At Georgia Dome
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
At University of Phoenix Stadium
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
(Coverage for both games on ESPN)
ATLANTA — Alabama is very familiar with this role.
Washington? It’s been a while.
The Peach Bowl features one of college football’s greatest dynasties against the definite outsider in this season’s College Football Playoff.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (13-0) is going for its second straight national title and fifth in the last nine seasons under coach Nick Saban .
At this point, it’s national championship or bust for Alabama.
A loss in Saturday’s semifinal game would make this season a failure.
“It’s the Bama way,” linebacker Reuben Foster said.
Washington (12-1) comes into the Peach Bowl with an entirely different perspective.
The Huskies wandered in the wilderness for much of the past two decades, playing in only one major bowl since Don James retired after the 1992 season and slogging through a stretch of six straight losing seasons that included an 0-12 debacle in 2008.
Chris Petersen took over as coach in 2014 and struggled through his first two years, going 15-12. But it all came together this season as the Huskies overcame their lone loss, at home against Southern Cal, to claim the final playoff berth behind a trio of perennial national contenders that also included Ohio State and Clemson.
For Petersen, the return to prominence comes down a simple formula he looks for in every recruit: talent plus character equals OKG (Our Kind of Guy).
“We feel real strongly about the guy that we’re looking for that we think fits our culture, our style of football,” he said Friday. “There’s a lot of good players out there, and some of those guys don’t fit what we’re all about.”
Some things to watch for when the Crimson Tide takes on the Huskies:
Hurts vs. Seahawks lite
Saban said Washington’s secondary reminds him of the Seattle Seahawks. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the Huskies do rely heavily on a talented, experienced group that includes safety Budda Baker and cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King. If the defense can shut down Alabama’s running game, it might play into Washington’s hands. While Jalen Hurts has put together a dynamic season at quarterback for the Crimson Tide, he is still just a freshman who could get confused by some of the looks the Huskies throw at him. Washington has created 33 turnovers this season, more than any team in the country, including 19 interceptions.
Lane Kiffin is winding up his three-year run as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, a time that will be remembered for bringing the Tide more in line with the wide-open times. While Kiffin doesn’t sound like he’s had a whole lot of fun working for the hardnosed Saban , it’s clear he was given the latitude to transform Alabama into more of a spread-like team. From Saban’s perspective, the willingness to change and adapt is the key to keeping a team on top. Kiffin will leave after the Tide completes its playoff run to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic.
Jake Browning and a high-flying passing game gets much of the attention at Washington, but don’t overlook a ground game that features 1,339-yard rusher Myles Gaskin. He came through big in victories over Utah and especially Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game, when Browning was held to 118 yards on 9-of-24 passing. Washington will surely need to be balanced against Alabama’s defense, which is the best in the land.
Alabama will be playing at the Georgia Dome for the second time this month — having already won the Southeastern Conference title on the same field — and in a city that is a manageable drive for most of its fan base. That should give the Crimson Tide a decided edge in the stands , especially when Washington is on offense. “It’s not quite a home game for anybody, but it’s probably more of an away game for us,” Petersen said. “It’s going to be loud because it’s inside and that will make it difficult to call some things.”
Watch your back
Petersen’s reputation as a gambling, creative coach who isn’t afraid to try just about anything was forever sealed at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, when his Boise State team pulled off three improbable plays to beat Oklahoma. Given that the Huskies are a two-touchdown underdog, look for Petersen to dig deep into his bag of tricks looking for something to catch Alabama off guard. Saban said the Tide has spent “a lot of time” at practice on dealing with plays they haven’t seen before. “Rather than thinking that they’re trick plays, they’re little unusual plays that create a tremendous amount of attention to detail and discipline for defensive players.”