Monday, January 9, 2017

And the National Champion Will Be ...

National Championship
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14–0) vs. #2 Clemson Tigers (13–1)
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa
7 p.m. (Central)

I'm a history buff, and I tend to look at things from the perspective of history. The topic doesn't matter. Everything has a history, and that history can tell us a lot. It's a matter of recognizing what history is trying to tell you.

It is often said that history repeats itself. I tend to agree with Mark Twain, who said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Usually, there's a lot of rhymin'.

The history of the Alabama–Clemson football series is that Alabama has dominated. To be fair, Clemson did win the first two meetings, which were in 1904 and 1905. Alabama has won the 13 games that have been played since — including last year's national championship game.

So history would suggest that Alabama will win the national championship in Tampa — because Alabama always beats Clemson.

But past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What is true of past seasons may prove to be true of the just–concluded regular season, but it is important to consider how these teams performed in that 2016 season. It has more relevance than what happened a century ago — although what happened in the past does contribute to mindset. As Vince Lombardi said, "We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible."

You can argue that Alabama will win tonight's game because it won a stronger conference — or, at least, one that is perceived to be stronger — than the conference Clemson won.

But Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference has beaten Alabama's Southeastern Conference in three out of four bowl confrontations last month.

In most football games, the quarterback is regarded as the position that is most critical to a team's success. In the national rankings in nine categories, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts was in the Top 20 in only one — completion percentage. He was 16th. That's a good thing, right? It is — except that Clemson's Deshaun Watson, the Heisman runner–up, was ranked eighth.

Hurts, a freshman, and Watson, a junior, attempted almost the same number of passes so it is a valid comparison — and Watson was in the Top 20 in seven categories and was usually in the Top 10. He threw 38 touchdown passes, and Hurts threw 21, but Watson threw 17 interceptions (Hurts threw nine).

Junior wideout Mike Williams is the receiving target Alabama most needs to stop. Williams caught 90 passes for 1,267 yards for Clemson, but the Crimson Tide can't afford to ignore sophomore Deon Cain, who averaged 19.1 yards per catch.

Running back isn't the focus of either offense. Alabama's Damien Harris averaged 7.2 yards per carry — but he only averaged about 10 carries per game. Clemson's Wayne Gallman ran for 16 touchdowns (Harris ran for only two), but his rushing average was a more pedestrian 5.1 yards per carry.

On defense, Clemson senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins had 10½ sacks this season. But, as a team, Alabama's defense was the best in the nation this season. The Crimson Tide was one of only three teams to give up less than 100 yards rushing per game (the other two were Wisconsin and Western Kentucky) and forced an average of 1.9 turnovers per game (same as Clemson).

And Alabama yielded an average of 11.4 points per game; no other defense gave up fewer points, on average, this season.

Ultimately, I am inclined to think that the defense will make the difference, but, while oddsmakers say Alabama is a 6½–point pick, I am more of the mind that Alabama will win by three points.

Last week: 9–7

Overall: 204–72

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 2–3

Overall upset specials: 14–24

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