Clemson vs Alabama
When: 8:00 PM ET, Monday, January 9, 2017
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Special to Digital Sports Desk: by SportsDirect, Sports Xchange
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME STORYLINES
1. Top-seeded Alabama looks to claim its fifth national title in 10 seasons under Nick Saban when it battles second-seeded Clemson in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship contest at Tampa, Fla. It is a rematch of last season’s title game in which the Crimson Tide prevailed 45-40 despite a huge game by Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (405 yards passing, 73 rushing). Alabama is attempting to record its 27th consecutive victory while Clemson is pursuing its second national title and first since 1981.
2. Watson passed for 259 yards and one touchdown while adding two rushing scores in Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the semifinals, and he has a major advantage in experience over counterpart Jalen Hurts. Watson, who finished second in this season’s Heisman Trophy balloting and third in 2015, has passed for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns this campaign but also is prone to miscues, as evidenced by his 17 interceptions. Hurts has accounted for 34 scores (22 passing, 12 rushing) and is aiming to join Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway (1985) as the only true freshman quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title, but he passed for only 57 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 24-7 semifinal victory over Washington.
3. Alabama made the odd move of separating itself from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after the win over Washington, as the new Florida Atlantic coach became a distraction while attempting to juggle two jobs. Saban was highly disappointed with the offensive showing against the Huskies and promoted offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator, insisting it will be a smooth transition. “I just feel like I have to make decisions about what’s best for the players to have the best chance of being successful,” Saban told reporters. “You know, we made the decision and we’re not talking about it anymore. We’re moving forward. We’re looking forward, and everybody is doing everything they can to support the people that are here now to make it work.”
TV: 8:17 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -6.5
ABOUT CLEMSON (13-1): Watson threw three or more touchdown passes on seven occasions and topped 300 yards six times while fueling a powerful offense that averaged 39.5 points and scored over 40 seven times. Juniors Mike Williams (90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (73 catches) form a potent one-two receiving combo while junior running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 scores. The Tigers’ defense allows averages of 17.1 points and 306.9 yards per game but features weak-side linebacker Ben Boulware (team-best 121 tackles), defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (team-high 10.5 sacks) and strong safety Jadar Johnson (team-leading five interceptions) – all seniors.
ABOUT ALABAMA (14-0): Bo Scarbrough is the squad’s third-leading rusher (719 yards) behind fellow sophomore Damien Harris (1,013) and Hurts (891), but he’ll play a major role after rushing for two touchdowns and a Crimson Tide bowl-record 180 yards against Washington. Clemson’s defense certainly will be paying close attention to senior tight end O.J. Howard (41 catches, 489 yards, two touchdowns) after he made five catches for a career-best 208 yards and two TDs while winning Offensive MVP honors in last year’s national title game. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen (9.5 sacks, two fumble-return scores) won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and, along with sophomore strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (team-best six interceptions), is among the standouts for a unit that scored 11 defensive touchdowns (six interceptions, five fumbles) and leads the nation in both scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and total defense (244 yards).