Here we go again. It’s Alabama and Clemson for the fourth time overall and the third time for the National Championship. Alabama has a 2-1 lead in the College Football Playoff series, winning it in the title game after the 2015 season, losing in the title game after 2016 and winning again in the first round last year. This is the matchup everyone has expected since opening day last September. Though it’s probably not the matchup everyone wanted.
Both teams have had close calls on the way to Santa Clara. Clemson scraped by Syracuse at home and struggled against Texas A&M on the road (Bama easily beat A&M in Tuscaloosa. Alabama trailed Georgia until late in the 4th in the SEC Championship game. But both teams have blown out most mere mortals.
Alabama has the best QB tandem in the country. Either current starter Tua Tagovailoa or 2017 starter Jalen Hurts can absolutely ruin Clemson’s day. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is a talent upgrade from 2017’s Kelly Bryant (who quit the team after being benched; go figure). But he is an experience and athleticism downgrade and wash, respectively. Lawrence has never seen a defense like Alabama’s and this is his first year as a starter. Lawrence is not the running threat that Bryant or his predecessor Deshaun Watson was. Both Tagovailoa and Hurts are. The game of college football can sometimes turn based on the play at the QB position and remember that Alabama doesn’t always use Tagavailoa OR Hurts.
Alabama’s offensive line has been stellar all season and they are the major reason why the QB and running corps have been so successful. Clemson has great athleticism on the defensive front, but the Tiger secondary comes up wanting. Syracuse and South Carolina had passing clinics against Clemson but neither team had defenses quite up to the task of stopping Lawrence & Co. Bama does.
Alabama’s defense has somehow consistently gotten better as the season has gone along. Early in the season, the baby-fresh secondary had receivers running open almost every play. Guys were often out of position or bit on head fakes. By the time Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray faced the Tide, guys were better at strategy, technique and physicality. True, Patrick Surtain was targeted successfully on one drive by Oklahoma.
Clemson’s experienced offensive line will face the meanest, most athletic and deepest defensive front it has seen all year. They haven’t seen anything like it since last year’s strangulation by Bama. Alabama’s offensive front will see a bunch that looks a lot like LSU’s. And Mississippi State’s. And Auburn’s. And Georgia’s.
While college football often turns on QB play, the outcome is usually determined by which team has big uglies that are better than the other guy’s big uglies. Alabama has a slight edge in the DL-OL match, and by far the better QB team.
Alabama 38, Clemson 28
Addendum: The fourth Alabama – Clemson matchup in four years is being used by ESPN’s selected mouthpieces as another reason why we need an expanded playoff field. They used the snub of Georgia and Ohio State in the same fashion.
More football games in the postseason is not good for college football. It lessens the importance of the regular season and it is that which sets football apart from every other collegiate sport. The tradition, pageantry and rivalries that make the regular season so important to so many fans and alumni must always be a primary consideration. A completely secondary consideration is more money for conferences, conference executives and ESPN.
As for the fans, we are good with four and no more.