Alabama vs. Clemson prediction roundtable with the Campus Insiders staff. Breaking down what will happen between the Crimson Tide and Tigers in the CFP title game on Monday evening.
If momentum means anything, it’s certainly on Clemson’s side. While Alabama has been dealing with the peculiar timing of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s exit and the shift to Steve Sarkisian calling his first plays of the season in the National Championship Game, the Tigers have been basking in their blowout of Ohio State and preparing as usual.
The most important offensive storyline for the Crimson Tide, though, is that they just weren’t very effective against Washington. Funny thing is, it would’ve been the same no matter who was guiding that unit. Jalen Hurts basically was a non-factor throwing the ball, and Bo Scarbrough essentially saved the Tide with some nice runs. That’ll need to change against Clemson.
The Tigers made Ohio State’s offense, the best in the Big Ten, look pedestrian. Let’s not forget that Clemson put up 40 points on Alabama’s supposedly unbreakable defense in last year’s title game, and if Deshaun Watson can guide another similar offensive effort, the Tigers will walk away national champs.
And that’s exactly what I’m expecting.
Nick Saban’s squad has been the best team in the country throughout the season. Even in a year in which the SEC was down, the Crimson Tide were the cream of the crop. But if true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts isn’t able to make more plays through the air than he did in the Peach Bowl win over Washington, a one-dimensional offensive attack—even with big and shifty Bo Scarbrough—won’t cut it against a nasty Clemson defensive line.
If the Tide make a few mistakes, then they can give Clemson extra chances and be prone to an upset. I just can’t see the upset coming into fruition, though. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson will have another prolific game, but his turnover problems are a concern against this dominant Tide defense.
This is an Alabama team that has been far and beyond better than any other squad this season. Despite the Tigers playing their best football of the year down the stretch—and destroying Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl—the Tide will claim their fifth national title in eight years to continue their dynasty. Dabo Swinney will certainly have his team ready, though, and I can see the Clemson defensive front causing issues for ‘Bama’s O-Line for the duration of the game. A big play by the Tide defense is the difference, however, and it allows Saban and crew to score the win.
I picked Clemson right after the four CFP teams were announced, and am holding firm. There’s just something about this veteran squad.
Ultimately, I think this game comes down to the turnover battle. Clemson gifted the ball to Ohio State two times in the Fiesta Bowl, but was able to neutralize any damage. It’s likely that Alabama will force at least one turnover; the Tigers must again prevent their opponent from scoring any points off it. If they can minimize mistakes and engage in a field position game, the Tigers can win. And yes, that sounds like it’d be right in Bama’s wheelhouse (Nick Saban lives for conservative, field position games), but with an offense that’s sometimes bottlenecked the Tide are vulnerable – again, only if their opponent doesn’t shoot itself in the foot.
Clemson’s players have been itching for this rematch for a calendar year, and there is no coach who relishes the underdog role more than Dabo Swinney. While the “us against the world” mentality can wear thin with lesser squads, this veteran crew truly believes it’s never out of a game. To my mind, this really feels like the 2006 Rose Bowl, where one team appears to be an overwhelming favorite, said team throws haymakers, and yet fails to knock out the opponent. An early Adam Griffith miss sets an ominous tone for Bama, and the Tigers ultimately come out victorious, 31-28, in another instant classic.
Momentum vs. consistency. Dabo going for his first vs. Saban going for his sixth. Watson vs. that nasty Alabama defense. Oh, and a new offensive coordinator for Alabama.
Can they live up to the greatness that was last year’s game? It is going to be difficult, but with these two teams, we could see another classic. In the end, Clemson’s experience of being in the game last year will come into play as they pull one out in the fourth quarter. Clemson wins its first national title since 1981.