Alabama Clemson Face Off In CFP Rematch

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Saban Can Tie Bear with Sixth National Title

By John Ventola

The third College Football Playoff championship game will be played tonight in Tampa between No. 1 ranked, unbeaten Alabama, and No. 3 ranked (before CFP semifinals), once beaten Clemson.

No need to feel like you are having a flashback. The championship combatants are the

SEC

SEC Has Won Eight Of Last Ten National Championships

same as last year’s CFPII track meet in Glendale, Arizona, where Alabama outlasted the Tigers, 45-40, to secure Nick Saban’s fourth national championship. Should the Crimson Tide prevail tonight, Saban will tie Paul “Bear” Bryant with his sixth national title (five at Alabama and one at LSU). It will also mark Saban’s fifth championship in the past eight years.

Clemson, on the other hand, will make a second attempt at securing its first national championship since former Alabama player Danny Ford led the Tigers to the mountain top in 1981. Oddly, another Tide player, Dabo Swinney, will be calling the shots again for Clemson tonight.

Besides the scene of the game changing, the roles will be reversed in this season’s rematch. Last year Clemson came into the game ranked No. 1 and unbeaten, while second ranked Alabama, with 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, had suffered an early season loss to SEC foe Ole Miss.

CFPIII, Nick versus Dabo II.

It should be a dandy, but it will be difficult to repeat the offensive production and big plays that were on display in last year’s action. The teams combined for 40 fourth

football

It Will Be Hard To Replicate CFPII’s Offensive Production

quarter points (24 for Bama, 16 for Clemson), racked up 1,023 total yards of offense (550 Clemson, 473 Bama), converted almost 50% of third down attempts (Bama 9-18, Clemson 6-14), split time of possession equally (over 29 minutes each), while keeping the scoreboard operator busy. Clemson easily won the first down battle, 31 to 18.

Henry ran for 158 yards on 36 carries and scored three touchdowns in CFPII, but Alabama won the game on big plays, a 95-yard kickoff return by Kenyon Drake, and 208 record-setting receiving yards by receiver O.J. Howard. Howard was on the receiving end of five passes from Florida State transfer Jake Coker, who handled the Bama offense flawlessly, passing for 335 yards with no interceptions. Henry, Drake, and Coker are gone. Howard returns with a freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who threw for only 57 yards in Alabama’s 24-7 win over Washington.

Sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough scored on a scintillating 68-yard run while gaining 180 yards on 19 carries against the Huskies, but Hurts was off target, and at

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Hurts’ Production Will Determine Outcome

times appeared rattled. Saban, like all of Bama Nation, was not pleased with the inept offensive performance. Whether offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was preoccupied with thoughts about his new job (Florida Atlantic head coach), or the players were just out of sync, is debatable. Competitor and perfectionist that Saban is, he did not join the debate. He evaluated, and chose to send Kiffin on his way and replace him with former Washington and USC coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Kiffin/Sarkisian decision will play a big part in the outcome of tonight’s game. How comfortable will Hurts be hearing Sarkisian’s play calls after having Kiffin in his ear all year? For that matter, will Saban be tempted to step in and play a more active role in playcallling?

In any case, whether it has any impact on Alabama or not, it will provide the background drama for the game. This blogger just hopes the broadcasters do not overdo this angle and that they let viewers enjoy the player performances.

Only sure thing is Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, and other Tide defenders will have their hands full with Clemson’s outstanding quarterback Deshaun

newspaper

Tide Defense Will Be Challenged By Multitalented Watson

Watson. Watson, the runner-up in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting, and third place finisher in 2015, completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards against a solid Alabama defense last year. A defense that had shutout Michigan State 38-0 in the two/three 2015 semifinal. (OK, it was a Marginal Ten opponent, and upper Midwest media are still pointing to Ohio State’s 2014 championship run).

“Big Ten” teams have literally laid eggs in CFP semifinals the past two years, that 38-0 Michigan State loss to Alabama in 2015, and Ohio State being defeated this year 31-0 by Clemson. That is 69-0 in anybody’s book, and shows that the overrated conference, despite the Buckeyes 2014 title, has a way to go to compete for national championships on a consistent basis.

Swinney has built an impressive program in South Carolina, dominating the ACC since the Jameis Winston time at Florida State. The Tigers’ only loss this season was to Pittsburgh, 43-42. LSU fans should note that its incoming offensive coordinator Matt Canada was calling the plays for the Panthers in that game.

No doubt, Saban and his staff have been pouring over that Clemson-Pittsburgh game film, looking for ways to exploit Clemson’s defense. Last year Coker provided heady leadership and passing efficiency to complement Henry’s rushing. Hurts must play error-free football for Alabama to win.

Prediction? The game will be decided by quarterback play. Clemson should be celebrating its first national championship in 35 years. Watson is that good. And he is not without a solid supporting offensive cast (watch receiver Mike Williams). However, Saban is a lot like former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman. If they get to the championship game, they usually win.

CFPIII may not match CFPII’s production level, but it should be an entertaining game, representative of the two best teams in college football.

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ByJohn


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