Atkinson: Clemson will beat Alabama, my five reasons why
The ring is set. Turnbuckles fastened. And the lights overhead dimmed. It’s showtime for Act II.
Many were in Apollo Creed’s “There’ll be no rematch. Don’t want one” camp. Others having seen Rocky nearly pull off the unthinkable and craving one more fight will get that showdown.
The rematch between Alabama-Clemson should be as thrilling as last year when the nation’s two best square off Monday night in Tampa. And it’s what I expected when the CFB Playoff pairings were announced last month.
I argued before the two semifinals were played that the Alabama-Washington game would be the closer of the two games. However, I didn’t expect an Ohio-sized, 31-0 beatdown Clemson delivered to the Big Ten’s supposed “best” Buckeyes.
Without either being tested and matched in their respective semifinal games, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game will again pit the Crimson Tide and Tigers who’ve now separated themselves as America’s top-two programs in the college football pecking order.
Like a year ago, my prediction was on Clemson. And again this year…give me the Tigers. Even with the talk around Nick Saban’s best-defense-since-he-got-to-Alabama, I like Clemson even more this year than last.
Here’s my five reasons why Clemson will beat Alabama on Monday night…
Clemson boasts a team filled with leaders. Not just leaders, but players who are experienced and at key positions for the Tigers. Of course it starts with Deshaun (more on him below) but there’s much more. Senior center Jay Guillermo is the unquestioned leader up front. Running back Wayne Gillman and wide receiver Mike Williams lead by example with non-stop motors and big-playmaking ability. Senior tight end Jordan Leggett has been around the block and is a two-time Mackey Award finalist as the nation’s best tight end.
Senior linebacker Ben Boulware is the vocal leader, willing to share if/when asked about working all season to get back to this very point of the postseason and much more including four fingers deep. Senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins leads the deepest unit on the entire squad where it’s often a different standout from game to game.
Safety Jadar Johnson may have talked a big game leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, but his play “quarterbacking” the secondary was akin to serving as Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee’s starting centerfielder batting down and snagging balls all over the yard.
#2 Lane Kiffin-Steve Sarkisian factor
Make no mistake about it, getting rid of Lane Kiffin eliminates a distraction around the program. However, sending the new FAU coach packing in an unprecedented move between CFB Playoff games is unheard of. Even if Lane was being Lane.
But it won’t be without growing pains. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian takes over for Kiffin (again) but spent the entire season as a control analyst, meaning he didn’t have any on-field coaching or player development duties. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts hasn’t heard the same voice calling plays and Sark’s rhythm could very well be different.
#3 Jalen Hurts
Speaking of Hurts, the Channelview, Texas native had his late-season momentum stymied by Washington in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, managing just 57 yards passing due in large part to the Huskies’ outstanding secondary. I’m sure he’d tell you the only number he cares about is the one on the scoreboard. But he’s not a redshirt senior and he’ll be standing in the sport’s ultimate spotlight for the first time as a true freshman with the pressure of college football’s most rabid fan base expecting another title.
#4 Deshaun Watson
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it one final time…Deshaun is the best, most dynamic player in the CFB Playoff. His leadership is unquestioned, productivity in big games is unmatched and his poise under pressure is incomparable.
You know how “excited” Saban is to have the best quarterback in college football since Cam Newton on the other side of the field. Plus he’s directing a Clemson offense that’ll be the best Bama has seen and faced since the Tigers and Watson’s 478 yards of total offense last January. I think he’ll be THE difference in this football game.
Don’t ever underestimate how powerful motivation can be. Having worked and prepared for an entire year to hopefully get another shot at a national championship, the Tigers are now 60 minutes away against the team that stood in their way a season ago.
As dominant as the 14-0 Crimson Tide have been all season, I think it’s better Clemson is facing Alabama than anybody else. Why? Because it was the very program in the Tide that ripped Clemson’s dream almost a year ago. Plus you want to say you’ve beaten the very best and there’s no doubt the Tide are just that.
Prediction: Clemson 26, Alabama 20.