In a rematch of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the defending national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, will take on the Clemson Tigers tonight at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
For some, it will be a matchup of the nation’s best defense, Alabama, and one of the nation’s best player, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Despite losing last year’s title game, Watson accounted for 478 total yards and helped the Tigers score 40 points. In addition, Clemson had ten plays of 20-plus yards against Alabama last season. The junior quarterback will need to turn back the clock if Clemson hope to avenge last season’s loss.
KEY FOR ALABAMA: Force Turnovers
On the other hand, Alabama allowed just one play of 20-plus yards in a dominating 24-7 win over Washington in the College Football Playoff Semifinals.
One of the knocks on Watson is that he has thrown 30 interceptions in 29 games over the past two seasons. Alabama’s offense has scored 11 times on defense, so one bad throw by Watson could ultimately cost Clemson a national championship.
But while that may worry some Clemson fans, it’s not as distressing as the offensive coordinator departing one week before the biggest game of the season.
That is the situation Alabama finds themselves in after head coach Nick Saban parted ways with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on Monday, saying that Kiffin was unable to successfully juggle two jobs since accepting the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic. As a result, Saban promoted offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian to coordinator. While Sarkisian has helped build Alabama’s current offense, by NCAA rule, he was not able to coach at practice or instruct the players.
KEY FOR CLEMSON: Pressure Jalen Hurts
Now, Sarkisian will direct freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and try to find a rhythm against a Clemson defense coming off a 31-0 shutout against Ohio State. Clemson defensive coordinator Brett Venables would be wise bring a lot of pressure and force Hurts to make quick decisions.
An athletic dual-threat quarterback, Hurts possesses many of the same qualities as Watson. In fact, when Hurts enrolled early at Alabama in December 2015, he played the role of Watson on Alabama’s scout team when they were preparing for the National Championship. Now, the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year will look to become the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a National Championship since 1985.
Hurts, along with running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, lead a dynamic ground attack, while receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley are big-play threats in the passing game.
However, Clemson will make sure not to forget about the offensive most valuable player of last season’s championship game, O.J. Howard. The tight end was UNSTOPPABLE, with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. In other words, Clemson’s defense completely ignored him last year. If they do that again, Clemson will lose again.
KEY FOR NICK SABAN: Win
For Saban, a victory tonight will tie him with Alabama legend Bear Bryant for the most national championships (six) in the poll era. For Saban, a victory tonight makes him the greatest head coach in the history of college football.
It’s worth noting that Bryant never had to coach in conference championships or semifinal playoff games. In addition, Bryant’s first two national championships (1961 and 1964) came when the wire services named the national champion before the bowl games. Saban is also UNDEFEATED all-time (5-0) in National Championship games AND his teams have won those games by an average margin of 15 points!
But despite all that…
THE PICK: Clemson
In addition to not winning a National Championship since 1981, Clemson has had redemption on their mind since they lost to Alabama last season. Based on their performance against Ohio State, Watson and company seem ready for the challenge of picking apart Alabama’s stellar defense. With Sarkisian as Alabama’s new offensive coordinator and a freshman quarterback, look for the Clemson defense to bring pressure early and often. Whichever team wins the turnover margin will win this game, and Watson’s experience gives them a slight edge in that department.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). Who do you think is going to come out on top?