The time has come. No, not the time for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson. That match-up comes at 7:30 p.m. CST Monday from University of Phoenix Stadium (we STILL haven’t seen the campus!) in Glendale, Ariz. ESPN will televise the game.
But the time has come to make a prediction. Alabama is a 7-point favorite in the game with the Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers predicted to score a combined 50 ½ points, the over/under.
One ordinarily thinks of the primary elements that go into game success. Best players, obviously, but college football is also a coaches game, and we put a lot of stock in the coach. There is offense, defense, and special teams to consider, and depth. What kind of schedule has each team played, and how have they performed in those games?
What about the weather? Sometimes, and if you are interested it will be around 50 and clear. But in the dome stadium (which has a natural grass surface), things should be perfect.
If this was a talking contest, it looks like Clemson would be the hands-down favorite. The Tigers players have been 4.5ish in running their mouths. One interesting comment was that Alabama was favored only because it is a “brand.” While it is true that Bama is one of the bluebloods of college football and Clemson was part of a Lewis Grizzard joke (“Clemson is nothing but Auburn with a lake”), the implication was that if Alabama wins it will be because of its extraordinary history and tradition. And that sounds like an excuse.
Not wanting to have an excuse is why we excused our Almost Pefrect Picks Department from predicting this game, allowing the nerds to end the season with their 11-for-11 bowl game performance.
As has been pointed out various times in the past, our prediction on Alabama games is precisely the same as Alabama results. We always think Alabama is going to win. Fortunately for our record, we are almost always right with that formula.
In 1965, the Associated Press changed its formula for winning the national championship to including bowl games. That was because Alabama had won the 1964 national championship and then lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl after the polls had closed.
We attended the 1965 Orange Bowl game against Nebraska for the national championship (won by Alabama, 39-28). We have covered all subsequent Alabama post-season games for the crown, either as a member of The University sports informnation staff (1970-78) or as editor of ‘BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com (1979-present). It is a surpringly lengthy list for one school. They are:
Orange Bowl vs. Nebraska at end of 1971 season (Nebraska 38, UA 6); Sugar Bowl, 1973 (Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23 but Bama was already UPI national champion because UPI still considered regular season only); Sugar Bowl, 1978 (UA 14, Penn State 7); Sugar Bowl, 1979 (Bama 24, Arkansas 9); Sugar Bowl, 1989 (Miami 33, Bama 25); Sugar Bowl, 1992 (Alabama 34, Miami 13); Rose Bowl, 2009 (Alabama 37, Texas 21); Sugar Bowl, 2011 (Alabama 21, LSU 0); Orange Bowl, 2012 (UA 42, Notre Dame 14).
That’s a 9-3 record for Alabama and for our predictions in games for the national championship.
So onto Monday night’s game and prediction:
As we have pointed out in the past, we consider the “eye test” to have some relevancy. By eye test, we mean, “If a bar fight is looming, which team do you want to be on your side?” As is usually the case, we take Alabama. We didn’t see any A’Shawn Robinson types when checking out the Clemson players. Bama has a lot of those types.
We also take into consideration the schedule. A popular national opinion is that the Southeastern Conference was down, or even awful. We beg to differ. There were a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks starting out the season, but defenses were pretty good. Alabama had a 7-1 record in SEC regular season games, plus defeating Florida in the SEC Championship Game. All nine SEC opponents were in bowl games.
And pardon us if we can’t get excited about the ACC, where Clemson was 8-0. There was a three-point win over Louisville and tdwo-point win over a Notre Dame team that looked good in the pre-season before injuries struck. And speaking of struck, we were struck by Clemson giving up 24 points to Georgia Tech, 41 to North Carolina State, and 27 to Syracuse. In the regular season finale the Tigers allowed the worst team in the SEC to get 32, barely beating South Carolina 37-32. In the ACC Championship Game, Clemson was a 45-37 winner over North Carolina, in a game at least partly tainted by a terrible official’s call that went Clemson’s way and preserved the victory.
We like a team – Alabama – that gave up only 13.4 points per game, including 0 to Michigan State. Bama gave up only 70.8 yards per game rushing, only 2.3 yards per rush. The Tigers averaged over 500 yards per game total offense, but also averaged giving up over 300 per game, and that includes games against the likes of Wofford and South Carolina.
We think Clemson will be a little shocked at the speed and power of Bama, particularly the Tide’s defense.
We like players who have been there. A number of Bama players have been successful in a national championship game. Ditto for coaches.
So to get to the bottom line, we have great respect for Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson (though we’re not convinced he’s 100 per cent after being injured against Oklahoma). And we certainly have admiration for Dabo Swinney, one of the all-time great success stories.
But in a game for the national championship, we have to go with the best players and best coaches with success against the most challenging schedule. We also can’t help but think that Clemson has been thrilled just to get to this game, whereas Alabama knows the goal is higher.
We also can’t forget the incredible focus of this Crimson Tide in destroying a very good Michigan State team in what we thought at the time was the real national championship game.
Now, if Alabama is minus five in the turnover battle, as was the case in Bama’s lone loss of the year, all bets are off. But our guess is Alabama 31, Clemson 17.
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And Alabama’s 16th national championship, fourth under Nick Saban.