The Post-Searchlight staff provides their predictions on who will win the National Championship

Published 5:16 pm Friday, January 6, 2017

The stage is set. The first round of the playoffs saw Alabama pull away from Washington and Clemson dismantle Ohio State. The Crimson Tide and Tigers will now meet in Tampa for a rematch of last year’s championship that saw Bama win 45-40 in a game for the ages. Last year it was Clemson that was undefeated and Alabama that had one loss, but this year the records are flipped. The Tide have dominated all season and Clemson looks to be on the upswing after an uneven season including a loss to Pittsburg. Bama is heavily favored, but Clemson looks like they might be peaking at just the right time. The game will be played on Monday, but before the opening kickoff The Post-Searchlight staff provides their predictions of who will raise the trophy:

John Simpson

What’s that old saying? Offense wins games, but defensive wins championships?  That’s what I keep telling myself leading up to the Alabama and Clemson rematch for the national championship.

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I am nervous. It’s hard to beat a team like Clemson back to back. Deshaun Watson is probably the guy who should have won the Heisman, and their receiving core and running back compliment his ability well. Will that be enough though?

Alabama’s defensive accolades speak for themself. They’ve got award winners, unanimous first team All-Americans, 50 sacks, 11 non-offensive touchdowns, and have been called “hateful” by their own coach. They could legitimately be the best defensive that has ever suited up on Saturdays.  The question is, can the stop the guy who could legitimately be the best quarterback in college this season?

Watson is completing over 65% of his passes, and Alabama’s defense is holding quarterbacks to a 52.7% completion rate. On paper, the game stacks up in Alabama’s favor strictly because the defensive is an immovable wood chipper that swallows teams whole and spits them out in little pieces. Yet, can their offense compete with Clemson’s defense?

Quarterback play has been consistently confusing all year. Jalen Hurts has done well while doing bad. He throws a horribly inaccurate ball, then runs for 11-yards and a first down to make up for it. I don’t know if things will work out like that against Clemson. The Tigers have the 19th best rushing defense in the NCAA this year, which makes them the second best rushing defense behind LSU that the Tide have played.

That brings up my next concern, what will new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian bring to the table to try to expose Clemson’s minimal weak spots on defense? In press conferences this week, Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said the transition has been smooth and the team is adjusting just fine, but is the game plan adjusting? That will be answered on Monday.

Basically what I’m getting at is that it’s a toss up. On paper you have the best defense in college football going against one of the best offenses. If I Have to give an answer though I believe that the dominating defensive might of Alabama will hold Clemson in check, and the offense will make something happen when it needs to and Alabama will come out on top in a very close margin. After all, defense wins championships.

Brandon O’Connor

I have to start with a disclaimer before we go any further. Alabama’s defense is disgustingly good. No matter what statistic you look at, no matter how you crunch the numbers, you can only come to one conclusion – it is nearly impossible to move the ball against the Tide.  If you were looking for something else here, a different answer, I am sorry you are in the wrong place.

Alabama has a very simple plan on defense — stop the run, something they do better than any team in the country by a wide margin. They are the only defense in the land to allow less than 1,000 rushing yards on the season at 868 yards (the second best in Houston who has allowed 1,302 in one less game). After the Tide stop the run and get you in third in long, they let loose their ferocious pass rush led by Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. They either get the sack or force the quarterback into an early throw, which leads to interceptions.

The Alabama run defense is so good, that teams tend to completely abandon it during the game, which is exactly what the Tide hope for. Clemson may be the one team in the country that is built to handle what Bama can do though.

Watson is elusive enough to make great plays with his legs and possibly buy a few extra seconds to throw. They have arguably the best left tackle in the country in sophomore Mitch Hyatt. They also have to great targets in the passing game in wide receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett. None it may matter though if Wayne Gallman and Watson can’t at least gain some yards on the ground and get in second or third and short situations.

Clemson will also be the second best defense the Tide have faced all season (number one was Florida, but the Gators were so gutted by injuries during the SEC Championship game they don’t really count). The Tigers have a very good defensive line that can get pressure and wreak havoc.

This is a rematch from last year, but both of these teams have undergone changes from last season. Jalen Hurts now leads the Tide offense and the Tide defense is even better. Watson is finally playing great for Clemson again and he has more weapons to throw too with Williams back and Deon Cain not suspended this time. I think Clemson will put a scare in Bama and give them their hardest game of the year, but the Tide will lock down and the defense will score a touchdown to seal the game.

Powell Cobb

It’s a good ole’ fashioned American rematch, coming to us live on Monday from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Did we ask for this?

Clemson fans sure did.

The 2015 CFP National Championship was a slugfest. Tied 14-14 at halftime and followed by a high-scoring second half, the Tigers clad in purple and orange came up short by five measly points.

Here’s the thing, though. Clemson still has DeShaun Watson. Alabama doesn’t have Derrick Henry.

Here’s the other thing: Alabama’s defense is really good. But can they score against the team that shut out Ohio State?

I have enjoyed watching Alabama this season. Their most entertaining and impressive performance came against Ole Miss way back in September. It was a comeback that prevented the Rebels from snagging three straight wins in that many years from The Crimson Tide. But it was also a comeback against a 5-7 Ole Miss team that didn’t make a bowl game.

“They’re the best 7-loss team in the country,” is what the people are saying. Yeah, and that was Alabama’s marquee regular season win (I know Ole Miss crushed Georgia but we don’t have to talk about that).

Alabama did throw down against Washington in the first round of the College Football Playoffs, which was by default their best win of the year. They did well enough to win the game 24-7, but not well enough for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to keep his job. Kiffin and Nick Saban both claim it was a mutual decision, but the whispers reveal Saban wasn’t pleased with the lack of focus from Kiffin, seeing as how he is now stepping in as head coach at Florida Atlantic University.

Analyst Steve Sarkisian is now in as offensive coordinator and will be calling the plays. Will this translate well to the players one week before the National Championship? I have my doubts.

Clemson will need to pound the ball on the ground to beat Bama. They will also need freshman Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to look like, well… a freshman—making errors, bad reads, giving up a fumble here and there. I don’t think this game will come down to turnovers, but they will significantly slow down both teams for the 60-minute duration of the game.

My final score prediction: Clemson 14, Alabama 10.