Monday, January 9, 2017

College Football: Ending the Season with the CFP Championship

By most accounts, this has been an excellent season of College Football. Filled with big plays, huge upsets, stunning finishes and great performances by both teams and individuals college football proved, once again, that it's a far superior product to the "No Fun League" that operates primarily on Sundays.

And....there's one last game....

College Football Playoff Championship Game. Monday, January 9th, 7:00 PM CST.

Clemson vs. Alabama (-6.5) [51]. There are two schools of thought on this game: First, are the people who believe that this is nothing more than a coronation for Nick Saban as the greatest college football coach of all time. A fitting capstone to a decade of football domination.  Second, those who believe that Clemson has the physical talent, and the style of play, that can give Alabama fits.

And where do I stand?  Somewhere in the middle.

I do think that Alabama is a very good, albeit not great, football team. They have talent across the board, a good, albeit inconsistent quarterback who is limited by the fact that the Crimson Tide do not have the best receivers in the game.  What they do have, on offense, is a sturdy offensive line and a deep, talented roster of RB's and TE's who make the plays needed to win the game.  Bama QB Jalen Hurts has been great, for a true Freshman, but can get sloppy with the ball and is not the best down-field passer that you've ever seen.

In terms of skill-players, Clemson has the clear edge offensively. Tiger quarterback DeShaun Watson is a spectacular playmaker who's game is tailor made for today's college football offensive environment. He's fast, athletic and can make throws down the field. Usually those throws are made to all-world WR Mike Williams, or Sophomore Deon Cain. What makes Clemson's offense so potent however is the "run" piece of the "run-pass option" the Tigers employ. Besides Watson running the ball Jr running back Wayne Gallman is having a great year carrying the ball. He's explosive, and runs hard behind his pads.

The defense tasked with stopping the Tigers is one of if not the best in the nation. Their strength is in their front 7. A 3-4 scheme that features De-Ron Payne at NT, flanked by a solid pair of DE's. The linebacking corps is strong, fast and athletic and ball-hawking. Alabama's secondary is young, but aided by the fact that they don't have to cover long due to the pressure that the pass-rushers put on opposing quarterbacks.  One thing to watch for is whether or not Watson can extend plays and force
Bama's relatively young defensive backfield cover those talented WR's for an extended period of time.

There are some unknowns leading into this game for Alabama offensively.  Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkesian will be calling plays for the first time this season after former OC (and new FAU head coach) Lane Kiffin accomplished the rare feat of being fired from a job he had already quit last week. The expected dual between WR ArDarias Stewart and Clemson CB Cordrea Tankersley could be key to Bama having any semblance of a downfield passing attack.  One thing Alabama will (probably) do well, is run the ball with Sophomore Damien Harris starting things off and then (hopefully, for Tide fans) Sophomore Bo Scharbough (all 240 lbs of him) coming in to wear the Tiger's defense down.

Clemson's defense has some young, talented players, but they are anchored by three Seniors, the aforementioned Tankersley, LB Ben Boulware and DT Carlos Watkins.  Watkins and Boulware will be key in stopping Alabama's running attack, Watkins matching up against the RB's and Boulware stopping Tide QB Hurts from causing havoc on the outside.

I don't see much difference between the two side's special teams, but the kicking game could be key and Alabama kicker Adam Griffith has been known to miss FG's from time to time. Could be something to watch for.

While I think that Nick Saban gets a lot of glory, rightfully so, for his coaching excellence, Clemson head-coach Dabo Swinney could be the right man at his job. Bama has questions at OC but I think they'll be OK. Probably the best assistant on either side is Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. His ability to react to the changes in offense that Sarkesian is obviously going to bring makes this a much more interesting game than it already was before Kiffin's dismissal.

Outlook:  I think both teams score early, and then things settle down. I think the line of 51 is just about right so I wouldn't mess with much there.  What I don't like is the spread. I think Clemson is much closer to Alabama than many think and while I'm not comfortable enough to call for the ML pick, I do think they can play close enough to cover.

Prediction:  Clemson 27 Alabama 28

Pick: Clemson to cover +6.5

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