For the defending and undefeated national champion (13-0) Alabama Crimson Tide, their journey to becoming repeat title winners begins on New Year’s Eve as they take on the (12-1) Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl, the first of two playoff semifinals (3pm ET Saturday on ESPN).
Here is our Peach Bowl preview, concluding with betting predictions and picks for this intriguing college football game. While Alabama is hot favorite with the sportsbooks to win this one at the Georgia Dome, there are some angles on the spread, but more of that at the end.
Alabama’s Road to the Playoff
The undefeated Crimson Tide made the decision easy for the selection committee as they were the only FBS power conference team to go blemish-free. In fact, Alabama hasn’t lost since September 19th of last year, marking 25 straight wins for the SEC powerhouse.
Since the retirement of the BCS in favor of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Alabama has been involved in the title picture every year. In 2014, they lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and in 2015 they defeated Clemson to win their 16th national title and fourth in the last seven years. Given that Clemson plays Ohio State in the second semifinal of the weekend, if Alabama wins against Washington, they are guaranteed a rematch with one of their two recent foes.
One of the best recent dynasties in college football, Alabama played a schedule that would have given most other teams a good deal of trouble. Their final resume featured eight top 20 wins in 13 games, including a 39 point victory over #9 Tennessee and a 38 point victory over #15 Florida in the SEC Championship game. Their toughest challenge was probably against #19 Ole Miss, the last team to defeat Alabama, who played the Crimson Tide tough in a 48-43 finish.
For the most part though, it’s been smooth sailing for Nick Saban and Jalen Hurts as they’ve led Alabama to the 20th ranked passing offense, 10th ranked rushing offense and 13th most proficient scoring team with an average of 40.5. For any team, the key all season long has been stopping that dual threat that is Hurts, which is easier said than done.
Washington’s Road to the Playoff
The biggest surprise among the final four is Washington U, who won the Pac-12 for the first time in 16 years thanks to a great season from the latest enrolled student in Quarterback U, Jake Browning (pictured). Since 1970, all but three of the Huskies’ 20 starting quarterbacks have gone on to the NFL and Browning, just a sophomore, looks like he’ll join that fraternity soon enough.
For now however, Browning is focused on continuing to lead his Huskies to great success. Thanks to the young QB, Washington was able to win four of five games against top 20 ranked opponents, including the Pac 12 championship against #8 Colorado. Considered to be the toughest game on Washington’s schedule, the Huskies dominated the Buffaloes, winning by 31 points. It was a great statement win and one that has built confidence in this young team that they’ll have a shot at victory against the undefeated Alabama.
As big as that win was however, Washington’s biggest may have come against longtime rival, Oregon, which fell on the wrong side of a 50 point loss against the Huskies. Washington scored a season high 70 points in that contest and scored over 40 ten times in 13 games. They finished the regular season ranked fourth in points per game, averaging 44.5.
Jake Browning Holds Washington’s Fate in his Hands
For the Huskies, win or lose, that all depends on how Browning performs in what will be the biggest game of his career.
Browning has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks through the air in all of college this year, ranking eighth in the country in yards per attempt. He is also completing his passes at a strong 63.2 rate, while throwing for over 3,200 yards and 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
As good as Browning has been in the passing game, he is also a threat to run. While not on the level of someone like Hurts for Alabama, Browning has the ability to extend plays with his mobility and create opportunities with a strong awareness of the backfield and an eye to where defenders are. He hasn’t been sacked a lot this year and that is to his credit and that of his offensive line. Certainly his legs have helped contribute to the success that not just he had this year, but that Washington has as well.
If Browning can stay upright, Washington U might have a snowball’s chance as this year, Alabama has had the most trouble with athletic quarterbacks like the one they will face Saturday night. However, where the Tide have excelled is in causing disruption and creating turnovers.
Alabama leads all FBS teams with 14 defensive or special team touchdowns. It should be no surprise that the Crimson Tide have won the turnover battle but at that rate of production, coughing up the ball is even more costly than in an ordinary circumstance as it almost guarantees points on the board. That’s how Alabama has been able to run away with games this year and it is something that could lead to a long night for the Huskies.
Can Dante Pettis Help the Huskies Keep a Short Field?
Surprise, surprise, but there is something else that Alabama does so well and that’s in their kicking game. Punter JK Scott is one of the best in the nation at flipping field position, which is another reason why Alabama has been able to rack up scores against their opponents.
Enter Dante Pettis, who is the nation’s 12th best when it comes to punt return average. Pettis averages 12.3 yards per return and has taken two back to the house for touchdowns as well. He’s a dangerous runner and as good as Scott is at giving the Crimson Tide a shorter field, Pettis might be equally as talented at flipping it back in favor of Washington.
Our Preview’s Alabama Crimson Tide vs Washington Huskies Betting Picks Predictions
The odds are not in Washington’s favor, like really not in their favor. The best of the U.S. offshore sportsbooks have Alabama as 14 point favorites. It’s quite a lofty spread to cover considering this is a semifinal game, but that’s a challenge Alabama is more than up for.
Washington will have to play better than they ever have and will have to find a way around their biggest weakness, their running game. Alabama has the best run defense in the country and without the threat of the rush, Browning could face some trouble given the amount of times he’ll be asked to drop back to pass. That’s really the biggest concern for the Huskies and one that has been exposed recently.
But Washington is a good team. They may be a little out of their depth but not by 14 points. So while this preview does think Alabama will advance to the championship game, take Washington to keep it close and best the spread.
So these are our preview’s Peach Bowl picks and betting predictions:
- Bet on Washington U +14pts @ -105 with Bovada Sportsbook. It is +13.5pts for -110 with both 5Dimes and BetOnline.
- As for the total points scored, easily take the over on 52.5pts as the only way the Huskies stay in this is to match their opponents score for score in a shoot out. Go over 52.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes Sportsbook or BetOnline. It is over 53pts for -105 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.