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Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers Point Spread - Pick

Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Clemson Tigers (12-1 SU, 8-4-1 ATS)
Allstate Sugar Bowl – CFP Semifinal
Date/Time: Monday, January 1, 2018 at 8:45PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: ALA -2.5/CLEM +2.5
Over/Under Total: 47

The Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Clemson Tigers on January 1 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which is also the College Football Playoff Semifinal. Alabama is ranked 4th and was able to make the CFP despite losing their last game to Auburn. The Tide now looks to make the most of a favorable outcome. The top-ranked Clemson Tigers have won 6 in a row since a weird upset loss to Syracuse. Their 38-3 win over Miami in their last game showed a team that looks ready to defend its CFP championship from last season. Alabama last played on November 25, with Clemson's last game coming on December 2, giving both teams a lot of rest before this heavyweight matchup.

Clemson and Alabama have a pretty heavy-duty recent history, having met in the last two College Football Playoff final games. Last season was a memorable final, when Clemson scored three touchdowns in the final quarter, including one with a second left to notch the 35-31 win. The previous season, 'Bama won the CFP final with a 45-40 win over Clemson. So, these teams are pretty familiar with each other when the stakes are enormous and the games have been very competitive.

Normally when a team is this far into the season, you have a good idea of where they stand, especially a team with as much as exposure as Alabama. But it's been a strange season for the Tide. They certainly did their part in an 11-0 start. But none of the opponents that they beat really had a big season and as we now know, the Tide fell flat in their only game against a really good team, when Auburn beat them 26-14 in their first game. On one hand, we see a lot of things that you want to see from a typically-top Alabama team. It's just that it hasn't been applied at the highest levels of the sport. Sure, they beat good teams like LSU and Mississippi State, but their last game was a real letdown. Looking for their only really big win of the season, they couldn't get it done. Alabama is unquestionably a quality football team, but those feeling there might be some smoke-and-mirrors to Alabama's 2017 season might have a point, as well.

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The Alabama offense averages 39.1 points a game. Their overall performance on this side of the ball against Auburn was fairly ordinary and they'll have to find some answers. They do have the time and coaching to put this off-time to good use. One should expect the Alabama offense to look better than they did in their last outing. QB Jalen Hurts is a real weapon, with over 2000 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and just one pick. With 768 yards and 8 touchdowns, he's a valuable contributor to a diverse and high-octane run-game. Damien Harris leads all rushers with 906 yards and 11 touchdowns, while getting a big boost from Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris, and Joshua Jacobs. Aerially, they are subdued in spots, with Calvin Ridley the only ball-catcher with big numbers with 896 yards receiving. They also get help from Cam Sims, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs, III., who has 5 TD receptions with only 7 total catches.

As is usually the case with a good Alabama team, the defense is a big part of the winning equation. No team allowed fewer points this season than the Crimson Tide. They offer great balance, rigid against the pass and run, with a bevy of future NFL players on this side of the ball. Their last game, while not embarrassing on any level, was their least-effective game of the season. More or less, Auburn was able to do what they do well and while it would've taken a huge defensive showing to win that game. They didn't look as good as they had looked in the season, making some wonder if this defense translates as well against better teams. They can rush the passer with Raekwon Davis up-front and LB Rashaan Evans. They have a playmaking secondary with S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Levi Wallace, Anthony Averett, and others. LB Mack Wilson has three picks this season. There is a lot of talent on this side of the ball and they'll need to step up big if they want to get the CFP final again this season.

For a defending champion, a lot of people were taken by surprise by Clemson's form this season. Despite losing Deshaun Watson and other key personnel, they were able to maintain a high level. The loss to Syracuse was certainly bizarre. But they bounced back with a lot of vigor. At the end of the day, they scored wins over Auburn, Virginia Tech, and Miami, flexing a tremendous defense, with a great performance this season from QB Kelly Bryant, who might not be Watson, but is a reasonably-good facsimile of his decorated predecessor. Against a Miami team that was looking to win its way back into the CFP top-four, they were tremendous. A playmaking and stout defense was dominant, with Bryant making a lot of things happen offensively with his large cast of supporting talent, some of whom were a big part of Clemson's title-winning effort against Alabama last season.

Clemson's offense can't be understood with a typical statistical analysis. At face value, they're not as impressive as they truly are. They sometimes played to the level of their opposition this season at times. But when those critical moments have come up, this side of the ball has responded well more often than not. Bryant is not the passer Watson was, but he makes pretty good use of his weapons, receivers like Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow, Ray Ray McCloud, and speedy Tee Higgins. They can run the ball well, with Bryant chipping in with 11 rushing touchdowns and 646 rushing yards. Tavien Feaster added a lot of production, while freshman Travis Etienne had 744 yards and 13 touchdowns. They've been good for an average of over 35 points a game.

Only Alabama has allowed fewer points than the Clemson Tigers' defense this season. And like Alabama, they offer a lot of balance. Since losing to Syracuse, they've been really rigid against some pretty good offenses, giving up 10 to Georgia Tech, 14 to FSU, 10 to South Carolina, and just three points to a 10-win Miami team. They have a lot of horsepower spread across this unit. Up-front, they have the best DE-duo in college football with Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. Christian Wilkins is also a force up-front. Corners Ryan Carter and Trayvon Mullen have been big this season. At linebacker, Dorian O'Daniel and Kendall Joseph are real difference-makers. Still, despite both teams having good defenses the past few seasons, these Clemson-Alabama matchups have been pretty offensive the last few seasons. We'll see how that goes this time around, as both teams have seen their defenses shine brightly this season.

With these teams having played in the last CFP finals, this game has a championship feel to it. There is no reason to not suspect another competitive battle. This Clemson team of 2017 might be more-proven at a higher level, but it's unclear how much that will matter by the time these two teams hit the field on New Years' Day. I see a more-defensive battle this time around. Both offenses will do some good things, but I see the points being a little less-easy to come by this time than the last few seasons. I still see Clemson as the better team and I'm taking the Tigers.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Clemson Tigers plus 2.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Alabama vs. Clemson game from home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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