Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers will take on Alabama for the second straight season after routing Ohio State in a 31-0 shutout in the Fiesta Bowl. After securing consecutive ACC titles for the first time since 1988, the Tigers hope to bring home the National Championship to Clemson for the first time in 35 years. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide will be trying to win back-to-back titles, its fifth in eight years.
Let’s break it down.
Tigers vs. The Tide: National Championship Breakdown
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (14-0, 8-0 SEC) enters the College Football Playoff National Championship with a clear defensive advantage. Many argue this is the best secondary to ever play under the Alabama head coach. Before the start of the 2016 season, most would have agreed that the 2011 National Championship team would take the cake as Saban’s finest; only allowing nine offensive touchdowns the entire season. That all changed as the 2016 season unfolded.
The Tide entered the Peach Bowl with 10 defensive touchdowns on the season, notching its 11th against the Huskies late in the first half. There’s no questioning the talent of this Bama defense, but with forces like Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, Clemson has the ability to get in the way of Alabama run game.
Speaking of the Tiger’s offense, a conversation can’t be had without mention of Deshaun Watson. The two-time Heisman candidate is a talent not often seen in college football. Watson threw for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns. As the team’s second-leading rusher with 586 yards and eight touchdowns, Watson is the center of this Clemson team.
With his ability in the air and on the ground, combined with a talented group of receivers, an offensive advantage is clear on the side of Clemson. The biggest concern for Watson and the Clemson offense: turnovers. The Tigers’ quarterback recorded 17 interceptions on the season, one of the major disadvantages Watson faced in the race for Heisman.
Things to Watch:
- Sarkisian & the Alabama Offense
With Nick Saban sending Lane Kiffin to FAU a week earlier than planned, Steve Sarkisian will make his debut as the team’s offensive coordinator in the National Championship. While the new member of the coaching staff has experience with the team in an off-the-field role, Sarkisian doesn’t have much time to move into his new role before the team’s biggest game of the season.
- Clemson’s Offense vs. Alabama’s Defense
It’s power versus power. Clemson ranks 13th nationally, averaging 39.5 points per game, and Alabama ranks first by keeping opponents to 11.4 points. Alabama’s ability to convert turnover to points can be a dangerous factor against a Clemson offense that recorded 26 turnovers on the season.
- Third Downs
In third-down offense, Clemson ranks 5th nationally, while Alabama is ranked 21st. On the other side of the ball, Clemson ranks 6th with Alabama at a close 7th nationally. These numbers could prove to be very important as these two teams look to exploit one another’s weaknesses and restrict the other’s strengths.
Simply put: the 2016 National Championship’s is the Tigers’ to win, and Alabama’s to lose. The Tigers have experience on this stage, and against this team. With that familiarity is also the resonating feeling of dissatisfaction and hunger following last season’s 45-40 loss to, who other than, the Alabama Crimson Tide.