Jonathan Allen attempts to chase down Deshaun Watson during the 2015 national title game. Read a preview for what’s different just one year later. (Chris Carlson AP)

It is the rematch everyone has been waiting for. Number 1 Alabama will play 2nd ranked Clemson for the college football national championship in Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Alabama defeated Washington in the Peach Bowl to get the chance to play for a national title. Clemson gets in via beating Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. A year ago Alabama defeated Clemson in the national championship game 45-40 in a thrilling contest. Clemson has been biting at Alabama’s heel’s waiting an entire year for the opportunity to avenge their loss. What are the keys to the game for each team in order to secure a victory?

College Football National Championship Game:

Monday, January 9th, 2017 – 8:00 ET: ESPN

WHY Alabama Will Win:

Read 3 reasons why Alabama will win back to back national titles (Marvin Gentry/Reuters Wall Street Journal)
  1. It’s Tough To Bet Against Nick Saban:

Nick Saban has been chasing the ghost of Bear Bryant for quite some time. Saban has a chance to become the most decorated collegiate football coach ever if he can win a 6th national championship. Saban has never lost a game in which he has a chance to win a title. Everyone is worried about the Lane Kiffin distraction but I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t. Steve Sarkisian is an excellent coach and the offense will run smoothly in this game. Remember Sarkisian is the guy that recruited Sam Darnold. Alabama only needed 57 yards passing to win last week. That’s because Alabama has the best defense in college football. Head coach Nick Saban, of course, is a defensive mastermind in his own right. He did learn from one of the best ever in Bill Belichick. It would be foolish to bet against a team that has looked unbeatable all season right?

2. The Crimson Tide Represent College Football’s Best Defense:

As many as 5 first round picks could come from the Alabama defense alone. There are so many great players on this defense. The bulk of that talent comes from the front 7. Jonathan Allen has been the most productive defensive tackle in the country. Allen, a sure fire top 5 pick, has recorded 10 sacks, 12 hits, and 38 hurries so far this year. Pass rusher Tim Williams will likely get picked within the top 15 selections in the 2017 Draft as well. Williams has been a destructive force to opposing offenses this year recording a pass-rushing productivity of 19.0 ranking 2nd of any 3-4 outside linebacker. Teammate Ryan Anderson takes a ton of pressure off of Williams that makes it impossible to double team. Anderson has 51 total quarterback pressures this season and has a chance to sneak into the late first round discussion. Inside linebacker Reuben Foster is the heart of the Alabama defense. This should come to no surprise as he fits that mold of Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosely that preceded him at Alabama. Foster has a chance to be the best of any Saban coached linebacker who could find himself selected in the top 10. I haven’t even gotten to Marlon Humphrey who is a first round corner or the rest of the studs such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Eddie Jackson, Dalvin Tomlinson, etc. The Crimson Tide have recorded 11 defensive touchdowns on the season which is 2 more than the entire South Carolina offense. Seriously I could write a book on each of these players, they are all that good. There is a reason star tailback Leonard Fournette only rushed for 35 yards on 17 carries against this defense. Alabama made an explosive Washington offense look like a bunch of middle school players last week.

3. Alabama Finally Has A Productive Quarterback:

The Crimson Tide won a national title last year with Jacob Coker. He not only didn’t get drafted in the NFL but couldn’t even make a team’s practice squad and is out of football entirely. Freshman sensation Jalen Hurts has electric all season. Hurts is far from the prototypical Alabama quarterback that can’t seem to do anything other than stumble over his own feet. All season long Hurts has been able to beat teams with his legs as well as creating big plays over the top to Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. He has completed 74 percent of his throws which is phenomenal for a true freshman playing in the heart of the SEC. That isn’t to say the rest of the Alabama isn’t good either. Tight End O.J. Howard has the chance to be the next Antonio Gates. Bama hasn’t had their workhorse running back but they do have a nice trio of Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs, and Bo Scarbrough who averaged an absurd 4.2 yards after contact. Bama’s running game really came to life in the semi-final game thanks to Bo Scarbrough. He rushed for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns against Washington.

WHY Clemson Will Win:

Read 3 reasons why Clemson can pull off the upset and defeat Alabama (Ronald Martinez Getty Images)
  1. Deshaun Watson Is The Best Quarterback In College Football:

Don’t let the media fool you, Deshaun Watson is a special athlete. He topped the lists of midseason NFL quarterback prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft. When you have the better quarterback, you always feel like you have a chance to win. Watson isn’t only great but he seems to elevate his level of play in big games. This guy has been here before. A year ago in the National Title game vs. Alabama, Watson threw for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a QBR of 160. That’s an impressive feat considering it was against Bama. Trust me nobody else in college football could do that against this Alabama defense. Not winning the Heisman Trophy could prove to be the best thing to ever happen to Watson as he has had a chip on his shoulder since the slow start to 2016. Doesn’t he just look like the next Dak Prescott? Watson has completed 67.3 percent of his throws this season giving the Tigers the clear edge at the quarterback position. The key for Watson will be protecting the football. He’s thrown for 17 interceptions on the season as he often times takes far too many chances with the football. That’s not going to work against the Tide.

2. Clemson Has A Ton Of Talent:

Clemson is loaded with talent, particularly on offense. Wide receiver Mike Williams will be the first one selected at his position during the 2017 Draft. Sophomore Deon Cain is another one to watch as a younger version of Williams. Both players are freak athletes resembling the Mike Evans mold. A scout recently compared Williams to Demaryius Thomas. Tight end Jordan Leggett will probably get taken in the middle rounds of the draft. Receivers Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow also have a chance to get drafted too. The same can be said for running back Wayne Gallman. Clemson’s offensive line isn’t great but Watson gets the ball off so fast it typically doesn’t matter. Blocking the Alabama front 7, of course, is a different animal as they have only given up 11 sacks so far this season. When you have two trees sitting on the outside, sometimes just throwing the ball up for grabs can be a nice strategy. If there is an area you feel like you can expose Alabama it is in the secondary. They have limited depth at corner. Even top corner Marlon Humphrey is susceptible to the big play giving up an average of 16.3 yards per completion.

3. Clemson’s Defense Is Very Athletic:

Clemson lost some players to the NFL last year but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a talented unit. I surely didn’t expect them to be so great after losing Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and D.J. Reader. Freshman Dexter Lawson has really taken control of the defensive line recording 15 knockdowns and 30 QB Pressures. Middle Linebacker Ben Boulware is a tackling machine holding the defense together. The real strength is the secondary. Clemson is loaded at corner. The group lead by Cordrea Tankersley, an upcoming first round pick, help opposing quarterbacks to a mere 37.7 rating. The top four corners on the roster have held the rating to an ugly 40.3 QB rating. Alabama will likely struggle to throw the ball for the entirety of the game. Everyone saw how great this defense can be. In a 31-0 win, the Tigers recorded 3 sacks and 2 interceptions in a dominating performance.

 

The Bottom Line:

Truthfully this will be Alabama’s toughest test all season. We saw last week that Clemson has been clearly saving their best football for late in the season. I think the game will be similar to last season and go back and fourth for much of the game. The current line for the game is 6.5. I don’t have a great feeling either way but I would take Alabama to win this game. I think it is possible that Clemson might have blown their gas tank last week. In a game that requires a shorter time to prepare, I like the coaching edge and Alabama. As tempting as it is to take Clemson, the safe pick is Alabama.