Alabama vs Clemson: It’s the Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers for the second College Football Playoff national championship. It’s how it has to be. Below is the Alabama vs. Clemson prediction and complete championship game preview.
Alabama vs. Clemson Game Preview
Date: Monday, January 11
Game Time: 8:30 pm ET
Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Follow and/or Contact @PeteFiutak
Why You Need To Care
It really is how the national championship for the 2015 season has to be.
Last year, it was No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State – it would’ve been an Alabama vs. Florida State national title in the BCS era. This time around, though, the college football season ends with the one matchup that needed to happen to tie it all up into a neat bow: Alabama vs. Clemson.
Last year, TCU and Baylor each had an argument to make about not getting into the playoff. Stanford might have had some sort of a beef this year, and Ohio State was certainly talented enough to have gotten in, but there was no real argument about the final four teams. Considering Oklahoma lost to a Texas team that finished with a losing record, and Michigan State lost to a Nebraska that finished 6-7, there’s no debating whatsoever that the 14-0 Clemson Tigers and 13-1 Alabama Crimson Tide are the two top teams, and there’s not going to be any question mark about who the real national champion is after it’s all over.
Dog the Clemson schedule all you want – Tiger opponents went 2-5 this bowl season with the two wins coming from Appalachian State and a Louisville team that beat a quarterbackless Texas A&M – but if it was so easy to go undefeated, someone else would’ve done it.
There were some struggles along the way – holding on for dear life to beat Notre Dame, and struggling in the ACC championship against a North Carolina squad that got walloped by Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl – but the Tigers kept on doing whatever it was they needed to on the way to the unbeaten season, highlighted by a dominant second half effort to beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. This has been a flawed team at times – who gives up 32 points to South Carolina? – but it’s also been a team in control of what it needs to do. There’s never any panic or sense of real urgency – this team has been able to hold up under the pressure and the scrutiny with nothing more than a yawn.
It’s a confident team that’s been able to have the best of both worlds by being No.1 throughout the CFP ranking process, but also being able to play the disrespect card as motivation.
Yes, it helps that 2015 Florida State isn’t the 2012, 2013 or 2014 version. Yes, it helps that the ACC was probably the weakest of all the Power 5 leagues. Yes, it helped that South Carolina was a disaster and the Notre Dame and Florida State games were at home. But now the resume has become undeniably impressive considering Notre Dame was a made Stanford kick away from deserving a spot in the CFP four and there’s a win over the Big 12 champion to brag about. Even so, it’s been easy to assume Clemson was going to blow it along the way at some point because … it’s Clemson.
The idea of Clemsoning is wrong – there really weren’t any true gags over the years to earn the term – but even so this has been the program that hasn’t been able to get over the hump again ever since winning the 1981 national title. The school operates in SEC country, and it recruits like an SEC team, but there’s always been one or two misfires that kept it from ever getting back in the national championship stratosphere. Lately, Florida State has had a lot to do with that, but now it’s Clemson’s time. Now it’s the chance for the ACC to have its second national championship in three years – and over an SEC West, too.
But this Clemson team isn’t 2013 Florida State, and this Alabama team isn’t 2013 Auburn.
Clemson might be No. 1 and 14-0, but if it can beat the Alabama team that steamrolled over Wisconsin, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn – all bowl winners, by the way – and could turn a veteran, savvy, talented Michigan State team into a quivering bowl of pudding, then it’s season takes on a whole new level of greatness. Not only would Clemson be the first 15-0 team, but it would get past the best team in college football to do it.
Look, the Tigers might be ranked on top because they’re undefeated, but Alabama is the most talented team – the next two NFL drafts will show that – and the most impressive.
The supposed weaknesses were the passing game and the secondary, and Alabama destroyed the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl with the passing game and shut it all down with the secondary.
All three starters on the defensive front are going to be top draft picks, Reggie Ragland might be the best linebacker prospect going now that Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith is hurt, and CB Cyrus Jones is also destined for the next level – not to mention all the talented young prospects providing the depth. Seven starters on the offensive side – at least – are going to be drafted, and it could be more if someone wants to take a flier on QB Jake Coker and if some other parts develop. Clemson has a boatload of pro talent, but it doesn’t have Alabama’s skill set across the board, and it doesn’t have the pedigree.
For all the greatness under Nick Saban, and for all the great coaching he and his staff have done, the success at the highest of high levels has basically come down to two key elements. Recruit as good or better than everyone else on an annual basis, and make each and every five-star recruit realize just how unnecessary he really is.
Saban’s biggest gift has been the ability to keep his uber-talented teams focused week after week. It might not be a barrel full of laughs, and there might not be pizza parties, but if you want to win championships, and your world will be a failure if you don’t, then you go play for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama has become a professional factory under Saban in terms of the process, the preparation, and the mindset week after week – it’s supposed to be here, because that’s what Alabama is supposed to do. Ohio State might be the one other program with a similar realistically insane goals and expectations, and it doesn’t have to play in the SEC West.
If Bama pulls this off, it’ll be Saban’s fifth national title, his fourth while in Tuscaloosa, and all of them will have come against juggernauts beating a 12-0 Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS championship, a 13-0 LSU in 2012 and a 13-0 Texas in 2009.
Beating Clemson wouldn’t be as impressive as taking down that 2008 Texas squad, but that doesn’t matter. A national title is a national title. You think Clemson is scared? Keep doubting this team. It seems to like that.
Why Clemson Will Win
The defensive front four has to keep the pressure on Jake Coker from the start.
The Tigers have just enough size and just enough of a rotation to keep from wearing down against the Crimson Tide running game, but the key will be the speed and the athleticism from the outside. Against Oklahoma, Shaq Lawson made one massive play, and that was it with a knee injury – it didn’t matter. The rest of the line picked up the slack keeping Baker Mayfield in the pocket almost all game long, while pressuring him enough to keep him from making his second read. The OU offense is mostly a one-look passing game anyway, but even then Mayfield wasn’t able to get comfortable in the second half. Once Sooner backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon got hurt, that was it.
Oklahoma had to try throwing, and it didn’t work. Against Michigan State, Coker was red hot hitting 25-of-30 passes partly because he had all day to throw. Michigan State came in worrying all about Derrick Henry, and it was Coker who got the job done.
The Clemson secondary is far better and far more effective than the Spartan defensive backfield, but it’ll need the ends to do their jobs.
More than anything else, the Clemson defense just has to get off the field. One of the biggest keys to the win over Oklahoma was the control the Tigers had offensively, helped by a defense that came up with the third down stops when needed. The Sooners helped the cause with their hurry-up offense hurrying-up off the field when it didn’t work, but having the ball for almost ten minutes more made a big difference for Clemson.
For all the great things the Alabama offense does, it’s mediocre when it comes to hitting on third downs converting just 36% of the time. On the flip side, Clemson is a killer when it comes to key downs, ranking second in the nation allowing teams to convert just 26% of their chances. Clemson’s D has got to control the game, because …
Why Alabama Will Win
The running game that worked against Oklahoma isn’t going to happen against the Crimson Tide front seven.
Alabama has figured out ways to manufacture motivation throughout the year, and now the ultra-focused and fired up talking point is the defense’s supposed inability to stop mobile quarterbacks and fast, spread running games.
That was true a few years ago when Johnny Manziel was making magic, and Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight came up with big performances, too, but those Alabama defenses didn’t have this line, this pass rush, and this set of killers from the outside.
Marshall was able to hit the Crimson Tide D by hitting the hole fast in the legendary win two years ago, while Tre Mason tore off 164 yards – that’s exactly what Clemson is going to try to do with Deshaun Watson and RB Wayne Gallman.
The Clemson running game isn’t as fast or as deadly as the 2013 Auburn attack, but it’ll try to mix in a similar style trying to get the running stars loose after combining for almost 300 yards on the ground in the Orange Bowl. However, the last two games against Florida and Michigan State, Alabama allowed a net total of 44 yards on 47 carries. Not only is the Crimson Tide run defense the best in the country, it’s the best by 12 yards allowing 70.8 per game. Boston College is No. 2 giving up 82.8 yards per game and just six rushing scores – Clemson was held to a season-low 112 yards and one score against the Eagles.
And as for that whole idea that Alabama can’t handle running quarterbacks, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott ran 26 times for 14 yards. Florida’s Treon Harris was second on the team in rushing – he ran 11 times for -4 yards. LSU needed something out of Brandon Harris, but he only gained 20 yards on five carries.
Don’t expect Watson and Gallman to go off like they’ll need to.
Player Who Matters
Deshaun Watson has to become Vince Young.
Artavis Scott is the go-to receiver, but he’s more of a possession target to go along with the rest of the corps that hits home runs. Most teams get caught trying to send everyone to stop the running game, and then Watson connects. Watson completes 68% of his passes, but he’s not a pure pocket passer and needs to be on the move to make things happen down the field. That doesn’t work against a Crimson Tide defensive front that cranked up 50 sacks on the year and will keep him contained as much as possible.
Of course, that’s what USC was trying to do to Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl, and Young made up for not getting the Heisman over Reggie Bush by completing 30-of-40 passes for 267 yards and running 19 times for 200 yards and three scores in his all-timer of a performance. Watson won’t do that, but he has to be equally effective and has to be equally dominant – he has to be the best player on the field. He has to be the guy Alabama doesn’t have an answer for. Slippery and deceptive,
Watson is the type of runner who looks like he’s going in slow motion and then is 15 yards down the field three strides. Whether it was Leonard Fournette, Dak Prescott, or Connor Cook, when the Alabama defense decided it was going to stop one guy, it did that. It’s up to Watson to produce anyway.
Again with the trumped up motivation, Alabama has a new thing to get jacked up about – Christian McCaffrey.
Michigan State trained everyone on stopping Henry, wanting to force Jake Coker to win the game. Coker was brilliant, and Henry was held to 75 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, but he still made plays.
Many in the national media chirped and crowed about how McCaffrey really was the best player in college football after his scintillating, record-setting performance against Iowa in the Rose Bowl. Not that Henry and his O line need any extra motivation in the national title game, but there might be a wee bit more of a chip on the shoulder of the Alabama running game than usual. Clemson’s run defense has been phenomenal, but Florida State’s Dalvin Cook was able to take off for 194 yards and a score on just 21 carries. Appalachian State’s terrific Marcus Cox ran for 103 yards on 25 carries. Expect Henry to get into a lather early on.
What’s Going To Happen?
Deshaun Watson isn’t Vince Young.
Alabama’s defense is the wrong fit for anyone, but it’s really the wrong group to try rolling against when an offense has to get its two stars in the backfield going. As long as the Crimson Tide come out ultra-focused and with the same sense of purpose they had against LSU and Michigan State – when they were looking to make a statement – and they’re not just trying to get through the game as a means to an end – like the Auburn and Florida wins – there won’t be any problems. Clemson moved the ball well on Oklahoma early in the first half, but had too many trips without touchdowns. That didn’t matter in the Orange Bowl, but the offense will have the same problems this time around.
Enjoy the coronation.
Alabama vs. Clemson Prediction
Final Score: Alabama 37, Clemson 17, Line: Alabama -6.5, o/u: 51
Must See Rating: 5: The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship – 1: Sisters … 5
MORE: 5 Alabama vs. Clemson Storylines To Watch
For more info visit Alabama Crimson Tide vs Clemson Tigers