Alabama begins its quest to repeat as national champions against Washington in the first playoff game of the year.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl – College Football Playoff Semifinal

Dec. 31 at 3:00 PM ET (ESPN)

No. 4 Washington (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)


How They Got Here

Washington finally took a big step forward in coach Chris Petersen’s third year at the helm, winning the school’s first conference title since 2000. The Huskies were led by a balanced offense that averaged 44.5 points per game (fourth-best nationally) and a ferocious defense that held opponents to less than 20 points eight times.

Alabama, meanwhile, got back to the playoffs by doing what Alabama does best—steamrolling all who would dare get in their way. The Crimson Tide are riding a nation’s-best 25-game winning streak and defeated their opponents by an average of almost 29 points per game. Alabama won its third straight SEC championship thanks to a stifling defense that could be Nick Saban’s best unit yet (a scary thought), leading the nation in total defense, scoring and rush defense.

When Washington Has the Ball

Pac-12 Championship - Colorado v Washington
Robert Reiners/Getty Images

The Huskies are led by Pac-12 Player of the Year quarterback Jake Browning. The sophomore’s numbers won’t wow you (252 yards per game), but he is one of the nation’s most efficient passers with the country’s fifth-best quarterback rating and a 42/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But Washington boasts a balanced offensive attack that has racked up 210 rushing yards per game this season. Running back Myles Gaskin has put up 1,300+ yards in each of his last two seasons and will likely need to find some running room and keep the Huskies from becoming one-dimensional.

However, he will face tough sledding against a Crimson Tide defense that leads the nation in rush defense and has held 11 of 13 opponents under 100 yards and surrendered just three rushing touchdowns.

When Alabama Has the Ball

Alabama v Tennessee
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a pleasant surprise this year as the first freshman to ever start under center for a Nick Saban-coached team. He has thrown for nearly 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns while also rushing for 841 yards and 12 touchdowns. But the Huskies boast one of the nation’s best secondaries and can make Hurts (eight interceptions in his last eight games) pay for any mistakes.

While Alabama doesn’t have a Derrick Henry or Mark Ingram in the backfield, the Tide does boast a trio of running backs that have each gone for 500+ yards this season. Look for Alabama to try to run the ball early and not have to put the game on the shoulders of their young signal caller.

Keys to the Game

Jake Browning is a really good quarterback, but he can’t beat Alabama on his own. To pull off the upset, the Huskies are going to have to find some way to move the ball on the ground against Alabama’s top-ranked rush defense. It doesn’t have to be a lot—just enough to keep the Crimson Tide defense honest. Browning doesn’t make many mistakes and can beat people over the top. But Alabama ranks fourth nationally in sacks and would like nothing more than to pin their ears back and come after him. (Washington surrendered six tackles for loss and three sacks in its only loss of the season.) If Washington is stuck in third-and-long all night, this game could get ugly fast.

On the other hand, Washington leads the nation in forcing turnovers and would like nothing more than to make Hurts (15 turnovers this year, including at least one against every Power 5 opponent this season) carry the Tide on his shoulders. While there’s no doubt Alabama is the more talented team on paper, making Alabama one dimensional and winning the turnover battle could be the equalizer Washington needs to end Alabama’s hopes to repeat and one of the great runs in college football history.

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