It’s here. No more waiting, no more speculating, no more predicting after Monday night. It’s No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Alabama in the biggest game of the year, and the Crimson Tide are hoping it ends with them claiming national title No. 16.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before kickoff:
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 1 Clemson Tigers (14-0, 8-0 ACC)
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 11, 8:30 p.m. ET at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)
Weather: 60 degrees, 0 percent chance of rain (weather.com)
Line: Alabama -6.5
By the numbers
16 – The number 16 has a double meaning here in that not only is Alabama looking for its 16th title, but this will be the 16th time in program history the Crimson Tide will face Clemson since 1900. The last time these two teams squared off was in August of 2008 when Alabama won, 34-10. Alabama owns a 12-3 overall record against Clemson, with all 12 of those wins coming consecutively. A championship tonight would give Saban his fifth title, tying him with Bear Bryant for the most in NCAA history. It would also give Alabama its fourth championship since 2009.
1981 – The year Clemson won its only national championship in school history. That year, the Tigers were the only team in the country to end their regular season undefeated, just as they were this year. Clemson has rattled off 17 straight wins since the end of last season. The 14 wins this season, including seven on the road, are both school records.
2 – The jersey number Clemson can’t take its eyes off if it is going to have a chance tonight. Also the number of Heisman finalists in this game, Derrick Henry and Deshaun Watson.
Storylines to watch
Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama defense
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Alabama defense are both about as good as it gets at their respective positions. Watson, the dual-threat Heisman Trophy finalist, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards while amassing 12 touchdowns on the ground. He’s also passed for 3,699 yards with 31 touchdowns through the air this season. Alabama’s rushing defense is the nation’s best and and its total defense ranks second. This will be a classic, old-fashioned showdown.
Derrick Henry vs. Clemson defense
Clemson’s total defense comes it at No. 6 in the nation, while its rush defense slides in at No. 18. The Tigers are in the top 25 in 11 different defensive statistics. Additionally, since this is the final game of the season, they’ve had a plethora of film to watch as they look to decipher Henry. But so did Michigan State, and we all saw how that worked out for the Spartans. Henry is in a league of his own, which is why if Clemson is going to win, it has to start with limiting him.
Student vs. Alma Mater
By now, it’s been well-documented that Dabo Swinney is an Alabama alum. The class of 1993 graduate has talked extensively about his time with the Crimson Tide, how much he learned there and how he’ll always cherish those days. There’s no doubt that Swinney holds Alabama near and dear. But allegiances aside, Swinney is Alabama’s competitor now. He indicated this week that there’s no better team for him to be playing against at this point than Alabama, and he’s right. Alabama is arguably the best team in the country, Clemson is the underdog and a win over this storied program would be a massive feather in his coaching cap.
Prediction: Alabama 28, Clemson 24
Last year against Ohio State was an exception — don’t bet against Saban when it matters.