College football champions are crowned in January, but they’re built each February.

That’s what the recruiting experts insist. How true is it?

We decided to take a deeper look into that theory and break down the starting lineups of each Playoff team.

Alabama will start 11 5-star players in Saturday’s Peach Bowl against Washington. The Huskies don’t have any 5-star starters. Clemson starts three 5-star prospects and Ohio State, its Fiesta Bowl opponent, has just one.

All four are loaded with 4-star talent.

5-star starters

Alabama — 11

OL Cam Robinson — The No. 1-ranked tackle and No. 4 prospect overall in the 2014 class. He’s the highest ranked among Alabama’s starters.

LB Reuben Foster – Foster has become the emotional leader of Alabama’s defense, and he is also the team’s leading tackler. He was the No. 1-ranked inside linebacker in 2013 and No. 7 prospect overall.

WR Calvin Ridley – Ridley has followed in the footsteps of Julio Jones and Amari Cooper as an elite prospect who became a star receiver. He was the No. 1-ranked receiver in the 2015 class, according to’s composite, and No. 11 prospect overall.

Sep 10, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) carries the ball for a touchdown against Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

RB Damien Harris – Harris was the nation’s top running back for the Class of 2015 and has become the Crimson Tide’s leading rusher in his sophomore season. He’s backed up by Bo Scarbrough, a 5-star in the 2014 class.

DL Da’Ron Payne – The sophomore is the youngest on Alabama’s defensive line. Payne is an excellent defender against the run and can take on multiple blockers. He was the No. 1 prospect in Alabama in 2015.

OL Jonah Williams — The freshman was the No. 2-rated offensive tackle in the 2016 class.

DL Jonathan Allen – Allen is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen and a leader for the Crimson Tide defense. He was the No. 3-ranked outside linebacker in the 2013 class.

DB Marlon Humphrey – Humphrey was the No. 3-ranked cornerback in the 2014 class, just behind teammate Tony Brown and ahead of Florida’s Teez Tabor.

DB Minkah Fitzpatrick – Fitzpatrick has five interceptions and two touchdowns this season and has become Alabama’s top defensive back. He was the No. 5-ranked cornerback in the 2015 class.

TE O.J. Howard – A rare 5-star tight end prospect, Howard dominated last season’s championship game. A matchup nightmare, he was the No. 1-rated tight end in the 2013 class, the No. 19 prospect overall.

LB Rashaan Evans – Evans is in the starting lineup because of an injury to Shaun Dion Hamilton, but he would start for nearly any other team in the country. He was the No. 1-ranked outside linebacker in the 2014 class, the No. 15 player overall.

Clemson — 3

DL Christian Wilkins – Wilkins leads Clemson with 12 tackles for a loss this season and has also contributed 3.5 sacks. He was the No. 6-ranked defensive tackle in the 2015 class, ranked just ahead of Payne.

DL Dexter Lawrence – Only a freshman, Lawrence has become one of the top defensive lineman in the ACC. He was the No. 2-ranked player overall in the 2016 class, behind fellow defensive tackle Rashan Gary.

Sep 10, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (90) attempts to tackle Troy Trojans quarterback Kaleb Barker (18) during the second quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

OL Mitch Hyatt — He was the No. 2-ranked offensive tackle in the 2015 class, behind Florida’s Martez Ivey.

Ohio State — 1

LB Raekwon McMillan – McMillan, who is Ohio State’s leading tackler, was the No. 1-ranked inside linebacker in 2014.

It’s easy to see why Alabama is considered the team to beat and regarded as one of Saban’s best squads. With 11 former 5-star prospects, the Crimson Tide have nearly three times as many as the other Playoff combined.

4-star starters

Alabama — 9

DB Anthony Averett – Averett leads the Crimson Tide in passes defended and is one of the fastest players in the secondary.

WR ArDarius Stewart – Stewart is a dynamic weapon on the perimeter for the Crimson Tide and can create mismatches against opposing defenses.

DL Dalvin Tomlinson – The lone 4-star lineman on Alabama’s defense, Tomlinson is a savvy veteran and well-rounded player.

QB Jalen Hurts – The Crimson Tide’s true freshman sensation has put together one of the top seasons of any first-year quarterback in recent memory. He was No. 177-ranked player overall in the 2016 class, the No. 11 quarterback.

DB Ronnie Harrison – Another great member of Alabama’s secondary, Harrison is a hard-hitting safety who is second on the team in tackles.

LB Tim Williams, Alabama – Williams is tied with Allen for the most sacks on the team, and he’s one of the top blitzing linebackers in the country.

LB Ryan Anderson — He was the No. 6-ranked outside linebacker in the 2012 class.

OL Ross Pierschbacher, Korren Kirven

Clemson — 11

QB Deshaun Watson – A two-time Heisman finalist, Watson threw a career-high 37 touchdown passes this season and added six more on the ground. He was the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the 2014 class — behind former Texas A&M starter Kyle Allen.

Dec 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) walks off the field after a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the ACC Championship college football game at Camping World Stadium. Clemson Tigers won 42-35. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

WR Artavis Scott – Although Scott’s 71 receptions are the second-most on the team, his 592 yards are just fourth among the Tigers’ receivers.

LB Ben Boulware – Boulware is the motor that fuels Clemson’s defense. He’s so aggressive he’s constantly defending his reputation, insisting he is not a “dirty player.”

DL Carlos Watkins – Watkins has a team-high 8.5 sacks.

DL Clelin Ferrell – Another talented redshirt freshman on the Tigers’ defensive line, Ferrell has five sacks.

LB Dorian O’Daniel – There isn’t a weak link in Clemson’s linebacker corps, and O’Daniel is another hard hitter.

WR Mike Williams – After missing last season, Williams stormed back to lead Clemson with 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s an NFL talent.

DB Van Smith – Smith has become one of Clemson’s best tacklers. He finished third on the team with 87.

RB Wayne Gallman – Gallman has just over 1,000 yards on the season and 15 touchdowns, after rushing for 1,527 and 13 scores last year.

OL Sean Pollard, Tyrone Crowder

Ohio State — 18

QB J.T. Barrett – An efficient passer, Barrett limits his mistakes and can beat a team with his arm or his legs. He was the No. 2-ranked dual-threat QB in the 2013 class, well ahead of two former SEC starting QBs Kenny Hill and Johnny McCrary.

Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) sprints upfield as Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) pursues during the third quarter at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 30-27 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

RB Curtis Samuel – The Buckeyes’ swiss-army knife, Samuel is a threat every time he gets the ball in his hands.

DB Damon Webb – Webb is one of several Ohio State players with a touchdown this season and is fearless in run support.

DL Dre’mont Jones – Jones still needs to improve his ability to get into the backfield, but he’s a freshman with high upside.

DB Gareon Conley – An excellent defender in coverage, Conley has 3 interceptions and 8 passes defended for the Buckeyes.

LB Jerome Baker – Baker is second on the team in both tackles and tackles for a loss, proving he can make plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

TE Marcus Baugh – Baugh may not light up the stat sheet, but he’s become a nice piece for the Buckeyes’ offense.

DB Marshon Lattimore – Lattimore is another great player in Ohio State’s secondary and has 4 interceptions this season.

DL Michael Hill – Ohio State rotates a lot along the defensive line, but Hill is a veteran piece of the puzzle.

RB Mike Weber – Weber leads Ohio State on the ground with 1,072 yards and 9 touchdowns this year.

WR Noah Brown – Brown has become one of Ohio State’s best options on the perimeter and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns on the team.

DL Sam Hubbard – Hubbard knows how to get into an opponent’s backfield, something that’s a common theme along this defensive line.

WR Terry McLaurin – With so many other options at Ohio State’s disposal, McLaurin has yet to make a real impact.

DL Tyquan Lewis – The Buckeyes’ top pass rusher this season, Lewis leads the team with 7.5 sacks.

OL Michael Jordan, Isaiah Prince, Jamarco Jones, Billy Price

Washington — 7

DB Budda Baker – A tremendous piece to Washington’s suffocating secondary, Baker is second on the team with 65 tackles.

Sep 24, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) celebrates after a Arizona Wildcats fumble during the fourth quarter at Arizona Stadium. Washington won 35-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

TE Darrell Daniels – Washington uses a plethora of tight ends, but Daniels is the best of the bunch and has 307 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016.

DL Elijah Qualls – Weighing more than 320 pounds, Qualls controls the interior.

QB Jake Browning – Browning might be the purest passer of the four Playoff quarterbacks, and he has full command of the weapons around him. He was the No. 8-ranked quarterback in the 2015 class. (Blake Barnett was No. 2.)

WR John Ross – Maybe the fastest player in the Playoff, Ross has 17 touchdown receptions — tied for third nationally.

OL Kaleb McGary, Trey Adams

3-star starters

Alabama — 2

OL Bradley Bozeman

WR Gehrig Dieter

Clemson — 6

DB Cordrea Tankersley

DB Jadar Johnson

OL Jay Guillermo

TE Jordan Leggett

LB Kendall Joseph

OL Taylor Hearn

Ohio State — 3

LB Chris Worley

DB Malik Hooker

OL Pat Elflein

Washington — 13

WR Chico McClatchen

DL Connor O’Brien

WR Dante Pettis

LB D.J. Beavers

DL Greg Gaines

OL Jake Eldrenkamp

LB Keishawn Bierra

DB Kevin King

RB Myles Gaskin

LB Psalm Wooching

DB Sidney Jones

DB Taylor Rapp

DL Vita Vea

2-star starters

Clemson — 1

DB Ryan Carter

Washington — 2

OL Shane Brostek

OL Coleman Shelton

Walk-on starters

Clemson — 1

WR Hunter Renfrow

Team breakdowns


  • 5-stars: 11
  • 4-stars: 9
  • 3-stars: 2


  • 5-stars: 3
  • 4-stars: 11
  • 3-stars: 6
  • 2-stars: 1
  • Walk-ons: 1

Ohio State

  • 5-stars: 1
  • 4-stars: 18
  • 3-stars: 3


  • 5-stars: 0
  • 4-stars: 7
  • 3-stars: 13
  • 2-stars: 2