College Football Playoff: Clemson-Okla., Ala.-Mich. St. in national semifinals

Four outstanding football teams meet on New Year's Eve to determine who advances to the national championship game on Jan. 11.

Gerry Broome/AP/File
In this Dec. 5, 2015 file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson looks to pass against North Carolina during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C. Watson is the face of No. 1 Clemson’s high-powered offense.

The College Football Playoff national semifinals take place on Thursday just outside Miami and Dallas.

Top-ranked Clemson takes on No. 4 Oklahoma in the Capital One Orange Bowl in South Florida, while second-ranked Alabama meets No. 3 Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Texas.

For Clemson, this will be the second year in a row that they will take on the Sooners in a postseason bowl game. Last December, the Tigers crushed OU, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

In that contest, Clemson featured the No. 1-ranked defense in the country, and it showed. This season, the Tigers’ defense is almost as stout, ranked seventh in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivsion. Clemson has allowed their opponents an average of 295 yards gained per game.

Oklahoma comes into the Orange Bowl averaging over 540 yards per game on offense, good enough for sixth in the NCAA rankings.

The Sooners have several key playmakers on offense, beginning with quarterback Baker Mayfield. He threw for over 3,300 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015. Running back Samaje Perine is their leading rusher with 1,291 yards and 15 touchdowns. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard has been just that this season, with 79 receptions for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is also a talented punt returner for OU.

The Tigers are led on offense by Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback. He has thrown for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. Watson also rushed for 887 yards and another 11 touchdowns in 2015. Wayne Gallman is the Tigers' leading rusher with 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns. Artavis Scott is Watson's favorite receiving target, pulling in 84 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns.

The Clemson offense lost one member of the squad, after it was announced that three Tiger players have been suspended for the Orange Bowl, reportedly for failing drug tests. The Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier reports one of the three is wide receiver Deon Cain, who saw extensive action this season.

The Capital One Orange Bowl will kick off at 4 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Thursday evening, the Cotton Bowl will feature two teams in Alabama and Michigan State who like to run the ball, but can move the ball downfield via the pass.

The Crimson Tide will roll out Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who led the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards while producing 23 touchdowns.

On the other side, Michigan State did not have a running back who gained 1,000 yards rushing. But three Spartans – LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London – each rushed for 500 yards or better this season.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook passed for over 2,900 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015. Aaron Burbridge was his favorite target, catching 80 passes for 1,219 yards.

Alabama quarterback Jake Coker connected on 65 percent of his pass attempts this season, while seven Crimson Tide offensive players had at least ten receptions in 2015.

The two teams' defenses are outstanding. The Crimson Tide defensive unit is ranked No. 2 in the NCAA, giving up just 14 points and 258 yards per game to opponents this season.

Meanwhile, the Spartans' defense is 24th in the country, allowing 342 yards per contest in 2015.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban knows both programs well, as he was formerly the head coach at Michigan State from 1995 to 1999. The last time these two schools met on the football field was January 1, 2011, in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. The Crimson Tide soundly defeated the Spartans that day, 49-7.

You can watch the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on ESPN Thursday night, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.

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