Happy Monday, everyone. The final game day of the 2018-19 season is upon us, and we are mere hours from knowing which of the two finalists will become the first 15-0 champion in modern history. Your previews:
Alabama 31, Clemson 20
Without knowing what the conditions will be — howling wind, divots in the turf, echoes from empty end zone seating — this game will reveal one of college football’s greatest teams ever. I think Alabama fits that description, especially if Tua Tagovailoa is dialed in like he was in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson 35, Alabama 34
This is the second time in four seasons that I’ve predicted Alabama to lose, and was wrong about the first time. This could be wrong as well, but picking Alabama wouldn’t give me any more or less confidence in my choice. It’s a great matchup between two elite teams that would win the national championship most seasons, but one of them has to lose.
Jerry Palm, playoff and bowls expert: 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. Alabama 24, Clemson 21
After looking unbeatable for much of the season, Alabama barely beat Georgia thanks to Jalen Hurst heroics. The Tide raced out to a 28-0 lead against Oklahoma, only for the Sooners to get to within 11 points three times in the second half. Sure, Alabama always found an answer against OU. But Clemson isn’t Oklahoma.
Huge, undefeated favorites have gone down before. Underdog Ohio State shocked Miami to win the 2002 national title. Texas beat Southern California in a classic Rose Bowl in the 2005 season. Both times, the winners were undefeated but still strong underdogs. Clemson fits that mold.
Clemson 31, Alabama 28
Similar to when Alabama has the ball, can Clemson’s offensive line hold up at the point of attack? The Tigers have allowed only 17 sacks this year but three came against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Can Williams, Davis, Buggs and the Crimson Tide’s standout group of linebackers get constant pressure throughout the game on passing downs? If Alabama stuffs Etienne and gets Lawrence into third-and-longs, even though the receivers will make a handful of plays downfield, that could be a tough recipe for Swinney’s team to overcome all night.
Alabama 27, Clemson 20
”Alabama’s defense stymied a freshman quarterback in last year’s title game, picking off Jake Fromm twice. Trevor Lawrence is better than Fromm and certainly looked ready for the big stage against Notre Dame, but he’s still never seen a defense like Bama’s. Tua Tagovailoa will continue to step up when needed most, and the Tide’s powerful rushing attack will help them salt this game away late.” — Matt Lutovsky
Clemson 36, Alabama 33, 2 OT
”This epic duel between Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa will conjure up memories of Vince Young and Matt Leinart. Sure, both defenses are loaded, but there’s too much firepower with each QB’s backs and receivers to instead believe the offenses will rule in the end. The Tigers make Tua a tad more uncomfortable with their pressure when it counts most. while the Tide struggle to rattle his freshman counterpart. Look for Lawrence’s go-to guy, Justyn Ross, to score the walk-off game-winner against his home-state team.” — Vinnie Iyer
Pat Forde: The fourth rivalry installment produces its third classic, with Tua Tagovailoa outdueling Trevor Lawrence and leading to the most unlikely of all endings — a clutch Crimson Tide field goal for the win. Alabama 38, Clemson 35.
Pete Thamel: The talent disparity here doesn’t match the gap in reputations. Alabama got shredded by Oklahoma for 471 yards, and Clemson has the offensive skill to put up a similar performance. Clemson’s defensive front should be able to stuff the run and rattle Tua Tagovailoa, even without star tackle Dexter Lawrence. Look for another classic, with Clemson relishing the underdog role and pulling an upset. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will win the MVP and continue his ascent to superstardom. Clemson 35, Alabama 31.
As you can see, Saban doesn’t have to worry about much rat poison since the experts are pretty evenly divided for the first time all season. Some of it is hopeful - Clemson has been dominant in the last few years as well but are generally seen as the lesser of two evils - but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Clemson will win. This is by far the least confident I’ve been all season.
Make no mistake, though, Alabama is favored for a reason.
Venables said that there’s “not much” talk of an underdog mentality or trying to play with a chip on the shoulder but that Clemson’s players are aware of the talent difference because “they remember how the recruiting process went.” Clemson has some of the best college football players in the country, and it’s got one of only two 14-0 standing, but Alabama has always seemingly recruited more freaks.
”You can’t go anywhere across the board and say, ‘OK, we’ve got the favorable matchup here.”’ Venables said. “They’ve got excellent players. We just hope to be a little bit better on Monday night.”
This is true, though Clemson’s talent is closer to Alabama’s than anyone else’s at this point. If there is one matchup that Alabama can look to as a potential mismatch, it’s in the trenches when Clemson has the football.
The tackles aren’t great in pass pro vs speed. The RG’s got pushed around last week. 33, 99 & 92 will be a problem. Clemson will have to rely on reads/RPO’s & moving the pocket with quick/max protection.— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 5, 2019
Had Kyler Murray not been able to scoot around like he can, that game would have been ugly for the whole 60 minutes. Alabama’s defensive front had their way with the Joe Moore Award winning offensive line for the most part, and Clemson’s line hasn’t been nearly as good as Oklahoma’s. Plus, you can bet that Alabama’s men will draw a little motivation from hearing about Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and company on loop. It also helps that Clemson is one of a few ranked teams with even bigger problems kicking and punting than Alabama.
Erik will have our final predictions later, but what are yours? Vote and tell us in the comments.
What will be the result of the CFP title game?
This poll is closed
Yabba Dabo D’oh! Tide by 10+
Clemson fights but comes up short, Tide by 1-9
Tigers pull the upset (FLAGGED!)
Alabama has a chance to make history in a few ways.
His titles -- six overall, five at Alabama -- have been so numerous and come so often that the obvious story tends to become the most tiresome. A win Monday night would push Saban past Bear Bryant for most all-time major college national championships, 7-6.
Think of Hank Aaron getting close to 714 or Tiger Woods creeping up on Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major championships. It’s that big a deal. Maybe bigger.
Seven national titles for one coach would likely never be broken, other than by Saban itself. Ross Pierschbacher is going to be the answer to a trivia question for the rest of his life.
Ross Pierschbacher is part of history.
College football history, if you ask the record books. Ancient history, if you ask his teammates.
“Ross Pierschbacher is older than Hunter Renfrow,” tight end Hale Hentges said. This is true; Pierschbacher is a few months older than Clemson’s 23-year-old fifth-year senior receiver.
“Ross Pierschbacher is older than Joe Pendry,” running back Damien Harris said, invoking the name of the 71-year-old former offensive line coach.
It’s rare enough for a team to appear four straight times, but even moreso for a player capable of starting on a title contender as a freshman to stay for his senior year. For Ross and the rest of Alabama’s seniors, this game will determine whether they are able to relegate Clemson to the second best team of their era and cement themselves as the greatest senior class in college football history, or if they will end up sharing their legacy with the Tigers who would match them in both career wins and national titles with a victory.
Said it many times, Saban’s adaptability has provided his staying power at the top.
In a season when its defense is not quite as good as its lofty standard, the offense is exponentially more potent than ever before. And because of it, this might be Saban’s best team – so far, that is. At 67, Saban shows no signs of slowing down – and he’s still growing.
What’s the next update? Who knows, but it’s coming.
“He’ll follow the bouncing ball,” McElroy says. “Wherever the game is going, he’ll be there. He might be a year behind the others – like with the RPO – but he won’t be behind for long.
“Whatever the next trend is, he’ll win with talent and then adapt.”
“One of?” Might want to change that headline, fam.
As you’ve heard, fans of poor northern and western teams are angry.
So instead of complaining, here’s what other programs need to do: Get better. Hire better, recruit better, develop better, strategize better. Take your operation up to meet the industry leaders.
Get “aligned.” That’s a buzzword you hear from both Alabama and Clemson staff — the administration is all-in on football, the athletic department is all-in on football, and the coaches have everything they could possibly need to succeed. They have all the facilities, all the staff, all the budget necessary. Their recruiting operations are massive and smart. They use technology to their advantage in scouting both prospects and opponents. They don’t leave much of anything to chance.
Sage, if simple, advice.
Jalen Hurts can’t help but be a fan favorite, It’s in his DNA.
.@JalenHurts of @AlabamaFTBL provides best moment of @CFBPlayoff Media Day. As officials clear the floor, Jalen rushes to fan Camden Lang to sign his hat & give him a bracelet. Aaron Lee of @WTVM was on the #scene to get the video!@ClemsonFB @darrenrovell #JalenHurts#Bama pic.twitter.com/LkGTWQW93P— Rick Karle (@RickKarle) January 5, 2019
Great stuff. Also, for the second straight year Alabama’s nose tackle is letting his personality shine on the big stage. Big Q is hilarious, but it looks like all of the guys were having fun.
Calling all recruits:
A year after Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama didn’t have anyone selected in the draft for the first time since 1970. It’s subsequently had 77 players picked, averaging 7.7 per year.
No other program comes close to that.
“Alabama has always had the name brand, recognition, the historical tradition,” former Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. “It’s always resonates with people, but I also think that it was just a stop on the circuit [for scouts]. There was not a lot of distinction between going to Alabama versus Tennessee, Auburn or Georgia. It was just one of the stops.
Success breeds success, and this machine doesn’t look to be slowing down one whit.
Last, an interesting comment about work/life balance for coaches.
When asked why he hasn’t pursued other opportunities, Venables didn’t hesitate.
“I know what I want and have what I want,” he said.
What Venables covets is a work-life balance that allows him to spend time with his family, which has been at the heart of Swinney’s organization since he was promoted to head coach in the middle of the 2008 season.
Saban is an unrepentant workaholic, and his demands on his assistants are reportedly very high. Perhaps this will be another area in which he adjusts. Surely he will get tired of reloading his staff every year as he marches toward his 70s, right?
That’s about it for today. Have a great week.