We are now just a matter of hours away from the 2017 CFP National Championship, and for the second consecutive year, the Clemson Tigers represent the ACC, in hopes that the conference can capture their first national championship since the 2013 season (Florida State).
Mike, Justin, and Jeff get together to discuss their keys to the game, as well as who they expect to come out on top.
1) Which offense has the edge in your opinion?
Mike: When clicking on all cylinders, there’s no doubt that it is Clemson in my opinion. Alabama’s offense is underrated due to the dominance of their defense, but Clemson’s offense has so many weapons at all of the skill positions, that I find it difficult to place Alabama ahead, with as talented as they are in their own right.
Justin: Clemson by a hair. This might be ACC favoritism, but I really do love the Tiger offense when it’s humming. Alabama does a perfectly nice job of everything though so it’s tough to give much of an advantage. It will likely be a push here with one team making an extra play somewhere along the line to seal it just like last year.
Jeff: Clemson has the better offense overall. Are there things the Alabama offense does better? Yes. The key factor here though is that they are going up against one of the best college defenses ever in Alabama. Watson must protect the ball at all costs here for his team to win.
2) Which defense has the edge in your opinion?
Mike: Clemson is talented on the defensive side of the football no doubt, but Alabama had one of the best defenses of all-time last season, and may have even improved this season. They’ll be missing All-American Eddie Jackson from this game, but Minkah Fitzpatrick is undoubtedly one of the best playmakers in the country leading their secondary.
Justin: Alabama by a bit. They’re the best defense in the nation for a reason so the match of strong units makes for a terrific battle. If this offense-defense comes anywhere near last year’s title clash we’ll be pretty lucky.
Jeff: Alabama has the better defense. The fact that they’ve only given up 17 TDs all year while also SCORING 11 TDs is mind-boggling. However, the matchup that will determine the winner is the Clemson defense vs the Alabama offense.
3) Who is the Clemson X-Factor?
Mike: For me, it has to be the duo of receivers in Mike Williams and Deon Cain. They are two of Deshaun Watson’s top targets on the season, combining for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Neither of them played in last season’s match-up due to injury/suspension, so how Alabama accounts for them on defense could make the difference between the Crimson Tide winning and losing.
Justin: Wayne Gallman. If he manages to have a big game, that will mean that the Clemson offense was able to move the ball while maintaining balance. He always seems to get lost in the shuffle of the talented offensive crowd.
Jeff: The X-Factor for Clemson will be Watson’s ability to make plays with his feet. I don’t mean planned QB runs, but more when a play breaks down, can he improvise against this defense to bail his team out? If he can, then that will knee the chains moving and give the Tigers a chance.
4) Who is the Alabama X-Factor?
Mike: The offensive line. Clemson presents Alabama perhaps the toughest front seven that the offense has faced all season long. If the offensive line cannot open up holes for running back Bo Scarborough and has issues protecting quarterback Jalen Hurts, it could be tough for the Alabama offense to get untracked, even with all of their top notch talent on that side of the football.
Justin: Jalen Hurts is an obvious choice, but he needs to avoid errors. He’s done a great job of that this season — better in fact than his Clemson counterpart — he’ll just have to avoid regressing to making youthful mistakes on the biggest stage.
Jeff: Defensive TDs. If Alabama’s defense scores, most likely the game will be trending in their favor. A defensive TD might be too much for Clemson to overcome.
5) What is the key match-up that you’ll be watching for in this game
Mike: Clemson’s secondary against Alabama’s receiving corps is going to be the match-up that I will be watching in this game. If the Tigers can get ample pressure on Jalen Hurts and confine him to the pocket, Brent Venables’ secondary will need to win their individual battles with Alabama receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley to give the Tigers a legitimate shot at getting the Crimson Tide offense off the field, especially on third down.
Justin: The thing to always keep an eye on when Alabama plays is can the opponent make any kind of dent against the offensive or defensive lines. If the Tigers can’t make a noticeable impact and take charge in the trenches early, they could be in for a long night. That isn’t something that’s likely to improve if it starts poorly.
Jeff: The key matchup will be Clemson’s young OL vs Alabama’s DL. They don’t have to be perfect. If they can give Gallman a little space to operate and Watson just enough time to find his guys down field, then this game will be exciting to watch.
6) Score Prediction?
Mike: Clemson 30 Alabama 27
Justin: Alabama 35 Clemson 28
Jeff: Clemson 20 Alabama 17