1) These two faced off in the title game last season.
2) These are the previous two CFP champions.
This is a difficult game to decipher. Both teams have the talent and pedigree to win it all. But then again, I can see both schools having a chance to score a blowout.
Our GTBets line has this pegged as a close matchup at -3. What should you expect when the Tigers and Crimson Tide meet on Monday? Let’s find out by looking at the odds and what each school must do to win.
2018 College Football Playoff Odds for Sugar Bowl (Jan 1 at 8:45pm ET)
Alabama vs Clemson Point Spread
Alabama -3 (-110)
Clemson +3 (-110)
Alabama vs Clemson Moneyline Odds
Over 47 (-110)
Under 47 (-110)
Key Factors for Alabama
One of the big stories for Alabama is the injuries they’ve had in their linebacking corp. True freshman Dylan Moses suffered a season-ending toe injury in practice recently. Moses is just the latest Tide linebacker added to an ailing list that also includes senior Shaun Dion Hamilton (kneecap), junior Christian Miller (biceps), and sophomore Terrell Lewis (elbow).
The good news is that Lewis, Miller, and sophomore Mack Wilson (foot) are recovering in time for the Sugar Bowl matchup. They can also bank on senior Rashaan Evans, who earned second-team all conference honors after tallying 10.5 tackles for a loss.
Beyond the linebackers, Alabama will welcome back star junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who hurt his hamstring against LSU in early November.
The Tide have been dominant defensively during Nick Saban’s tenure. So it’s no surprise that they’ve gotten by, even without key defensive players. Alabama’s defense should be all the stronger when they return Fitzpatrick and multiple linebackers.
Another key will be how many plays Jalen Hurts can make at quarterback. He’s been maligned this season due to his lack of passing consistency. However, if it’s also worth mentioning that Hurts doesn’t make many mistakes either (one interception in 2017).
Assuming Hurts connects on a couple of long throws, he can balance out his ability to run the football. It’s also worth mentioning that the sophomore has completed five passes of 60+ yards, which ranks second in the SEC to Missouri QB Drew Lock (8 long passes).
Hurts can also rely on big play receivers in Calvin Ridley and Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs, a true freshman, has been more involved recently and averages 25 yards per catch.
Assuming the Crimson Tide can get their offense going, then it’s very likely they’ll win this game when accounting for their strong defense.
Key Factors for Clemson
Just like Hurts, Clemson QB Kelly Bryant will also need to make big plays in order for the Tigers to win. Bryant is a clear step down from two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson. But this is a given, considering how Watson was lighting up the NFL out before his ACL injury.
Focusing strictly on Bryant, he has the size (6’4″, 220 pounds) and running ability that you want from a good college quarterback. But he really needs to make plays with his arm against Alabama’s tough defense. Bryant is capable of making this happen, but will he deliver like Watson did against the Tide last year?
He only ranked ninth among ACC quarterbacks on throws over 10 yards. But he also has the ability to rise to the occasion, such as when he completed 23-of-29 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown against Miami.
The junior has several tailbacks that’ll help keep the pressure off and open up passing lanes. These include true freshman Travis Etienne, sophomore Tavien Feaster, and redshirt juniors Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller. Etienne and Feaster are especially important because they’re averaging a combined 6.8 yards per carry.
The biggest advantage for Clemson coming into this game is their defensive line. Outside of Ohio State, no team – even counting Alabama and its blue-chip recruits – has as talented a defensive line as the Tigers.
Tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence both earned first-team All-ACC honors, along with defensive end Clelin Ferrell. Fellow end Austin Bryant earned second-team honors, getting beaten out by NC State standout Bradley Chubb.
This unit is very capable of stopping Alabama tailbacks Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs at the line. They also have the potential to force Bryant into making some errant throws. That said, don’t be surprised if Clemson’s defense is the star of the show.
Prediction on Alabama vs Clemson
I really like what the Tigers bring to the table from a defense of perspective. They also have some talented running backs who can move the chains.
Bryant is also a capable playmaker when he gets enough time. However, the key here is that Bryant is no Deshaun Watson when it comes to throwing the ball.
Last year, Nick Saban’s team took Clemson to the limit in a 45-40 loss. This season, Saban doesn’t have to prepare for Watson. That, combined with the returning health of Alabama’s defense, should spell victory for the Tide.
Final Score Prediction: Alabama 31, Clemson 23