CLEMSON TIGERS (13-1)
vs ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (14-0)
Raymond James Stadium Ė Tampa Bay, FL
Kickoff: Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama -6.5, Total: 51
Itís a rematch of one of the greatest games in college football history.
For the second season in a row, the #2 Clemson Tigers made short work of their first College Football Playoff opponent in the national semifinals, vanquishing Ohio State 31-0 (CLEM +1) to advance to Mondayís National Championship. Things got off to an inauspicious start for the Tigers, as two-time Heisman runner-up QB Deshaun Watson threw an interception on his very first pass of the game. After an OSU missed field goal, though, Clemson successfully kicked one to go up 3-0. After yet another missed Buckeyes field goal on their next possession, the Tigers scored their first touchdown of the game on a 10-play, 70-yard drive. They went on to dominate the rest of the night, racking up 470 yards of offense and limiting OSU to an airtight 215 yards. Now, Clemson gets a rematch of last yearís National Championship, an instant classic that they lost 45-40 to Alabama (CLEM +6.5). The #1 Crimson Tide enter this yearís showdown having slaughtered their semifinal opponent in similar fashion with a 24-7 win over Washington (BAMA -13). The Huskies actually took the lead with a 64-yard drive just minutes into the game, but that alone accounted for nearly a third of their offense on the day. The Tide led 17-7 by halftime and finished the game having outgained Washington 326 yards to 194, with three forced turnovers and none committed. In the last five seasons, favorites of 3.5 to 10 points that allowed 100 rushing yards or fewer in their last game (BAMA) are 22-48 ATS in games where both teams are outrushing opponents by at least 50 yards per game on the season. In the same timeframe, teams that have allowed no more than 17 points in three straight games (BAMA) are 45-16 Under against the total against teams coming off of a win of at least 21 points.
Watsonís play (67.3 CMP%, 4,173 yards, 38 TDs, 17 INTs) in the semifinal was characteristic of his play all season: Somewhat error-ridden, but thrilling and ultimately among the best in the sport. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 259 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, both of which he threw in the first half. He also rushed for 57 yards, his third best rushing day of the season, and punched in two touchdowns on the ground. He often plays his best in big gamesófor reference look at his performances against Louisville and Virginia Tech this year and, of course, his iconic game against Bama last year: He completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, and also for 73 yards against the nationís best defense. This season, he ranks first among ACC quarterbacks in passing yards, first in touchdown passes and fourth in passer rating (151.8). He could very well be the first quarterback chosen in Aprilís NFL Draft, and yet another huge night on a national stage could boost his stock significantly. One guy who could make the difference between a Clemson loss last year and a win this year is WR Mike Williams (90 catches, 1,267 yards, 10 TDs). The six-foot-three, 225-pound junior missed all of last season with an injury, and he immediately emerged as one of the nationís best receivers upon his return this year. He is second in the conference in receiving yards and touchdown catches, and he had six catches for 96 yards against Ohio State. Watson also has one of the nationís best tight ends at his disposal in Jordan Leggett (39 catches, 641 yards, 7 TDs), and WRs Deon Cain (33 catches, 630 yards, 9 TDs), Artavis Scott (73 catches, 608 yards, 5 TDs) and Ray-Ray McCloud (49 catches, 472 yards, 2 TDs). One guy to keep an eye on is WR Hunter Renfrow (34 catches, 403 yards, 4 TDs), who came out of nowhere to catch seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Joining Watson in the backfield is the ACCís sixth-leading rusher, RB Wayne Gallman (214 carries, 1,087 yards, 16 TDs). He had a season-low 45 rushing yards in the title game last year, but had a near-season high with 61 receiving yards, a number he has not reached since. The Tigers defense is ninth in the country with 314 yards allowed per game and 12th with 18.4 points allowed per game. DT Carlos Watkins, LB Ben Boulware, CB Cordrea Tankersley and S Jadar Johnson were all First Team All-ACC selections this season. Boulware was named the conferenceís Defensive Player of the Year.
As a true freshman, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts (64.7 CMP%, 2,649 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs; 181 carries, 891 yards, 12 TDs) has shown remarkable poise in guiding the nationís lone undefeated and most talented team. He is fourth in the SEC in passer rating (143.6), second in completion percentage and fourth in touchdown passes. He is also second among conference quarterbacks in rushing yards. However, he probably could not have had less of an impact in the semifinal against Washington. Hurts completed 7 of 14 passes for 57 yards, and he rushed 19 times for 50 yards. He was sacked three times, too. The Tide punted on eight of its 13 possessions. While he undeniably struggled, his underwhelming statistical line can be partly attributed to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffinís game plan, which accounted for a Washington offense that was overwhelmed by the Bama defense. It is unclear how Kiffinís departure from the program this week will affect the offensive strategy for the Tide, but it is said that, unlike head coach Nick Saban, Hurts got along quite well with Kiffin. For a young quarterback, that established trust with a coordinator plays a big role. Donít be surprised if Alabamaís play-calling emphasizes the running game, as it did against Washington. RB Bo Scarbrough (109 carries, 719 yards, 9 TDs) ran over the Huskies to the tune of 180 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. His 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter cemented the win, and also clearly displayed the toll that Alabama inflicts on opposing defenses by making them spend so much time on the field. Depending on what their coaching staff sees in Clemsonís defense, RB Damien Harris (140 carries, 1,016 yards, 2 TDs) is just as likely as Scarbrough to be the teamís lead back on Monday night. He only carried the ball nine times for 30 yards against Washington, but he led the team in rushing this season. If Hurts does throw the ball more often than he did last weekend, which he probably will, he has plenty of weapons to throw to. WRs ArDarius Stewart (52 catches, 852 yards, 8 TDs) and Calvin Ridley (67 catches, 733 yards, 7 TDs) are as good of playmakers out wide as a passer could ask for, although Stewart was catchless against UW and Ridley had one grab for six yards. Like Renfrow for Clemson, the x-factor for Alabama is TE O.J. Howard (41 catches, 489 yards, 2 TDs). While his numbers donít necessarily reflect it, he is one of the most talented tight ends in the country. More importantly, he put the offense on his back in last yearís National Championship, taking five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. It should come as no surprise that the Tide have both the nationís best total defense (248 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (11.8 points allowed per game). DT Jonathan Allen was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. LB Reuben Foster and CB Minkah Fitzpatrick joined him as First Team All-SEC honorees.