We can clearly say that the two best teams in the country will clash at the National Championship Game, #2 Alabama vs. #1 Clemson. But here is how Alabama will be our college football pick.
National Championship Preview
This has not been a banner bowl season for the ACC. Florida State got whipped. NC State got hammered. North Carolina got destroyed, as did Pitt. Virginia Tech gave up 52 points to Tulsa. Miami lost to Washington State. Duke won and covered against Indiana, but they were most assuredly on the ‘lucky’ side of that game, and they still gave up 41 points in the process.
Those ACC defenses were the primary culprit in those SU and ATS bowl failures. Louisville was lucky enough to face a third string quarterback from a reeling Texas A&M program. And Miami faced Washington State on a windy, snowy field, keeping the score low. Every other ACC defense (except Clemson) got absolutely torched by their bowl opponent. As a conference, with the exception of Clemson’s win over Oklahoma, the ACC allowed 40 points and more than 550 yards per bowl game.
When we look at those numbers, we have to view Clemson’s entire season in a different light. Let’s not forget that the Tigers biggest regular season win – a two point victory over Notre Dame – was aided by monsoon-like conditions that resulted in a +3 turnover margin.
The Tigers big ACC Championship Game win over North Carolina looks devalued after the Tar Heels allowed Baylor to hang 49 points on them despite the fact that the Bears were down to a third string quarterback. And Clemson’s big home win over Florida State must be devalued after the Seminoles two TD loss to Houston in their bowl, especially considering FSU didn’t have starting QB Everett Golson for that game either.
Clemson’s best game of the year probably came against Oklahoma last week, and there are no shortage of other teams that have looked awfully good beating ‘Big Game Bob’ Stoops in a big game over the last decade. And it’s surely worth noting that if Dabo Swinney’s fake punt gamble in the second quarter had failed, the Sooners might have taken a commanding early lead, altering the eventual outcome significantly.
Upstarts like Clemson – good programs, but not elite ones, with no recent history of competing for titles – don’t reach the title game very often. Over the last 15 years, the list of title game participants looks like a who’s who of dominant, elite programs. The only teams to play for the title since 2002 have been Ohio State, Oregon, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and USC; a truly elite dozen programs.
And Clemson has legitimate defensive weaknesses, especially if the knee injury to defensive line stud Shaq Lawson is serious. Let’s not forget that this stop unit lost a pair of first round draft choices to the NFL last year, two of eight departing starters. They have only two senior starters on D. Ten of the eleven second stringers are either freshman or sophomores. Coming off a near perfect performance against the Sooners, it won’t be easy for this ‘still growing’ defense to match that level of execution here.
Alabama has been the single best program in college football since a year or two after Nick Saban arrived on campus. They’ve won three national titles under Saban already, and based on recruiting rankings, and NFL draft projections, they’ve got the most talented team in the country once again this year. Clemson’s gaudy offensive stats must be taken with a grain of salt considering those defensive weaknesses in the ACC. ‘Bama is favored here against the college football odds for a reason….