By Brad Caroll
It seems like forever ago where there was actually college football being played, and hopefully that long time off hasn't made people forget there is actually a national championship game left to be played Monday night in Glendale, Arizona. ESPN is certainly hoping so, as its ratings, which were down considerably for the national semifinals, due mostly to the fact the games were played on New Year's Eve, depend on it.
It is hard to forget about what could be an epic showdown in the desert, however, as No. 1 and undefeated Clemson, with all the momentum in the world, takes on No. 2 Alabama, which has all the history, past and present, a program could want heading into this pressure-packed game.
On one side of the national championship game is Dabo Swinney and Clemson, the upstarts of the college football world. Hailing from the ACC, the Tigers have won all 14 games they've played this season, beating Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina as their marquee regular season victories. It was in the College Football Playoff semifinal where they had their best performance, however, as Clemson routed No. 4 and favored Oklahoma 37-17. Clemson outscored the Sooners 21-0 in the second half.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson, the third-place vote-getter in the Heisman trophy race this season, passed for 187 yards with a touchdown and interception and also added 145 rushing yards and a score. He was dominate against the Sooners and will have to be just as good against Alabama Monday night. He got plenty of help as well, with running back Wayne Gallman rushing for 150 yards and two scores. The defense held a high-scoring Oklahoma team to 17 points and intercepted two passes, proving they can play great on that side of the ball too.
On the other side of title game is Nick Saban and Alabama, the standard bearer of the college football world and touchdown favorite against the Tigers. Saban could seal his legacy as one of, if not the, best college football coach of all time with another national championship. Alabama as a program would continue its current dynasty, which has little chance of slowing down any time soon.
The Crimson Tide are 13-1 with victories coming against six ranked teams this season, Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, Florida and Michigan State. The latter victory against the Spartans was an eye-opener, as the Tide won 38-0. Whether that proves just how good Alabama is, or how bad Michigan State is, remains in question until Monday night's national championship.
Running back Derrick Henry is the Alabama offense. The Heisman trophy winner rushed 20 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans, as he and his teammates costed to a victory in the second half. The real breakout star in the game was quarterback Jake Coker, who passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He had just five incompletions in 30 pass attempts. If Coker plays that well against Clemson, the Crimson Tide will win the national championship.
Of course, Alabama is all about defense, too, as the Tide pitched the shutout against Michigan State. On the season, Alabama allows just 14.4 points per game.
But, remember, the Crimson Tide have lost this season, a 43-37 setback against Ole Miss at home early in the season. So, Alabama is nowhere near invincible.
For the last time this season, we here at gamedayishere.com preview, analyze and our four college football experts pick the national championship game against the spread below. Click here for all of our previous bowl game picks and follow us on Twitter for all of our college football news, analysis and picks throughout the year here.
And before we do get to the picks, we already have a picks champion for the season here at GameDay Is Here. Glenn Carroll has clinched another championship, his fourth straight and third solo title in a row. It's a truly incredible run for him and he has the most championship titles in the 11 years we've been doing these columns. Congrats to him and good luck to all of you Clemson and Alabama fans Monday night.
College Football Playoff National Championship
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Alabama, Arizona, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Records: Clemson 14-0, Alabama 13-1
The Spread: Clemson +7; Alabama -7
Analysis: I admittedly want to pick Clemson to win this game, as it would be great for college football (sorry Alabama fans) if a new program reached the heights of the sport and won a national championship. For many, an Alabama national championship would be anti-climatic, as in "of course the Crimson Tide won the title." That's not exactly a good place for college football to be in. But with the Tigers on the upswing, taking a shot at the standard as a big underdog, this game could do wonders in the ratings. The key to picking a winner on the field, however, comes down to the quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson is an incredible athlete and will have to be great both passing and running the football for Clemson to have a shot at beating Alabama. For the Tide, Jake Coker has been underwhelming for much of the season, but truly grabbed hold of the Alabama offense in the biggest game of the year, completing 25-of-30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan State. If Coker repeats those numbers against Clemson, the Tigers wouldn't stand a chance. Especially with running back Derrick Henry sure to get his yards on the ground as well. Alabama's defense is better than Clemson's as well, which will be a huge factor. But Alabama will be tested by the running and passing of Watson. That's where giving Saban and company a week and a half to prepare for that is an advantage for Alabama. Unfortunately for those wanting me to go with the Tigers to pull the upset, I just don't believe they can beat what is a complete Alabama team. But when it comes to the point spread, I am taking Clemson, expecting (and hoping) it will be a close and exciting game.
Brad's Score: Alabama 31, Clemson 27
Craig's Score: Clemson 31, Alabama 27 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Alabama 35, Clemson 31
Matt's Score: Alabama 45, Clemson 20