SAN JOSE, Calif. – For the third time in four years, Alabama and Clemson will meet in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. The teams split their previous two championship meetings, with Alabama winning in 2016 and Clemson in 2017. Alabama holds a 2-1 advantage in the previous three meetings after beating Clemson 24-6 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl before winning last season’s championship over Georgia. Both teams traveled across the country to compete at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California in search of capping off a perfect season with a National Championship trophy.
Sports Capital Journalism Program graduate students Robby General and Josh Roller have analyzed the factors and picked a winner.
Robby General: Why Clemson will win
We’ve been here before. This is the fourth time these two teams have met in the past four years, all of which have occurred in the College Football Playoff. Clemson’s four playoff appearances are topped only by Alabama’s five. Let’s recap: In 2015, No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Clemson 45-40. No. 2 Clemson returned the favor the following year, beating No. 1 Alabama 35-31. In 2017, No. 4 Alabama knocked off No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. In each case, the lower-ranked team beat its higher-ranked opponent. That trend should continue on Monday night. Facing the ninth-ranked scoring defense (17.3 points per game) in No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl semifinal, true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence led No. 2 Clemson to a dominant 30-3 victory, putting up 327 passing yards and three touchdowns. Clemson ranks first in scoring defense (12.9 points) and second in total defense (274.6 yards). So even without first-team All-American junior defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the Tigers’ defense should slow down Alabama, which ranks fourth in total offense (527.6 yards) and second in scoring offense (47.7 points). Clemson’s equally high-powered offense, (530.4 yards, 44.3 points), has averaged 256.3 yards on the ground behind sophomore running back Travis Etienne and company. Clemson’s balanced attack should be enough to top Alabama once more in a tightly-contested battle.
Prediction: Clemson 30, Alabama 29.
Josh Roller: Why Clemson will win
Alabama and Clemson are clearly the best two teams in the country. Alabama is averaging 47.7 points per game and averaging more than 527 yards per game. Clemson is putting up 44.3 points per game and 530.4 yards per game. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been unstoppable and is playing beyond his years but has never played on a national championship stage. Those around him will keep him in check and he will continue his high level of play as he has throughout this season. Clemson’s 24-6 loss to Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl, when it was ranked No. 1 and Alabama was No. 4, will be the driving force for the Tigers’ returning players. Clemson’s sophomore running back Travis Etienne, who averages eight yards per carry, and Lawrence will be tested as Alabama is limiting opposing offenses to 307.9 yards per game. Senior leadership from defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, the Campbell Trophy winner, and Austin Bryant will keep the Tigers defensive squad in check and focused on the task at hand when they will face the inevitable adversity created by Alabama’s offense. After watching the Cotton Bowl, there seems to be no reason to worry that defensive tackle Albert Huggins can’t fill the void left from Dexter Lawrence’s suspension. Both defenses will allow more than their average and will keep the opposing offense below its own average. Alabama will keep things interesting but the Tide will find themselves on the short end of another memorable game.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Alabama 24