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Alabama and Clemson began the season as the top two teams in the nation and will end it the same way. Will the season of chalk continue along that path with the Crimson Tide reigning once Monday night comes to a close, or will the Tigers win the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship to pick up their second title in three years? Either way, we are in for a hell of a game when Alabama and Clemson go head-to-head for the fourth straight season and third time with the title on the line.
The Crimson Tide are playing in their fourth straight title game and seventh over the past 10 seasons. Alabama is 5-1 in its past six appearances the lone loss coming to Clemson, of course and looking to win coach Nick Saban’s record-setting seventh national title. On the other side, coach Dabo Swinney is steadily building the Tigers into a national power akin to the Tide. No two teams have dominated more over the last few seasons, and a Clemson win on Monday would truly put it at the same level as Alabama in the national conversation.
Clemson is not intimidated, but Alabama is destined. The dynasty continues because Tua Tagovailoa and Bama’s best-ever offense is able to survive in a game that goes down to the final two minutes. It’s a field-goal game for destiny. Alabama 30, Clemson 27
I honestly don’t remember the last time I picked against Alabama, and that strategy has worked very well. This is a game the Crimson Tide know how to win. They have won five of the last nine national championships. However, if there is a team that can match them stride for stride, it is Clemson. The Tigers knocked off Alabama to win the title two years ago, so they have an institutional belief that they can win, which is something no other Alabama opponent can boast. In the end, though, this Alabama team has been too dominant all season long for me to pick against them.
These two teams are almost mirror images of one another. They feature young, dynamic passers throwing to a set of game-breaking receivers, as well as running backs they can count on to move the chains. Defensively, they’re both led by their defensive lines, and behind them are smart linebackers and talented secondaries that have occasionally proven to be the most vulnerable part of the defense. What’s truly each team’s weakest link, though, are its special teams units. While they’re both similar, one team usually has somewhat of an edge on the other at every key spot, but neither has a huge advantage. That makes this game almost a coin flip in my eyes, but it’s a coin flip I see Alabama winning a few more times than not. This is why I’m taking Alabama to win, but Clemson to cover because I don’t think Alabama’s nearly a touchdown better than this Clemson team.
I think Alabama will start fast (again) and then at some point the Tide’s offense will slow (again). What will be different this time than in the Orange Bowl is that Clemson’s red zone defense has a much better chance of getting stops and forcing field goal attempts than Oklahoma, which ranks No. 130 among FBS teams in opponent’s red zone touchdown percentage. I think 35 is the magic number for Clemson to win, and it’s going to take withstanding that first charge by Alabama in order to give Trevor Lawrence a chance to warm up and get settled. Look for Justyn Ross to be a huge factor in the second half with a Mike Williams-like breakout performance as yet another true freshman quarterback snags a national championship.
There are only two areas in this game where either team has an advantage and both tilt towards the Tide. Alabama can exploit Clemson’s safeties in the pass game and its defensive line can give Clemson’s offensive line some fits. Every other matchup is strength against strength. In particular, it’s strength vs. strength at quarterback. The fact that Tua Tagovialoa looked perfectly healthy against Oklahoma one week ago suggests to me that he will be clicking on all cylinders and the offense will be clicking around him. We’ll see this matchup again next year and maybe then Trevor Lawrence will be ready to take down Tua and the Tide. Not this time, though.
As tough as it is to pick a winner, Clemson just seems to be peaking at the right moment. The move to quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been worth the risk, as he showed in his 327-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Cotton Bowl. This stage is not too big for him, and his combination of arm talent and mobility makes him a difficult quarterback to stop. However, Lawrence has plenty of help around him with running back Travis Etienne and perhaps the best group of wideouts in the country. Offenses should showcase themselves in this exciting game that, like so many previous editions, could also come down to the fourth quarter.
Fan preferences aside, this is the best possible national championship that college football could have given us this season, and the fact that Alabama enters as a five-point favorite tells you all you need to know about how close this game will be. I like Quinnen Williams to reduce the effectiveness of the Clemson defensive front, but I also like Alabama’s talented defense to slow down Trevor Lawrence enough. Remember, while Lawrence may be exceptional as a true freshman, he’s not the Heisman Trophy winner; Kyler Murray kept Bama off balance with his legs, particularly late when the defense got tired, and Lawrence is more one-dimensional. Alabama is going to win this game. I keep going back-and-forth over which team will cover, however, and I think I’m going to wait until closer to kickoff to make a formal ATS pick.
This game will be ugly from the word go. You want me to trust a freshman quarterback in the national title game against a defense that is starting to find its rhythm? The flying death machine that is the Alabama offense puts this one out of reach early and coasts to yet another title, leaving all of us wondering what the point is anymore.
We can focus all we want on dynasties, legendary coaches and potential future first-round quarterbacks dueling leading into this one, but in the end, we’ll be talking about the spectacular play of that dangerous Clemson defensive front one last time. All season long (for the most part) the Crimson Tide offense hasn’t really faced much resistance. Even without Dexter Lawrence, the Clemson defensive line will cause headaches for Tua Tagovailoa and Co., massively disrupting their rhythm throughout. Freshman Trevor Lawrence does just enough leading the Tigers offense, and Clemson comes away with its second national championship in three seasons.