Alabama Crimson Tide (-7, 50.5 o/u) vs Clemson Tigers
Since Nick Saban came to Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide have achieved just about every feat imaginable in college football: three national championships, two Heisman winners, and one undefeated season. The only thing they’ve yet to do is win the newly-minted College Football Playoff. Now, with calls for Saban to return to the pros the loudest they’ve ever been, a win in the CFP National Championship could be the perfect swan song for his Crimson Tide career.
Roll Tide will try to give Saban the opportunity to ride off into the Tuscaloosa sunset while simultaneously ending the Clemson Tigers’ perfect season when the teams meet at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday Night (8:30 PM Eastern).
Both teams rolled through the semi-finals with decisive victories: Clemson shut out Oklahoma in the second half of a 37-17 drubbing; Alabama achieved the full-game goose egg, shellacking Michigan St., 38-0.
The ground game was key for both squads on New Year’s Eve, as it has been all season. Clemson’s offense outpaced their season average of 222 yards on the ground with 315 yards rushing and three TDs against the Sooners.
Against the Spartans, Bama didn’t have as much success in the run game as they’re used to, especially Heisman winner Derrick Henry who was limited to 75 yards on 20 carries. But the bruising back did manage to find the endzone twice, continuing his streak of reaching pay-dirt in every game this season.
But if you are expecting offensive fireworks, you may want to temper that excitement. These defenses are tops in the nation, which means the battle between the hash-marks should be fantastic to watch. Bama is first at stopping the run, limiting opponents to 74 yards a game.
Clemson isn’t too shabby itself, surrendering 129 rush yards per game. Where the Tigers really excel though is limiting opposing passers: they were tops in the nation in completion rate, allowing opposing QBs to connect on just 46-percent of their passes.
The Crimson Tide defense comes into this game hotter than a fire-cracker, having not surrendered over 20 points since mid-October. But they’ll need to be wary of the dual-threat that Clemson QB Deshaun Watson presents. A Heisman runner-up, Watson threw for 3,700 yards and had over 1,000 more on the ground, but finished third in voting behind Henry and Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey. Now he has a national stage to prove all the voters wrong, and his skill set makes him the perfect candidate to pull of the upset.
To Alabama’s credit, it hasn’t allowed an opposing QB to rush for over 100 yards in the last 20 years. However, the more versatile a QB’s game, the more trouble they tend to have defending. Three of Bama’s biggest losses in the last five years came against quarterbacks that could tuck and run: Nick Marshall (99 yards rushing) in the 2013 Iron Bowl, Johnny Manziel in 2012 (92 yards), and Cardale Jones (43 yards) in last year’s playoffs.
Bama went 8-6 against the spread this season, and the Tigers were an even 7-7. Clemson’s first opportunity to play as an underdog didn’t come until last week, when they entered their semi-final matchup as four-point dogs.
With a pair of dominant defenses loaded with playmakers like A’Shawn Robinson and Shaq Lawson, this game looks headed for the UNDER. After all Bama is 5-7-1 on game totals this year.
As for the outcome, this should be a knock-down, drag-’em-out kind of game and I’d have to take the side getting points. Roll – make that prowl – with the Tigers to keep it a close affair.
Pick: Clemson (+7).
(Photo credit: Lloyd Gallman (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/].)
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