It is hard to believe another college football season is almost over, and there is only one game left to play. It is time for the 2017 National Title Game Preview here at Last Word on College Football.
Since the title game came into existence in 1998 with the BCS, the same two teams have never met in successive years for the championship. When Alabama and Clemson meet on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, they will try to live up to last year’s Instant Classic.
The Crimson Tide rallied from a 24-20 third quarter deficit to claim their fourth national title in nine seasons winning 45-40. This despite a record setting performance from Deshaun Watson. The Tiger quarterback threw for four touchdowns and had 478 yards of total offense, breaking the title game record of Vince Young set in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Going For History
With the 24-7 win over Washington in the Peach Bowl, Alabama will be trying for a fifth National title under Nick Saban. They are attempting to become the first FBS team in history to go 15-0 in a season.
Bo Scarbrough led the way for the Crimson Tide with 180 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for only 47 yards as they struggled to move the ball against a good Washington defense.
A win will give Saban his sixth National Championship, tying him with another Alabama legend Bear Bryant at number one on the list.
The Lane Kiffin Situation
On Monday, the school announced that Lane Kiffin had been relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator. He was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic on December 12th and has been splitting duties ever since.
Lane's done at Bama. pic.twitter.com/tegdPOU0tS
The Tide had trouble on offense this year and did once again against Washington. Only amassing 326 total yards, Alabama got help with 10 points off turnovers, something they have done all season. Through 14 games, the nation’s best defense and special teams units have been responsible for a remarkable 15 touchdowns.
Steve Sarkisian will handle the offensive coordinator duties for the title game. The former USC coach has been an offensive analyst for the club all season long. He will be coordinator in 2017, so he is getting a head start on next year.
The national title game gives Sarkisian the most scrutinized tryout in history. It is a bold move by Saban, but you don’t win five national championships by playing it safe.
Dumping Kiffin was the right thing to do; in his three years in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin had become more of a distraction, especially recently. Furthermore, if you look at Kiffin’s history, three years seems to be about as long as he stays anywhere.
The Real Heisman Winner?
Had the Heisman Trophy voting taken place in January, then Deshaun Watson would have won going away. Given the way Watson played down the stretch in comparison to winner Lamar Jackson, it would have been a landslide.
In the 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Watson threw for 259 yards and one touchdown. He found the end zone two more times via the run. Over the last six games, Watson has thrown for 1,845 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has another 249 yards on the ground with five more scores.
This time against Alabama, Watson will have his favorite target Mike Williams to throw to. Against the Huskies, Williams had a team high six catches for 96 yards. On the season, Williams has 90 receptions for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed last season due to a neck injury suffered in the first game.
As good as Watson has been the Tiger defense, was just as good against the Buckeyes. Dabo Swinney‘s club held the Buckeyes to 215 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers. As a matter of fact, it was the first time ever an Urban Meyer coached team has been shut out, a streak of 194 games.
#OhioState gets SHUTOUT:
First time since: 1993
First time in a bowl since: 1920
First time for Urban Meyer since: EVER
Who Wins the Rematch?
In what is likely be his last game in college, Watson will look to lead Clemson to their first national championship since 1981 and second overall. Having Williams to throw to will be huge, as they will look to exploit his size against the Alabama secondary.
If there is a knock on Watson, it is his tendency to throw interceptions. He has 30 in 29 games over the last two seasons. The opportunistic Tide defense will look to force turnovers and take advantage as they have done all season.
On the other side of the ball, the key for Clemson will be to try to pressure Hurts. The Tigers have 49 sacks in 2016, and stats show Hurts has not done nearly as well when pressured.
Jalen Hurts was 0-4 under pressure vs Washington. He's now completed just 30.3% of his pass attempts under pressure this season.
More than likely, this will mean a healthy dose of Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Hurts can also do damage running the ball. In their only loss of the season, the Tigers gave up 132 yards to Pittsburgh’s James Connor. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook rang up 169 yards on the Clemson defense so they can be beat by the run.
If Alabama wins, Hurts will become only the second true freshman quarterback to win a national title. The other was Jamelle Holieway of Oklahoma in 1985. Hurts has handled the pressure all season, but this game of this magnitude could be different.
In the entertainment industry, the toughest thing to do is make a good sequel. For every “Godfather Part 2” or “Empire Strikes Back”, there are a million “Caddyshack 2’s” or “The Phantom Menace.”
The first ever college football playoff sequel will be just as good as the first and will feature a familiar result. In games like this, the team with the better defense usually ends up winning. No one has a better defense than Alabama, and they will hoist the trophy again.
Alabama 34 Clemson 28