Clemson Tigers (13-1 SU, 7-7 ATS) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0 SU, 10-4 ATS)
CFP National Championship Game
Date/Time: Monday, January 9, 2017 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: CLEM +6/ALA -6
Over/Under Total: 52.5
The Clemson Tigers take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at Raymond James Stadium on January 9 in the College Football Playoff Championship Game. This is a matchup of epic proportions in a rematch between two teams who romped to decisive wins in their respective semifinal games. The Crimson Tide went to 14-0 with a comprehensive 24-7 over the Huskies on the 31st. Later on the same day, Clemson pounded Ohio State, 31-0, to go to 13-1 and earn a rematch with 'Bama. Alabama took a competitive game, 45-40, in last year's CFP final. A handful of big plays, both on offense and special teams, spelled the difference for the Tide in a competitive contest.
Again, this is a rematch of last season's national championship game, when Alabama won the inaugural CFP championship. Sometimes, it's tough to even use results from earlier in the season to gauge a game in bowl season, so going back to last season could lead us astray. But perhaps there is something to be extracted from Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson for the title. The game was fairly close throughout, with Clemson even leading late in the third. The Tigers scored a last-second TD after falling behind 45-33 to make it 45-40. Still, with so many teams struggling to keep pace with Alabama this season, Clemson showed they could hang. But that was last season. Alabama is better this year. But potential Clemson backers could use last season's game as a source of some hope. And it wouldn't be misplaced optimism, either. Clemson is one heck of a team, as evidenced by their dominance of Ohio State on the 31st. If not for a few special teams snafus and a freak play here and there, Clemson could have beaten 'Bama in last year's game.
Beating Alabama isn't going to be easy. In fact, it's hard to immediately come up with the identity of teams throughout the annals of college football history that you could reasonably forecast beating this 'Bama bunch. They have a way of strangling the life out of teams. Against a really good Washington team on the 31st, Alabama just didn't let them get into the game. Between their run-game and their tip-top defense, they simply take over the contest.
The Alabama defense scored yet another TD for the Tide against Washington, with Ryan Anderson returning a Jake Browning pass for a touchdown. They have scored 11 times on the season. Against a Washington offense that was one of the nation's most-prolific groups, they held them to less than 200 yards of total offense and just 7 points of scoring. It was the 9th time this season that an opponent had been held to ten or fewer points. With players like Rueben Foster, Minhak Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Jonathan Allen, Marlon Humphrey, Dalvin Tomlinson, Tim Williams, and others, this is a defense that can do it all. They rush the passer with an intensity not seen on many college defenses. And they make plays at a consistent rate, constantly contributing to the overall team cause. They get key stops and seem to have gotten better over the course of the season. Without getting too dramatic, this could be one of the best college defenses ever. They're that good.
The run-game really gives the Alabama team their python grip. The run game is so deep and differently-abled that there are any number of ways they can get you, led by freshman Jalen Hurts. He has thrown 21 touchdowns and run for 12 more on nearly 900 yards rushing. Lately, they've been calling on big back Bo Scarsborough. Against Washington, he ran for a big 180 yards and two touchdowns. And they also have Joshua Jacobs and Damien Harris, two excellent backs that can get you in any number of different ways. The depth has allowed backs to stay fresh, with Scarsborough having very lively legs at this late point in the season. Through the air, they rely on ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley—a pair of game-changing receivers. Last season, tight end OJ Howard caught 5 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in this same spot against Clemson.
A lot of championships are won with great running games and an outstanding defense. Hurts is an 18-year old who is still developing as a passer, so it really helps for him to have a great defense—a big and athletic unit with a lot of guys who will someday be playing on Sunday. And the run-game is unstoppable. Clemson, however, showed a terrific defense is shutting out Ohio State, with a fierce line. At times against Washington, we saw the 'Bama offensive line battle to contain the Huskies' D-line, so we'll see what Clemson can do.
Clemson has clearly established themselves as a legit force this season and certainly with the 31-0 win over the Buckeyes. At times this season they played down to the level of their opposition—not looking terribly impressive for certain stretches. Beaten by Pittsburgh, they seemed to regain their focus and it all culminated with the best performance of the season in the shutout over Ohio State. Sometimes we talk about a team's attributes and overlook the simple trait of being able to win. And over the past two seasons, Clemson has been on a huge roll. With a lot of key Clemson pieces still on the sidelines who were in last season's game, combined with the infectious optimism of Dabo Swinney, one can't afford to blow off Clemson's chances.
The Clemson offense is led by the experienced and capable Deshaun Watson, who was off-target early against Ohio State with a pair of interceptions. He has thrown 17 picks on the season, a distressing total going against the opportunistic Alabama defense. Still, he showed his legs with two TD scores on the ground, with some help from Wayne Gallman, who had 85 yards and a touchdown, his 16th on the season. Receiver Mike Williams, a weapon Clemson has this season that they lacked last season, was big against Ohio State with 96 yards receiving. He will be a major key, as will fellow aerial targets Artavis Scott, Ray Ray McCloud, and Hunter Renfrow, who had a big game against the Tide last season.
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The Clemson defense really made a statement against Ohio State. While Alabama's defense will get a lion's share of the attention with their defense being the more noted unit, it's all about timing. And in that regard, Clemson's defense has hit a peak in very timely fashion, being that it's not often we see a good Urban Meyer team come up snake-eyes in a game of that magnitude. A few key Clemson defenders in Cordrea Tankersley and Van Smith both had interceptions in the CFP Semifinal. Jadar Johnson has been huge this season and the line played lights-out against the Buckeyes, with Dexter Lawrence, Carlos Watkins, and Clelin Ferrell. In the middle, Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph are very active in this defense. Some may have neglected to notice that the Clemson defense is among the best in the country in allowing just 17 points a game on the season. With Alabama's offense not always prolific, can the Tigers' defense keep them in this game? Washington held the Tide to 24, with 7 coming from the defense. Maybe Clemson can duplicate that effort and score more points in the process.
It's hard to not have a feeling that Clemson is really up against it—a strange sentiment considering their blowout of Ohio State and the narrow margin of last season's game. With Alabama, the mistakes that Clemson is prone to making won't go unpunished as they did in games against Louisville and Ohio State. Another notion is that Alabama has been made to look so dominant because there's a clear separation between these two teams and the rest of the pack. There is no way one can consider Clemson just another team at this point, regardless of the sometimes-rocky road they took to get here. I see them having a decent chance and I'm taking the points.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Clemson Tigers plus 6 points.Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!