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College Football Playoff picks: SN likes Alabama big, Clemson a little closer | NCAA Football

The College Football Playoff semifinals are almost here.  

No. 2 Clemson (13-0) meets No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and No. 1 Alabama (13-0) faces No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the primetime matchup at the Capital One Orange Bowl.

MORE: Tagovailoa vs. Murray could be all-time classic duel

The winners advance to the College Football Playoff championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 7. With that in mind, Sporting News’ staff makes its predictions for Saturday’s semifinals.  

Clemson-Notre Dame picks  

Clemson 31, Notre Dame 23  

“This was our pick before the news about Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence’s failed drug test. That’s good news for Notre Dame’s running game around Dexter Williams, and the longer this is a game the greater chance Ian Book can lead an upset with some fourth-quarter magic. Clemson, however, has speed on the perimeter that will open up lanes for Travis Etienne, who will break a few runs in the second half that separate the Tigers. Despite an Irish rally late, Clemson holds on for its third championship berth in four years.” — Bill Bender 

Clemson 34, Notre Dame 27

“Trevor Lawrence throws two first-quarter touchdowns, quickly easing fears he won’t be ready for the big stage. Notre Dame’s defense makes a few key stops while the offense uses a balanced attack between Ian Book and Dexter Williams to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Lawrence leads a late touchdown drive, and Clemson’s defensive front makes one final stop in the win.” — Zac Al-Khateeb  

MORE: Clemson-Notre Dame primer 

Clemson 30, Notre Dame 20 

“The defenses will rule early given both teams tend to start slowly and stop the run well, but eventually as they both turn more to the pass, Trevor Lawrence will comfortably out-duel Ian Book with a money late drive that puts the game out of reach.” — Vinnie Iyer  

Clemson 31, Notre Dame 24

“This will have all the makings of an upset early, but Clemson will settle in and take control in the second half. Travis Etienne will out-duel Dexter Williams on the ground, and that will be the difference after both QBs looks a little shaky early on.” — Matt Lutovsky  

Alabama-Oklahoma picks  

Alabama 44, Oklahoma 34

“The first half will be as advertised, with big plays in the passing game on both sides and a high-scoring first half that might make Alabama a little uncomfortable. The Crimson Tide, however, will settle in behind the running game in the second half. Damien Harris will break off a few big runs, and Alabama’s defense will come up with a game-changer late in the third quarter. Alabama advances again, and Clemson-Alabama IV is on.” — Bender 

Alabama 52, Oklahoma 38

“Alabama jumps out to an early lead against a porous Oklahoma defense, but is surprised by a few defensive stops in the first half. Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa both make tremendous plays on offense, but the difference in defensive talent keeps favors the Tide; Alabama kee[s Oklahoma out of the end zone just enough while Alabama resorts to a run-heavy attack to bleed away the final minutes of the game.” — Al-Khateeb  

MORE: Alabama-Oklahoma primer

Alabama 63, Oklahoma 21

“Alabama is the better passing offense in this game and Oklahoma is the worst pass defense in the nation. Nick Saban will make sure Tua plays in the fourth quarter with a big lead to remind everyone they got the Heisman wrong.” — Iyer  

Alabama 48, Oklahoma 31

“It won’t even be as close as this score indicates. The ‘Heisman Revenge Narrative’ will be played up, but the truth is Alabama is just a better and more complete team that shouldn’t have a problem moving the ball against Oklahoma’s so-so defense. Oklahoma’s best (only?) chance of pulling the upset is winning the turnover battle, but even then it will have to have to score on virtually every possession.” — Lutovsky

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