For the third straight season, No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide take on No. 1 Clemson Tigers in the college football postseason when they meet in the Sugar Bowl today (8:45 PM ET Monday). This year however, the two won’t be colliding in the championship but rather a semifinal, one that could be the most anticipated of all-time.
In 2016, in a galaxy not so far away, No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Clemson met in the college football national championship and the game did not disappoint. Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson, last year’s 12th overall pick in the NFL draft, threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama’s QB Jake Coker did his part as well, tossing for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama walked away victorious, 45-40, securing their fourth title in seven seasons.
The following season, fate would have it that these two teams would meet again, but this time with the roles reversed as Clemson was the second-seed to Alabama’s top mark. Much like the first encounter, the game was incredibly close all the way to the final play, which saw Clemson finally be able to overcome their rivals and Watson, on the heels of another incredible performance (420 yards, three touchdowns), get redemption. Clemson won, ending their championship drought, 35-31.
A loss to Auburn to end their season, Alabama found itself on the outside looking in when it came to playoff contention. However, they leapfrogged Big-10 champion Ohio State for the fourth and final spot, setting up the third showdown of this great trilogy, and the rematch to the rematch, against top-seeded Clemson.
Both Alabama and Clemson have been the class of college football over the past three seasons and it’s only fitting that the two of them would meet once again. Dabo Swinney has done a phenomenal job in rebuilding Clemson’s program into a national powerhouse and Nick Saban has made Alabama one of the greatest college football programs of all-time. While in some ways it’s unfortunate this meeting is taking place in the semifinal, it also ensures that this could be the best and most exciting semi of the national championship era.
The Key Matchup: Alabama’s Rushing vs Clemson’s Front Seven
When Alabama defeated Clemson in 2016, then-starting running back, Derrick Henry, rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. The following year, despite the loss, the team rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Needless to say, Alabama has a huge offensive strength when it comes to its ground game and this year is no exception.
The Crimson Tide have always relied heavily on a strong ability to run the ball and it has led to their success over the years. This year, the rushing attack is once again led by Bo Scarborough, now a junior, and QB Jalen Hurts, now a sophomore. Hurts has won 24 games in his two-year career but like most Alabama quarterbacks has dealt with the moniker of being more game manager than play-maker. Perhaps through the air this does have some merit, but as a runner, Hurts more than acquits himself on the football field.
Hurts has completed 135 passes for 1,940 yards, 15 touchdowns and just the one interception. Those are decent numbers but add in Hurts’ contribution on the ground (768 yards, eight touchdowns), and you’ve got a guy who really can impact a football game.
Combined with the production of Scarborough and Damien Harris, both of whom have over 500 yards and combined to score 19 touchdowns, the Alabama rushing attack is ranked 11th in the nation, with an average of over 265 rushing yards per game.
Alabama’s ability to run the ball will be critical to their chances to move on but they will be facing a tough defensive line in Clemson’s front seven. Led by a trio of first-team All-ACC performers in Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, the Tigers are one of the best at stopping the run and are certainly the best such unit Alabama has faced all year long. In the ACC title game, Clemson held Miami to just 104 yards rushing on only 30 attempts.
Our Sugar Bowl Preview’s Alabama Crimson Tide vs Clemson Tigers Predictions & Betting Picks
Over the past two years, Clemson and Alabama have given college football fans everything they could have dreamed of in what have been two of the absolute best championship games of all-time. And while this year’s game isn’t for the title, this is still the ultimate rubber match and one that both teams have all eyes on winning.
This is the way our preview’s Alabama vs Clemson predictions and Sugar Bowl picks look:
- Currently, Alabama is favored by three points and given that the top-seed has lost in each of the previous two meetings, this might seem like smart money to bet on the Crimson Tide. However, the Tigers can match position for position, everything that Alabama brings to the table and that’s incredibly rare. No team is as well-equipped to handle Alabama as Clemson and for that reason, our money is on a repeat performance for the Tigers. This preview’s prediction is to take Clemson +3pts @ best odds of +105 with 5Dimes.
- For the total points to be scored in the game, take the over as both previous meetings between the teams have not just gone over but have averaged a combined total over 70 points. The pick is to go above 47pts @ -110 with BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.