This is it, what we've all been waiting for. The time is rapidly approaching, the National Championship Game of college football has finally arrived. And even though the Alabama Crimson Tide head into the game as a 7-point favorite there have been much bigger upsets in the past. But how does this one match up? We'll take a two-part look at the teams, position by position. Today we start on the offensive side of the ball.
Deshaun Watson leads the Clemson Tigers into Glendale, AZ after quite the year. He finished 3rd in the Heisman voting, and that was before he racked up 332 yards of total offense in a winning effort against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. That capped off a year where he became the all-time single season leader for total offense at Clemson. While it's true that Clemson doesn't have the same rich and storied football history of some other schools (Alabama), accounting for 4,731 yards is a massive accomplishment. When you consider that he's only a sophomore, and coming off a torn ACL, he had a phenomenal year. But can he put the icing on the cake with a National Championship win? Alabama may have something to say about that.
Lining up against him is Jake Coker. He leads the legendary Alabama into another showdown with destiny. In his last 10 games Coker has managed to complete 73% of his passes for 1.703 yards and 10 touchdowns. Performances like that earned him the Offensive MVP honors in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. Coker isn't near the overall offensive talent that Watson is, but that doesn't mean they can't win.
"He's done a good job all year long in regards to doing what we ask of him," coach Nick Saban said after Alabama's 38-0 beating of ‘Sparty' in the Cotton Bowl. "He's not selfish, and that's refreshing in today's game. Everyone knows that they're eyeing him up to play on Sunday, but he doesn't focus on that. He tries to go out there everyday and do whatever he can to get the win for the team."
Wayne Gallman is a very good running back, you just don't hear as much about him as some other guys. But he is a driving force behind Clemson's powerful rushing attack. He has gone over 100 yards in the last 3 games and finished the year as the programs' single-season rushing leader with 1,482 yards. But it's more than just that. Gallman is the closer on the team. The running back that salts the game away in the 4th quarter when you have the lead. Beat them up, wear them down and go home with the victory.
"That's the whole tempo of our offense," Gallman said. "You're able to get the defense tired, and when they get their hands on their hips, that's a good thing. That allows you to take over."
Derrick Henry isn't going to show up to what is likely going to be his last college football game just to be shown up. He won't allow Wayne Gallman, no matter how talented he is, to steal his spotlight. As long as Clemson doesn't run up the score quickly, Alabama will stick to what they know works; a heaping serving of Henry rushing the ball. Even though the Tiger defense is very athletic and talented, they haven't run up against what the Heisman winning running back brings to the table.
When you think about how much Clemson accomplished this year, it's impressive. But it's even more impressive when you consider the fact that they lost their No. 1 wide receiver early in the season. Charone Peake, Artavis Scott and Deon Cain stepped up in a big way this year as the receiving threats that Watson needed. Unfortunately Cain won't be available for the Big Show on the 13th, he remains suspended for violating team rules. They also got a big boost from tight end Jordan Leggett, a first-team All-ACC pick.
However, man for man, no one out there is as talented as former 5-star recruit Calvin Ridley. The man is a beast. He already broke Amari Cooper's freshman receiving record and he looks to build a legacy by being part of a national championship team at a young age. Despite his infamous head coaching stops, Lane Kiffin is a brilliant offensive coordinator. He knows how to get his playmakers the ball. Look for Ridley to have a big day as Coker continues to find him downfield.
There's nothing like college football. Even with all the talent and passion that the pros have, there will always be something special about college football. Maybe it's the youth that leads to excitement, or the way the players are less skilled and prone to make some mistakes in the biggest games, or maybe it's just the frenzied energy you feel during the biggest games. Whatever it is...it's real. And now it's really here. The National Championship Game. Seems like we've been waiting forever.