For the third time in four years, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game features the Clemson Tigers as an underdog against the Alabama Crimson Tide. These two teams also played last year in the semifinals and Alabama won in lopsided fashion, but Clemson won the “Natty” in 2016 and only lost by five in an instant classic in 2015.
The Tigers and Tide have played in Glendale, Tampa, and Atlanta and will now play clear across the country for both fan bases at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Alabama is favored by either 6 or 6.5 across the market with a total of 59.
Prop Me Up
Prop betting opportunities will be present for the National Championship Game, which has become a lot like the Super Bowl over the last few years. While most of these betting options aren’t out yet, bettors will have a lot of different ways to have action on the game. The championship game line, at least in theory, should be the absolute tightest of the season, but the prop bets allow you the chance to find some edges.
A Steady Diet of Red Bull
Both Alabama and Clemson have a little extra time than usual to prep for the CFPNCG, but the two teams took very different paths to the title game. Alabama spent a lot of energy against Oklahoma, as the Sooners mounted an impressive second-half comeback and forced the Tide to play the full 60 minutes.
Clemson’s spot in the title game never really appeared to be in doubt, as the Tigers mostly dominated Notre Dame in the 30-3 victory. It was a 23-3 game at half and the Fighting Irish mounted very few scoring threats.
Obviously these two teams got plenty of rest before the semifinal games, but with the long trip west, both teams will have to head out early and there are a lot of media obligations and associated hoopla with a game of this magnitude.
Two for Tua?
Tua Tagovailoa was the hero in last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Georgia. At that time, Trevor Lawrence was committed to Clemson and finishing out his senior year at Cartersville High School in Georgia. There is a “been there, done that” factor at the most important position on the field for this game and that could be cause for concern for Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney.
Tagovailoa has thrown for 3,671 yards with an obscene 41/4 TD/INT ratio this season. His worst game, though, came against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game when he was 10-of-25 for 164 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Against Oklahoma’s skeleton defense, Tua was surgical with a line of 24-of-27, 318 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks. Clemson’s defense is a lot better and he’s still not 100 percent with the ankle.
Lawrence was 27-of-39 for 327 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame. It was a coming out party for freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross, who probably won’t be running as free against the Alabama defense. It will be up to Lawrence to minimize mistakes and not take crippling third down sacks.
Tale of the Tape
It could not have been clearer as the season went along that these were the two best teams in college football. In yards per game, Clemson was third and Alabama was fourth. In yards per play, Alabama was second and Clemson was third. Clemson was first in yards per carry and Alabama was 18th. You might scoff at how low that is for Alabama, but the Tide led the country in yards per pass attempt, will lead the country in passing touchdowns after this game, and only trail Washington State and Ohio State in completion percentage.
Oh, yeah, the defenses are pretty good, too. Clemson finished second in total defense and Alabama was 13th. Clemson was first in yards per play allowed and Alabama was 13th. The Tigers also led the country in yards per carry allowed and Alabama was 18th, but the Tide only allowed nine rushing touchdowns. Alabama was 19th in yards per pass attempt allowed and Clemson was 22nd.
Clemson led the country in sacks with 52 and Alabama was fifth with 45. These two quarterbacks better make smart, quick decisions with the football and the experience level of Tua could really shine through in that area, if his ankle stays together.
Keep in mind that these two teams participated in a lot of blowouts, so underclassmen got some playing time during the season in the second half.
How Can Clemson Pull the Upset?
The Tigers have to be able to run the rock. They’re going to need Travis Etienne. Lawrence is as poised and composed as a 19-year-old quarterback can be, but this Alabama defense is unlike any that he has seen this season. Etienne needs to make it easier for his team with some positive plays on first and second down to create manageable third down situations.
They’re also going to need some impact plays from the defense. Dexter Lawrence is unlikely to play again, but Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins were virtually unblockable in the semifinal win. Austin Bryant looked great as well. This is a very experienced front line for the Clemson defense. They’ll need to shed blocks to cut off Alabama’s counter plays.
The biggest worry for Clemson here is the second level. Alabama and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley put so many Oklahoma defenders on an island in space with play-action and RPO looks. There were so many easy completions and big running lanes for the Crimson Tide in that game. Brent Venables has a lot of work to do, but he’s going to need his linebackers to execute the game plan.
One adjustment Clemson should make relative to what Oklahoma did is to shade the wide receivers inside. Alabama didn’t run a whole lot of deep routes, but ran a lot of slants and drags. There is so much more space in the middle of the field than along the sidelines and all of these smart and savvy offenses are realizing that the area between the hashes has a lot more high-percentage opportunities to pick up chunks of yardage. Let Alabama try to throw the deep ball. It may be higher reward, but it’s also higher risk.
How Can Alabama Take Care of Business?
Run the offense. Sometimes coordinators get way too cute in these types of games and wind up doing things that just don’t make much sense. We see too many reverses to get teams into 2nd and 16 situations or some sort of disastrous fake attempt on special teams. Let Tua eat.
Josh Jacobs was running dudes over in the Orange Bowl and Tua was playing easy pitch and catch with his wide receivers. Because the offense is predicated on getting the ball out quick, Clemson’s defensive line can be neutralized. The counter rushing attack was very effective against Oklahoma and can be here again. At the very least, it should tire out the Clemson front line.
Trevor Lawrence isn’t the running threat that Kyler Murray was, so Alabama should have more success with its blitz packages in this game. Clemson has talent at wide receiver, but both Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins have been inconsistent. They are young, big bodied wideouts that are still getting comfortable with using their height and physicality. Press the wide receivers and force Lawrence to throw into tight windows.
Coming into the bowl season, my line on this game was Alabama -4.5. There isn’t any value on the side at -6, but it’s the last game of the year, so a pick is definitely warranted. I’ll have to Roll Tide in this one. Deshaun Watson was a special type of player that was a run-pass threat in the CFP games when Clemson covered. With Kelly Bryant last year, it was a rout.
Alabama struggles with mobile dudes, which is why Kyler Murray had a lot of success with his legs. Lawrence isn’t that much of a runner. That’s not to say that he’s immobile, but Lawrence’s season-high in carries was nine and his season-high in yardage was 42. You don’t beat Alabama like that.
Alabama is the preferred side, but prop betting will be the way to go in this game.
The total of 59 looks like a pretty sharp number, all things considered. For those that want action, but don’t like the side, I’d wait a little on this total. Remember that the first two title games between these two ended 45-40 and 35-31 and public bettors love to play the over. Footing is sometimes a problem and this won’t be the fastest track at Levi’s Stadium. I’d look for anything over 60 and play the under.
We’ll have some prop betting options for you as those lines get posted, so keep an eye out for that right here at BangTheBook.com!