So if you follow us on Twitter (@SECBlog), you’ll know that when we asked the simple question “Would non-Alabama fans root for Alabama in the National Championship Game?”, only one or two out of 40 replies said: “Yes”. Other answers ranged from rooting for terrorist factions before Alabama, or going through the punishment Mel Gibson went through in Braveheart before rooting for the Crimson Tide.
Well, here’s the fact, Alabama haters: The Alabama Crimson Tide are unbeaten, and back in their second National Title game in a row. They’ve won over 20 games on the bounce and this year’s batch looks absolutely frightening. This year the Tide are again playing Clemson, and Vegas has made them a 6-1/2 point favorite, going upwards from an open of six after they comfortably smothered Washington 24-7 in the Peach Bowl.
Here are our Top 5 points.
1. Clemson offensive line vs Alabama defense.
The starting question’s normally about the stars, but actually, the biggest question is whether Clemson’s offensive line will be able to stop Alabama’s defense. If they don’t, then we might as well call this game over because DeShaun Watson’s going to be running like DeSean Jackson….to stop himself getting killed. The big deal will be whether Clemson can stop them long enough to help the team get into easier yardage situations to collect first downs – although it’s well-noted that 3rd and 4 against Alabama is like 3rd and 14 against normal defenses. Teams have converted 13% against Bama on 3rd and 4. That’s scary. Or scary good, if you’re Jeremy Pruitt. Alabama’s defense has the stars in Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster.
2. A tale of quarterbacks
Jalen Hurts is definitely an electric runner. We know that because he has 891 rushing yards and 12 TDs. He can also throw – 2620 and 21 TDs. But because he’s a freshman, you can always count on him making mistakes, and he’s done so with regularity, throwing 9 picks this season. And against Washington, he threw one awful ball that should have been picked off by Washington safety Budda Baker.
And although Deshaun Watson’s had a great season (4,173 yards, 38 TDs), he’s actually been a bit of downgrade since 2015, at times not looking the offensive dream that ripped the Tide to shreds in the 2016 Natty. And you know what’s really gotten worse? His interceptions. He’s thrown 19 INTs (as opposed to 13 in 2015), including 4 picks in the last three games (including two against Ohio State), and the four teams NOT to pick him off in 2016 were mighty South Carolina State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Boston College. And in the ‘monster games’ (Louisville, Florida State and Ohio State), he threw for at least two picks in each game. The good thing for him is that he had a defense to bail him out. If he screws up like this against Alabama, arguably you see one go back for a pick six, and Alabama’s offense probably ending costing the Tigers.
But as runner, Watson is still electric – he’s run for 581 yards and 8 TDs this year – but that’s nearly half of the season before. Was that ACC defenses adjusting or was that simply that he wanted to prep himself for the NFL as more of a pocket passer? We haven’t a clue.
3. Alabama’s running backs should show
Alabama’s running back coupling of Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough (as well as Hurts too) are downright scary. Scarborough’s averaging 6.6 per carry and has scored 9 TDs, while Harris has gone over the 1,000 yard mark himself. Scarborough’s been big in the last three games of the year, rushing for a nasty 90 yards, 91 yards and 180 yards against Auburn, Florida and Washington – all three of them very reputable rushing defenses who couldn’t deal with a man mountain hammering into them. We think Scarborough gets more of the ball than Harris against Clemson. Clemson gave up 123.1 yards per game in the regular season, and the way they reduced Ohio State to just 88 rushing yards will certaintly give them confidence. But Hurts will be a worry for Clemson – they gave up 273 yards on the ground to Lemar Jackson of Louisville, and we think Hurts – with the offensive line he has – could have over 100 yards on Monday.
On Clemson’s side, it would be foolish to run at Alabama, but Wayne Gallman will try it. Gallman had 85 yards against Ohio State and 82 against Florida State, but Alabama’s a whole other beast. This could be his worst day of the year (OK, he might outdo his 36 against Pittsburgh but still).
4. Alabama’s corners and safeties had better be ready for Clemson’s receivers.
As much as has been made of Alabama’s knack of grabbing INTs, with Minkah Fitzpatrick leading the way with 6, arguably they are going to face a different beast than they’ve faced all season long – especially with a better quarterback than they’ve faced all season long – in Clemson. Mike Williams is 6-4 and has 10 TDs, Deoin Cain is 6-2 and is fast, Hunter Renfrow has great hands, and 6-5 TE Jordan Leggett’s got great hands, as a tight end, too (although we think Leggett will spend most of his time trying to stop Watson getting killed). You can expect Watson to go long on Fitzpatrick & Co to see if he can get an advantage early on, and push him back, leaving room for Leggett and Renfro to (maybe) give Alabama problems. That said, Alabama’s linebackers have great hands, too.
5. So who’s going to win?
Alabama will stay perfect and win by 10. But it’ll be close until midway through the fourth quarter, when Alabama will pull away.