Although they aren't household names just yet, many of the top high school football players in the country will be on display at the 2016 Army All-American Bowl.
The Under Armour All-America Game featured a good portion of the top competitors in the 2016 class, although the upcoming showcase isn't exactly a consolation battle. Saturday's game includes the best quarterbacks in the nation and many skill players who will be on highlight reels throughout the next few years at the collegiate level.
If you want to watch the future stars of your favorite team or just want to get a preview of the next few years of college football, this game is a good place to start. Here is a look at everything you need to know to keep you informed about the upcoming exhibition.
When: Saturday, Jan. 9
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Top Players to Watch
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
One of the biggest stories during the week is the battle to be the top quarterback in the 2016 class. K.J. Costello has an argument, although most seem to consider this a two-man race between Jacob Eason and Shea Patterson.
Eason noted this week that the competition to be No. 1 is on his mind, although he is more concerned with the future, per Adam Gorney of Rivals.com:
I would be lying if it wasn’t something I strived for. I wouldn’t be devastated if I wasn’t and it wouldn’t destroy my life, but any competitive person wants to be No. 1.
We don’t really talk about rankings or who’s No. 1, it’s more about college and success. It would be really cool for Georgia to play Ole Miss for the SEC championship and to go head-to-head in that respect.
Per Gorney, Eason is committed to play for Georgia, while Patterson is headed to Ole Miss, meaning there could be some exciting SEC battles in the future if these players live up to expectations.
While both players have high potential, Eason represents a better physical presence at this stage in their careers. At about 6'6", he is a few inches taller than Patterson (6'2") and turns that into superior arm strength on both deep and mid-range throws. In any case, it will be interesting to see which player performs the best on the big stage in this All-Star event.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
No matter what happens to Clemson in the national championship game, the Tigers will be back for more next year with a lot of returning talent. To make things even scarier for opposing teams, they are adding top talent like Dexter Lawrence to an already-elite defense.
You can only show so much in practice, but Lawrence has certainly been a standout in the week leading up to the All-American Bowl. Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com noted Lawrence and Derrick Brown have been dominant on the defensive side of the ball:
Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports hears even higher praise from coaches in attendance:
Lawrence is a physically imposing specimen at 6'4", 327 pounds, but he also has the agility to get past opposing linemen and into the backfield with regularity. His strength will ensure he gets on the field early at Clemson, and it won't be long before he is an All-Conference performer or even better.
Considering how advanced he is compared to other high school players, you will likely hear his name called quite a bit in the exhibition game.
Isaac Nauta, TE, Undecided
It's rare to see a tight end highlighted as a top player, especially at the high school or college level, but Isaac Nauta is not an ordinary tight end. The 6'4" athlete has a chance to be a game-changer over the next few years no matter where he ends up.
Not only is Nauta an explosive athlete, but he also has soft hands that will make him a serious threat over the middle. This play down the seam will definitely beat most defenses, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports:
The tight end will announce his college decision during the Army All-American Bowl, and he is down to Michigan, Georgia and Alabama, per Sam Webb of Scout.com. As one of the top uncommitted players in the class, this moment will be just as exciting as the game itself.
Although he will disappoint plenty of fans in this moment, his play on the field will be must-see action during this showcase.
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Lopsided results have characterized the 2015-16 bowl season and national semifinals, but college football fans can at least take comfort in knowing that the biggest game of all, the 2016 College Football National Championship, indeed features the two best teams in the nation in No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama.
There's a good chance the game is as competitive as the two teams' respective resumes would suggest.
Clemson is looking to complete a 15-0 undefeated season and capture the school's first national championship since 1981. For Alabama, it's a chance at a 16th national title and fifth under head coach Nick Saban.
The stakes are high; the stage is set. All that's left is to play the game.
Here's a rundown of the viewing info and odds, followed by a look at some interesting prop bets for the game. Game odds are courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
CFP National Championship 2016: Alabama vs. Clemson
When: Monday, January 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Watch: ESPN or live stream at WatchESPN
Odds: Alabama (-6.5); over-under: 50.5
No surprise here. The player given the best odds to score the game's first touchdown is the Heisman Trophy winner. Derrick Henry tops the list, which is hardly a surprise considering he scored 25 of his team's 50 offensive touchdowns this year. He has a fine track record of getting the Crimson Tide off to a fine start. Henry has scored the first touchdown for either team in seven of 14 games this year.
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman and Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley aren't too far behind. Gallman is perhaps under-appreciated outside of Clemson thanks to sharing a backfield with star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The sophomore back has 13 touchdowns on the season and has scored in six of Clemson's last seven games.
Calvin Ridley is Alabama's top receiving threat and scored twice against Michigan State in the semifinal. Then again, he only has seven touchdowns on the entire season and will face a difficult test in Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander. It would be quite the feat if he beats Alexander for the first score of the game.
Watson is a better threat than most quarterbacks to take it upon himself to score. Equally dangerous as a passer and runner, Watson has scored a staggering eight rushing touchdowns in his last five games. If there is a run defense to shut him down, it would appear to be Alabama's. ESPN.com notes the Crimson Tide defense doesn't like to let quarterbacks run around too much:
Just as Watson’s running has hit a high gear lately, Alabama’s rush defense appears to be peaking.
The Crimson Tide held Michigan State to 29 rushing yards in the Cotton Bowl, a season low for the Spartans. It was the sixth straight opponent the Crimson Tide held to fewer than 100 rush yards, the longest active FBS streak -- by four games.
Can a running quarterback hurt Alabama? The Tide have allowed one 20-yard rush by a quarterback this season.
Then again, Watson is a rare athlete. Alabama (nor any other team) doesn't often come across quarterbacks with his speed and instincts as a ball-carrier. He's the type of player who can flummox even the stoutest of run defenses, especially with a talented back like Gallman drawing plenty of attention.
According to TeamRankings.com, Alabama's highest-scoring quarter is the second, at 10.6 points per game in this frame. Same goes for the Tigers, who have averaged 11.6 points per second quarters this season. The odds in the table above reflect this reality.
While Clemson does a pretty good job of picking up points throughout the game, it appears Alabama is a slow starter. It averages just 4.6 points per first quarter, per TeamRankings.com. For a power-running team, this seems pretty intuitive. It may take a drive or two to break down the opposing defense and let the floodgates open. Chewing the clock also comes into play.
If this game is close, the fourth quarter might be a good bet to see a bunch of points. Smaller, speedy players like Clemson's Hunter Renfrow could have a better chance of turning a short gain into a long one. Watson is dangerous in a two-minute drill against a prevent defense.
Henry loves to wear teams down. If he doesn't score early, he's a good bet to finish drives late. Alabama center Ryan Kelly told Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh why it's so hard for defenses to contain Henry:
He’s got the endurance. I mean, the guy can run for days. Defensive guys, when we start going fast in the third and fourth quarter, them getting off the ground, running back there and trying to get lined up, then you’ve got Derrick Henry running at you and you have to tackle him, do it all over again, that kind of wears down defenders.
I can’t [speak] for them, but a guy like his stature, his size, his speed, I wouldn’t want to do that every time. It would suck.
Apparently, the oddsmakers feel this game has a better chance of starting off with a touchdown than a field goal. In 55 red-zone trips, Clemson scored 33 touchdowns and 16 field goals; it has little trouble finishing off drives. Alabama also put up far more touchdowns than field goals when it got close to paydirt, with 33 touchdowns and 15 field goals in 59 red-zone trips.
This is to say nothing of the several long touchdowns Henry ripped off this year, or the big plays in the passing game engineered by Watson and Alabama QB Jake Coker.
Clemson's scoring ability is sound, but this is Alabama's defense we're talking about. Even if Watson's mobility proves troublesome, Alabama can clamp down in the red zone, where the field is shorter and there's less room to maneuver.
An early Clemson drive stalling out because the likes of Alabama linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster can hunt down Watson and Gallman without worrying about leaving swaths of open grass behind them seems like a distinct possibility.
On the flip side, Henry driving into the teeth of Clemson's excellent defensive front might take some time to set up the passing game. Jake Coker faces a strong pass rush and a strong cornerback duo in Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley.
Barring a big downfield play early on, Alabama's passing game might only take off once Henry and (perhaps) a dash of Kenyan Drake have established the run and forced Clemson to draw in its defense.
These two teams have little trouble finishing drives, but national-title jitters and strong defensive play might mean field goals come first in this contest.
Prop bets are courtesy of Oddschecker.com and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
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