#1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs #2 Clemson Tigers: National Championship Game Preview, Prediction

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The #1 Alabama Crimson Tide and #2 Clemson Tigers will meet in the national championship game for the third time in four years —and it seriously has me wondering whether or not the north actually won the Civil War.

Seriously though, right now it seems that a couple programs in the southeastern part of the country play a completely different sport that is far above the rest of college football and below the NFL. And we just don’t know when and how the rest of the country will find a way to close the gap.

Series notes from the college football playoff era:

Dabo Swinney’s program beat Alabama for the 2016 national title, but lost to them in the 2015 national championship and 2017 Sugar Bowl semifinal. This will be the fourth time they have met in the five years of the playoff. They have combined for nine (Bama five, Clemson four) of the 20 playoff berths that have been earned, so that’s almost half!

In taking a look at the aggregate statistics from the ’15 and ’16 title games, you’ll see: 43 players on the respective rosters who were drafted into the NFL (hence our 2019 NFL mock draft is loaded with Clemson and Alabama players), seven lead changes, three ties, a point differential of Alabama +1 and 45% of the points being scored in the fourth quarter.

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Clemson Tigers vs Alabama Crimson Tide National Championship Game FYIs

Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 7, 7:10 pm CST, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California, ESPN

SPREAD:  Clemson Tigers +6 (over/under 59.5)

Stats that matter: CU is 38-0 since 2015 in games where they score first, so remember that Monday night. Since the 2014 Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State, Bama is 26-0 when scoring a TD on their opening drive. Alabama is 105-1 under Nick Saban in games where they acquire a 21 point lead. The winner of this game will become the first team to achieve 15 victories in a season since Penn in 1897.

Quirky fact: If you’re familiar at all with the world of pet Instagram accounts, then perhaps you know all about Tongue Out Tuesday and Whisker Wednesday. Swinney has a football cheesy cliche version of this, as he ascribes proper titles for his practice sessions each week: Mental Monday, TANOGA (Takeaways No Giveaways) Tuesday, Working Man Wednesday and Team Thursday.

Clemson Tigers Preview:

The Tigers headed into the Cotton Bowl semifinal fifth nationally in total offense (529.8 yards per game) and scoring offense (45.4 points per game. Against #3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday they rolled up 538 yards of total offense and put 30 points.

Make no mistake about it though, they could have produced an even more lopsided score in the semifinal had they not taken their foot off the gas pedal a bit in the second half. The Tigers are led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a Mitch Kramer from “Dazed and Confused”/Sunshine from “Remember the Titans” doppelganger who is a true freshman, but does not play like it.

Lawrence, who has tossed 27 touchdowns against just four interceptions, was 27-39 passing for 309 against the Irish in north Texas.

On the ground, back Travis Etienne is something really special, as he came into the game ranking fifth nationally with 1,463 rushing yards on the regular season. He posted 109 against Notre Dame, largely on the strength of a 62-yard sprint to the end zone that he broke off in the second half.

Other key players to watch in this unit are receivers Hunter Renfrow, Amari Rodgers, Justin Ross and Tee Higgins; as well as All-American OT  Mitch Hyatt.

When it comes to Renfrow, well he’s been at Clemson forever, or at least it feels like it.

See the tweets below:

This is the headliner unit of either team in this game, as the Tigers came into the thrashing of ND tied for second nationally in scoring defense (13.7 points per game), fourth in total defense (276.7 yards per game), third in rushing defense (92.9 yards per game) and third in sacks (46).

The Fighting Irish managed just 248 yards of total offense, only 88 on the ground.

Clemson sacked QB Ian Book six times. So overall, the Clemson Tigers actually improved their numbers across the board.

clemson tigers

The strongest position group in this game, and maybe anywhere in the entire nation, is the Clemson DL. Three of the four starters (DE Clelin Ferrell, DTs Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins) are very strong first round prospects.

The other end, Austin Bryant, isn’t very far behind. When you add in cornerback Trayvon Mullen  you could conceivably see five Clemson defenders taken in the first 50-60 overall draft picks made this April.

It is not yet clear yet whether Lawrence, one of three Clemson players who failed a drug test ahead of the semifinal, is going to miss this game due to suspension or not. He’s a 340 pound disruptive monster who makes an elite unit even more tougher to defend.

alabama cheerleaders

Alabama Crimson Tide Preview (14-0):

ESPN should really rename College Gameday the “Three Hour Native Advertisement Variety Show that Focuses Mostly on Alabama, the Rest of the SEC and Sometimes Clemson.”

If only the SEC could swap out Vanderbilt and South Carolina with Clemson and Ohio State, then ESPN would have exactly what they want right now. 

Last weekend, we had two semifinal games and four teams playing, but in the eyes of ESPN there was pretty much only Saban. Thus you probably already know plenty about Bama.

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Find someone who loves as much as ESPN loves promoting the playoff and fawning over Saban. You already know a lot about Damien Harris, Jerry Jeudy and Tua Tagovailoa. We’ve already been banged over the head with information about Tua’s ankle, but how much coverage is there for Jonah Williams, OT and Outland Trophy finalist?

Looking at what Bama has done this season, then focusing on Williams in particular, his NFL draft stock is really soaring right now.

Jonah has started every game I think since he’s been there with us, and he’s a bright guy and really pays attention to detail,” said Saban at the playoff press conference, “and it shows in his play because he’s a very, very consistent performer.”

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Williams didn’t claim the trophy, which goes to the nation’s best interior lineman, but a teammate with the same last name did.

DT Quinnen Williams could join Jonah in being top ten overall draft picks this April

“Q probably has made as much progress as any player in our program because of his work ethic and the things that he’s done to try to improve himself,” said Saban.

“He was an undersized guy that worked hard to get bigger and stronger. Always was a good athlete and had good quickness.”

Also keep an eye on DL Raekwon Davis, a versatile blue-chipper that will be rated very high on most NFL team’s lists this draft season.

clemson tigers

Prediction: Clemson 35, Alabama 28

The #1 seed has never won the college football playoff, and we’re saying the trend continues by picking a massive upset here.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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