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College Football

National Championship Pick

Alabama

vs.

Clemson

1/9/17

The CFP National Championship is here and not many arguments can be made that any other teams deserve to be in this spot. Alabama once again dominated the trenches and took down Washington while Clemson absolutely dismantled Ohio State in the semifinals. As expected, the Crimson Tide were -7 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the game in Tampa.

These teams met in an almost identical situation a year ago with Alabama a -6 point favorite and winning in a 45-40 contest. The Tigers may have been an up-and-down team throughout the season, but they played up to the competition as seen in wins over Louisville, Florida State and most recently Ohio State. Their defense was the true difference maker against the Buckeyes as they shut out J.T. Barrett and company. That defensive line will need to have a similar performance against the Alabama line for Clemson to have a shot at winning.

As for 'Bama, there weren't many surprising things from the 24-7 win over Washington. The Huskies got an early touchdown, but that was about all they could do as the Tide got yet another defensive touchdown, their 11th of the season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts wasn't needed for much in the passing game as they ran for 269 yards as a team, which is just about how they won every game this season.

When these teams met in last year's championship, it was back and forth with Alabama gaining the edge late with a long touchdown pass and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Other than that, the Tigers actually outgained the Tide by almost 80 yards. That was made possible by Deshaun Watson, who threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 73 more yards. The good news is that he still has all of those top receivers, but this time Mike Williams (1,267 yards, 10 TDs) is healthy and back at the top of his game. Williams paced the receiving game against OSU, catching six balls for 96 yards.

The main thing for Clemson in this game will be to get some kind of ground game going yet again. Alabama has had trouble against mobile quarterbacks throughout the years and that was the case when Watson played them last. Wayne Gallman wasn't great in last year's meeting running for 45 yards, but it was better than most other teams have been able to do. As long as Gallman can at least gain positive yardage, that could help enough for Clemson's offense. And so far, as long as Clemson comes to play, no defense has stopped Watson and this offense. His major thing will be to reduce turnovers after he threw a couple more picks against the Buckeyes last game.

The other side of the ball is pretty straightforward as no one can really stop this Alabama offense when they are motivated to score. Clemson's defense was arguably more talented a year ago and still gave up 45 points. Obviously, they still have some playmakers, but Alabama should still find room to run in this game as that's a small weakness in the Tigers defense. They can get to the quarterback, but struggle against the run.

That won't help against Bo Scarbrough (180 yards, 2 TDs vs. Washington), Damien Harris (1,016 yards for season) and Jalen Hurts, who was second on the team with 891 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. But again, as seen in last season's championship, the Tide still have studs in the receiving game with O.J. Howard, ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley.

Alabama will try and control this game through the ground, but if Clemson's offense has as much success as that last meeting, the Tide will turn to the passing game. Hurts isn't completely proven yet as a passer and that could make things a bit more interesting. Still, it's hard to bet against Alabama right now, especially if the spread closes at less than a touchdown.

The Tigers have covered in their last six bowl games and are 5-2 ATS in their last seven non-conference games. The Crimson Tide are 4-1 ATS in their last five vs. the ACC and 4-1 ATS in their last five non-conference games. With the over/under just above 50, this game could easily hit the over again.

Our Pick - Here are the score predictions from our model using different time frame parameters.

Using Full Season Data - Alabama 26 Clemson 16

Using Data from the last 7 games only - Alabama 25 Clemson 11

Using Data from the last 4 games only - Alabama 19 Clemson 14

Naturally, there is more to handicapping a game than just looking at the model's predictions. The model is just one aspect of the process. We could write multiple paragraphs making a case for either one of these teams.

In this spot, we are going to agree with the model. Alabama has been the best team in college football for several years. The chance for Clemson to come out on top this year after such a close game last year is enticing. However, that close game a year ago could also serve as motivation for the tide.

We think Bama is the better team and that the talent wins out in the end here. We're also going to go under the total of 51.

Alabama -6,5

Alabama/Clemson UNDER 51

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