I’m running at about 53% for my bowl predictions, which means I’ll finish on the right side of 0.500 again this season. Anyway, let’s get to it.
As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
8:00: Alabama vs. Clemson (College Football Playoff National Championship @ Santa Clara, CA; ESPN): Well, here we go again. And the thing is, we were all right. If you’d asked anyone in the know what the most likely national championship matchup was going to be this season, they probably would’ve said “Clemson and Alabama, and maybe Georgia?” And the thing is, this is going to be close. These teams are obviously the class of college football this year, as between the two of them they have defeated all major challengers.
As I type this on the plane back to the Bay Area (where, for reasons that have nothing to do with college football, this game is being held; also, I live there), I can’t say I really have a very good idea of who will win this one. Both teams have essentially the same strengths and weaknesses. Bama’s offense at peak efficiency is perhaps slightly more dynamic since Tua can run and pass, but Trevor Lawrence is so good for Clemson it doesn’t matter. That said, both defense are suffocating. Clemson got up on Notre Dame because all of their defensive backfield was hurt or otherwise on the bench. While secondaries are not typically where Nick Saban’s defenses make their hay, the Tide will have no such issues with their two-deep. Speaking of depth, though, Clemson’s defensive line play remains the class of college football. Even without Dexter Lawrence, it was just “next man up” and they absolutely suffocated Notre Dame’s offense for four quarters.
I don’t think last season’s semi-final loss will have any actual bearing on this game for Clemson. Also, their offense is just plain better than it was last year, and I think they’ll be able to run (well, let’s be honest, both teams are going to pass a lot) with Alabama and pull out a win in the end.
S&P+ line: Alabama by 1
Vegas line: Alabama by 6.5
Watchability tier: IV
Previous meetings: These teams have now met 18 times. Despite what it feels like, only three of these meetings took place in the last five years. The series dates to a 35-0 Clemson win 1900. They would go on to record wins in 1904 and 1905, before embarking on a 17 game losing streak with meetings mostly in the 30’s and 60’s. They met in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship in 2016, where Alabama won 45-40. In 2017, Clemson finally broke the streak and won 35-31. Last season, they met in the semi-finals. Clemson lost the Sugar Bowl 24-6.
Last bowl game: On December 29, Alabama defeated Oklahoma 45-34, and Clemson dominated Notre Dame 30-3.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit