The college football odds makers have hung Alabama as a touchdown favorite over Clemson but here we compare and contrast the coaches of these titanic football powers to gain an edge.
Dabo Swinney (75-26 SU at Clemson)
Ironically Dabo Swinney began his college coaching career at Alabama where he toiled as a wide receivers and tight ends coach from 1995 to 2001 where he and former Bama head coach Mike DuBose were ultimately ousted along with DuBose’s entire staff in a sweeping regime change. Swinney took two years off away from the coaching grind but was summoned by his former position coach at Alabama, Tommy Bowden, to work as an assistant with the wide receivers and eventually assumed the title of recruiting coordinator in a role in which he flourished.
Midway through the 2008 season he took the head coaching reins after the resignation of Tommy Bowden. Swinney was chosen over two of the top assistants due to his stellar reputation as a recruiting guru. The decision proved to be a wise one for Clemson as Swinney is one of only four active head coaches, including Nick Saban, to cull a top 20 recruiting class five years in a row. Swinney has put Clemson back on the football map as a true BCS power earning a bowl game in each of his eight seasons culminating in the National Championship game to be played on January 11th, 2015.
Nick Saban (99-18 SU at Alabama)
Unlike Dabo Swinney, Alabama is not Saban’s first head coaching rodeo. Saban has left his mark on Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, a stint as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and now at Alabama where he has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest ever to roam the college football sidelines. Alabama now has three national titles under the watch of Nick Saban and number four appears to be well within reach if you consider that the college football odds makers are installing the Crimson Tide as seven-point neutral site favorites.
In this 2015 edition of the Tide Saban has handed the offensive reins to former USC head coach Lane Kiffin. If you have watched Alabama as often as I do you will notice that the sideline repartee between the two is not always, shall we say, friendly. Publically you will never hear Saban utter an unkind word about his offensive coordinator but if you read the body language when the heat of the battle is raging then it is evident they are not always on the same page. Whether or not Kiffin continues with Saban and the Tide after this season is a question for Kiffin who will undoubtedly jump ship if offered his next head coaching gig. However, if no offer is forthcoming and Alabama does indeed become national champs after Monday night then it would be a rather shocking turn of events if Saban were to give Kiffin his walking papers.
Both coaches are big on defense but Saban is really, really big on defense being a Bill Belichick disciple and boasting this season’s third ranked defense, allowing just 14.4 points per game. Swinney’s Clemson Tigers are no slouch defensively either owning the 18th ranked defense in the nation surrendering 20.2 points per game.
Here we have an historic Alabama defense which shutout third ranked Michigan State, a team that averaged over 32 points per game (50th scoring offense in the nation), in their 38-0 semi-final playoff victory. The defense did what they have done all season in their victory over MSU but it was the passing of Jake Coker that improved markedly. Saban likes to pass but he has given Kiffin the reins to call the shots (for the most part) and the running game has paid off in spades with Derrick Henry breaking Hershel Walker’s decade’s long SEC single season rushing record this season and capturing the Heisman Trophy.
Swinney will attempt to match Saban defensively and slow top receiving target Calvin Ridley with redshirt sophomore and one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the nation Mackensie Alexander. That will take away much of the passing game as Tide quarterback Jake Coker tends to prefer shorter strikes and does not throw the proverbial frozen rope which could lead to interceptions by the Tigers’ defensive backs. Thus, Saban will run Derrick Henry like rented mule which is not an uncommon scenario for Henry who has been a workhorse and then some this season.
In short, Swinney will rest his fate with the offense while Saban will cross his fingers that his defense continues its domination as it did against the Spartans. Which coach adapts as the game ebbs and flows could well determine which team will cash in your college football picks.