Alabama (13-1) vs Clemson (14-0)
When: Monday, January 11th 2016
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Time: 8:30 ET | TV: ESPN
The Alabama Crimson Tide look to win their fourth national title in seven years when they take on the top-ranked and undefeated Clemson Tigers Monday night. The Crimson Tide reached the title game with a resounding 38-0 victory over Michigan State in the semifinals for their 11th straight victory. The early season loss at home to Ole Miss really lit a fire in this team. The responded by scoring 29 or more points in nine of those eleven games and held their opponents to 10 or less five times. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has rushed for an SEC-record 2,061 yards to go with a conference-tying 25 rushing touchdowns while cementing himself as one of the top running backs in SEC history. Senior Kenyan Drake (407 yards) is back from a broken arm to provide a nice backup for Henry and to take pressure off of quarterback Jake Coker. The senior QB has guided this team with his mistake-free football over the last four games, throwing 7 touchdowns to zero interceptions in that stretch. He completed 25-of-30 passes in the win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley filled the void left by Amari Cooper very nicely by catching 83 balls for 1,031 yards including two touchdowns against the Spartans. The best defense in the country was led by Eddie Jackson (five interceptions, two returned for TDs), senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland (team-best 97 tackles) and junior defensive Jonathan Allen (team-high 12 sacks). The Tide are second in overall defense in the country, first in points allowed, and tops against the run.
While Alabama is the top defensive team in the country, the Clemson defense isn’t far behind. They completely shut down Oklahoma in the second half of the Orange Bowl and defeated the Sooners 37-17 to reach the title game. They are sixth in the nation in yards allowed per game (302.0). The key to slowing down the Alabama rushing game relies heavily on whether standout Shaq Lawson is ready to go. His status remains unclear after he suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the semifinal victory over Oklahoma. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has stated that he is hopeful that Lawson (team-best 23.5 tackles for losses, including 10.5 sacks) would be able to play. The Tigers did fine without him against the Sooners, but he could really help their chances of beating the Tide. Still, the Tigers have solid contributors on defense like senior middle linebacker B.J. Goodson (team-best 98 tackles), junior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (team-leading five interceptions) and junior defensive end Kevin Dodd (nine sacks). Clemson is hoping that dynamic quarterback Deshaun Watson can find a way to score against the vaunted Alabama defense. He passed for 3,699 yards and 31 touchdowns this season, while rushing for another 1,032 rushing yards and 12 scores. He ran for 145 yards and a score against Oklahoma while running back Wayne Gallman added 150 and two scores. Gallman is an underrated back who set a school-rushing record with 1,482 yards to go with 12 touchdowns.
I think a mobile quarterback like Watson can give Alabama enough trouble to keep this game close. This is the best defense that Coker will see this season. Henry will get his yards, especially as the game goes along. I can see this going back-and-forth and staying close all night. I can also see Alabama’s defense completely dominating, but I’m going to take the underdog Tigers to keep it close.
Pick: Clemson +7