We’re down to one more game in the college football season. On Monday night in Glendale, Alabama plays Clemson for the national championship. The Crimson Tide are a six-point favorite. What way do you play it?
Let’s begin by saying that the fluctuations of the pointspread mean that shopping for the right price and timing will be important. Some books in Las Vegas have the line as high as (-7). If you’re a Clemson backer you’d clearly like to get a clean touchdown. Just as clearly, Alabama bettors only want to give 6 or 6.5.
Both teams rolled through their semifinal games on New Year’s Eve and both did it by pulling away in the second half. Clemson trailed Oklahoma 17-16 at the half before ripping off twenty unanswered points to win 37-17. Alabama led Michigan State 10-0 at intermission before four unanswered touchdowns led to a 38-0 rout. The Tigers & Tide are clearly the best two teams in the country and playing like it right now.
Let’s begin with the keys for Clemson. It all starts with quarterback DeShaun Watson, a dual-threat quarterback who used his running to great effect against Oklahoma, rushing for 145 yards. Watson also ran well in his team’s biggest games this year, going for 93 against Notre Dame, 107 against Florida State and 131 in the win over North Carolina.
The performance against Florida State is most relevant here because the Seminoles were a top five defense this season. With their speed on the edge, Florida State is the only team that comes even close to providing a test case for what might happen against Alabama. The fact Watson was able to make hay on the ground against FSU provides reasonable hope he might be able to do on Monday night.
Running back Wayne Gallman was vital in the win over Oklahoma, gaining 150 yards and that was no fluke. He also went over 100 yards against Florida State and North Carolina and got close to that against Notre Dame in monsoon-like conditions. Gallman and Watson together make for a diversified running attack where a defense can’t just focus on one player.
The key is going to be throwing the football. Michigan State had opportunities in the first half to make plays in the passing game, but drops killed one drive and an ill-advised pass that was intercepted on the goal line killed another. If Sparty doesn’t make those mistakes, they might have been tied at the half and who knows how the second half unfolds.
Watson’s season-long passing numbers are impressive, but he was erratic against Oklahoma, completing 16/31 for 187 yards and missing some receivers that were clearly open. There won’t be nearly as many opportunities against Alabama, and Watson can’t leave plays on the field, especially early in the game the way Michigan State did. If Clemson is going to win, we need to see the Watson that went 28/42 for 297 yards against Florida State.
Defensively, the Tigers have playmakers, but the health of Shaq Lawson is going to be crucial. The talented defensive end left the Oklahoma game in the first half with a knee injury, but is expected to play. He needs to be able to pressure the quarterback for Clemson to win.
On the other side of the defense is another terrific playmaker in Kevin Dodd. At linebacker, Clemson is anchored by B.J. Goodson, who is both steady at making the sure tackle and capable of blowing up a play behind the line of scrimmage. The top corner, Cordea Tankersley, leads the team in interception with five picks and it’s likely Clemson will need to get some mistakes from Alabama quarterback Jake Coker if they’re going to win this game. Read the rest of this entry →