So it comes down to this: Can Alabama knock off a top-ranked, undefeated team that specializes in the only the kind of offensive attack that has flummoxed the Crimson Tide in the past five years?
The answer is a solid “yes” unless every single intangible falls in Clemson’s favor. Short of that, Nick Saban will bring a 16th national championship to Tuscaloosa, the fourth in the last seven years.
Lining it up and running at Bama is a recipe for disaster, as Michigan State found out. Alabama is simply bigger, faster, stronger and far deeper than anyone else.
“They are (expletive deleted) everywhere!” MSU quarterback Connor Cook was caught by the cameras yelling during the third quarter of Bama’s 38-0 humiliation of the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.
The Tide is, however, susceptible to the very kind of dual-threat Clemson’s outstanding quarterback, Deshaun Watson, represents. No doubt the Bama defense will be hard put to it dealing with the Heisman runner-up, but Clemson is likely going to need at least 25 points to win and, unless Alabama helps them (it took five turnovers for Ole Miss to escape with their win this year) that is highly unlikely.
There is no point in this column to go into great detail about individual players and stats, though I am tempted to used a few hundred words regarding King Henry, i.e. Heisman winner Derick Henry, a.k.a. The Bull Deuce.
Enough has been written elsewhere covering every conceivable angle, so here is the pick:
Monday, January 11, Glendale, Ariz. 7:30 p.m. ESPN
No. 1 Clemson (14-0) vs. No. 2 Alabama (13-1)
Without several breaks going their way the Tigers, as fine a team as they are, just cannot match up with the talent — and depth of talent — the Tide fields.
Watson will make plenty of noise and the Tiger defense is more than tough, but Alabama has played the second-toughest schedule in the country and for most of the season has played knowing a loss would end their title hopes. In short, they are far more battle-tested and are better coached.
This will be no blow-out; a back-and-forth affair is far more likely. I see the Tigers being right in the game through the early moments of the third quarter, but then the inevitable will happen, the thing Bama haters really hate: the suffocation.
Look for the Alabama defense to make the necessary adjustments, for the ground game to eventually punch holes in the Clemson defense and for a slow strangling to occur.
“They suck the life out of you and take away your will to win,” is how ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit describes it.
CBS’ Gary Danielson has been right-on for seven years on how to beat Alabama: “Your quarterback has to have the game of his life, you need two or three big breaks and you better not get down more than 10 points.”
Clemson will prove a more worthy opponent that Texas (2009), LSU (2011) or Notre Dame (2012) but they are headed toward the same fate … ALABAMA 30-20.