(2) Alabama (-7, 50.5 o/u) vs (1) Clemson
This is it. The game we have been waiting for all season finally has arrived. The Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1, 7-1 SEC) will look for their fourth National Championship in seven years when they clash with the undefeated Clemson Tigers (14-0, 8-0 ACC) this Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona (8:30 PM Eastern).
Under head coach Nick Saban, Alabama has won three National Championships (2009, 2011, 2012). The Tide were favored in each of those games and they enter this battle as touchdown favorites.
Alabama was also big favorites in last year’s CFP semi-final, but somehow fumbled that game away to Ohio State’s third-string quarterback.
“Last year we sort of just participated in the game,” Saban said in a pre-game press conference. “This year, we really wanted to make a statement and do something special.”
Considering how good Alabama’s front-seven is, their 38-0 rout of Michigan State in the semis wasn’t overly shocking. The Tide have the third-best total defense in the NCAA (first against the run and 31st against the pass). They’re scoring defense was also third in the nation at just 14.4 points against per game.
However, they will have to deal with arguably the best quarterback in the country in Deshaun Watson. The Heisman finalist put up 3,512 passing yards and 31 touchdowns this season, and added another 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Watson’s dual-threat abilities were on full display in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma; he put up 187 yards and one touchdown through the air, plus another 150 yards and two TDs on the ground. The virtuoso performance led the Tigers to a 37-17 win.
“As a unit,” Watson explained, “it’s tough to beat us when we’re all on the same page and have each other’s back.”
And Nick Saban agreed. Or kind of.
“Clemson is a great team, undefeated, a great program,” Saban said. “I’m sure our guys will be motivated, trying to do the best they can to play the best they can in the game. It’s a great opportunity for them. I’m proud as hell of them to get where they are.”
Clemson will have their own set of issues on defense trying to stop running back Derrick Henry. The back, who comfortably edged Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffery in Heisman voting, racked up 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season. He only had 75 yards against the Spartans, but added another two touchdowns.
“Everything starts with the running game for them,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said of Alabama to the Independent Mail. “If you don’t stop the run, you have zero chance. Absolutely zero.”
The trends marginally favor Alabama. Clemson was only even against the spread this year (7-7); the Tide were 8-6 ATS, overall, and are 5-2 ATS in their last seven bowl games.
Given the winning pedigree on the Alabama sideline, expect Saban to have his Tide ready to roll.
Pick: Alabama -7.
(Photo credit: Jim Ferguson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)