Yeah, yeah, it’s the next part of The Trilogy, but can Alabama-Clemson III be nearly as good as the first two? Here are the final thoughts and predictions for the Sugar Bowl.
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Ten Final Thoughts Before The Alabama vs. Clemson Sugar Bowl
10. The Ohio State debate doesn’t matter … for now
What’s done is done.
Ohio State won the Cotton Bowl with a business-like drubbing of USC, the Big Ten has been amazing this bowl season, and everything that has happened so far is making the College Football Playoff committee’s decision to go with Alabama on the Just Because It’s Alabama criteria look more suspect than ever.
But that’s about the process. Not The Process that’s made Alabama so amazing, but the process that set up this final four in the first place. That’s all going to be a debate for the offseason. Now that the game is here, it’s Clemson vs. Alabama. That’s cool, no matter what the rhetoric.
It’s not like Alabama is awful, but …
9. Alabama has to be a whole lot better than it was this regular season
Last year’s Crimson Tide team would’ve ripped this year’s version apart, as would the 2015 national champion.
That’s not to say Bama can’t rise up and rock, or even play lousy and win, but it needs to be even sharper than the version that struggled so mightily against so many mediocre teams.
This is the first team to ever lose its last game of the regular season and still get into the College Football Playoff.
Alabama limped across the finish line, but now that it got in, this might just be when it takes its game to another level.
8. Both teams are trying to play the disrespect card
Alabama: “Everyone thinks Ohio State should be here – nobody believes in us.”
Clemson: “Alabama is favored – nobody believes in us.”
Alabama: “We’re the No. 4 seed and lost to Auburn – nobody believes in us.”
Clemson: “We’re the defending national champ and we get Alabama in the CFP? Nobody believes in us.”
Alabama: “Look at all these ‘experts’ picking Clemson – nobody believes in us.”
Clemson: “Look at all these ‘experts’ picking Alabama – nobody believes in us.”
Both coaching staffs and both fan bases were cranking up the motivational speaker part of the program this week. These are the two best college football programs going right now. Everyone believes in both of them.
7. The friendly relationship between Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban is sort of cool
It’s a more fun narrative to think coaches have some intense dislike for one another, but the truth is usually the total opposite, if for no other reason than they all, no matter what their status, feel the need to constantly be networking.
One day’s head coach of one program becomes tomorrow’s defensive coordinator somewhere else.
But it’s even more than that when it comes to Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. Of course they both want to beat each other, outwork each other, and negative recruit each other, but they also respect their respective places in the world.
They’re both in that small fraternity of currently working national championship head coaches. They’re able to hang together as peers now after these last two national championships, and that relationship makes this matchup all the more special.
6. Jalen Hurts is better than you think
There seems to be this media-creative narrative that people think Jalen Hurts has something big to prove.
Of course, he struggled in last year’s College Football Playoff, and backup Tua Tagovailoa will get every shot to take over the gig this offseason, but for now, Hurts could be just good enough to be the star of this season’s tournament.
So he’s not Tom Brady throwing the ball – the guy gave up just one interception all year.
He dipped below the 50% mark in completion percentage just once – in the fight against LSU – and he hasn’t pushed the ball down the field all that much, but he’s a veteran now who came within one defensive stop of winning a national title. Don’t be surprised if he’s amazing tonight.
5. Of course Alabama can win the whole thing
Back to that whole narrative about Alabama being deserving of being in the College Football Playoff. There’s a difference between earning a spot in, and being one of the best teams in college football.
Ohio State was blown out by Iowa – but it still might really be one of the four best teams. Penn State might be one of the four best. Wisconsin might have been able to win two games if it was in this thing.
But it’s Alabama that’s in it. No matter how it got here, of course it might just be good enough to roll through Clemson tonight and take down the Rose Bowl winner a week later.
This is still a team with the nation’s second-best defense – Wisconsin was No. 1 – was No. 1 in scoring D, third against the run, and has one of the best offensive lines and most talented backfields in the country.
Duh, it’s Alabama, It might just make it two national championships in three years, but …
4. It might just be a good thing for college football if it doesn’t
Here’s the problem. If Alabama wins the national championship, then that means the College Football Playoff process won’t change, and the system will still be based on judgement over accomplishment.
The committee can take any four teams it wants to.
But after whiffing on the controversial Ohio State call of last year, if you’re looking for the possibility of a five, six, or eight-team playoff – or any sort of tweak whatsoever to how this is all done – you probably want Clemson to win this rather easily.
This isn’t an anti-Alabama argument in any way. This is about those who might want to change up how the sausage is made.
The BCS underwent a facelift after USC was left out of the championship in the 2003 season, and the playoff came about once conference commissioners started getting grouchy about the system.
With that said …
3. It really would awesome to see Alabama rise up and rock
It’s okay to be a fan of greatness.
It’s okay to abhor the entirety of the New England Patriot schtick, and still marvel in how we’re living in the midst of the greatest dynasty in Super Bowl era NFL history.
There’s a reason everyone is desperately hoping for Tiger Woods to come back and be close to his old self, just like most NBA fans would love nothing more than to see LeBron deal with Steph and Kevin again on the highest of NBA stages.
Greatness is awesome.
So putting aside all of the other stuff, just to see Alabama do its thing again would be special. It’s Alabama in another College Football Playoff – something amazing is about to happen, one way or another.
2. What Swinney has done is absolutely amazing
The 2014 Clemson Tigers came up with 45 sacks, led by star end Vic Beasley. He was gone in 2015 – along with seven of the other top team Tigers in sacks. And Clemson’s D was even better.
The defensive front lost the top three pass rushers from the 2015 team that came up with 48 sacks in another rebuilding movement, and last year’ line was even better.
Gone were Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, and the three of the top four receivers, and Clemson was still the No. 1 seed.
Others have had magical, flukish runs to the national title over the BCS/CFP era, but this is true sustainability that doesn’t look like it’ll stop any time soon.
1. Clemson is going to win the 2018 Sugar Bowl
Clemson has the defensive front to keep the Alabama offense in check, it has the speed in the backfield, and it has the quarterback in Kelly Bryant who might just be ready to become the newest really big college football superstar.
Alabama isn’t bad, but it also appears to be just good enough to lose in a fight – sort of like the Auburn game.
Tempo will make a difference. Clemson will be quicker-paced while Bama – even though it’s hardly slow-and-go – will seem a bit more deliberate by comparison.
Expect a lower-scoring battle than most College Football Playoff games, but also expect this to be Clemson’s time for those who weren’t the stars of last year’s title to be looking to do something amazing.
There’s a reason Clemson is the No. 1 seed and Alabama is the No. 4. The Clemson D line will be a wee bit better, the passing game will be a wee bit stronger, and the team will come up with a few more big plays.
Expect a classic no matter how this shakes out.