Alabama vs. Clemson IV: We predict who wins the CFP National Championship
If you’re bored by greatness, flip on the Big Ten Network tonight. You won’t find any there.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will enjoy the latest installment of college football’s hottest rivalry.
We have been eagerly awaiting Alabama-Clemson IV since July’s media days. Now it’s here, and somehow it’s more intriguing than it looked six months ago.
Thank the two generational, completely different 5-star quarterbacks for that. Monday night’s national championship has new characters and a new plot (and just enough familiar curmudgeons roaming the trenches and sidelines).
Neither defense has seen a quarterback quite like this, except in practice. Neither secondary has seen outside weapons like this, except in practice. Neither quarterback has stared across the line and seen a more intimidating front seven, except in practice.
The preseason promises delivered what we wanted on the final Monday night of the college football season: Best on best.
So who wins it all? That’s something we’ve been talking about since Week 1.
Connor O’Gara: Alabama 42, Clemson 38
Coming into the SEC Championship, I wondered if history was going to repeat itself. We spent all of 2016 talking about how dominant that Alabama team was after rolling through the regular season relatively untested. Then, Clemson actually forced the Crimson Tide to play a full 60 minutes and Alabama ran out of gas trying to shut down Deshaun Watson.
In each of Alabama’s past 2 games this year, it had to pick up key conversions in the final minutes. That means something. Having familiarity in those big-time moments late in games can make all the difference, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it did on Monday night. Clemson, on the other hand, has won at least every post-September game by 20 points with Trevor Lawrence as the starter.
I do think that these teams play down to the wire. They both have the firepower offensively to go back and forth for what should be as intriguing of a chapter as any in this great modern rivalry. But with a confident Tua Tagovailoa leading the charge late, give me Alabama to outlast Clemson, 42-38.
— Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist for SDS.
Rick Stavig: Alabama 34-31
Ding, ding, ding – Round 4, here we go. While much of the country is annoyed that we get another title fight between Alabama and Clemson, there should be little doubt that these are and have been the two best teams in the country. I think this year’s game could be the best yet, because each team is better than they have been the past few years, as remarkable as that might sound. This game not only features the two best coaches in the country, but the two most talented quarterbacks (no offense to Kyler Murray, but he’s No. 3, despite what Heisman voters think).
I think Alabama wins 34-31. Why? Alabama has the better coach, its quarterback has more experience, it has more depth and it’s more consistent. Dabo Swinney is a fantastic coach, but no one is better in big games than Saban. Trevor Lawrence is an unbelievably gifted quarterback, but Tua Tagovailoa already has title game experience and has proven he can come up clutch when the entire season is on the line. Clemson has arguably more talent and depth than anyone in the country, except for Alabama. And no team is more consistent than Alabama in terms of preparedness and execution, and they never beat themselves.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go down to the wire, like in 2015 and 2016, but I would be surprised to see Nick Saban walk away from this game without his record-setting 7th national championship.
— Rick Stavig covers the SEC West and scouting for SDS.
Tom Brew: Clemson 28, Alabama 23
Because I’ve spent the season analyzing this Alabama team from the Georgia perspective, I always watched them closely with respect, but still felt they were beatable. I picked Georgia to beat them in the SEC Championship Game for two reasons, because the Bulldogs had the athletes to keep up with them, and they had a quarterback (Jake Fromm) who could make enough big plays.
I feel the same way about this Clemson team. They have the defensive front to contain Alabama’s running game and put a lot of pressure on Tagovailoa. One of the reasons I thought Georgia could beat them was because I didn’t think Tagovailoa and his bad knee could last 60 minutes against their pressure. He didn’t, but I just didn’t plan on the Jalen Hurts miracle factor. Now Tagovailoa is recovering from a surgically repaired ankle as well, and if he gets knocked around a lot, can he survive 60 minutes against Clemson, too? I wonder.
Lastly, true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has proven that he can make plays in Clemson’s offense. He’s mature far beyond his years. He will make plays against Alabama too, and he’ll do it at all the right times. Lawrence will do in this game what Tagovailoa did last year. Tigers win in a classic. Clemson 28, Alabama 23.
— Tom Brew covers Georgia for SDS.
Adam Spencer: Alabama 31-24
I thought heading into the Playoff that Oklahoma would be the biggest challenge for Alabama and I stand by that. Kyler Murray is better than Trevor Lawrence at this point, though Lawrence could become an absolute superstar in the next couple of years. However, even Deshaun Watson needed two tries to beat the Crimson Tide, and I think that will be the case again on Monday night in California.
Don’t get me wrong — Clemson is loaded with talent, but I just think it’s a good matchup for the Tide. Give me Alabama 31-24.
— Adam Spencer covers Missouri and the SEC for SDS.
Chris Wright: Alabama 41, Clemson 31
Trevor Lawrence is better than Jake Fromm. Lawrence’s receivers are bigger and better than the weapons Georgia had last year. And Georgia nearly beat Alabama.
I’ll be more surprised if Lawrence his held under 200 yards passing than if he goes over 300. I’m expecting him to throw for 300 yards and 3 TDs. Those are crazy numbers considering:
A) Lawrence has only reached those totals in the same game twice: at FSU (314, 4 TDs) and against Notre Dame in the Playoff semifinal (327, 3 TDs);
B) Just 12 quarterbacks have reached those numbers in the same game against Nick Saban at Alabama. Alabama is 7-5 in those games, including a victory over Fromm (301, 3 TDs) in the SEC Championship Game.
But Clemson’s true freshman QB is plenty good enough to get there, especially against a Tide secondary I still don’t fully trust.
So why Alabama?
I’m expecting Tua Tagovailoa to match Lawrence and raise the ante at every turn. That’s what the great ones do.
No team has stopped a healthy Tagovailoa yet. Clemson’s front four might be the best in the country, even without Dexter Lawrence. But they were just as great last year and gave up 24 to an Alabama team that hadn’t yet discovered how much fun it was to throw the ball.
Ah, but what happens if Tagovailoa limps off again? Would Alabama’s quest for perfection disappear in the medical tent with him? Six weeks ago, I would have been concerned that Alabama couldn’t win a shootout without him. Not anymore. I’m not sure Jalen Hurts’ confidence has ever been higher after what he did to win the SEC Championship Game, with his arm. Hurts already has beaten Clemson once — and scored the go-ahead TD against them as a freshman, too, don’t forget.
This is the best team Nick Saban has had (until next year, anyway). Monday night will bring the final confirmation.