(Dabo Swinney leads Clemson against Alabama on Monday for the college football national championship. Photo by LambeauLeap80/Wikimedia Commons)
Alabama (14-0) meets Clemson (13-1) in Tampa on Monday night in Tampa for the college football national championship, a rematch of last year’s title game which was won by the Crimson Tide 45-40.
Game time is 7 p.m. Central, and the game will be televised on ESPN. Depending on which book you follow, Alabama is favored by 6 or 7.
The SportsChasers crew offers their predictions:
Want to try to be cool in 2017? Wear a stocking cap, grow a beard (but keep the clippers handy; some say they’re over) and pick against Alabama. Clemson has become the trendy pick in this year’s national championship game after an impressive 31-0 throttling of Ohio State, and not without reason. Deshaun Watson is one of the best players in the game, Mike Williams could be the first receiver taken in April’s NFL draft, and the Tigers’ defense, seemingly decimated by graduation losses after last year’s run to the finals, has proven to be stout, with the defensive line basically taking over the game against J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes. This Clemson team may be better than last year’s — it is certainly healthier than last year’s was at this point in the season.
I’ve got to admit, I was tempted.
It’s especially tempting when you consider that this Alabama offense can be had. The running game is good, but not dominant (although Bo Scarbrough looked it against Washington). The receivers are good (particularly ArDarius Stewart) but there’s no Julio Jones or Amari Cooper who can just take over a game. More than any other Nick Saban-coached Alabama team, this offense revolves around the play of its quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and he’s a true freshman. At times, he’s played like it, but he is unflappable and has rallied from every bad half he’s played to follow it with a strong one as the Tide pulls away. Added to all this is Saban’s curious decision to cut the cord with Lane Kiffin and hand the offense to Steve Sarkisian the week before the biggest game of the year.
But just when I’m ready to join the cool kids and pick the upset, I look on the other side of the ball and see Alabama’s defense. It’s very likely the best defense Alabama has had under Saban, which means it’s very likely the best defense Alabama has ever had. And that’s saying a lot. Not only does it routinely shut down opposing offenses, it creates its own offense through turnovers. Alabama has 15 non-offensive touchdowns this season.
Defensive touchdowns in Tuscaloosa this year are like Krazy Buckets at Harry’s — you know you’re going to get at least one.
Clemson is going to challenge Alabama in ways it hasn’t yet been challenged this season. But the bottom line is this: I don’t think Clemson will be able run on Alabama this year. And I don’t think you can beat this Alabama defense with a one-dimensional offense.
The pick: Alabama 27, Clemson 23
Defense wins championships. We hear this all the time, right? Anyone who knows anything about football will recite this as their “go to” move whenever the occasion requires a point to be made. Forget nuance, fancy offenses, the player versus player match up and the mind numbing in-depth statistics, just remember that defenses win championships. The annoying thing, if you are into nuance, is that this point is almost always true.
How good is Alabama’s defense?
So good that they often score points. Apparently, it’s not enough to just stop the run and pass these days.
Pair that defensive unit with an offense that is efficient but capable of big plays, albeit most of their big plays are provided by the running game or Jalen Hurts’ scrambling ability, and it’s no surprise that Alabama is favored to win another championship. All signs point to Alabama winning the game, right?
Not so fast, my friend. (Thank you, Lee Corso.)
This Clemson team has the proper motivation and talent to move the ball against Alabama’s defense. Solve the defense, and the Tide will fall.
Alabama fans should remember the year the Tide vanquished Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game rematch. This game’s script is eerily similar — the chance to play the team that ended championship dreams the previous year.
Not only will Clemson start the game with laser focus and ready to eat nails, but they also actually have the players that can cause Alabama’s defense problems. Although I believe that the “dual threat quarterback equals Saban’s kryptonite” theme is a bit overplayed, Deshaun Watson fits it, and he proved capable of making plays against any college defense during last year’s title game. Plus, he has even more weapons this year to employ against a Tide secondary that offers chances for big-time receivers to make one-on-one plays. Clemson will fire away at that vaunted Alabama defense, and they will score points, but they won’t completely solve the Alabama defense.
The pick: Clemson plus the 6 points. (Actual score Alabama 33, Clemson 30. Alabama’s defense will do just enough to keep Clemson from winning the game. Defense wins championships.)
Categories: College football