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College Football Playoff Championship Prediction 2019

Justyn Ross, Clemson
Even with 126 other teams vying for the same trophy, Alabama and Clemson will meet in the College Football Playoff Championship Game for the third time in four seasons. Some are tired of the two program's dominance over the sport, but you have to appreciate the consistency and reliability of the two, especially in the Playoff era. The amazing thing is that these actually might be the two best editions of each team that will meet in the National Championship. Clemson is absolutely loaded on defense and seems to only be getting better with Trevor Lawrence running the show, while Alabama has their best offense in the Nick Saban era and is stocked defensively as well. Its understandable to have some fatigue when it comes to Clemson-Alabama, but this game should be extremely exciting, and feature so much of the stuff that makes college football great.

Since Trevor Lawrence took over for veteran Kelly Bryant at quarterback (with the exception of the Syracuse game, which he left with injury) Clemson has been averaging nearly 48 points per game and moving the ball at a pretty incredible rate. That begs the question: could this Clemson offense be even better than the 2015 and 2016 units that Alabama saw, which included Deshaun Watson and a bunch of other future NFL players? With the versatility, balance and playmaking potential at their disposal, it might not be crazy to say it is. Lawrence has played with a confidence and maturity well beyond his years; he dismantled a strong Notre Dame defense in the Cotton Bowl and he should be ready for the Crimson Tide. Alabama will also have to contain receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross on the perimeter, as well as Hunter Renfrow, who has played a huge role the last couple times these two have met. The Tigers will also feature a great combo at running back in Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster. Etienne was quiet in the Cotton Bowl, but his explosiveness is key for this offense, while Feaster is sure to see plenty of action as the short yardage option. These weapons do all this working behind a skilled offensive line, spearheaded by future NFL tackle Mitch Hyatt. There is speed all over the field, as well as a physical nature when need be. The thing is, that this Alabama defense is of course light years ahead of what Clemson saw for most of their schedule in the ACC. It should be quite an interesting challenge for Lawrence and Etienne especially; those two have been terrific all season but haven't faced much adversity or the types of hits Alabama defenders can lay down. How will Lawrence react when Quinnen Williams and company are bearing down on him every play? If Etienne struggles early, will he shut down? Beating Alabama is so difficult that you need nearly everything to go right, and also likely get a fair bit of luck. If Lawrence and company aren't ready or get pushed around early and let it get to them, the Tigers chances of coming out on top in this one slim significantly.

The Crimson Tide are also going to counter with their own explosive offense, which is led by Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa and Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy. Tagovailoa plays well beyond his years as well, and already has ample experience on the sport's biggest stage. The most important thing for Tua in this one will be understanding when to try and make a play and when to just accept nothing is going to happen. Oftentimes, he's tried to stretch nothing into something, which can compound mistakes, or in his case, lead to injury. Tagovailoa states he is basically 100 percent recovering from an ankle injury suffered in the SEC Championship Game, but he can't continue to take on these injuries, even with a savvy backup like Jalen Hurts waiting in the wings. Much like Clemson, the Tide can hit you hard with a physical style of offense they're accustomed to, or with some really terrifying speed on the perimeter. Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs are a load to handle, especially for a Tigers' defense that is missing tackle Dexter Lawrence, who played a huge role in run support. Jerry Jeudy has proven he can open up games every time he touches the ball at receiver, as well as Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs and the guy who caught last year's game winner in the Championship, DeVonta Smith. This amount of versatility and big-play potential is something we really haven't seen from an Alabama offense under Nick Saban, which is obviously scary. This is not simply a run-heavy, conservative unit, as Clemson has mostly seen in their last few matchups. This offense will pose a unique challenge to Brent Venables and the Clemson defense, which will have to be on its A game to contain it.

Even with how good both of these offenses clearly are, the fact of the matter is that the two defenses might be even better. In an era where players are leaving for the pros as fast as they can, the Tigers somehow managed to retain Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, all who could have went to the NFL this past spring. The trio will definitely miss Lawrence, who was ruled out for the Cotton Bowl and this game due to a failed drug test. Yet, veteran Albert Huggins played well in the semifinal in Lawrence's place and should still be able to contribute, and even if the rotational guys have proven they can cause chaos in opposing backfields. That defensive line definitely gets a ton of attention, and for good reason, but Clemson also has a back-end that will be crucial in containing the Crimson Tide. Isaiah Simmons led this team in tackles at linebacker, and veterans Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar have played and won countless big games. That veteran experience continues on to the secondary, where Trayvon Mullen and A.J. Terrell will have to play well to contain Jeudy and the other Alabama receivers. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best in the business, and it will be interesting to watch how he chooses to counter 'Bama. He's well known for his exotic blitzes and ever-changing coverage looks, and my guess is he'll come at the Tide with a bunch of different personnel packages and matchups. This defense is comparable and even better than the Georgia defense that gave Alabama so much problems in the SEC Championship. Even with a healthy Tua, I don't see Alabama getting anything easy here.

Of course, Alabama is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball either, also coming at offenses with a ferocious pass rush and versatile defensive backfield. Quinnen Williams has been absolutely unblockable at times this season for the Tide, including the Sugar Bowl and victory over LSU. Clemson is going to almost have to double team, which could open up lanes for others, such as Raekwon Davis or Isaiah Buggs. Alabama's rush defense is their usual selves, thanks in large part to a rangy group of linebackers, which includes Dylan Moses and hard-hitting Mack Wilson. Then, in the secondary, they have All-American safety Deionte Thompson and a number of young guys that play much older, such as Saivion Smith and Patrick Surtain Jr. The biggest question for this defense is whether or not they can stop the big play. They have done a great job limiting it all season long, but this Clemson unit is a whole different animal.

Josh Jacobs, Alabama
Both of these teams have offenses and defenses that are pretty phenomenal top to bottom. There are also evenly matched, with neither team having a clear-cut advantage over the other one, in my humble opinion. That means that this game could end up coming down to different, seemingly less important factors such as special teams, or even motivation. Clemson seems to have the clear edge in the motivation aspect, although the Tide would of course love to add another notch in Saban's title belt. The Tigers were demolished by Alabama in last year's Playoff semifinal and Wilkins, Bryant and Ferrell all talked about wanting to come back and get vengeance. They've also had to endure talk all season about Tua and his Heisman chances, and how this could be "the best Alabama team ever". You can guarantee that they want to get out there and show what they can do. In a game with so much talent on the field at one time, expect special teams to play a role. Field position is going to be crucial, and a missed field goal or extra point will sway the momentum in a big way. Neither team has a distinct advantage here, but Alabama's kicking woes have been well documented.

I'm gone back and forth on who I think will be crowned National Champion when its all said and done. These two are clearly the best two teams in the country, but only one can take it all home. While I think stopping Tua and the Tide's collection of receivers will be incredibly difficult, I'm picking the Tigers in a close game. Trevor Lawrence will be facing down the toughest defense he probably has ever seen, but I think he'll be ready and this Clemson team has the size and strength to compete with Alabama for sixty minutes, something few others can say. I also think Venables and this staff are going to come up with some creative ways to shut down Tua and this offense, putting the Tigers in the best possible position. Even after months of football, I'm sticking with my preseason pick: the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson, 34 Alabama, 31

1 comment:

Mike McGowan said...

Sorry @McGowanMania , but I have to dis-agree. I think Alamaba will the spread(s) and win by seven. Happy to be wrong but that is where my $$ go.

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