Saturday, January 9, 2016

Who Will It Be, Alabama or Clemson?

And now, we are down to the final game — #1 Clemson vs. #2 Alabama. You can see the game on ESPN Monday night starting at 7:30 p.m. (Central). It will be played in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

My record in the bowl season was good but not spectacular. I was 10–6 in my picks. That is a .625 accuracy percentage. As I say, it was good. Not great.

But I must say that I am rather proud of my record in the college football semifinals. I picked Clemson over Oklahoma and Alabama over Michigan State. Right — in both cases. Neither game was even close.

Now the tough part. Picking which one will win the national title. I expect this one to be closer, much closer.

One thing I can say without fear of contradiction is Alabama's been there — frequently — in recent seasons. It seems like it's been that way all my life. Oh, sure, I know Alabama has been through dry spells, but very little really seems to have changed since I was a boy and Bear Bryant was on the Alabama sideline. Bryant brought six national titles to Tuscaloosa, and Alabama fans grew up during his tenure with a kind of sense of entitlement that is still there. Call it Alabama affluenza.

If Alabama wasn't in the national championship conversation, so the thinking seemed to go, it was an off year. But that wouldn't last long. It never did.

The Bear never had a Heisman Trophy winner, either. Nick Saban has had two, and one of them, Derrick Henry, is on the current roster.

Yet, in spite of all that, Clemson's offense is ranked higher than Alabama's. Clemson has the sixth–ranked offense in the nation. Alabama's 35th–ranked offense is respectable, not spectacular.

Both teams are very good on defense. Alabama's defense, which always gets attention, is ranked third, and Clemson's is ranked 13th.

My guess is that it will be a defensive game, and Alabama's defense will be tested by Clemson's sophomore QB, Deshaun Watson, and sophomore running back, Wayne Gallman. Gallman headlines the 11th–best run offense in the nation.

That is where the game is likely to be decided. The Crimson Tide has been tough against the run all year; in fact, Alabama is ranked #1 in the land against the run, which suggests that Clemson may struggle to score.

If Clemson does struggle on the ground, the Tigers might turn to their passing game, which was #19 in the nation. Alabama's defense was ranked #31 against the pass so there may be some opportunity there. Watson was 18th in the nation in passing yards, he completed more than 68% of his passes, and he had 31 touchdown strikes — and he was only sacked 13 times. And yet ...

Alabama junior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is a beast at 6–foot–3 and weighing in at 272 pounds. He finished sixth in the nation in sacks with 12. Junior linebacker Tim Williams chipped in 11.

Run defense is Clemson's Achilles' heel if you want to call it that. The Tigers are #32 against the run, which is better than most but not as good as some. It might be good enough against Alabama, though, which is ranked #23 in run offense even with the Heisman winner in the backfield.

Speaking of the ground game, Henry led the nation in rushing with 2,061 yards (including the 75 he picked up against Michigan State on New Year's Eve). You can be sure the Tigers will keep an eye on him.

Historically, I suppose there is considerable motivation for Clemson. Alabama leads the all–time series 12–2. But I seriously doubt that anyone living remembers the last time Clemson beat Alabama. It was on Oct. 25, 1905 in Columbia, S.C.

Alabama has beaten Clemson 12 straight times, and the Tigers' highest score in any of those games was 14 points on Oct. 26, 1968. More often than not, Alabama has shut out Clemson.

Bryant went 5–0 against Clemson, and his teams did shut out Clemson the first time he faced the Tigers and the last time he faced them. Clemson scored in the three games that were played in between. In the Tigers' entire 12–game losing streak against the Tide, Clemson has only scored in five games.

I'm sure the Tigers will score in this one. After all, Clemson hasn't been shut out since Aug. 30, 2003, when the Tigers lost to Georgia.

Actually, I think the Tigers will do better than score. I predict that Clemson will defeat Alabama.

Last week: 10–6

Upset specials last week: 1–3

Season: 198–58

Upset specials overall: 9–17

No comments: