National Championship Preview
Alabama is not unbeatable, regardless of how good they looked on New Year’s Eve in their absolute annihilation of Michigan State. After all, the Crimson Tide lost at home to Ole Miss earlier this season, their single worst defensive showing of the year. They lost in the national championship semi-finals to Ohio State last year as well as a loss at Ole Miss. In 2013, they got whipped in the Sugar Bowl by Oklahoma on the heels of a regular season ending loss to Auburn. Their lone 2012 loss came to Texas A&M.
Each and every one of those losses came against a team that plays into Alabama’s lone defensive weakness – their struggles against uptempo spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide defense obliterates teams like Michigan State that are trying to run north/south with a pocket passer at quarterback. They allowed only 74 rushing yards per game during the regular season, despite a schedule that saw them face off against ten bowl teams.
But we’ve seen it time and time again in recent seasons. When you spread Nick Saban’s defense out, they’re less effective. When you push the pace, forcing Saban to alter his substitution patterns, the Crimson Tide defensive is less effective. Every one of the losses that Alabama has suffered in recent seasons has come against an offense that looks a lot like Clemson’s offense.
Alabama brought their ‘A” game to the championship semi-final matchup against Michigan State, after losing to another Big 10 heavyweight in the semi-finals last year. Saban: “I think last year when we came to this game, we were just happy to take part in the game. I think this year we wanted to sort of take the game and really thought our guys had a vision of what they wanted and everybody paid the price for what they had to do in preparation….Maybe we were a little bit too complacent (last year), and I take responsibility for all that. (This year) the whole time we were here, it was total focus on winning the game.” Saban would surely tell you that it’s not always easy to get any team to bring their ‘A+’ game in back-2-back weeks.
And Clemson continues to be undervalued in the betting markets, particularly when they step up in class. Head coach Dabo Swinney referenced the pointspread in his post-game comments following the win over Oklahoma, talking about how he used it as a motivator in pre-bowl practices.
Clemson, like Alabama, has been recruiting blue chippers and sending them to the NFL on a regular basis in recent seasons; guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, CJ Spiller, Dwayne Allen, Vic Beasley, Da’Quan Bowers – I could go on, but you get my point. Dabo Swinney’s squad isn’t short on NFL caliber talent.
Clemson’s last four bowl games have been SU and against the college football odds wins over Oklahoma (twice), Oho State and LSU. Clemson was the underdog in all four of those contests, and they covered the spread in each and every one of those games by a TD or more. Clemson QB DeShaun Watson has an NFL future, Alabama’s Jake Coker does not. There’s certainly a case to be made for taking points on a neutral field with the superior quarterback and a bowl track record like that of the Tigers…… for our college football pick.