While the Rose Bowl takes place earlier in the day, the Sugar Bowl is what most eyes will be on. In the rubber match of the last two National Championships, Clemson and Alabama meet again. The situation is a bit different than previous matchups, but the same team is favored. The Crimson Tide were -3 point favorites late in December at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Alabama didn’t close the season with a bang with its last Game being the loss to Auburn. Still, the Tide made it to the Playoff after that loss and after barely beating LSU and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. This team hasn’t been as dominant against good opponents and that’s a reason a lot of people will be on Clemson’s side for this one. The defense is great, but has been injured all season, while the offense can be stopped if the running attack is dealt with.
As for Clemson, not many expected to see this team back in the Playoff after Deshaun Watson left, but here we are. The Tigers have impressed the entire way from locking down Auburn for six points to running through Miami in the ACC title Game. The loss at Syracuse stands out, but that was a weird Game on a Friday night. Clemson won this Game last year because it controlled the clock and ran a massive amount of plays, which could be the same route taken in this matchup.
The difference for Clemson of course is that Watson is no longer there. This offense hasn’t been nearly as dynamic, although has done enough to beat up most opponents this season. But against an elite defense, that may not work for an entire Game. Kelly Bryant is a good quarterback and he’s been great to close the season, but he still only had 13 touchdowns and six picks this season. He’s not a quarterback that’s going to win this matchup by himself. The Tigers will use Bryant on the ground as well as top running backs Travis Etienne (7.2 ypc, 13 TDs) and Tavien Feaster (6.4 ypc, 7 TDs). Those guys have been great against bad defenses, but as seen in the early Game against Auburn, this offense isn’t going to run away from a team with a good defense. Clemson still has Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud in the receiving Game and that can help in order to move the ball methodically and keep the clock moving. As long as that happens, this will be a tight, low-scoring Game.
That’s because Clemson’s defense is considered the best in the nation from an efficiency stand point. Alabama is actually allowing less points per Game (11.5 to 12.8), but the Tigers have been more impressive down the stretch and have locked down any offense when needed. Alabama has had issues against good defensive fronts in recent Games from the Auburn loss to the Mississippi State come back. Clemson may have the best defensive line in the country, so that’s the immediate worry for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide will go to the ground per usual with Damien Harris (8.2 ypc, 11 TDs) and Bo SCarbrough (549 yards, 8 TDs) expected to see the majority of work. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is also much more effective on the ground due to his speed and that’s where Alabama will look to attack. If Clemson’s defense stalls this rush and forces Hurts to pass, the advantage goes to the underdog. Hurts has been inconsistent passing the ball his entire career and while he has 15 touchdowns and only one pick, that’s because he’s passed the ball just 222 times this season. Calvin Ridley is one of the best wide outs in the country, but he’s rarely been used and if he can be contained, that’s even more trouble for ‘Bama. In the loss to Auburn, Hurts went just 12-of-22 for 112 yards and Ridley didn’t get much done. Clemson will aim to take that same route, but it won’t be easy.
Unlike previous matchups, this one has the potential to be low scoring because these defenses are the best part about each team. The defense that controls the Game will be the team that wins and while ‘Bama may get some guys back from injury, the edge goes to the Tigers. It’s Nick Saban against Dabo Swinney, round three. Take your pick.
The Crimson Tide haven’t covered in their last Four against a team with a winning record and are 5-2 ATS in their last seven against the ACC. The Tigers have covered in their last seven bowl Games and in their last Four against the SEC.
Our Pick – UNDER 48