Here are six bold predictions ahead of Monday night’s big game.
1) Bo Scarbrough gets at least 25 carries
Scarbrough was Alabama’s fourth leading rusher this season – that says less about Scarbrough and more about the Tide’s supreme talent level in the backfield. But the 228-pound sophomore bruiser might be their most dynamic ball-carrier of all.
Scarbrough rushed for 180 yards and two scores against Washington in the Peach Bowl, and he reached the 90-yard threshold against Florida and Auburn in the weeks prior. But up until the Iron Bowl, Scarbrough hadn’t received more than 11 carries in a game all season.
Expect to see plenty of No. 9 on Monday night for the Crimson Tide. Scarbrough has a combination of size and speed that few can rival, and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is going to need to lean on the running game.
2) Jalen Hurts throws for less than 150 yards
Hurts has been magnificent this season, but Alabama appears to be content to take the ball out of its quarterback’s hands and live and die with the run game. With Sarkisian calling his first game in such a high-pressure environment, don’t expect him to try to get cute. Hurts will still be a focal point in this affair – he’s crucial to the Crimson Tide’s multi-faceted rushing attack – but Clemson is stingy in the secondary, and Alabama might want to take its chances elsewhere.
Hurts only attempted 14 passes in the Peach Bowl. He’ll need to make a few big plays in order for Alabama to win, but he doesn’t have to be Deshaun Watson.
3) Clemson strikes first before Alabama starts rolling
Alabama has a tendency to get your hopes up as an opponent before sucking the life out of you. Washington scored first in the Peach Bowl. It wouldn’t score again. In last year’s game, while Derrick Henry put the first points on the board, Watson’s TD toss to Hunter Renfrow gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Alabama was unfazed.
It’s as if the Crimson Tide find a sneering joy in offering a glimmer of hope before slamming the door shut. Their second half scoring margin is otherworldly this season; ever since its Nov. 5 game against LSU, Alabama is outscoring opponents 95-6 in the final two quarters. Now that’s a stat. If Clemson wants to win this one, it will have to get off to a scorching start. You’d rather not be in a tight game with Alabama as the clock winds down.
4) Watson carries the ball more than Wayne Gallman does
Clemson scaled back Watson’s rushing numbers this year precisely for games like this. He’s still one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, but there was no sense in putting the wear and tear on his body that comes with carrying the ball.
As a result, Clemson’s read-option attack was predictable this season. The ball would usually wind up in Gallman’s belly. Alabama is allowing exactly two yards per rush this season – tops in the nation by a mile – so while you might not get anywhere on the ground against them regardless, you certainly won’t move the ball if you’re predictable. If Clemson is going to win, Watson will need to make plays with his arm and his legs. Gallman has 71 more rushing attempts this season than Watson, but in last year’s game, the latter carried the ball six more times than his backfield mate. That’s likely to happen once again.
5) The game is tight until Alabama breaks it open with a defensive touchdown
Alabama has scored an absurd 15 non-offensive touchdowns this season, and as great as Watson is, he’s prone to giveaways. The star quarterback has thrown 17 interceptions this season, up from 13 last year; he tossed a crucial pick in last season’s national championship game.
With Jonathan Allen and the rest of the Crimson Tide defensive line clamping down on opposing quarterbacks, they tend to produce plenty of sack-fumbles or easy interceptions for a talented secondary. Last year, Kenyan Drake broke the game open for the Tide with a kickoff return touchdown. This season, that non-offensive score can come from anywhere; Alabama’s passing attack is hit-or-miss, but it’s absolutely masterful at every other component of football. The Crimson Tide can strike at any time, anywhere.
6) Final score: Alabama 31, Clemson 24. Nick Saban wins his sixth national championship for the Crimson Tide.
*These predictions are the writer’s opinions – they do not reflect the opinions of the NCAA or the College Football Playoff*