No. 1 Alabama with face off with No. 2 Clemson in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight season. Monday’s showdown in Santa Clara will mark the third time the Crimson Tide and Tigers have squared off in the National Championship Game since 2015.
Alabama has a 2-1 edge in the series and a 2-1 edge in NCAA titles in the playoff era, and 2018’s dominant 14-0 campaign has made the Tide a six-point favorite. But Clemson is riding the kind of hot streak that’s caused the air surrounding the Tigers to combust, and if there’s any team who could throw a wrench into Bama’s plans for perfection, it’s Dabo Swinney’s unit.
Back in September, Clemson played a closer-than-expected game against a solid Syracuse game, winning 27-23. The Tigers apparently took this as an insult to their football skill, because they spent the next three months burning their opponents to ashes. In the nine games since, the closest any opponent has gotten to Clemson was in a 20-point loss. The team’s average margin of victory in that span was 37 points.
Alabama, on the other hand, has dealt with more of a struggle — although Nick Saban’s team had to play a top five Georgia team in its conference title game and not the random event generator that is Pittsburgh football. The Tide needed a comeback win to claim the SEC championship, then held off Oklahoma’s comeback in an 11-point win to punch their ticket to (/checks notes. Ugh, really? /signs) …Santa Clara.
That leaves the world in the familiar position of watching Clemson-Alabama for the fourth straight year. And even if that’s a stale matchup, jaded fans can take comfort in the fact these teams turned in a pair of instant classics the last two times they met with a national title on the line.
Clemson vs. Alabama prediction:
The S&P+ prediction machine crunched the numbers and sees Bama as the better team — but not by much. Clemson finished its season on a heater tearing through a disappointing ACC and then crushed an overachieving and undefeated Notre Dame team, pushing the Tigers into Alabama’s stratosphere. The Tigers will also have the confidence of knowing they’ve beaten the Tide on the world’s biggest stage before … but betting against Alabama rarely pays off.
Lawrence was the highest-rated recruit in Clemson history, and he hasn’t needed much time to leave his mark in South Carolina. He’s developed into one of the nation’s top passers in just his first season on campus, compiling a 27:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a true freshman thanks in part to an offensive line that’s only allowed him to be sacked 11 times. That includes a 327-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance in the playoff semifinal against Notre Dame.
He’ll need to be just as good when he goes up against Tagavailoa Monday night. The Alabama quarterback spent most of 2018 as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner before a light slump and Kyler Murray’s torrid finish forced him to runner-up status for college football’s highest honor. The big Hawaiian answered any doubts about the status of his injured ankle by carving up Murray’s Sooners in the semifinal, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns in an 11-point win.
Between them, Lawrence and Tagavailoa combined for 645 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions in the first round of the College Football Playoff. Each will have to face a much stronger defensive challenge in the national title game, but Monday’s championship could come down to which side can dial up the more powerful aerial attack.