Posted on December 30, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Heading into this season, Dabo Swinney’s goal was likely to do what every champ wants to do—repeat. That goal is something that is easier said than done, of course. But as it turns out, he may have a chance to do just that if his Clemson team can take care of business against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, one of the two CFP Semifinal games.
These two college football titans have played for the last two championships. So, it’s only appropriate that they have to face each other again to get a shot at the title this season.
There was more doubt that Clemson would be able to get back to this point than Alabama. Yes, Alabama lost some key players to the NFL. But Nick Saban seems to have a never-ending supply of defensive superstars and running backs he can plug in.
Sign up for a FREE Trial Consultation to start working with Legendary Sports Bettor Jon Price
Swinney, however, had the unenviable task of replacing Deshaun Watson. When the season started, he introduced the college football-loving free world to Kelly Bryant. It didn’t take long for it to become clear the Clemson offense was once again in great hands.
But something else was also clear. Not only did Clemson find a replacement at quarterback, but it was able to restock its starting defense with talent as well. So, when all the chaos erupted late in the season, Clemson was in place to slide right up the ranks to the No. 1 spot.
Alabama’s reputation probably helped them get in the top four this season. But they got in despite not playing in the SEC Championship. So, once again, they have a shot at winning another national title. But Clemson may have something to say about that.
So—who’s going to win?
The scenario is really not much different than last season. Alabama enters the game with one of the best rushing attacks in the nation (No. 8; 263.5 yards/game). They are capable of passing the ball when they need to (No. 86; 200.1 yards/game). While passing is in the skillset of Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, it isn’t what he’s best at.
But this season, the passing defense is better. In 2016 it ranked 24th in the country; this year it’s sixth (163.7 yards/game allowed).
Clemson is a decent passing team (No. 54; 244.1 yards/game), and they are pretty good at running it as well (No. 30; 204.1 yards/game). However, while their defense was really good last season, this season, it can be counted among the best in the nation. Overall, the unit is No. 6 in the country in total yards allowed/game (277.9), No. 12 against the run (112.8), and No. 7 against the pass (165.1).
Basically, what we had last year were a pair of good teams, and each had a couple of minor flaws in their game. This year, we have two excellent teams with no apparent flaws.
Alabama appears to have more balance this season, but they are essentially the same team. They want to run the ball all day long and shut your run game down. When they do, and you start to pass all the time, their front seven makes it hard for your quarterback to function.
Clemson operates in much the same way. But there is one difference—Kelly Bryant is a better passer. If he can get the passing game on track, Clemson will come out of this one on top. If not, he better hope his defense can make sure Jalen Hurts has a worse day than him.
A case could easily be made for either team. Just like the last two, it will probably end up being an epic game. The oddsmakers have made Alabama a three-point favorite. If you like your money, don’t bet on this game. But if you must, take Clemson and the points.