We have reached the day. The Alabama-Clemson sequel is upon us.
Tonight, just after 8 p.m. eastern at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa the third ever College Football Playoff Championship Game will kickoff
Thousands of players and coaches have participated in hundreds of college football games and it all comes down to tonight. Will Bama repeat and capture an fifth title in eight years? Can Clemson overcome them in the rematch and win their first championship since 1981?
Here are three things to watch:
Will Deshaun Watson be too much this time?
A year ago, the fantastic dual threat Tiger QB (shown above) had nearly 500 yards of total offense, including 400 in the air, and he threw four TD’s. Time and again, he made plays with his feet, including eluding the Bama pass rush to stay alive and make throws. Without question, Clemson’s hopes of winning the title rely on his ability to remain composed, not throw picks and put the Tigers in position to win. Clemson has a ton of skill position weapons like WR Mike Williams and RB Wayne Gallman that Watson looks to use to his advantage, but clearly, he is the “X Factor” for the orange and purple.
How will Steve Sarkisian do as Bama play caller tonight?
As you are likely aware, Lane Kiffin’s tenure as the Alabama offensive coordinator/play caller ended badly after the Peach Bowl win over Washington. Kiffin, who was hired earlier in December as the new coach at FAU, had obviously become a distraction and the curious Bama play calls in that game became a quick referendum on him needing to depart…immediately. Now, in an ironic twist, a man Kiffin helped get back to into College Football this season, Steve Sarkisian, who he’s known since they were assistants at USC, is dropped into the “pressure cooker” of commanding the Tide offense in this game. Like Kiffin’ departure from USC, it ended badly for Sark also in L.A. and he had been out of football for the last year and half. That is until Kiffin and Nick Saban brought him in as a consultant this season. He is not unfamiliar with the role having done it at USC and previously Washington. But, as he moves from the booth to the field, will Sark get the ball to RB Bo Scarborough early and often? Will he find plays for outstanding WR Calvin Ridley to get free? Heaven forbid, will the Tide offense sputters and Bama fans never forgive Kiffin/Sarkisian? It’s not ideal for Alabama, but here they are on offense. Time to see what happens.
Finally, will Bama D make the huge takeaway and maybe, TD?
A year ago in the title game it was a non-offense, kickoff return TD by Kenyan Drake that helped propel the Tide to the win. The expectation tonight at that the Bama defense, which already has a staggering 11 TDs themselves (including a pick six in Atlanta New Years Eve) this season, will make the decisive play in this one. Can outstanding defensive end Jonathan Allen lead them to another big night? Or will Clemson and Watson play a “clean game” without the big mistake. Saban and his defensive staff had a short turnaround for the title game last year against the Tigers and Watson, as mentioned above, and he tore them up. But, that was last year. They’ve seen him first hand and let’s see if that makes a difference.
Yes, it might just come down to: “Offense sells tickets, but Defense wins Championships,” yet again.