Alabama has played for a national title three times under Nick Saban and is 3-0 with all three wins by double digits, but ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says Clemson is the biggest challenge for Saban.
“Looking back at it I would say absolutely,” Herbstreit said on a teleconference Thursday. “As good as Alabama has looked since the Ole Miss game, I would say going in that this is their greatest challenge in a championship game.”
Herbstreit said with Clemson being 14-0 the Tigers are very confident but can still play the disrespect card since they are underdogs to Alabama. That, along with the play of star quarterback Deshaun Watson, makes Clemson a tough team to beat.
“The whole X factor in this entire matchup is Deshaun Watson and the system that they run,” Herbstreit said. “It’s a spread, tempo system that’s been very difficult for Alabama to defend over the years, and there’s a quarterback who has a lethal weapon with his ability to run and throw. Not to mention that he is as calm and as poised as any quarterback that I’ve seen in a long time.”
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In order for Watson to have running room, Clemson’s offensive line will have to play well against a talented and deep group of defensive linemen from Alabama.
The Crimson Tide leads the country in sacks with 50, but the Tigers have allowed only 16.
“Everybody in the world that’s watched Alabama football would tell you this is probably Nick Saban’s best front seven that he’s had because of the depth and versatility of his front,” Herbstreit said.
“Right now they are about as tough to move the ball on as any defense I can remember. But the last time a team moved the football it was Ole Miss, and Ole Miss runs the exact offensive system that Clemson runs. We’re going to see how much Alabama has really improved against this kind of system with Deshaun Watson spreading them out.”