The championship Game is here and the two final teams aren’t a huge surprise. Alabama is always in the national title discussion, while Clemson still hasn’t lost this season and felt a bit disrespected coming in as underdogs against Oklahoma. But as expected, the Crimson Tide opened as a -7 point favorite (at 5 Dimes Sportsbook) for the College Football Playoff final played at Phoenix Stadium.
Alabama dominated in its semifinal matchup against Michigan State, winning 38-0. After gashing through teams via Heisman winner Derrick Henry all season, the Tide turned to quarterback Jake Coker, who’s been oft-criticized for being a Game manager. He quickly showed everyone he could be more, making a number of pinpoint passes en route to 286 yards and two touchdowns. He clearly outplayed MSU’s Connor Cook, who’s regarded as one of the top quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft.
Clemson’s attack wasn’t that much of a surprise, but the bigger showing was on the defensive side for the Tigers. They held an Oklahoma offense that was scoring for fun to just 17 points. And that includedshutting them out in the second half. Meanwhile, Clemson did its usual work on the offensive side as Deshaun Watson rushed for 145 yards and Wayne Gallman piled up 150 yards as they ran the ball heavily in the second half. It was an impressive outing that they’ll have to replicate in the title Game.
Starting with Alabama’s offense, Coker will have a harder time in this Game. Clemson’s pass defense has been stout all year long, and gives up the fifth-least passing yards per Game in the country. Baker Mayfield threw for 311 yards against them, but only one touchdown and a couple picks. The yards were there, but the Tigers didn’t break.
It will definitely be a harder task for Coker in this matchup, which means Derrick Henry should be back to his normal role in this Game. Henry managed just 75 yards on 20 carries against the Spartans, but against a weaker Clemson rush defense, could find some more holes. If Henry finds room, that could mean trouble for the Tigers because that’s how Alabama wins Games. On the other hand, the chances of Coker replicating his semifinal performance are slim. Offensive coordinator LAne Kiffin had a great Game plan and it led to easily the best Game of Coker’s collegiate career.
‘Bama receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart haven’t gotten much attention throughout the year due to Henry’s dominance, but the two have quietly put together solid seasons for the Tide and were huge factors in the semifinal.
And then there’s Alabama’s defense that completely shutdown Michigan State. This was a Spartan team with a top offensive line in front of a top quarterback and solid running Game. Instead, the Spartans couldn’t move the ball on the ground and Cook barely had time to throw in the pocket. That led to a shutout.
However, Clemson’s offense is a bit more dynamic than Michigan State’s. Alabama has had trouble against mobile quarterbacks and that’s exactly what Deshaun Watson brings to the table for the Tigers.
Clemson attacked Oklahoma with Watson on the ground early and it worked to perfection. They’ll likely take that same approach here, but if Watson and Gallman can’t find room on the ground, it’ll be on Watson’s arm to put points on the board and that’s not a given. Watson’s versatility will be a factor no matter what happens, though, as Alabama thrives with its dominant defensive line. If Watson can avoid the Four-man rush from the Tide, that’ll immediately change the Game and give the Tigers a better chance than Michigan State. Connor Cook couldn’t escape the pocket and that was that for the Spartans.
Watson will probably start with a lot of quick screens to Artavis SCott out wide, in an effort to spread the ‘Bama defense out and not let the pass rush have too big of an effect.
These were the two best teams in college football this year and we’ll get to see them face off in a Game that should be closer than both of the semifinals.
The Tigers are now 4-0 ATS in their last Four bowl Games and 6-0 ATS in their last six neutral-site Games. The Crimson Tide have covered in five of their last six overall, Four straight against the ACC and are 7-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
Our Pick – Alabama -7