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Jumbo Package: Rooting for the Villain

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The Tide are the Evil Empire of college football, and only one man has a chance to take them down.

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, everyone. It’s still bowl season, and with January 1 falling on a Sunday this year, today is the de facto New Year’s Day where college football is concerned. You can whet your appetite with the Outback and Cotton at noon CT followed by the Rose and then the Sugar tonight.

After taking care of business in Atlanta, albeit in ugly fashion, the Tide will now roll on down to Tampa where a feisty bunch of Tigers will try and dethrone them. Let’s start with the party that didn’t make TV...

... and then have one more look at Bo’s run, shall we?

After some terrible injury luck, it’s great to see Bo get the opportunity to flash the skills that made him the #2 running back in his class, just behind some guy named Leonard Fournette. What an athlete.

Saban worked to ensure that Bo and the rest of his teammates were ready to play fast:

Customary for the participating teams, the restaurant provides mass quantities of free food which the players proceed to eat.

That didn’t sit well with Alabama coach Nick Saban, who requested the quantity of food delivered be halved so that his players wouldn’t binge on fried food. Apparently a belly full of fried chicken sandwiches and Pepsi isn’t good national champion fuel.

The Process never sleeps. What about grilled chicken sandwiches and fresh-squeezed diet lemonade, Coach?

"I think he'd be the first to tell you he didn't play great today," Kiffin said. "But again like I said all week, in the press conference, this is a big stage and he's still a true freshman."

Kiffin has rarely lost sight of Hurts' youth throughout this season, and in the weeks leading up to this game he crafted a game plan that wouldn't put the onus on the 18-year-old, whose mission was to make absolutely certain Alabama didn't give the ball away.

"Coach Kiffin preached all week that we win this game without turnovers. And that's what we did," Hurts said. "When something is not there, you just want to be smart with the ball and throw it away and get what you could get."

Hurts has posted three of his four worst "raw" quarterback ratings in his career during the last four games, according to ESPN's stat service.

The one attached to his stat line Saturday -- 13.8 -- was by far the lowest of the year. Hurts completed only 50 percent of his 14 pass attempts for 57 yards. He didn't contribute a touchdown pass, but he also didn't commit a turnover. Still, he flirted with disaster when his first throw of the game was nearly intercepted by Washington safety Budda Baker.

The primary reason for Jalen’s rough performances the last three games was the defensive ability of Auburn, Florida, and Washington. In fact, S&P+ shows those three units to be remarkably similar to one another and to Clemson, though all three have been significantly better than the Tigers against the run while Clemson has excelled against the pass.

Matt Zenitz has compiled all of the Peach Bowl reactions and recaps HERE.

On to Clemson:

For Swinney's team it was a pair of near losses at home, first to Louisville and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and then two weeks later, surviving a bizarre how-not-to-kick-field goals clinic against old rival NC State. Everyone remembers the stunning loss, also at home, to Pitt. But time has clouded the memories of early scares at Auburn and at home vs. Troy(!) and barely hanging on against ACC stalwarts Florida State and Virginia Tech.

"I know that number beside our name has changed a little during the year," defensive anchor Ben Boulware said of Clemson's national ranking, which bobbed up and down between second and fifth during the season. "But we kept our eyes on the goal to be in that top four and then that top two when it mattered most."

“To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and they’re at the top of the mountain,” said senior center Jay Guillermo. “We know we’ve got to play very well because when you get this high up on Mount Everest, the air gets thin. It gets a little hard to breathe. And every play is mission critical, as we say.”

So Alabama has served as a motivator — not as a boogeyman, as the Tide might be for others, but as a reminder. The loss was a reminder of how the details make the difference. The Crimson Tide themselves are a reminder of where the Tigers want to be.

Like Alabama, Clemson has an elite defensive front. Like Alabama, Clemson has an elite head coach with an elite support staff on and off the field. Like Alabama, Clemson has handled great expectations with great performance after great performance in big games.

Only two programs in college football have won 10 games or more every season since 2011: Alabama and Clemson. These teams finished last season No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, they started this season No. 1 and No. 2 in both major polls and they'll finish this season No. 1 and No. 2.

The only question is in which order. The answer is not a foregone conclusion.

“We knew ‘Bama was going to be back in the national championship,” cornerback Cordrea Tankersley said. “They’ve been No. 1 all year, they deserve it. So now it’s time for us to go knock them off. It’s time for a new sheriff in town.”

Jut like last year, Alabama is the favorite.

Just like last year, Clemson should not be overlooked.

Clemson’s weapons

The Tigers haven’t seen a defense close to as good as Alabama’s this year, but the Crimson Tide haven’t seen the weapons Clemson has either. Mike Williams is a matchup nightmare, and Clemson has plenty of other playmakers if Alabama focuses most of its attention on him. The Tigers scored 40 points and had more than 400 passing yards against Alabama last year, and that was without Williams and Deon Cain.

Alabama defense the greatest ever?

Alabama's dominance this season starts with defense, and the Crimson Tide boast the nation's best, coming into the Peach Bowl leading the country in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and defensive touchdowns.

In fact, the Tide's defense has scored almost as many touchdowns this season (11) as it has allowed (15).

We will forgive a little homerism from the Clemson writer talking about weapons while apparently not having watched USC or Texas A&M this season.

Needless to say, the hype is going to be tremendous for this one. It’s rare that the experts get it right in the preseason, but here we are. You have a rematch of one of the most exciting national championship games in history, pitting fan-favorite superhero Deshaun Watson against the seemingly insurmountable Crimson villain. Clemson has never had as many fans as they will have next Monday night.

Turnover is inevitable in college football, and Saban talks frequently about each team having to forge its own identity. To that end, both of these teams are significantly changed from the two that met last season. The Tide front seven is smaller and faster than its 2015 counterpart, leading the nation in S&P on standard downs, passing downs, and success rate while scoring almost as many TDs as it has allowed.

Predictably, Clemson has taken a step back on defense but it has been a much smaller one than expected. DC Brent Venables has done a masterful job of masking a fairly weak secondary by getting after the passer, but pass interference penalties have been an issue. Clemson averaged 67 total penalty yards and three opponent first downs via penalty in the last three games and ranks in the bottom third in that metric for the entire season. Of course, you have to be willing to throw the ball to covered receivers in order to take advantage, something that Alabama has had neither a need nor a willingness to do lately. As long as Bo is getting nine a carry and the defense is holding the opponent in check, they won’t need to. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Bottom line, these are the two best teams in college football for the second consecutive season and both teams have a reasonable path to victory. The Tide should win on overall talent, but Watson is a giant X-factor. It will be fun.

That’s about it for today. Have a great week.

Roll Tide.