The two best programs in the nation square off on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game presented by AT&T. The game kicks off at 8 PM EST from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. and will be carried on ESPN.
The game serves as a fitting end to what has been a stellar season of college football action. Alabama and Clemson entered the regular season ranked #1 and #2 respectively, and that’s exactly how they finished things out. These two programs have matching 14-0 records, and they are both coming in off of big victories in last week’s CFP Semifinal games.
While the Crimson Tide were coronated in many circles starting in September, another national crown is no sure thing. Yes, this looks like one of the finest teams in the recent Alabama dynasty era, but they’ll be squaring off with a Tigers squad which has proven its mettle time and again.
This will be the third meeting of these two squads in the CFP finals. They split those two contests in back-to-back years, and the total margin of victory from both games of nine points further demonstrates the closeness of the rivalry. This will be Alabama’s fourth straight appearance in the big game, and Clemson’s third in the past four years.
It shapes up to be an exceptional game which could very well come down to the final minutes. Let’s break down this matchup in full detail, starting with the game line.
Clemson vs. Alabama, 8 PM EST, Mon. January 7, ESPN
Clemson vs. Alabama pick:
Clemson rolled over the majority of their opponents, as 12 of the team’s 14 victories were by double digits. Only Texas A&M and Syracuse were able to keep it close against this team, which can overwhelm opponents on offense while shutting them down with stout defense. Alabama gets more headlines, but Clemson’s dominant season deserves plenty of kudos as well.
Alabama was even more impressive during the regular season, and they did it against a tougher schedule to boot. There are more top teams in the SEC than in the ACC, and the Crimson Tide had little trouble with virtually anyone in their path. In fact, they weren’t truly tested until the SEC title game versus Georgia, a game which Alabama had to rally to win.
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Back in Week 2, Clemson managed to escape Kyle Field with a two-point win in one of the more entertaining games of the early part of the season. Syracuse came to town a few weeks later and pushed the Tigers to the limit, but the hosts managed to walk off the field with a four-point victory. Outside of those two contests, Clemson’s lowest margin of victory came in a late-season 20-point win on the road at Boston College.
While racking up 14 victories, Alabama has picked up wins over five nationally-ranked squads. Perhaps the team’s most impressive stretch of the season came when they met #3 LSU and #16 Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. The Crimson Tide shut them both out: 29-0 over LSU, and 24-0 over Mississippi State. It was one of many statements the team would make throughout the course of the year, and also gave further fuel to claims that this may be the finest team of the Nick Saban era.
As the above stats indicate, the gap between these two programs is not that great at all. Alabama’s only noteworthy edge comes in the passing game, while Clemson has been much stronger on the ground. That’s mainly thanks to RB extraordinaire Travis Etienne, who checked in at fifth in the nation in rushing yards for 2018.
Defense is very close, but the edge can go to Clemson due to its greater strength against the run, as well as its stronger pass rush. Outside of those differences, these two squads are very evenly matched. The end result should be a close game, and the tightening spread indicates that the betting public thinks the same.
These two schools have faced off in each of the last three years during the College Football Playoffs. The first matchup took place in the final game back in 2016. Alabama was a 6.5-point home favorite, and they walked out with a 45-40 victory.
The following year, they would meet once again in the finals. The Crimson Tide were once again 6.5-point favorites, but they came up short this time around to to the tune of a 35-31 decision for the Tigers. They faced off yet again in last year’s semifinals, with Alabama installed as a 3.5-point favorite at kickoff.
The Crimson Tide got the better of that one by a score of 24-6 and would go on to defeat Georgia in the following week’s title game. This year, oddsmakers opened things up with Alabama as a 7-point favorite, but that line has moved to the Crimson Tide by five points as of this writing.
In two of the last three years, these two programs have hooked up for instant classics. We anticipate another one is coming. While Alabama was unquestionably dominant during the regular season, they had a real tough time with Georgia in the SEC title game. They followed that up with a victory over Oklahoma last week, but the win wasn’t quite as dominant as many were expecting.
Clemson has also dominated during the regular season, but they have shown no signs of slowing down. They obliterated Pitt in the ACC title tilt, and dropped the hammer on Notre Dame in last week’s semifinal game. While many have already handed the title to Alabama, we’re in the camp that believes this one could legitimately go either way.
In the end, we expect a close and hard-fought game that comes down to the final minutes. Similar to how they pulled a rabbit out of their hat versus Georgia, Alabama may escape with a victory here. However, Clemson keeps it close and tight throughout as the game goes down to the wire.
We’ll take Clemson plus the points.