For all the marbles

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

As it turns out, this is one of those seasons where we didn't really need a playoff. The teams that occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 spots for most of the year cruised in their semifinal games and will now clash for the national championship on Monday night.

The Clemson Tigers once again proved why they're the top team in the country as they dominated both lines of scrimmage in the second half of their playoff matchup with fourth-ranked Oklahoma. They out-scored the Sooners 21-0 after the break to push their record to a perfect 14-0.

Alabama was even more impressive. Against a scrappy Michigan State team that bolstered one of the best defenses in the country, the Crimson Tide got nearly 300 passing yards from quarterback Jake Coker in a 38-0 shutout victory.

As a result, we now have a matchup that even the BCS wouldn't have screwed up for us. We have top-ranked and undefeated Clemson against the one-loss champion from the SEC.

It should be a great game. That field will be stacked from sideline to sideline with blue-chip talent and future NFL stars.

When those final seconds do finally tick off of the clock, I expect Alabama to be the team hoisting the national championship trophy.

Make no mistake about it, Clemson will be the best team the Tide has faced all year, and Deshaun Watson will be the best QB they've been forced to stop. The Tigers will give them a stern test.

Alabama has the horses to contain Clemson's high-powered attack--which is averaging 38 points per game. The Tide is only giving up 13 per contest--which is the best in the country.

Most notably, the Alabama front seven is absolutely spectacular. They are big, physical, athletic, fast and can constantly shuffle in fresh bodies. That's why they have the best run defense in the country--only yielding 71 yards per game.

I think this will allow them to put the clamps down on running back Wayne Gallman--who has rushed for 1,482 yards this season. They'll probably hold Watson in check as well when it comes to designed runs.

What Alabama may have trouble stopping is Watson's play-making ability when things break down.

Quarterbacks like Watson have torched the Tide with their improvisational abilities in the recent past. Just pop in the tapes of what Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Cardale Jones, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow were able to do to them.

With that said, I think this defense is more equipped to stop Watson than the Tide defenses over the years. They have adapted and recruited front-seven players that are smaller and more athletic.

The Tiger defense will also provide a great test. They have one of the most underrated units in the country--ranking No. 9 against the pass, 18th against the run and 16th in total yards allowed.

They have an active pass-rush highlighted by defensive end Shaq Lawson, and their secondary will probably be the best unit the Tide has faced all year. It will be interesting to see if Coker can duplicate the amazing effort he put up against Michigan State.

After being held to less than 100 yards rushing by the Spartans, Alabama will be looking to get Heisman winner Derrick Henry going early and often. Clemson is coming off of a game where they held a very good Oklahoma rushing attack to just 67 yards.

I believe Henry will play well--especially in the second half. Clemson has had a ton of success stopping the run this season, but it has mostly come against spread rushing attacks. Alabama will run right at them. Florida State did the same in their Nov. 7 matchup, and Dalvin Cook reeled off 194 yards.

Another reason I like Alabama in this game: strength of schedule. Alabama has played much better competition throughout the season. The SEC went 8-2 in bowls this year, while the ACC went just 4-5.

During the regular season, the Tide went 10-1 against bowl teams by a combined score of 353-181. Those 11 opponents went a collective 8-3 in bowl games.

On the other hand, Clemson only played seven bowl teams during the year. Those seven teams went a combined 2-5 during the bowl season--losing by an average of 14 points per game.