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Degenerate Gambler: College Football Playoff Championship Game Edition: Why Alabama will cover

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Semi-retired advanced stats guru, Saxon, tells you to take ‘Bama at -6

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During the Playoffs the past few years, Saxon has worked on a series of guest pieces for Covers.com, point-counterpoint debates with opposing bloggers on why Alabama should cover the spread for a given game.

Below was his contribution to this week’s big game. The full article, including Clemson’s rebuttal, is at found here, on Covers website.

In case you missed it late last week, Saxon also did a fantastic advanced stat breakdown of the College Football Playoff Championship Game, an in-depth analysis as witty as it is illustrative. His championship edition of Processing The Numbers is found here, if his arguments below don’t convince you.

Why Alabama Covers

The element of surprise

Coverage of this game has been dominated by the Tide’s last minute switch at offensive coordinator. Conventional wisdom would suggest such a huge change this close to a major game would be disastrous, but this is not the typical coaching move. Steve Sarkisian has been involved in game planning all season, and is fully familiar with the offense and the way the Tide operates. The only real question is how he would interact with the players, Jalen Hurts in particular, and all signs this week indicate the transition has been smooth on that front.

What is still unknown is how Sarkisian will use the offense — what calls will he make in certain down and distance situations, what are his tendencies? That’s likely sent the Clemson defensive staff scrambling for old USC and Washington tape this week, as this year’s Alabama film will not answer those questions.

That’s only a benefit for the Tide.

Elite rushing attack

With Bo Scarbrough’s explosion against Washington’s well-regarded run defense, the Tide is now considered the #2 rushing offense in the country according to the S&P+ metric. Clemson’s defense is nowhere near as stingy as Washington’s — they are #26 in the same metric, vs. the Huskies’ #10 mark — and unlike a year ago the Tigers cannot center their defensive game plan on stopping one player.

Derrick Henry was still able to grind out a good performance in last year’s game. But, in addition to a Henry clone in Scarbrough, this year the Tigers have to deal with a Mark Ingram clone in Damien Harris, as well as the running threat from Hurts. They’ve not faced such a variety of weapons from the backfield combined with a quality line this year, and not knowing how Sarkisian will tend to distribute those carries — remember, he’s stated he prefers balance instead of riding the hot hand — makes that challenge even greater.

The best defense of the modern era

What will remain unaffected by the offensive upheaval is the Tide’s defense, which is the best we’ve seen in a long, long time. Washington’s offense was more highly regarded by the advanced metrics heading into the playoffs than Clemson’s, and the Tide absolutely smothered them. A nastier pass rush than a year ago and a penchant for turning takeaways into touchdowns were front and center in the Peach Bowl, and this year the man at the controls for that defense is not thinking about recruiting and hiring coaches for another school. In other words, this unit is better from top-to- bottom than they were a year ago.

Clemson’s offense, on the other hand, has slipped a bit in 2016. They’re among the country’s most turnover-prone teams as well — surprisingly, at the quarterback position in particular — and as a result we may end up seeing yet another defensive touchdown in this game.

What we will not see is a repeat of last year’s shootout, and a lower scoring contest only favors the Tide.