Alabama has won 16 consecutive football games against ranked opponents.
I don’t think Clemson becomes victim No. 17. It’s a close call, but I see the Tigers upsetting the undefeated Crimson Tide in the national championship game.
This almost happened a year ago, when Clemson lost the title game to Alabama 45-40. It took a successful onside kick by the Crimson Tide to shift momentum.
Clemson’s veteran players don’t consider themselves lucky to have been in that game. There is a profound sense of regret, particularly in the defensive unit, that the Tigers could post 40 points on Alabama’s defense and not win.
That has created a hunger among the seniors who have policed this team all season. Dabo Swinney says he’s never had an easier team to coach. That’s important, because some of the Tigers headed to the NFL last season seemed mentally out the door before the title game began.
The prerequisite for beating Alabama is an abundance of offensive playmakers. Clemson is stacked. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is on record as saying Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is the most dynamic quarterback college football has seen since Carolina Panther Cam Newton played for Auburn.
Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was asked Saturday how best to prepare for Watson’s combination of big arm, passing accuracy and quick feet. Pruitt said there is no ideal way to prepare for Watson because no one else in college football matches Watson’s performance inside or outside the pocket.
That’s not to say this will be easy. Three musts for Clemson to win:
Minimize, if not eliminate, turnovers: Alabama has an amazing 15 non-offensive touchdowns this season. The Tigers have committed 26 turnovers this season. It’s essential to change that trend in this game, particularly for Watson, who has been intercepted 17 times.
Share the ball: Wide receiver Mike Williams has been exceptional, with 90 receptions for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns. Alabama is going to do what it takes to minimize Williams’ impact. Watson needs not to lock on Williams, but to spread his targets among Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Jordan Leggett.
Bottle up Alabama’s running game: Running back Bo Scarbrough is as powerful as last season’s version, Derrick Henry, but faster and quicker. Clemson has a tough and deep defensive front, and it has to play Alabama’s offensive line to at least a draw.
If all that happens, and it’s no given it will: Clemson 31, Alabama 28.