Let’s start with this – this should be a great game.
Alabama is a 6 1/2-point favorite in Monday’s College Football National Championship game, but Clemson has looked every bit the Tide’s equal of late. One of the country’s best offenses against one of its best defenses should make for another very entertaining title game.
Here are four reasons Alabama will come out on top again:
Because they always do
Clemson is Almost There, but the step from Almost There to There is a big one. Alabama has won four of the past seven national championships. The Crimson Tide knows exactly how to do this, and when two teams are as evenly matched as the Tide and Tigers seem to be this year, that can be enough of an advantage. Clemson outplayed Alabama last year in many areas of the game, but blinked at crucial moments. The Tide doesn’t blink much.
The unenviable decision that Clemson’s offense forces upon most defensive coordinators is this: Use your safeties to support the run and keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and the Tigers’ ground game in check, and then leave Mike Williams, etc. in a lot of single coverage OR keep your safeties back to protect the deep field and watch Watson and Wayne Gallman and friends run all over you. Alabama might not have to make that choice. The Crimson Tide’s front seven is the best in college football, and Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense (62 yards per game). Opponents are averaging 2.0 yards per carry against Alabama. The next-best rushing defense in the country (Western Kentucky) allowed 2.98 yards per carry, so the Tide’s rushing defense is 30 percent better than the second-best running defense in the country.
There’s a belief that Alabama’s juggling of offensive coordinators – ousting Lane Kiffin and inserting Steve Sarkisian after the semifinal game – can only hurt the Crimson Tide and true freshman Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, but it’s not like Hurts could play much worse than he did against Washington. In that game, he was 7 of 14 for 57 yards and had a quarterback rating of 13.8. Alabama doesn’t win because Hurts is great. Alabama wins because its collective talent steamrolls opponents. Sarkisian is a very good offensive play caller, and his late addition to the lineup will make for some preparation headaches for Clemson and defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Jonathan Allen… and Ryan Anderson… and Tim Williams…
Alabama’s defense will have four players on the field Monday who are expected to be first round NFL Draft picks in a few months, and the Crimson Tide makes more plays on defense than any team in the country. Alabama’s defense has scored 11 touchdowns this season, which is more than half as many as Connecticut’s offense (20). Allen, Anderson and Williams were in the top six in the SEC in tackles-for-loss this season (and Reuben Foster, maybe their best defender, was 12th). The Crimson Tide was sixth in the nation in tackles-for-loss as a team. (Clemson was second.) Alabama keeps the pressure coming and forces opponents into mistakes.