It all comes down to this.
No. 2 Clemson (14-0) versus No. 1 Alabama (14-0) in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Monday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Levi’s Stadium south of San Francisco. It’s the fourth time in as many postseasons that these two national powers will meet.
The teams split their two meetings with the national championship on the line. Alabama won 24-6 in last season’s semifinal matchup.
As you get ready for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, here’s a positional breakdown of the Tigers and Crimson Tide.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence has not played like a true freshman this season and was certainly a cool customer while helping the Tigers dispatch of Notre Dame in the semifinals. In the last four games, Lawrence has thrown eight touchdowns without an interception. Still, Alabama has the Heisman runner-up in Tua Tagovailoa and the country’s top backup in Jalen Hurts. It’s possible the Crimson Tide will again need to rely on that signal-calling duo to win them a second consecutive College Football Playoff national championship.
The Crimson Tide have three running backs (Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs) who have gained at least 590 yards, with Jacobs looking like the most potent threat at the moment. The key for Alabama, however, is whether they’ll be able to penetrate Clemson’s stellar defensive line. The Tigers allowed two teams to rush for more than 100 yards in the last seven games. Travis Etienne (1,572 yards, 22 touchdowns), meanwhile, received some Heisman love and has totaled 415 yards, five touchdowns and averaged 7.7 yards per carry in the last three games.
Clemson’s Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross have combined for 19 touchdowns, and Hunter Renfrow is as sure-handed as they come. However, Alabama, led by Jerry Jeudy, boasts the deepest receiving crops in the country. That includes tight end Irv Smith, while Jacobs can’t be forgotten out of the backfield. It says something when last season’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game hero Devonta Smith ranks fifth on the team in receptions.
Both sides are brilliant in the trenches, and feature All-Americans in Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams and Mitch Hyatt, who plays the same position for the Tigers. The difference: The Tigers do not have to go up against their own vaunted defensive line. That might be the x-factor, and enough to give Clemson the slight edge in this department.
The Tigers did not miss suspended star Dexter Lawrence against Notre Dame. If they lose Monday, it likely won’t be because of Lawrence’s continued absence. We know the others (Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins) on Clemson’s star-studded defensive interior can more than hold their own. In any other matchup, Alabama would hold the advantage at this position with All-American Quinnen Williams (18 tackles for loss), Isaiah Buggs (9 1/2 sacks) and Raekwon Davis also among the nation’s best
The million dollar question for Tide fans is whether Christian Miller will be ready after suffering a hamstring injury in the semifinal win over Oklahoma. Miller is second on the team with 8 1/2 sacks and third with 11 1/2 tackles for loss. However, fellow linebackers Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses and Anfernee Jennings should be able to pick up the slack should Miller be unavailable. Clemson linebackers Isaiah Simmons, Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar also happen to be the team’s top three tacklers.
Deionte Thompson is among the best defensive backs in the country for Alabama, while teammate Patrick Surtain II is a rising star, though he was picked on by Kyler Murray in the semifinals. There is plenty of elite talent at the back end of the Crimson Tide defense, but Clemson has allowed only two teams over its last 10 games to throw a touchdown pass.
Neither team stands out in this area, but Alabama’s Joseph Bulovas is 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts over the last six games. Clemson kicker Greg Huegel missed both a field-goal chance and an extra point against the Irish. The Crimson Tide do have a pair of viable return threats in Jaylen Waddle and Jacobs.
The collective talent that will be on display Monday for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the Bay Area is pretty special. Not to mention, arguably college football’s two best coaches in Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are there, too. The Crimson Tide appear to be the deeper team, especially offensively, which should be the difference.
Alabama 31, Clemson 23