Sportsbooks are currently dealing the Crimson Tide as 6.5-point favorites following their demolition of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve, but the Tigers’ win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl was also impressive.
If you’re still on the fence about which side to bet Monday night, we’ve enlisted the help of those who know these two programs better than most. Alabama blogger SaxonRBR of Roll Bama Roll goes head-to-head with Clemson blogger Ryan Kantor of Shakin The Southland, as they debate why their favorite team will cover the spread in the national title game.
WHY CLEMSON COVERS
Ryan Kantor writes for Clemson blog Shakin The Southland. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @STSouthland.
Deshaun Watson has 390 rushing yards in his past three games, and Alabama’s supposed weakness over the past few years has been stopping scrambling QBs like Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. Alabama is masterful at shutting down opposing running backs, but Watson gives them another rusher to account for and makes the task much harder.
The Tigers have one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Mackensie Alexander. This is huge scheme wise because it allowed Brent Venables to leave him on an island, even against elite wide receivers, and use more defenders to slow opposing rushing attacks. Surely, slowing Heisman winner Derrick Henry will be objective No. 1 for the Tigers’ defense, and being able to trust Mac makes that much more feasible.
Nothing to lose
The Tigers are once again underdogs, a role they thrived in against Notre Dame and Oklahoma. As the final seconds ticked away in the Orange Bowl, LB Ben Boulware looked at a nearby camera and shouted “You can’t doubt us now. You can’t doubt 14-0.”
This team loves being the underdog. They love playing with nothing to lose. Clemson has no chance against Alabama, right? Just remember, ESPN told us that already a few times this season. They were even on upset alert against Miami. Remember how that turned out? When you doubt the Tigers is when they’re at their most dangerous.
WHY ALABAMA COVERS
SaxonRBR is the senior staff writer for Alabama blog Roll Bama Roll. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter @rollbamaroll.
Clemson fields one of the country’s better rush defenses, but they have a critical flaw: they do not bend much, but when they do the results are explosive. They rank 126th in the Rushing IsoPPP metric on defense, which is a statistic that measures the degree of explosiveness allowed on successful rushing plays. Alabama, on the other hand, ranks 30th in the offensive version of that metric, which suggests a big day for Derrick Henry if the Alabama line can get him to the second level.
Ferocious pass rush
The big difference between this Tide defense and that of the last few years is the pass rush, which went from one of the nation’s most anemic to its most effective in 2015. Clemson’s only given up 16 sacks on the season, but six of those came against the only two teams with remotely comparable pass rush units – Appalachian State and Boston College – and “comparable” is probably a charitable term as the Tide easily outstrips both in Adjusted Sack Rate. Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen have been nigh unblockable for most of the year and, while Deshaun Watson’s elusiveness will play a factor, the Tide will get to him enough in this game.
Special teams, field position, and turnovers
Clemson is one of the country’s worst teams at managing field position, as it ranks 96th and 100th in defensive and offensive starting field position, respectively. The Tide rank considerably higher and have key advantages on punt returns and kickoff coverage over the Tigers. The Tigers also have a negative turnover margin on the season, whereas the Tide are plus-9 after the Cotton Bowl – that’s actually below what would be expected by the rates at which they accrue sacks and pass breakups. In a game where the offense and defensive groups may battle each other to a standstill, a single turnover or a consistent advantage in field position could decide the game.
Join the debate in the comment box below. Who covers in the CFP National Championship: Clemson or Alabama?