For four straight seasons, Alabama and Clemson have faced off in the College Football Playoff – three of those matchups for the National Championship. In 2016 it was #2 Alabama upsetting undefeated #1 Clemson in a fourth quarter shootout. Then in 2017 Clemson got their revenge in the National Championship, returning the favor as the #2 seed upsetting the undefeated Crimson Tide thanks to a 2 yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson as time expired. 2018 was nowhere near as exciting, in addition to only being the semifinal matchup between #4 Alabama and #1 Clemson. Alabama crushed Clemson 24-6 in a low scoring and uneventful game. This year is different though. This is the deciding matchup in the unofficial best of 3 national championship game series.
The 2019 College Football Playoff has serious bragging rights on the line…for both schools. This matchup will be an important testament for each school’s history, for each coach’s legacy, and for college football’s record books.
#1 Alabama enters the game undefeated and favored by 5.5 points. They are undefeated and currently boasting a 16 game winning streak going back to last season. Alabama is playing in their fourth straight title game, and their 7th in the last 10 seasons. They beat #4 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray 45-34 in the semifinals to get to the national championship. But this game is going to be the most difficult one they’ve played all season. This game will not come down to a specific aspect of the Crimson Tide or a single mistake by the Tigers. Saban’s team enters the game ranked 4th in the FBS in total offense and 13th in total defense. Diving deeper, they are 2nd in scoring offense (behind their last opponent, Oklahoma) and 5th in scoring defense. Any college football fan can tell you this Alabama team is no different than any other successful squad under Nick Saban. They dominant both aspects of the game and have the deepest bench in the NCAA. Look at their backup running back Josh Jacob’s game against Oklahoma – 158 yards on 19 rushing attempts from a player that had only 593 rushing yards all season. Alabama’s defense, especially their secondary, needs a much better showing against Clemson than they had against Oklahoma (Kyler Murray had 308 passing yards and 109 rushing yards). Despite the scoreline, Alabama had no real worries on defense because they knew they could run circles around the Oklahoma defense and still come out on top on the scoresheet. Clemson is different. They have the best defense Alabama will have faced all season. Tua is leading one of the best passing offenses in the FBS (3rd in completion percentage, 6th in passing offense, 3rd in passing touchdowns), so he can cause plenty of trouble for Clemson’s secondary. Unlike Alabama’s game against Oklahoma, however, this game will come down to which team puts up the better defensive effort.
In the regular season, Clemson has only lost two games by a combined four points since 2015. Just like Alabama, they enter this matchup undefeated and with one of the strongest squads in college football. After crushing #3 Notre Dame 30-3, Alabama’s “guaranteed” repeat championship became realistically threatened. There’s no doubt that Clemson represents the best of the rest, but a win against the Crimson Tide gives them the undisputed best of them all title. They’ve made the playoff each of the last four seasons, and their rivalry against Alabama over that time period is no secret. For Dabo Swinney, a win puts him closer to the same playing field in terms of legacy as someone like Nick Saban or Bear Bryant. And a win really isn’t out of the question for the Tigers, despite what the media has preached all season. Clemson has the best scoring defense in the nation, the 4th best scoring offense, the 10th best rushing offense, and the 2nd most rushing touchdowns in the FBS. Even without suspended DL Dexter Lawrence they held #3 Notre Dame to just 3 points in a playoff game. Lawrence is not eligible to play against Alabama, but last week shows the Tigers’ ability to adapt defensively regardless. Offensively, the biggest name might not be Clemson’s freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but instead Travis Etienne or even senior wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow has crushed the Alabama secondary each of his last three seasons, including last year’s highest drafted safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Renfrow also caught the last second pass from Deshaun Watson in 2017 to lift Clemson over Alabama in the title game. Travis Etienne can also single handedly carry the Clemson offense. The sophomore running back finished 7th in Heisman voting, the best among running backs, and averaged an insane 8.3 yards per carry with over 1500 yards total. His 22 rushing TDs was tied for the most in the FBS, and he’s also coming off a 109 yard, 1 TD outing against Notre Dame. Lawrence has to play better than he has all season, however, to make a dent in this Alabama defense. They have an exposable secondary and have not trailed much all season, so if Lawrence can get an early lead on his first few drives and put the pressure on the Crimson Tide, this could very well go in the Tigers’ favor.
Bottom Line: Clemson and Alabama are the undisputed two best teams in college football (even UCF agrees). One could argue they are one and the same, boasting top offenses and defenses, headed by two unbelievable coaches, and nearly mistake-free all season. Clemson has the opportunity to be the first team all season to really put pressure on Tua, while Alabama can relax somewhat more on defense as Lawrence poses much less of a running threat than last week’s matchup against Kyler Murray. Even with the quality of each team’s defense, expect a fairly high scoring game. At the end of the day, it’s college football – where the offenses will always outshine the defenses. Vegas has Alabama as 5 point favorites, but Clemson is too disqualify them by anything more than a field goal. Take Clemson +5.5 for sure, but avoid a straight up bet because this game could really go either way. Don’t be surprised if a field goal as time expires is the deciding score.