It seems like just yesterday that I was previewing the first weekend of the college football season. Now there is only one game left. Sigh. All of the exciting weekends. All of the drama. All of the injuries, suspensions and surprise superstars have lead us to this final game Monday night between Alabama and Clemson.
For as much complaining as there is about the selection committee it is hard to argue that these are not the correct two teams for this championship game. We waited all season for Clemson to pull the infamous “Clemson” but they never did and remained the only undefeated team in FBS college football. Meanwhile, Alabama lost once to a good Ole Miss team in a game where the Tide inexplicably turned the ball over several times and the Rebels still needed the most improbable of plays to hold onto the victory.
This sets up what promises to be a spectacular championship game. Alabama dismantled Michigan State in the playoff game. Clemson battled back and forth with Oklahoma for a half but pulled away to a comfortable win in the second half. These are great football teams with balance on offense, great defense and the ability to dominate a game.
Each team has an elite player on offense. Clemson has Heisman candidate quarterback Deshaun Watson. Alabama has Heisman winner running back Derrick Henry. Either player is capable of taking over a game. They each play great defense but I would give Alabama an edge. Both teams seemed to be hitting their stride at just the right time down the stretch of the season. Is there a chance that we will really have a great championship game that comes down to the wire instead of the typical blowout? I think so.
The game could come down to coaching and that would appear to favor the Crimson Tide. I mean, Nick Saban is Nick Saban. However, as much as Dabo Swinney annoys me, it is impossible to ignore just how much he has accomplished and how solid the Tigers have been since he took the helm. Dabo has truly elevated Clemson to elite status.
So here is my prediction for this game. I expect Clemson to make some big plays on offense and to probably lead the game in the first half. If, and it is a big if, the Tigers can force Alabama to play catch-up and get away from pounding the ball on the ground Clemson could win this game. Look for Alabama to spread the offense out some early in the game with end-arounds and runs to perimeter to force Clemson’s front seven on defense to run sideline to sideline. Once the defense begins sucking wind a little, I expect Kiffen and Saban to start pounding Derrick Henry straight into the tired defenders. If the Tide is successful with this approach and the game is close going into the fourth quarter, Clemson will not be able to stop Henry and Alabama will win the game.
However, if Clemson can strike with some big plays early and dictate what Alabama must do on offense, the Tigers can effectively take Henry out of the game in the second half. In my opinion, that is the only way Clemson wins this game. If the game is a one score game either way midway through the third quarter, I believe Alabama will win yet another championship.
It should be fun to watch.