Monday, Jan. 7, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Free NCAAF Pick: Crimson Tide ATS
Best Line Offered: Pinnacle
For the first time, two undefeated teams will play for the CFP championship. For the third time since 2015-16, Alabama and Clemson play for he title. They also met last year in the semifinals, which Bama won and covered. Bama is 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS in these meetings with Clemson.
How They Got Here
Bama won its first 12 games by at least three touchdowns, including thrashings of ranked LSU and Miss State. In the SEC title game, Bama wrestled with very physical Georgia. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts led Alabama in a come-from-behind win while Tua’s ankle sidelined him. Tua’s ankle looked great when he led Bama to an easy win against Oklahoma.
Clemson had a rocky start with close calls against Texas A&M and Syracuse. Tension existed between upstart freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Kelly Bryant, who quarterbacked Clemson in its semifinal loss last year. After Bryant departed, Lawrence established himself. Clemson covered its next five games, scoring over 40 points in the first four. The Tigers cruised past Notre Dame 30-3 in the semifinal.
Why Clemson Can Win/Cover
Alabama has one of the highest-ranked offenses thanks to Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa. But Tua is vulnerable to defensive pressure. When Mississippi State achieved four sacks and three quarterback hurries against him, he mustered a season-low (with at least 10 pass attempts) 164 passing yards. In the SEC title game, Georgia likewise roughed up Tua and his passer rating was a season-low 92.3. Bama averages 47.5 points per game, but scored over 10 points fewer in both of those games. Clemson ranks sixth in sack rate, higher than both Miss State and Georgia, and can limit Tua and Alabama’s offense. Clemson has allowed fewer than 20 points in eight of its last nine games.
Why Alabama Can Win/Cover
Alabama shut down Oklahoma’s top-ranked offense early as it raced to a 28-0 lead. The Tide then entered cruise control, in the process conceding numerous chunk plays, and committing nine penalties and other concentration errors. Coach Saban was irate with his players and Alabama will respond as it always does. When the Tide gave up 31 points to Arkansas, its defense responded to criticism by limiting Missouri to 10 points. When everybody hyped up Kyler Murray, an Alabama player was emotional enough to almost trash talk him during a press conference. Bama responded by holding Murray to his lowest completion rate and passer rating. Bama will stay focused with a lead, this time. The Tide is 5-0 ATS against Power 5 teams when allowing fewer than 20 points.
Common Opponent/Series History
Clemson played Texas A&M in College Station, which is a notoriously difficult place for visitors. Clemson was still quarterbacked by Kelly Bryant and its ground game was powerless. Texas A&M eventually wore down Clemson’s defense and nearly erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, but for a failed two-point conversion that would have sent the game into overtime. Alabama dominated the Aggies 45-23 at home. Tua threw for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns and Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond had one of his worst games in terms of yardage and passer rating. Alabama is 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS against Clemson in title games.
Texas A&M’s was the toughest offense that Clemson faced. The Aggies rank 19th in offensive S&P+, but Bama ranks second. Bama’s offense will be toughest in the vertical passing game, which was not a problem for Clemson in the semifinal because Notre Dame’s receivers are big-bodied and slow. Alabama’s receivers have speed, above all in Henry Ruggs, who was a state champion sprinter in high school. The Tide’s offense is balanced with its trio of running backs who average over five YPC. The best rushing offense that Clemson faced was Pittsburgh. Pitt’s two primary running backs produced good numbers, but Pitt was always so far behind that it couldn’t rely on them.
Trevor Lawrence was exposed in Clemson’s victory against Notre Dame. When the Irish pressured Lawrence, he really struggled. Whereas the Irish rank 58th in sack rate and relented in its quarterback pressure, Bama ranks number one in the category. The Tide boast three players with at least eight sacks. Alabama’s run defense is well-tested and held, for example, the SEC’s leading rusher (Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M) to his worst game in terms of yards and YPC.
Bama will be able to do everything it wants on offense, while Clemson will struggle to get going. Getting Bama under a touchdown on the NCAAF odds board is fantastic value for an NCAAF Pick.