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SQ National Championship Preview

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Clemson will take on Alabama for the National Title.

Every game has lead up to this: the 2017 National Championship. This year’s title matchup might be the most intriguing in years, because for the first time ever fans will witness a rematch from the previous year. The top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide from the SEC will take on the second ranked Clemson Tigers out of the ACC

Alabama started the year at the top of rankings and was never truly challenged. The Tide won their games by an average of 27.9 points with their closest contests coming in a five point victory over Ole Miss and a 10 point win against LSU. Since an early season loss to Ole Miss last year, the Tide have won 28 straight games. In their semifinal matchup with Washington, Alabama fell behind 7-0 early, but like all season relied on their defense and came out on top 24-7. 

After losing the title game last year, Clemson ran through the ACC yet again, but with a few bumps along the way. The Tigers played a few games early that were too close for comfort, including a 30-24 win over Troy. Pittsburgh gave Clemson their first ACC loss since November of 2014. They avoided another upset in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech to cement their spot in the CFP. Clemson was dominant from start to finish against Ohio State in the semifinal game, which was supposed to be the better of the two New Years Eve games. With a 31-0 win over the Buckeyes, the rematch was set. 

Next stop: Tampa. #NationalChampionship#ALLIN#RollTide pic.twitter.com/Hhnb9PLd3P

— CFBPlayoff (@CFBPlayoff) January 1, 2017

The 2017 National Championship Game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL on January 9th at 8pm on ESPN

Storylines Heading Into The Game


The Rematch


The only thing anyone is going to be talking about leading up to Monday’s matchup is how this year is a rematch from 2016. After the Alabama-Clemson game last year I’m sure fans won’t mind seeing if Clemson can finally take down the Tide. What makes these teams year different from last year’s? 

There are slight differences between the Clemson team Alabama saw last season compared to this year. Deshaun Watson still leads the Tigers offense with his duel-threat ability, but his main target has changed. Charone Peake and Hunter Renfrow were the leading receivers in last year’s title game, but now Watson has arguably the best college receiver with him in Mike Williams. After missing most of last season with a neck injury, Williams adds a much bigger threat against the Tide than their receiving core was in 2016. 

For Alabama, not much has changed. The defense is just as lethal, if not more so, than last season and will be the main focus for Dabo Swinney’s game plan. Alabama will be without Heisman winner Derrick Henry, who rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns, but have Bo Scarbrough who has a similar bruising running style. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts takes over for Jake Coker from last season. Hurts has done nothing but impress, throwing for 2,649 yards and 22 touchdowns. Where Hurts really makes a difference is the running game, adding 891 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Don’t expect the Tide to miss a beat with Saban still at the helm, even with a true freshman quarterback.  

Key Stats


15- Fans will hear this stat over and over again leading up to kickoff, but its probably the most important and most impressive stat. Alabama has had 15 non-offensive touchdowns, 11 on defense. This should be worrisome for Clemson, as Watson has thrown 17 interceptions this season. While that hasn’t transferred to losing games so far, against Alabama those turnovers will loom large. Not only could they kill momentum and give an average Tide offense good field position, but this talented defense can score directly off those turnovers putting the Tiger offense in a tight situation.  

The @CFBPlayoff #NationalChampionship is just 3 days away! Welcome to Tampa @AlabamaFTBL and @ClemsonFB! #DesignForSport #ALLIN #RollTide pic.twitter.com/bDiqqmGeYx

— Infinite Scale (@InfiniteScale) January 6, 2017

125.8- Alabama ranks 81st in passing offense averaging only 214.2 passing yards through the air. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they rank 11th in rushing yards per game with 246.7. Clemson ranks 22nd in the country giving up only 125.8 rushing yards per game. This will force young Hurts to beat this Tiger team through the air. Something has to give but the safe bet is on Clemson. Ohio State ranked 12th in rushing yards per game but were held to just 88 yards rushing in the Fiesta Bowl. Look for Clemson to bring the same game plan against the Tide’s offense. 

51.2%- Clemson ranks fifth on third down conversion percentage at 51.2. Being able to sustain drives and convert third down is extremely important for the Tigers. The front seven for Alabama isn’t as deep as it was last year which makes them susceptible to being worn down over time. If Watson and company can march down the field and make the defense work harder, not only will it mean success early on, but also later on in a close game. It won’t be easy though, Alabama ranks seventh allowing only 30% conversion on third down.

Key Players


Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Clemson


Junior quarterback Deshaun Watson is the heart and soul of this Tigers team. Clemson only goes as far as Watson takes them, and for the last two seasons there might not be a better quarterback. There’s not much difference between his stats this year and last, hence why he finished second in the Heisman voting in back-to-back seasons. With a game still to go, Watson has thrown for 4,104 yards, rushed for 586 yards, and has 46 total touchdowns (eight rushing). This biggest thing that Watson has against him is his 17 interceptions, compared to 13 in 2016. Even with turnover issues plaguing him this season, Watson is still the emotional and vocal leader. Watson is an easy first round pick, and this game could cement him as the top rated quarterback in the draft.  

Alabama’s Defense


There are several players that could have been put here on both sides of the ball, but the heart and sole of this team is on defense. There are so many playmakers that make it impossible to choose just one. What is there to say about this unit that hasn’t been said already. They’ve only given up 248 yards per game and 12.5 points per game. This isn’t purely about the stats however, this is about the NFL talent that fills this roster at every level. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster are almost sure-fire first round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Linebackers Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey could certainly make their way into the first round, but shouldn’t drop out of the second. Throw in sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (who should be the best rated corner for the 2018 draft) and there’s not many, if any, holes on this defense. 

Prediction 


Before the semi-final games, I pegged these two teams to be in it again. I also thought Alabama would run away with it and win easily. After their 31-0 blowout against Ohio State, I had to sit back and seriously reconsider. The Tiger’s defense will be the key, and if they step up and wreck havoc against Hurts and the Tide offense, this could easily go to the Tigers. However, I still trust the Alabama defense over any unit in the country. They will fly around and feed off the mistakes that Watson has been prone to make this season. The Tide offense still has plenty of playmakers in receivers Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and tight end OJ Howard. I expect the defense to make the most of the turnovers they cause, and by the slightest of margins Bama wins their fifth title in eight years. 


Alabama 31 Clemson 27

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Julian Boireau.

SQuiz
Who were the last two teams to start and end the year ranked #1 and #2?
Created 1/3/17
  1. USC-Texas
  2. Ohio State-Florida
  3. Miami-Ohio State
  4. USC-Oklahoma

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