College Football Playoff Final Breakdown

College Football Playoff Final Breakdown


National Championship, January 11

1) Clemson vs. 2) Alabama


In the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, the two top seeds advanced, but they did so in very different fashion. The Clemson Tigers got by the Oklahoma Sooners after falling behind early. Clemson needed to use some plays from the back of the playbook, including a fake punt, to get back into the ballgame. From there, the Tigers created space to eventually pull away.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Crimson Tide led Michigan State from the jump and never looked back. Alabama dominated all facets of the game and crushed MSU to reach the National Championship.

The opening line for the title game between the Tigers and Tide had the one-seeded Tigers as touchdown underdogs. For the second consecutive playoff game, someone enters as the favorite over top-seeded Clemson.

If picking this game against the spread, the Tigers seem to offer the best value. Fans are swayed by the domination of Alabama’s most recent game, but a 38-0 win in the semifinal doesn’t carry over to the following week. And Clemson’s 37-17 win over Oklahoma wasn’t exactly forgettable; it just happened earlier.

However, spreads don’t matter when crowning champions. Who has the edge in the matchup breakdown?


Quarterback: Jake Coker or Deshaun Watson?

Deshaun Watson had the much better season overall between these two players. Despite a poor passing performance statistically in the semifinal, he made up for it with 145 yards on the ground on 25 carries. Coker was incredibly efficient and effective, but he needs to show that output more consistently before he can be completely trusted.

Selection – Watson (Clemson)


Running back: Derrick Henry or Wayne Gallman?

Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and put together one of the best seasons for a running back in SEC history. He was surprisingly ineffective though in the semifinal, rushing for just 75 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. Gallman was terrific in his playoff game, but it isn’t enough to push him over the top here. He simply cut down on the Alabama advantage.

Selection – Henry (Alabama)


Wide Receiving Corps?

As Coker repeatedly found his spots to throw, the Alabama receivers had a field day against MSU. Calvin Ridley, the best wide receiver in this championship game for either squad, caught eight passes for 138 yards in the round prior. The Tide looked dominant, especially compared to the Spartan receivers who kept dropping passes. Clemson didn’t need a huge output from its pass catchers as the run game dominated. Just as during the regular season, the receivers on Clemson weren’t game-changers, but helped move the offense along.

Selection – Alabama


Offensive Line?

Taking a look at the season as a whole, Clemson’s offensive line was one of the better units in the country. According to Football Outsiders, it ranked in the top 10 in adjusted line yards in the running game and in the top five in adjusted sack rate. Alabama couldn’t quite keep pace with that, although it was close in terms of run blocking at least.

Selection – Clemson


Defensive Line?

In terms of adjusted rates of defensive lines according to Football Outsiders, Clemson is spectacular…just not spectacular enough to compete with the dominance that is the Crimson Tide up front. Through the regular season, Alabama was one of the three best lines in the country both against the run and the pass.

Selection – Alabama


Total Defense?

Both teams put on impressive displays of defense during the semifinal matches. Dating back through the regular season, each squad was also good. Alabama was just better. It finished the regular season as a top three unit in all the main categories. Clemson has its own strengths; namely on first and third downs and in the passing game. However, the Tigers’ overall production was just a shade below the output of Alabama in terms of statistics accumulated.

Selection – Alabama


Special Teams?

Alabama didn’t return a kickoff against MSU partially because it didn’t allow the Spartans to score. However, the Tide made noise in the punting game with its best special-teams weapon, Cyrus Jones. Jones gathered 80 punt-return yards and a touchdown in his five returns. Punter JK Scott also had a nice game in his six punt attempts.

As for Clemson, it did nothing in the return game in the semis but did get three made field goals and 13 points out of its kicker. While freshman kicker Greg Huegel has been reliable this year, he doesn’t have the leg that Bama’s Adam Griffith has. He also isn’t a special weapon like Scott was a year ago or especially like Jones has been.

Selection – Alabama


Head Coach: Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney?

Dabo Swinney has had a spectacular coaching season. Clemson is undefeated and has been the top team in the country for some time now. Yet Swinney and the Tigers continue to be passed over and underappreciated. That will continue here. Swinney’s resume and even his success this season can’t hold a candle to what Nick Saban has done in college football. Taking out Bob Stoops, a man known for coming up short in big games whether fairly or not, is one thing; Saban is another.

Selection – Saban (Alabama)


Analytical Edge?

With an update for the semifinal games that have taken place, Alabama is now the number-one team in the country by a considerable margin according to Sports-Reference’s Simple Rating System. The Tide was ranked ahead of Clemson though before the two teams won their most recent contests. All Alabama did was extend its analytical edge.

Selection – Alabama


End Result?

The game will surely be closer than either of the semifinal matches ended up being. Alabama should find a similar result though. The Crimson Tide has the edge here, seven categories to two.


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