Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 College Football Playoff - National Championship

(1) Clemson (14-0) vs. #2 Alabama (13-1) at Glendale, Arizona

Despite their 14-0 record, the Tigers have faced doubters all season. The doubt hasn't been because of their play this season, which has largely been dominant, but because of the sins of their programs past. Clemsoning became a verb for the Tigers penchant for losing games they should win. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has tired of the talk, but even with his team at 14-0, pretty much anyone outside of the Tigers program, is confident that Clemson won't beat Alabama tonight. While the Clemson program has a tortured history, the Tide have a decorated one. Clemson has one national championship in program history and that was 35 years ago. Alabama will be looking to win its 16th national championship and fourth in seven years. An interesting stat is that in all three of Nick Saban's national titles since becoming coach at Alabama, the Tide have had one loss. Some teams have been crippled by one loss and immediately tossed out of the national championship conversation. But the Bama brand is so strong, that the Tide have often overcome that one less and still been seen as the prohibitive favorites.

Both teams are strong offensively and defensively but the Tigers have the edge at quarterback with the dynamic DeShaun Watson. Watson is a dual threat quarterback and the Tigers unquestioned leader. Bama quarterback Jake Coker, while not spectacular, either in his play or in his acne treatment, has been a steady hand at quarterback for the Tide. To his credit he was spectacular against Michigan State but that isn't something Bama can count on happening each game. The edge in running back clearly goes to Alabama as they trot out Heisman trophy winning workhorse, Derrick Henry. Henry will have his work cut out for him against a tough Tigers defensive line, and Henry was held in check against Michigan State in the semis. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman was not held in check by Oklahoma, rushing for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. He won't find things so easy against Bama's stout defense. Both offenses feature elite receiving options, for Bama it is freshman sensation Calvin Ridley. The Spartans had no answers for Ridley, who torched them for 138 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Tigers sophomore Artavis Scott was the team's leading receiver but he is not nearly as dynamic as Ridley.

Shaq Lawson is the Tigers premiere defender but he is battling a knee injury. The Tigers were able to overcome being without him against Oklahoma and even though he will be on the field it is likely he won't be at 100% percent for this game. The Tigers have struggled to stop the run this season, so Henry could be in line for a big day. I wouldn't be surprised if Bama starts the game by trying to pound the Tigers into submission. A big part of that likely gameplan is also because the Tigers are so much better defending the pass than they are the run. Mackensie Alexander will get the assignment against Ridley. If the Tigers can play above themselves and slow down Henry, things will be very difficult for the Crimson Tide offensively. Not surprisingly, the Bama defense has many studs and their defense is good against both the run and pass. They are first in the country against the run and gave up less than 200 yards passing per game. They are led on the defensive side by All-American DE A'Shawn Robinson and All-American LB Reggie Ragland. Strong safety Eddie Jackson led Bama with 5 interceptions and returned two of those for touchdowns.

I suspect that it will become apparent early that the Tigers have not faced a team as physical as Alabama all season. I believe Henry will make his presence felt early, which will open up play action and get Ridley involved. I think Bama will jump out to an early lead and then Clemson will spend the rest of the game playing catch up. IT will get the Tigers out of their offensive game plan and put too much pressure on Watson to make things happen. I expect Henry to be the Player of the Game and Bama to once again put themselves at the top of the college football ladder.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Clemson 21

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