For much of the college football season, it looked like it was Alabama and everyone else. The Tide being the unstoppable juggernaut, that would roll right through the regular season and the playoff, to win their fifth title in 8 seasons and cement Nick Saban’s legacy as the great college football coach of all time.
But that’s not how it feels right now. Not after a largely unimpressive win over Washington in the Peach Bowl and not after seeing Clemson humiliate Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now, I see a ton of the so-called experts going with Clemson. Saying Clemson is the hot team right now, not Bama. That maybe, this really is Clemson’s year. That the best playmakers on the field tonight, will be Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams; and that Alabama has seen anything like the two of them this season. And that the Tide will be running a freshman q.b. in Jalen Hurts, onto the biggest stage and that Clemson is going to make Hurts beat them, something he won’t be able to do on this big of a stage; against that fierce of a defense. Especially since Hurts will be working with a brand new playcaller in Steve Sarkisian. Sure, he’s been with the team for most of the season, and knows the offense and the personnel; but he also hasn’t called a single play in more than a year, and now you’re dropping him into the fire. In short, picking Clemson not only isn’t that much of a reach, but more and more folks are doing it in the 12th hour. And honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me at all, if Clemson did win this game. For all the reasons I mentioned, and because they are that good.
Except I’m not going there. I’m sticking with Bama. Sure Deshaun Watson makes a ton of plays. But he’s also made a ton of mistakes this year. And Alabama not only turns you over, but they make you pay for those mistakes. They’ve scored 11 T.D.’s this year off interceptions this year. So not only do they turn you over, they house it when they do. And Watson had 17 picks this year; and he hasn’t seen the likes of Bama’s pass rush either. Watson hasn’t paid for the mistakes he’s made this year, but he will tonight. Sure he shredded the Tide’s defense last year but this is a much different unit and a much different challenge for Watson this time around.
And sure, freshman Jalen Hurts does concern me in this spot. This is an awfully tough spot for a freshman. On the biggest stage imaginable, against a fierce pass rush that you know is coming for him. Obviously, Clemson is going to make Hurts try to beat them. Just like they did J.T. Barrett when they hammered Ohio State. The Buckeyes can’t really throw it and we saw what happened to them. Alabama can’t either so Clemson will obviously look to make them one dimensional and make them pay for it.
Saban, of course knows that. And the last thing he wants to do is ask a freshman to do something he can’t do. So they’ll look to play high percentage football, not take any unnecessary chances and to just grind it out; you know the way Saban has always done it in the past. The way Saban would still be doing it if he could.
And as far as Sarkisian calling plays for the first time in over a year, in the title game, that’s not that big a deal. He knows the offense. He knows the personnel. While he hasn’t done it over in a year, he’s done it plenty of times before. He’ll knock off what little rust there is and he’ll be fine. Which brings me to my last point: the Saban factor. Saban knows if he loses this one, he’ll be wearing it forever. Lose this one, after firing your offensive coordinator the week of the game, and his legacy might just be as much about the one he let get away when he went all arrogant and ran Kiffin, as the five he did win. He’s not going to let that happen. I think Alabama is just too good defensively,
Good enough offensively, you have the Nictator effect, and generally the bigger the stage, the better Bama plays. We won’t get the shootout we got last year but Alabama will make the game’s key plays and grind out a 24-21 win.