(2) Clemson Tigers (13-1) at (1) Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0)
Clemson: As we all know by now, I hadn’t been 100 percent sold on them, but as quite a few teams do, they silenced me and here they are. In the semifinal against Ohio State, that was hands down the best I’ve seen them look all year long and I say that because, throughout the season, they scored a lot but also gave up a lot of points on defense. Against Ohio State, Clemson dominated from start to finish and kept a Buckeyes offense that can score to zero points and shut them down and I was shocked. The strength of the team was their offense and they are led by their quarterback and two-time Heisman candidate in Deshaun Watson and the skills players around him and their defense may seem to give up a lot of points but under Brent Venables, the defense is just as strong and they are ranked amongst the best in the nation. They’ve had some close calls this year. There was the nailbiter against Louisville, the battle in Tallahassee against Florida State before they were upset by Pittsburgh. Ever since that one loss, they have been extremely focused and locked in. When Dabo Swinney was hired, he had a record of 19-15. In the last six seasons, he’s won ten or more games. The stage is here and they got exactly what they wanted and that’s another shot at Alabama for the national championship.
Alabama: Winning the SEC title, getting a spot in the playoffs and getting to the national title game is almost an annual expectation for these guys each season. Ever since the College Football Playoff was created, they have been the only team to make it in its first three years of existence. They dominated at such a high level this year and only one game was decided by less than ten points and that’s when they faced Ole Miss who’s always been a tough matchup for them in the last few seasons. Defensively, they finished first in the nation in scoring defense, fewest yards per play and they also finished second in sacks with 50. Their defense is always going to be the backbone of the football team. Their offense has really surprised me because they’ve shown that they can score and this year, they averaged 39 points per game, the school’s highest point average under Nick Saban. This football is so above and beyond everyone else in college football. In their game against Washington, they played down to their competition and struggled to really put the Huskies away and they did win by 17 points, but I felt they should’ve won by more and so did many other people. Nick Saban has had quite a few good defenses as head coach and this unit he’s had this year maybe his best that I’ve seen. They plug the holes up, they stop the run and I love the range their linebackers shown when dropping back to defend the pass. With a win tonight, the Tide would repeat as champions for the second straight season, the second time under Nick Saban and this would be their fifth title in eight seasons.
Clemson Player To Watch: Mike Williams– He didn’t play in the big game last year because of a neck injury. This year, he’s in and he’s Watson’s go to guy. He’s a 6’3, 225-pound wide receiver that is a nightmare for cornerbacks to defend. He’s a speedy threat that stretches the football field vertically and he finds a way to come down with the football. He makes them a more complete offense. He caught six passes for 96 yards when they faced Ohio State. He’s also a physical receiver meaning you can jam him at the line and he takes it because it won’t affect him. Bama will have their hands full with this kid tonight.
Alabama Player To Watch: Jonathan Allen– Say it with me, you better have game if you have two first names. This applies to the guy we’re discussing here. When I first saw him play, I notice how violent he was with his hands. He sheds blocks so quickly and really makes offensive linemen work to keep him out their backfield. He’s the anchor of their front seven and tonight, they’ll have to do everything to shut down Wayne Gallman. Containing Deshaun Watson will also have to be a key to the game for these guys and it starts with Jonathan Allen.
Keys To The Game– For Clemson: They need to run the football effectively. This is where we will see a lot of Gallman and potentially Watson on some quarterback sweeps and draws. It will be important to keep Alabama’s defense honest in order for the passing game to work. Key number two is to simply play smart. When they faced the Tide in the title game last January, Clemson beat themselves and one thing you can’t do against Alabama is making any mistakes because they will capitalize on it. Special teams miscues, blown coverages in the secondary and costly turnovers set the Tigers back last season. They have to be sharper this time around.
Keys To The Game– For Alabama: They need to simply show up and be the team that has them on the cusp of winning their fifth title in eight seasons. The best thing I can say is be yourself. Last season, Watson had a field day on this Tide defense and they have vowed to do things a lot differently this time around. They may change a few things but look at it like this, you don’t win multiple titles by changing something each time the wind blows. They will run the football and they will play good defense. The defense needs to contain Clemson’s ability to run the football and really keep Watson in that pocket which is easier said than done and they’ve struggled very much so against dual-threat quarterbacks. The safeties need to play up instead of too deep.
Prediction: This is what we’ve been waiting for. We were treated to a classic last year and I think we will see another one of those this year. Nick Saban is looking to add to his legendary resume as he’s never lost in any type of championship game. Clemson has waited for this moment and they got it. Another shot against Bama for a championship. I like the Clemson Tigers to be victorious tonight in Tampa Bay. Clemson 35 Alabama 31