James Scully College Football Picks

Clemson Tigers +5.5 vs Alabama Crimson Tide (Monday 8 p.m. ET)

Powerhouse programs will meet in the national championship game for the third time in four years, with Alabama winning by a 45-40 margin in 2015 and Clemson prevailing by a 35-31 score in 2016. Both highly-rated defenses are stocked with NFL prospects, but this game is all about the firepower with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence leading dynamic attacks.

Alabama averaged 47.7 points per game, scoring 50 or more on eight occasions. Clemson, who put up a school-record 77 against an FBS team in November, recorded 44.3 points per game.

This will be the first time Alabama hasn’t been favored by at least a touchdown this season. Crimson Tide likes to start fast and sprinted out to a 28-0 advantage over Oklahoma early in the second quarter of the national semifinal. Heisman Trophy winner Kyle Murray was clearly disrupted during the early stages, failing to complete a pass until the Sooners trailed by three touchdowns, but the second half proved to be a different story as Oklahoma seemingly played downhill, dropping 24 points on an Alabama defensive unit that was out of gas in the fourth quarter.

Nick Saban wasn’t pleased with the performance but the second-half letdown may prove to be a blessing in disguise if Alabama cleans up coverage mistakes and maintain focus for the entire 60 minutes.

Clemson will do damage behind Trevor Lawrence, who has thrown 27 TDs and only four interceptions this year. Alabama’s secondary won’t be able to keep him in check all game, but the key to Clemson’s overall success is the ground game. Tigers averaged 257.5 rushing yards per game behind Travis Etienne and Alabama must slow down the phenomenal running back if they want to avoid a shootout that could go either way.

Alabama runs the ball effectively by committee but faces a steep challenge against Clemson’s front seven. They possess a terrific wide receiver corps, with Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith are all capable of making an impact, and no defense has come close to slowing down the Tide’s passing game.

Notre Dame’s non-existent passing game couldn’t hurt Clemson, but the Tigers surrendered 510 passing yards to South Carolina in the regular season finale and have no room for error against Alabama. Tua combines accuracy with a strong arm and proved he can lead a team back from a deficit in last year’s title game win over Georgia. The sophomore exits an outstanding showing, completing 24-of-27 passes with four TDs against Oklahoma, and he’s averaged 11.4 yards per attempt this year.

Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is a force up front and I think Alabama’s defense can slow down Etienne. Alabama likes to jump on opponents early and this rivalry (fourth consecutive postseason match-up between teams) has been no different, with the Tide outscoring Clemson by a 38-24 margin in the first half.

Alabama rates a significant advantage at wide receiver and I think that will be the difference as Tua outplays Lawrence and the Tide wins comfortably, lay the points with Alabama!

National Title Game Free Pick: Alabama -5.5

Read more analysis, plus another free pick for the National Championship here

 

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