College Football Playoff National Championship:
(1) Clemson vs. (2) Alabama
Date: January 11, 2016
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Location: Glendale, AZ at the University of Phoenix Stadium (Home of the Arizona Cardinals)
The CFP National Championship game will feature the two best teams in the country. The Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide clearly showed why they were ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country by their dominant performances in the semifinal games. Clemson dominated the second half of the Orange Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners and won 38-17 after trailing 17-16 going into the half. Alabama dominated the entire game while posting a shutout against the Michigan State Spartans. Alabama cruised to a 37-0 victory in the Cotton Bowl and made it look easy.
It is safe to say that we won’t see another one-sided game from these two teams. Dabo Swinney has dialed up a very dynamic offense that will clash with another great, Nick Saban defense at Alabama. It could very likely come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. Both teams have tremendous offensive and defensive lines.
Clemson Tigers (14-0 overall, 8-0 conference)
The Tigers look to become the first ever 15-0 FBS team (due to the new College Football Playoff). Heisman finalist quarterback, Deshaun Watson, hopes to lead Clemson to its first national championship since 1981 (Clemson’s ONLY National Title). Clemson is essentially built to beat Alabama. Alabama struggles with dual threat QBs and physical defenses, Clemson has both. Look for Deshaun Waston and Clemson’s defensive front seven to be the difference makers for the Tigers in this week’s matchup. Head coach, Dabo Swinney, is actually an Alabama alumnus who played on the 1992 national championship team for Alabama.
Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1 overall, 7-1 conference)
The Crimson Tide have been on a roll since their early season loss to Ole Miss. Alabama turned the ball over five times while not taking it away a single time. Many people believe that if Cooper Bateman had not started at QB for the Crimson Tide that game, they might have won that game. Jake Coker did relieve Bateman midway through the game but there was not enough time as Alabama fell to Ole Miss 43-37. The Alabama Crimson Tide have not looked back, rattling off ten straight wins by an average of 21.7 points. They have been led by the best defense in the nation, an explosive special teams, a Heisman winning running back, and a coaching staff that has been in this situation many times.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson, who finished third in the Heisman race, will be the No. 1 factor for Clemson winning or losing this game. The Clemson QB is the only player in the country with 3500+ yards passing and 800+ yards rushing. Watson helped the Tigers blow out the Sooners in the second half and was named the game’s offensive MVP with one passing TD and one rushing TD.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson: Although Lawson was injured in their game against OU, he and the Clemson staff are very optimistic he will play. The Clemson pass rusher is one of three players in the nation to have 10+ sacks and 20+ tackles. Lawson has recorded 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss this season. His 22.5 tackles for loss is the best in the country. If healthy, look for Lawson to have a huge impact on the game.
Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson: Wayne Gallman has 1,482 rushing yards and 12 TDs on 269 attempts this year. The Clemson RB rushed for over 100 yards in nine games this season and has done a tremendous job in pass protection as well. Gallman’s spark is just what the Tigers’ needed in the second half of the Orange Bowl against OU. When Gallman is running well, it not only opens up the passing game more, but it also makes Deshaun Watson that much more of a threat to run as well on the read-option.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry not only won the Heisman but he also broke the SEC records for rushing TDs and rushing yards with 25 TDs and 2,061 yards. Derrick Henry is a monstrous RB who is putting up monstrous numbers. Henry leads all college running backs in rushing attempts (359), rushing yards, and rushing TDs. The Alabama RB is big and physical just like his line. Henry’s production this game might directly correlate to the outcome of the game.
Jake Coker, QB, Alabama: Jake Coker is yet another game manager in a Nick Saban offense. However, last game, Coker was anything but. He had a career game against Michigan State with 286 yards on 25-30 passing. Coker threw for two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. For the year, Coker has 2,775 yards passing with 19 TDs and eight INTs.
Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama: Cyrus Jones has been a very solid CB for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide with two interceptions and 32 tackles, but he has been arguably the most dynamic punt returner in the nation this season. Jones leads the nation in punt return TDs with four, one of which came against the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl (57 yards). His 518 return yards rank him second all-time in Alabama single-season history.
Other Notable Players
Alabama: WR – Calvin Ridley (#3), LB – Reuben Foster (#10), RB – Kenyan Drake (#17), LB – Reggie Ragland (#19), DB – Minkah Fitzpatrick (#29), LB – Tim Williams (#56), C – Ryan Kelly (#70), DL – A’Shawn Robinson (#86), TE – O.J. Howard (#88), DT – Jarran Reed (#90), DE – Jonathan Allen (#93)
Keys For Clemson
Clemson needs to limit the yards after contact that they allow from Derrick Henry and force turnovers. It’s not a secret that Alabama struggles in the games that they turn the ball over. The Tigers need to avoid letting up the big play on special teams, mainly from Cyrus Jones. Clemson will go as Deshaun Watson goes; if he plays well, they will play well. If Watson doesn’t play well, it will be a very long day for the Tigers. With that said, Watson needs to utilize his legs and hurt that bulky defense of Alabama with his mobility.
Keys For Alabama
Alabama needs to get Henry going early. A big game from Henry will most likely result in a win for the Crimson Tide. A big game from Henry produces good time management and control of the line of scrimmage, but most importantly it keeps an explosive Clemson offense on the sideline. If the big guys up front for Alabama’s defense can suffocate Watson and force him into some tough/dangerous situations, Alabama’s chances of winning go way up.
This one is very tough to call. Alabama has had a much tougher schedule and has looked almost unstoppable as of late, and Clemson has just had that will to win every game no matter the situation. However, I see the Alabama interior over powering Clemson and essentially wearing them down. I expect a big day from Derrick Henry and Calvin Ridley. I’ll take Alabama in a nail-biter.
Final Score: Alabama 27 – Clemson 20
Dru Smith, DDSports Staff Writer
Follow Dru on Twitter @DruSmith8