It’s already 2017, but the College Football Playoff championship game between Clemson and Alabama, a repeat from a year ago, is a fitting conclusion to the 2016 season in Division I football, between a team and a head coach trying to extend a historic era for the program, against a program that wants to begin an era just like that.
The Tigers, coached by Dabo Swinney, have been known for being a ‘Shadow SEC’ team, whatever that means. Regardless of how you call them, two things are clear: They’ve taken the long road towards ACC dominance, which has been clear cut over the last two years, and they’ve been waiting a long time for a national championship, last coming the Tigers way in 1981. Last season they went in undefeated to the title game but lost 45-40, with a Nick Saban trick play changing the momentum in a terrific encounter, en route to his fourth national title since taking over the most important job in the state of Alabama.
For the Crimson Tide, this is an opportunity to make their hold on ‘the best program ever’ and Nick Saban’s own legacy in Tuscaloosa and college football in general even greater. This Alabama defense might be the best in the history of the game, coming off an undefeated season. They held a terrific Washington team to just 7 points and 194 yards, forcing 3 turnovers. They haven’t given up more than 16 points in a single game since early October against Arkansas.
Clemson have a terrific defense too, shown by their shutout of possibly the best rushing offense in college football. Clemson held by the Buckeyes to just 215 total yards and forced 3 turnovers. They should worry about their own two turnovers, something Alabama thrives on, but don’t be surprised if Alabama struggle even more than usual in moving the ball through traditional means, meaning offense. It might be common knowledge, but avoiding turnovers and putting the ball in the hand’s of Alabama’s offense to decide the game is the best thing any team can do, and as it turns out, Clemson are the team best suited to achieve that.
The most dangerous man on Alabama’s offense is Bo Scarbrough, who didn’t do something too impressive this season, but has four rushing touchdowns in the last two games, rushing for 180 yards against Clemson. There’s never just one player on an Alabama team to worry about; that’s impossible with so much talent Saban puts together year in and year out. However, there’s always someone a bit more dangerous than the rest.
Clemson put their faith in the hands of Deshaun Watson. He’s a little bit less consistent than they would like him to be, but he’s not a place holder like Alabama quarterbacks often are. Everything depends on whether or not he can shred the ‘Bama defense like he did a year ago, or at least not fall apart in front of it. Clemson have plenty of talent around him, but they’re one of the teams that rely heavily on whether or not their quarterback has a good day.
Maybe not too far into the future, Swinney will replace Saban at Alabama; that is what everyone expects to happen. It wouldn’t hurt if he gets a big win over the team he’s supposed to take over, when it matters the most.