10 Reasons Alabama Will Beat Clemson

Can Alabama go back to back and win a 5th Championship under Nick Saban?  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Can Alabama go back to back and win a 5th Championship under Nick Saban?
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here are 10 Reasons Why Alabama Will Beat Clemson and win back to back National Championships.

In the 2015 National Championship Game Alabama perfectly executed a precisely designed onsides kick.  It was the most dramatic play of the game. Some Clemson faithful combine the onsides kick with the final margin of five points and proclaim that without the onsides kick “fluke”, Clemson would have won.

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) celebrates after recovering an onside kick against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) celebrates after recovering an onside kick against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Opposing team fans are entitled to make draw any conclusion they choose.  But the score of last year’s game was 45-33 until Clemson scored with 12 seconds left in the contest. At that point the Alabama defense was playing safe, conceding a score as long as it took Clemson most of the remaining time to get it. It was an almost meaningless touchdown.

From a comparative basis, the “real” gap between the 2015 teams was 12 points.   Nick Saban would say none of this matters, that neither of those 2015 teams is playing Monday night.

In the ebb and flow of college football,  new teams are built each season. Predicting any team’s performance from a single game, a year in the past is fruitless.

All that ever matters is the next play, in the next game, and then the next, and the next, until the whistle blows. Here are the 10 Reasons Alabama will win enough plays on Monday to repeat as National Champion.

Alabama football

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama football defensive back Eddie Jackson (4) is carted off the field after being injured against Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

#10 Eddie Jackson Continues to Provide Leadership to his Teammates

While returning a 4th quarter punt in the Texas A&M game, Eddie Jackson’s leg was broken. He has not put on pads since.

At the end of the regular season, Eddie’s teammates voted him one of four permanent team captains for the 2016 season. Before the SEC Championship game, Eddie wrote an eloquent letter to the team. http://www.theplayerstribune.com/eddie-jackson-alabama-football-to-my-brothers/

The letter is a testament to an exemplary young man and the powerful bond that has been forged among the young men of the 2016 team. It is also a validation of the Saban process.

For ten seasons at Alabama, Nick Saban and his staffs have been building men, one arduous step at a time.  A mission executed in minute detail, one thought, one rep, one play at a time.  Saban teaches young men that success demands focus on the work, not the result.

Eddie Jackson, like so many Alabama players, has done more than buy into the Saban process.  Eddie Jackson has learned to live it.

Eddie Jackson’s letter describes a group of young men who have worked and fought together and share a bond of respect and love. Other than being on the playing field, Eddie Jackson still leads his Alabama brothers in every manner possible.

Dec 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (right) and head coach Dabo Swinney (left) celebrate with the Fiesta Bowl trophy during the 2016 CFP semifinal against the Ohio State Buckeyes at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Clemson Tigers won 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

#9 Clemson is Overconfident

Dabo Swinney is an emotional guy, full of energy and passion.  Football teams often mirror the personality of their coaches.

On Saturday night Clemson destroyed what was thought to be a very good Ohio State team.  The Buckeyes were no match for Clemson. As the Tigers prepare for Monday, are they talking to each other about how much Ohio State was overrated?  Not likely.  Instead, they must be feeling Godzilla-like, ready to exorcise the demons of last year’s championship game loss.

Clemson also knows they shredded the Alabama defense last year, amassing 550 yards.  DeShaun Watson has been performing at a high level during the last few games.  The Clemson offensive players must believe they will match last year’s offensive production.

For players to be mentally prepared for competition, too much emotion can be debilitative.  Intense emotion will not carry a team for hours of intense, mental and physical battle. Clemson’s emotions will be sky-high at kickoff and Dabo’s own natural exuberance may hinder him maintaining his team’s emotional equilibrium.

Alabama defense

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (54) during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

#8 Alabama Has More Talent Than Clemson

Review any of numerous college football recruiting sites and the results will vary little. The Power 5 conference teams harvest the greatest abundance of talent every recruiting cycle.

Getting the best talent matters greatly to coaches. Signing most of the best players does not guarantee the best team. Not signing enough of the best almost always results in weaker team performance.

It is said, ad nauseum, “it is not the x’s and o’s, but the Jimmy and the Joes.”  It is said over and over because it is true.

Each season the top Power 5 teams have a comparable level of talent among their starters. What separates the elite teams is the presence or absence of a few game-changers on each side of the ball.

Another telling comparison can be seen in the depth behind starters and on special teams. How much talent a team has among their 12-20 players who have essential secondary roles can make a great difference.

Over the past five years, the near consensus among recruiting experts has Alabama #1 in each recruiting cycle. Over the same five-year period, Clemson has been in the top 10 or near the top 10 each year.

Alabama has a talent advantage over Clemson.  Maybe it is not a big advantage. In close games, even a slight advantage can make a difference, particularly late in games when depth matters most.

Sep 24, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian prior to the game against Kent State Golden Flashes at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian prior to the game against Kent State Golden Flashes at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

#7 The Sarkisian Wrinkle

In the days after the CFP semi-finals, national, conventional wisdom has changed.  Throughout the season Alabama was thought to be a level above everyone else. Suddenly a growing collection of national pontificators has concluded Alabama is quite vulnerable against Clemson.  More than a few are predicting a Clemson victory.

Ask 100 coaches if team X replaces its offensive coordinator a week before a championship game, can team X win. Probably the great majority would say team X would have no chance of winning. But Alabama is not team X and the Tide will play determined football to correct the offensive inconsistencies evident against Washington.

Sark has been an Alabama staff member since September.  He and Kiffin share similar offensive philosophies. Saban’s timing changed shortly after the Peach Bowl but the decision to change his Offensive Coordinator was made earlier.  Sarkisian has had plenty of time to absorb Alabama’s offensive strategies.

Orchestrating a seven-day transition in offensive coordinators is a substantial challenge.  Fortunately, it is also a challenge for Clemson. Dabo and his staff cannot know what to expect Monday night.  Any changes in the Alabama playbook may only be a couple of plays. At the most opportune moment, a play against an unaware defense can decide a game.

Sark has never called a play for the Tide.  Scrutinizing his play calling tendencies at Washington or USC will be little help to Clemson. Clemson is forced to encounter an unknown situation.

Coaches attempt to have a plan for everything.  Dabo and Venables will attempt to do so Monday night, but the unknown they will face will create doubt.  Doubt can lead to late defensive calls. A few of those indecisive, late calls can influence and perhaps determine the game winner.

BEST ALABAMA FOOTBALL PLAYER

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

#6 The Tide Has the Most NOTS

NOTS or Non-offensive touchdowns; Alabama has 15.  More impressive is 11 of those touchdowns have been scored by the defense. Alabama transitions from attacking an offense to becoming an offense quicker than any team in college football.

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Ronnie Harrison (15) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Ronnie Harrison (15) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

This season eight Alabama defenders have scored a touchdown after a turnover. Opponent fumbles and interceptions are more than just turnovers for Alabama. After an interception, the Tide immediately establishes blocking lanes. The secondary players know if they can get reach those lanes they can score. Against a QB with a career propensity to throw the ball to the other team, Alabama has another advantage.

Alabama football

Oct 24, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) , linebacker Denzel Devall (30) and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (54) wrap up Tennessee Volunteers running back Jalen Hurd (1) during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

#5 Jeremy Pruitt’s Aggressive Defense Looking to Make a Statement

Clemson coach Brent Venables is one of the top defensive coordinators in college football.  Jeremy Pruitt may be even better.  Alabama excels at QB pressure with only four pass rushers, but Pruitt’s style is to attack. When he brings an extra man on a blitz it works with great frequency.

Pruitt’s aggressive play calls are the perfect match for a defense filled with football predators.  Timely chosen blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs create sacks or rattle QB’s to rush throws. Against Washington, a Reuben Foster pre-snap read alerted Ryan Anderson to challenge a swing receiver, then Reuben’s blitz caused Jake Browning to make the pick-six throw.

The 2015 Tide defenders were embarrassed by giving up 550 yards to Clemson last year.  The 2016 Tide defensive players are seeking atonement. Clemson has played a tough schedule. But nothing they have faced compares to what awaits them Monday night.

The Tide defenders are on a mission to prove that defense still wins championships.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Washington Huskies during the fourth quarter in the 2016 CFP semifinal at the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

#4 Bo Goes Smashmouth

No team does smashmouth football as well as Alabama. The Tide has three running backs who have averaged at least 6.6 yards-per-carry this season: Damien Harris at a 7.2-yard average; and Bo Scarbrough and Josh jacobs both with a 6.6-yard average.

Alabama’s had over 500 rushing attempts going into the Peach Bowl, but  Scarbrough had carried the ball only 90 times.

Why is Bo suddenly perceived as the key to taking down the Clemson Tigers? The answer is yards-after-contact.   120 of them to be exact, against Washington. Bo’s runs exhibited unquestioned power but also great balance and even some finesse moves when needed.

Last season Alabama’s rushing attack resided on the broad frame of Derrick Henry (395 carries), leaving Bo with only 18 rushes for the season.  Kenyan Drake and Damien Harris contributed more than Bo.

Even with the exit of the Heisman trophy winner, Bama can still go into Beast mode at running back. Harris and Jacobs have different running styles than Bo, but they are effective, strong runners.  The playing rotation keeps them all fresh. In Monday’s 4th quarter a fresh Bo Scarbrough, against a tiring Clemson defense, is a sure recipe for chunks of yards after contact.

Alabama football

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) hits Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

#3 Jonathan Allen Is Superman

Clemson has highly rated defenders: Ben Boulware; Carlos Watkins; Christian Wilkins; Dexter Lawrence.

None of them are Superman.

Jonathan Allen is the best defensive player in the nation. He should have been a Heisman finalist. Allen was the SEC defensive player of the year and winner of the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, both honors for the nation’s best defensive player of the year.

Allen can play inside or out and he will wear out and dominate any player Clemson puts up against him. Clemson could try to double him at times. If they do it is almost assured an unblocked Crimson defender will de-cleat Gallman or Watson.

Message to Clemson, ”Don’t mess with Superman.”

Oct 8, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) intercepts the ball intended for Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Jared Cornelius (1) during the fourth quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) intercepts the ball intended for Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Jared Cornelius (1) during the fourth quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

#2 2016 Team Has Saban’s Best Defense

There are statistical programs that claim teams from different eras can be accurately compared.  Using data from one respected algorithm, each of Alabama’s National Champions can be ranked against the 2016 team. Comparing the 2016 defense to Alabama’s 11 national championship teams going back to 1961, the 2016 defense ranks as the best.

On Monday Alabama will field three 1st team All-American defenders. Had Eddie Jackson not suffered his injury, that number would have been four.  Clemson has no 1st team All-American defenders.

The Tide defense has extraordinary speed and quickness.  Anthony Averitt can match the speed of any receiver; linebackers Reuben  Foster and Rashaan Evans are as fast or faster than Deshaun Watson; Tim Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson have the rare combination of speed, quickness, and strength.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tony Brown, and Marlon Humphrey have speed and toughness. Ronnie Harrison is a headhunter. Daron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand excel quietly and would be superstars on almost any other team.

This season Dabo had to replace eight starters from last year’s defense, five of whom left school early for the NFL.  Despite the attrition, Clemson has a top defense, maybe their best ever.  But in 2016, Alabama has arguably the best defense of the Bryant, Stallings, and Saban eras.

Enough said.

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney congratulates Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban following the 45-40 victory in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney congratulates Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban following the 45-40 victory in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

#1 Nick Saban is the Best in College Football

Try as you may, it is difficult to find anyone that does not have something good to say about Dabo Swinney.  He is so sincerely genuine, so clearly well intentioned, so obviously enthusiastic. It is easy to see why recruits choose Clemson and why his players love their coach.

If motivated to find a Dabo weakness, maybe he is a bit do “rah-rah” too much of the time.  Maybe he tries a little too much to be a friend to his players.  Those are just maybes, though, and they don’t matter when measuring Dabo against Saban.  Why, because it is not a fair comparison.

Nick Saban is simply the best in college football, one of the greatest ever.  Saban

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban leads his team to the field before the 2016 CFP National Championship against the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban leads his team to the field before the 2016 CFP National Championship against the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

does not get enough credit for the bond he forges with his players.  Players trust Saban because they know how much he cares about them.

As was equally true with Coach Bryant, Saban’s players respect him and do not want to disappoint him.

Disappointing  Saban can lead to wrath being directed at the transgressor. The intensity of Saban’s displeasure no doubt elicits fear from his players. That is part of football.  As Alabama’s first “Bear”, coach Wallace Wade said decades ago, “nobody ever got backslapped into winning anything.”

What makes an even greater impact on his players is that Saban leads and competes fearlessly. His players are immersed in that presence of mind and character. Saban’s greatest players personify their coach and compete with a commensurate fearlessness.

The #1 reason Alabama wins – Alabama’s coach is Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney is no Nick Saban

Not even the most astute college football expert can predict the outcome of a college football game. There are just too many variables: in-game injuries; bad officiating calls; human error by players and coaches.  Between two equally matched teams, the outcome can pivot, not on who wants it more, but on who chooses to win.

For all the reasons listed above and more, Alabama does “choosing to win” better than anyone.

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