It feels like just yesterday the College Football Playoff was starting, with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Michigan State Spartans, Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners all looking to book a trip to Arizona for the Natty. For fans of the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, a dream that started in September is now just one more win away. To see how these teams rank statistically and who their top draft prospects are, you can find them here (Alabama) and here (Clemson). Going into their game against the Spartans I previewed Alabama, so I won’t go into that again. But I will talk about that game. The Crimson Tide rolled over the Spartans, pitching a 38-point shutout. The defense was unbelievable, completely shutting down the Michigan State’s receivers, endlessly hitting and pressuring Conor Cook and suffocating their ground game. Meanwhile, their offense really didn’t struggle as the game went on, getting big plays through the air and on the ground. Their special teams even stepped up big with a scintillating 57-yard punt return touchdown. Alabama played one of the most complete games I have ever seen on route to their 4th National Championship appearance in 7 years. Going into the Orange Bowl the Clemson Tigers were the favourites, not only because they were undefeated, but thanks to their effectiveness on both sides of the ball. Though the score-line wasn’t quite as emphatic as ‘Bama’s, it wasn’t exactly close. They beat the Sooners 37-17 and pitched a second half shutout whilst finding their rhythm on offense. Recent years have showed that Alabama struggle mightily when facing dual-threat QB’s in up-tempo systems, and what are Clemson? The Tigers are in a good position to be able to neutralise the Crimson Tide offensively and defensively. This should be a great game between, undoubtedly, the best two teams in the country.
• Derrick Henry, RB, Jr: Derrick Henry is the motor of this team. At 6’3, 242lbs, Henry isn’t an average running back. His size coupled with his speed is something to behold. This year’s Heisman winner had 75 yards and 2 touchdowns against Michigan State – one of which featured his signature stiff-arm against Shilique Calhoun – but perhaps his biggest impact is that he wears a defense out. Henry hasn’t announced for the draft yet, but an announcement will come after this game. • Calvin Ridley, WR, Fr: Alabama’s bread and butter is their ground game, but when they do pass it, they rely on Calvin Ridley to make plays. Having lost Amari Cooper to the NFL last year, ‘Bama were left to question how they would replace his production, and though Ridley isn’t quite as intimidating, he is not to be ignored. He torched the Spartans with 138 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 catches, and the Crimson Tide will be looking to get him behind a talented Clemson secondary. He is not eligible for the draft, but his good numbers could become great next year so he is a name you can expect to see in the NFL in the next few years. • Cyrus Jones, CB, Sr: Jones is huge for the Crimson Tide in more than one way. He is their top cover corner and came up with an interception against the Spartans. Not only can he drastically change the game on defense, he can take over as a punt returner. His 57-yard punt return against the Spartans really opened the floodgates. That was his 4th punt return touchdown this season. He is a senior so look at him as a later-round draft prospect.
• Deshaun Watson, QB, So: Watson is the best QB in the country. The true sophomore came third in the Heisman voting but a legitimate argument can be made that he should’ve won it. He is also the perfect QB to beat Alabama. He can beat you through the air and is just as big a threat with his legs. He has 4731 total yards (3699 in the air, 1032 on the ground) and 43 total touchdowns (31 passing, 12 rushing). The Clemson offense goes as Watson goes, so look for him to have a big game to maintain the Tigers undefeated season. Watson is not eligible for the draft until next year, but he’s one of the biggest stars in college football so he is certainly one to keep an eye on. • Wayne Gallman, RB, So: Gallman is the one of the overlooked stars of the Tigers, with Watson and Scott taking most of the spotlight on offense. Nevertheless, Gallman was a huge reason the Tigers powered past the Sooners to get to this game and he will need to do the same today against a very stout Alabama defense. He has been a workhorse all year – he has 268 rushing attempts on the season – so will certainly be tasked with wearing down the defense. He too is a sophomore so expect him to appear on the NFL radar sooner rather than later. • B.J. Goodson, LB, Sr: Like Gallman, Goodson is oft-overlooked on the Tigers defense thanks to Lawson, Alexander and Kearse, but is a huge part of this defense. He leads the team in tackles with 98 and has added 5.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. Furthermore, he has 5 forced fumbles and 17.5 tackles for loss in his career. He is always around the ball and he will be key in preventing Henry and the Alabama offense getting on a roll. He is a senior so this is his final game for the Tigers and will be a name to look out for come draft day. Prediction: Honestly, this is one of the tougher games I’ve had to predict. Alabama are so strong and have been in this situation 4 times under Saban. Clemson on the other hand, and Dabo Swinney, have never been in a situation like this. Nevertheless, they are undefeated and are no less talented than the Crimson Tide. Furthermore, Alabama have struggled with up-tempo, spread offenses with dual-threat QB’s so this game has all the ingredients to be great. So what will it be? Will the Tide Roll or with the Tigers be All In? I think Clemson takes it. It is no fluke that they are undefeated and I think their defense will be able to shut down Alabama’s fairly one dimensional unit. I also think Clemson’s offense has enough talent, most importantly at QB, to overcome the ‘Bama’s defense.