman winner Henry might give his offensive line plenty of credit in the postgame interview, but hopefully he doesn't give them too much credit. Did you know he averages 105.3 yards per game after a defender touches him? If you only counted those yards, he'd still be 26th nationally in rushing yards per game. That was more than 70 percent of his season-long production.
Part of the reason is because his 243-pound frame demands defenses hit him square. That's not easy. Henry has also said this season he likes to seek out defenders who seem tentative to tackle him. I think that means he basically smells fear.