As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
Monday, January 9th
8:30: Clemson vs. Alabama (College Football Playoff Championship Game @ Tampa, FL; ESPN): I looked over the post I made for this matchup last year and, well, most of it still applies. So let’s break this down by unit.
The place to start is the unit that’s been in the news for most of the past week: the Alabama offense. Coordinated by Lane Kiffin for most of the past three years, culminating with this season’s relatively wide-open offense headed up by a mobile freshman quarterback. This is not the Alabama blueprint we’ve come to be familiar with. However, Alabama has yet to face a defensive line the quality of Clemson’s, except maybe for LSU. The final score in that game? 10-0. There’s also the reason they’ve been in the news: Lane Kiffin by all accounts wanted to continue to coach Alabama in the playoffs before heading off to his new gig, but was forced out. Subsequently, the Tide promoted one of their video room guys, former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, to offensive coordinator. Since he wasn’t a coach, he wasn’t on the sidelines on gamedays and (was supposed to have) had little contact with the players at all. It’s easy to speculate on the impact this will have, but that’s all I’d be doing. So I’ll just stick to figuring it’ll make some difference either way.
The Clemson offense, meanwhile, returned Deshaun Watson and virtually all their skill players from last year’s team. While at times lacking focus this season, they responded emphatically when it mattered, as Ohio State found out last week. Again, the chess match in this game is the Clemson offense versus the Alabama defense.
The Tide defense is practically legendary at this point. There simply isn’t a better defense in college football. But if there’s anyone that’s not scared of these guys, it’s Clemson. They put up 40 last year and nearly won the game. Will Saban and go be prepared to counter them this year? How will they respond to things Clemson hasn’t done before? We saw how that went for Ohio State last week.
The Clemson defense isn’t as well know, but they’re almost as good, especially on the defense line. They lived in the Ohio State backfield most of last week. I figured the Buckeyes had a giid chance in that game because they’d have the athletes to do what most ACC offensive lines couldn’t, which is block them. I was dead wrong. Ohio State looked confused and disoriented most of the night along the line, which made the Buckeye offense dead in the water. The question is, can I talk myself into thinking the Alabama offensive line can block them? I’m not sure.
For all the hand-wringing about the playoffs going into this game, it definitely feels like we got the best two teams in one place. Few other teams this season were as dominant on both sides of the ball. And from watching the games last week and thinking about it for the past week, I have talked myself into a slight Clemson upset. They’ve got plenty of experience, and they’re going to be motivated to take care of business this year.
Previous meetings: Obviously, the most recent meeting between these two was in last year’s game, which Alabama won 45-40. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that still means they haven’t beaten Alabama since October 25, 1905 and they’re 3-13 against the Tide all time.
Last bowl game: Technically, their previous round matchups against Ohio State and Washington, respectively. See that post for the details.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit