NCAA Football News
Love it or hate it, the College Football Playoff did its job and gave the world a showdown between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Prestigious histories aside, both programs have something to prove. Clemson marched to historic numbers and would love to reel in a 15-0 mark and a national title after blowing through Oklahoma in the semifinal, 37-17, but it has its own recent history to overcome.
Meanwhile, Alabama already put last year's sloppy debut in the CFP behind it by becoming the only program to make a return appearance, pasting Michigan State in a 38-0 laugher in the semifinal. But the winds of change and transition once again encircle the team.
Let's take a look at the integral details surrounding this heavyweight showdown.
When: Monday, Jan. 11, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Spread: Alabama (-6.5)
Team Injury Reports
Injury reports courtesy of USA Today.
The expectations around Clemson entering the season were, well, interesting.
After all, over the past few years, the Tigers helped invent the word "Clemsoning," loosely defined as coming up short in a big opportunity. Folks looked for it when the team lined up against then-No. 6 Notre Dame in October. Nope. Clemson won, 24-22. Same against then-No. 16 Florida State in November, a 23-13 win. Ditto for December's encounter with then-No. 10 North Carolina, a 45-37 win.
Fine, most figured, there was still the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, the fourth-ranked team. There, sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson accounted for two total scores while lead back Wayne Gallman posted two of his own and the Clemson defense posted two interceptions in the rout.
So much for the funny word that's chased the program for years. Now Clemson's the most dangerous No. 1 underdog around.
“I’m glad we’re going against the best,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said, according to ESPN.com's David M. Hale. “Well, what everybody says is the best team in college football. Technically we’re ranked No. 1.”
It's a fitting role for Clemson. Watson completed 68.2 percent of his passes this year with 31 scores and added another 12 on the ground. Gallman had 1,482 yards and 12 scores of his own on the ground. The tandem helped keep the narrative at arm's length to make it this far.
Clemson has to do it once more, though this time against the best defensive line in the nation and a Nick Saban-led team littered with future NFL talent. It's not an easy task by any means, but the vibes coming out of Death Valley hint the Tigers wouldn't have it any other way.
Past blemishes chase the Crimson Tide, too.
It's a tad different for Saban's powerhouse, though. The program's elite status means Alabama has to worry more about a letdown than the opposition—at least in most games.
Last year still haunts the Crimson Tide, whose crop of NFL-bound talent seemed to look forward to waltzing to the podium instead of focusing on Ohio State in what turned into a 42-35 upset in the semifinal.
So far, it seems Saban's players have put the gaffe behind them. In the 38-0 whipping of the Spartans, Jake Coker tossed two touchdowns, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry added two on the ground and the Alabama defense picked off supposed future first-round pick Connor Cook twice.
Monday isn't most games, though.
Alabama's taken care of its fair share of top-ranked opponents, besting Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU and Michigan State teams ranked in the top 10. But the Crimson Tide really haven't encountered an attack as deadly as Clemson's.
Alabama has made a point of adapting its defensive system to such attacks over the years, of course, as Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and even Chad Kelly helped force the changes.
"The diversity in the kind of players that we have helps us against the kind of offenses we see now," Saban said, according to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "We can play some situational defense with some of those guys."
The question, though, is whether the changes are enough. So far, so good, but Alabama's going to need to use Henry in a run-heavy approach and exploit its newfound defensive speed—every ounce of it—to win the title.
Clemson's defense might play a bigger role in this game than the highly publicized Alabama unit.
If the Tigers cannot slow Henry, who has of 2,061 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns alongside his individual hardware, Watson and Gallman might have a hard time getting on the field at all. This is the same Clemson defense that struggled to contain the North Carolina (142 rushing yards, 4.4 average, two touchdowns) and South Carolina (181 yards, 4.8 average, one score) rushing attacks down the stretch.
The Crimson Tide will control the pace in this one. Watson's going to do some damage, but scoreless drives in the Orange Bowl will lead to issues against a stout Alabama defense.
Look for the Crimson Tide to buckle down with something to prove, keeping the Tigers mostly in check and grinding this one out.
Prediction: Alabama 35, Clemson 30
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