Alabama is favored to win the College Football Playoff — again

Alabama is favored to win the College Football Playoff — again

ATLANTA (CNN) – This season’s College Football Playoff centers around one simple question: Can anyone stop Alabama?

The Crimson Tide have been ranked No. 1 since the beginning of the season, and the national championship is theirs to lose. The defending national champion, Alabama (13-0) has won four of the last seven titles and is favored yet again.

Dating back to September 2015, Alabama has won 25 consecutive games. It also has won the last three Southeastern Conference championships.

The Crimson Tide are making the case for being the greatest team of all time, but they need to win two more games. Next up for them is No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the Peach Bowl semifinal at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Kickoff time is 3 p.m. ET Saturday.

In the other semifinal, the Fiesta Bowl in at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, No. 2 Clemson (12-1) will face No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) at 7 p.m. ET.

The winners of those semifinals will play in the national championship game on January 9 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Alabama’s dominance this season starts with defense. The Crimson Tide boast the nation’s best, leading the country in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and defensive touchdowns.

In fact, the Tide’s defense has scored almost as many touchdowns this season (10) as it has allowed (14).

“I feel like this group can be as good as they want to be,” Alabama senior defensive end Jonathan Allen said earlier this week. “When we’re focused doing our job, executing, communicating, running to the ball, having fun, we feel like we can be the best ever.”

The Tide defense could be tested on Saturday against Washington, one of the top offenses in the country. The Pac-12-champion Huskies are fourth in scoring offense with 44.5 points per game. Sophomore Jake Browning will be the best quarterback Alabama has seen all season. Browning, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, has thrown for 3,280 yards and 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

“I think that this is, by far, the best all-around team that we’ve played all year long,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Thursday.

Still, Washington is a two-touchdown underdog against Alabama. But per Chris Petersen, in his third year as Washington’s head coach, that doesn’t mean there’s added pressure for this game.

“We expected to be good,” Petersen said Thursday. “I mean, the kids who came to Washington expect to be good. And it took us a minute to get there, but, you know, it’s not like — there’s no feeling like, ‘Wow, we made it.'”

Meanwhile, at the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State — who won the inaugural College Football Playoff in the 2014-2015 season — is a narrow favorite.

The Buckeyes — whose lone loss came to eventual Big Ten Conference champion Penn State — haven’t played since November 26, when they defeated then-No. 3 Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. Ohio State is the first team to reach the playoff without winning a conference championship.

“It’s the third playoff,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “This is our second time in three years, and we’re honored to be part of it.”

Clemson, Atlantic Coast Conference champions for the second year in a row, will try to reach the national championship game in back-to-back seasons. The Tigers lost to Alabama 45-40 in the title game last season.

“We certainly had a chance to win it all,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Monday. “And we didn’t quite finish like we needed to. And give Alabama the credit for that. They earned it.

“But this is a new team, a new season, and it’s a new opportunity. So as I always say, last year’s success doesn’t get it done this year. You’ve got to earn it all over again.”