For good or ill, who wins Bama-Clemson IV?

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BY MIKE HERNDON

Back in August, when we first kicked off this fun-filled four-month jaunt known as the 2018 college football season, I picked Alabama and Clemson to meet in the national championship game.

That would be impressive, if practically everyone else in the known universe didn’t also make the same prediction.

The Crimson Tide and Tigers looked like the best teams in college football going into the season and both of them played up to their billing. Both went undefeated and both humiliated most of the competition. Only two teams – Georgia and Oklahoma – have stayed within 20 points of Alabama, while Clemson’s only scares were a 2-point win at Texas A&M and a 4-point home victory over Syracuse.

Monday night’s national championship game between the Tide and Tigers will mark the fourth straight year they’ve met in the College Football Playoff, with three coming in the title game. Alabama has won the national crown in three of those years, with Clemson winning the other.

That’s caused some, including my friend Scott Rabalais of The Advocate, to question whether this kind of dominance by two programs is good for college football.

While Scott’s column seeks to start a conversation instead of provide a definite answer, I’ll join that conversation with a few questions: Were the Celtics and Lakers good for the NBA in the 1980s? Were the Steelers and Cowboys good for the NFL in the 1970s? Have Federer and Nadal been good for tennis? Was Tiger Woods good for golf?

We’re likely to get a great game on Monday between two teams that are clearly the best in the sport. Isn’t that what we want?

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks so.

“I think the objective is to get the two best teams. That’s kind of the way it is,” Swinney said. “If that’s not best for college football, then why did we even do it? Why don’t we just go back to the way it was?”

Easy there, big fella. Let’s not get carried away. I still remember BYU winning a national title in 1984 by beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl. No one wants that. Except maybe Central Florida.

When the final horn goes off Monday night, we’re going to know, without a single doubt, who the best team in college football is, and not even Danny White will be able to argue it (thanks, LSU). That’s good for college football.

And if fans of teams not named Alabama and Clemson are tired of seeing the Crimson Tide and Tigers play for all the marbles, there’s a real simple way their teams can change that – by beating them.

But the way Swinney and Nick Saban have their programs humming, that’s not so simple after all.

So who’s going to win Monday night? Back in August, I predicted Clemson’s defense would be the difference. But after watching both teams through the season, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve thought all along that Clemson was the only team in the country that could beat Alabama with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa. The Heisman runner-up may not be 100 percent, but I’m not sure even Clemson can beat them now.

For all the NFL talent it has up front, the Tigers have sprung leaks now and then in the secondary. Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond lit it up for 430 yards in that near-upset in September and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley threw for 510 yards in a 56-35 loss in November.

Yes, that’s the same Jake Bentley who couldn’t get the Gamecocks in the end zone against Virginia in the Belk Bowl.

If those guys can throw for that kind of yardage on Clemson, even if some of it was in garbage time, what do you think Tua’s going to do?

The pick: Alabama 31, Clemson 27.

(Photo by Michael Gericke/Flickr)


Categories: College football

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