By Edwin Stanton
This season the Crimson Tide has scored on 104 of its 180 possessions and lost out on five scoring opportunities (missed field goals). Alabama averages a score on more than half its possessions. With players like Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Josh Jacobs on the field it’s easy to see why.
Clemson has a dangerous defense. The Tigers have the top scoring defense in the nation, giving up just 12.9 points per game. It’s a little less dangerous with suspended defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, but guys like Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and and Austin Bryant are there to pick up the slack.
Neither team can claim special teams to be a big weapon. Joseph Bulovas has missed four attempts but is 3 of 3 from 40-to-49 yards. Clemson’s Greg Huegel has missed five attempts and is 3 of 6 from the 40-to-49 range. Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle could be the difference in the return game (15.1-yard average).
Dabo Swinney has established himself as an elite coach. He’s gone toe-to-toe with Alabama’s Nick Saban and upstaged him in one title game and came close to beating him in their first title showdown for the 2015 season. Both have been through this before and, with different methods, know how to motivate their players.
The motivation in this series seems to center on the team seeking revenge. Clemson avenged its 2015 title loss to Alabama in the 2016 championship, and Alabama got revenge the following year in the semifinals. Playing with a chip on your shoulder goes a long way.
Alabama 42, Clemson 38
When you have two heavyweights going head-to-head you have to expect some big punches. The quarterbacks for both teams are two of the best in the nation, but the Crimson Tide has so many offensive weapons it’s almost unfair. Alabama lands the first big punch early and willl be left standing with another championship.
Alabama 31, Clemson 28
Another Alabama-Clemson classic is about to be in the books and it should be a fun one to watch. Both teams rolled over their semifinal opponents, but this contest will be anything but. End result: Alabama defends its title with another thriller.
Alabama 31, Clemson 20
Without knowing what the conditions will be — howling wind, divots in the turf, echoes from empty end zone seating — this game will reveal one of college football’s greatest teams ever. I think Alabama fits that description, especially if Tua Tagovailoa is dialed in like he was in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson 35, Alabama 34
This is the second time in four seasons that I’ve predicted Alabama to lose, and was wrong about the first time. This could be wrong as well, but picking Alabama wouldn’t give me any more or less confidence in my choice. It’s a great matchup between two elite teams that would win the national championship most seasons, but one of them has to lose.
Alabama 31, Clemson 26
The last national championship game against Clemson didn’t go so well for the Crimson Tide, which lost in the final seconds. Alabama gets a second chance against the Tigers and it won’t waste it.
Alabama 34, Clemson 30
Round IV will be another classic as the two programs dominating college football for the last several years battle for the national championship. Both quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, will have ups and downs against the best defenses either has faced this season. In the end, this will be Lawrence’s first time on this stage against a high-level opponent and the inexperience will be the difference.
Alabama 38, Clemson 31
With the exception of last year’s trouncing, Alabama’s recent clashes against Clemson have been closely contested battles. I expect this year’s game to be no different, with the Crimson Tide coming out on top after making a few more big plays than Clemson in the second half.
Alabama 38, Clemson 31
Per usual for Alabama-Clemson, this is going to be a really good game. Both teams have a strong offense AND a strong defense. It’ll be close, but Alabama by a touchdown. Something new, fun and exciting will decide the outcome for the Crimson Tide.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
By Edwin Stanton
Key stat: Had 63 rushing yards against Clemson in the 2017 CFP title game
Buzz: There was definite buzz last week when Hurts was lined up on the field along with Tua Tagovailoa. The versatile athlete completed a pass and caught a pass for a 9-yard gain on one drive, causing some confusion on the Oklahoma defense. When Hurts enters the game, defenses have to respect his pass and run abilities, which could be the edge Alabama needs.
Irv Smith Jr.
Position: Tight end
Key stat: Averages 46 receiving yards per game
Buzz: Everyone remembers the success tight end O.J. Howard had in two national title games against Clemson (314 total yards and three touchdowns). All eyes will be on the tight end for this year’s title game. Smith is having a banner season with 667 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s become a big target and a nice weapon to have among an already stacked offensive group.
Position: Defensive back
Key stat: Leader among UA defensive backs with three sacks
Buzz: McKinney came throught in a big way last week in the Orange Bowl with four pass breakups, which is almost half of his season total (9). That effort came against a Heisman Trophy winner. McKinney faces another big challenge with Trevor Lawrence and a bevy of talented receivers. McKinney, who is tied for second on the team with two interceptions and third on the team in tackles, will need another big effort against the Tigers.
Key stat: Is 33 of 47 passing in the red zone with 16 touchdowns
Buzz: The freshman phenom has not disappointed. Since taking over the stating job early in the season, Lawrence has wowed the nation with his abilities, passing for 209 yards a game with 27 touchdowns. With four receivers at more than 500 yards receiving, Lawrence distributes the ball evenly. At 6-6 he doesn’t go down easy, and can scramble when he has to.
Position: Wide receiver
Key stat: The No. 1 recruit out of Alabama for the class of 2018
Buzz: He’s the fourth leading receiver for Clemson, but he’s got some motivation playing against his home-state team for the championship. The Phenix City, Alabama, native came up big in last week’s Cotton Bowl, catching two touchdown passes to lead the Tigers over Notre Dame. With 847 yards and eight touchdowns and tons of speed, he will be tough for Alabama to contain.
Position: Defensive end
Key stat: Leads the team with 11.5 sacks
Buzz: The consensus first-team All-American is fifth on the list of active sack leaders in the nation with 27 and fourth on Clemson’s all-time list. Of his 49 total tackles this season, 18 are for a loss. He leads the team with three forced fumbles and has 13 quarterback hurries. Limiting the damage from Ferrell will be Alabama’s top priority.