College Football Playoff- The Sugar Bowl

(4) Alabama Crimson Tide at (1) Clemson Tigers

Alabama: Coming into Selection Sunday on December 3rd, we all knew who three of the teams would be to make the playoffs. The defending champion Clemson Tigers were one, of course, followed by Oklahoma and Georgia. So, who would get that fourth spot? Could it be the Ohio State Buckeyes? They did defeat an undefeated Wisconsin Badger team and won their division and the conference championship, it had to be them, right? Nope! The committee decided to put the Alabama Crimson Tide in and they got it right because of the Ohio State loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, an unranked opponent really put a blemish on their resume. Now that we got that out of the way, here they are once again in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. I’ve watched a lot of Crimson Tide football over the years and I can sit here and honestly say that this isn’t one of Nick Saban’s strongest teams. They dominated a few of their games early on in the season and then came their battle in Starkville against Mississippi State where they struggled to pull away, but still got the win and a few weeks later, they went into the Iron Bowl and faced a hungry Auburn Tigers team that really stuck it to them. Nick Saban has always had a strong defense to count on, not that day. The Tide gave up over 400 yards of total offense to the Tigers in the loss. Jalen Hurts has played more conservative football this year, but he still struggles when defenses force him to throw the football. Alabama got into the playoff picture and they have the team they’ve probably wanted to face again in Clemson.

Clemson: I will be the first to admit it to you that I’ve really been all over the place about this football team. I wasn’t really sold on them at the beginning of the year and that loss against Syracuse really stuck with me. That was the only game they lost this season and here they are as the top seed in the playoffs, the defending champions and as of late, they’ve looked to be the best team in the country. Kelly Bryant is fully healthy, they can run the ball, they play a short and quick passing game to get defenses out of their rhythm and they still have one of the best all-around defensive units in the country under defensive coordinator, Brent Venables. What can’t this defense do? They have made such a big improvement when it came to gap control and remaining disciplined when trying to pressure the quarterback. Last year, they’d overpower themselves and miss the gap so much to the point that the opposing quarterback would either extend the play from the pocket or they’d move away from the pressure and get the yards with their legs. You haven’t seen much of that this year and that really stood out to me in the ACC Championship game against the Miami Hurricanes because the primary objective was to keep Malik Rosier in the pocket and they did just that. This Clemson front four is so powerful up front that they can get pressure without showing a blitz or having to load the box and that’s when you know you have a strong pass rush. This is what they have waited for and what most college football fans have been anticipating. For the third straight season, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers will be facing each other with so much on the line once again.

Alabama Player To Watch: Henry Ruggs III– Calvin Ridley is the top receiver for the Tide and we all know he’s capable of making a big play that can impact the game in some type of way. There’s another big play receiver for Jalen Hurts to get the football too and he goes by the name of Henry Ruggs III. He’s another guy that wreck havoc with running deep routes down the field. The freshman has seven catches on this season with five of them being for touchdowns.

Clemson Player To Watch: Tanner Muse– He was a freshman last season on the title-winning team and this year, he’s truly developed into one of Clemson’s best all-around defenders. He’s a safety that will patrol the backend of the defense and he will see plenty of deep passes thrown in his direction when Hurts tries to connect with Ridley. He’s exactly the guy you want on the field in your secondary. He’s deflected five passes on the year and he’s recovered one fumble which he turned into six points.

Final Analysis: For the third straight season, these two will face each other but this time, it’s for a spot in the national championship game in Atlanta. We’ve seen two classic games between them already and I have a feeling we’ll see another one as well in New Orleans. Alabama’s offensive line has really struggled to remain consistent throughout the year and they’ll face a very active, formidable and physical defensive front of Clemson’s. The best way to really wear down an elite defense is to mix up your playbook. I’d run Hurts and allow him to move the pocket, get your backs involved in different ways and keeping Jalen protected will be a huge key. Clemson led the nation in sacks with 44. The biggest weakness of the Crimson Tide has been their inability to shut down mobile quarterbacks (look what Deshaun did to them in both title games). I think it will be extremely important for Kelly Bryant to play his own game and take care of the football.

Prediction: Clemson 27 Alabama 21