Confession: We’re excited for Alabama-Clemson on Monday night. (And, evidently, so are the fans who have pushed ticket prices over the $1,000 mark.)
The nation is pumped for a rematch that should fill up the scoreboard and force TV ratings into the heavens. This is the final game until next autumn, and it has a strong chance of being the best matchup of this excellent season.
We’ve spent so much time analyzing the position battles and debating acceptable standards of horseplay that you’d think the game would already be upon us. Alas, three more days must pass until the Tigers and Crimson Tide kick off in Tampa.
If only there were a way to play the game early.
Oh, wait … there is.
Thanks to the mad scientists at WhatIfSports.com, anyone can simulate matchups between current or historic teams from the site’s extensive library. That includes box scores, play-by-play and lineup variations, among several other features. One can even set the weather to his or her liking (Monday night should be 55 degrees, light wind, no precipitation).
So, we did it. We simulated the national championship game 100 times, and we’d like to present our research to you below. Take it with a grain of salt — especially if you don’t trust computers — but this is probably better than asking your Uncle Eddie for his thoughts.
The number of times …
… Alabama won: 73
… Clemson won: 27 (Average score over 100 games: Alabama 30.2, Clemson 20.9)
… Alabama won by 20-plus: 25
… Clemson won by 20-plus: 4
… Alabama won by 30-plus: 6
… Clemson won by 30-plus: 1
… Alabama won by 40-plus: 4
… Clemson won by 40-plus: 1
… Alabama won by 50-plus: 2
… Clemson won by 50-plus: 0
… Alabama won by 60-plus (!): 1 (Final score: 71-3)
… The teams combined for 60-plus points: 26
… The teams combined for 80-plus points: 1
… Alabama shut out Clemson: 1 (Final score: 23-0)
… Clemson shut out Alabama: 0
… The game went to OT: 3
… The game went to double-OT: 1
… Alabama kicked a game-winning field goal with < 2:00 remaining: 2
… Clemson kicked a game-winning field goal with < 2:00 remaining: 4
… Alabama completed a game-winning drive with < 2:00 remaining: 7
… Clemson completed a game-winning drive with < 2:00 remaining: 8
… Alabama erased a 10-plus-point deficit: 16
… Clemson erased a 10-plus-point deficit: 12
… Alabama erased a 20-plus-point deficit: 2
… Clemson erased a 20-plus-point deficit: 0
… Alabama passed for 300 yards or more: 8
… Clemson passed for 300 yards or more: 15
… Alabama passed for 400 yards or more: 0
… Clemson passed for 400 yards or more: 1
… Alabama rushed for 200 yards or more: 56
… Clemson rushed for 200 yards or more: 15
… Alabama rushed for 300 yards or more: 12
… Clemson rushed for 300 yards or more: 0
… Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough rushed for 100-plus yards: 11
… Alabama RB Damien Harris rushed for 100-plus yards: 47
… Harris rushed for 200-plus yards: 4
… Alabama RB Joshua Jacobs rushed for 100-plus yards: 2
… Alabama QB Jalen Hurts had 300-plus total yards: 15
… Hurts had 400-plus total yards: 2
… Clemson QB Deshaun Watson had 300-plus total yards: 25
… Watson had 400-plus total yards: 2
… Alabama WR ArDarius Stewart had 100 receiving yards or more: 8
… Alabama WR Calvin Ridley had 100 receiving yards or more: 2
… Alabama TE — and 2016 national championship game hero — O.J. Howard had 100 receiving yards or more: 1
The craziest endings
As stated earlier, these simulations come with box scores and play-by-play details, which allow the user to get a strong feel for what transpired on the virtual gridiron. Here were 10 of the most scintillating matchups in our 100-game sim:
Clemson 41, Alabama 34 (2OT): The Crimson Tide get out to a 19-3 lead at the break, but the Tigers score 24 unanswered to begin the second half. Needing a huge play with 20 seconds left, ‘Bama gets it in the form of a 13-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris (Calvin Ridley catches the tying 2-point conversion pass). The teams trade 25-yard scoring runs in overtime (one by B.J. Emmons; one by Wayne Gallman), then Gallman punches in a 4-yard score in the second frame before the Clemson “D” seals the “W” with a fourth-down sack. Box score
Clemson 30, Alabama 28: Trailing 27-7 with a little more than 6 minutes remaining, ‘Bama reels off a miraculous comeback. Bo Scarbrough gets into the end zone to break a lengthy drought, then Harris breaks a 78-yard scoring run with 1:56 left to make it 27-21. The Crimson Tide successfully convert an onside kick. Then, 18 seconds after his first score, Harris does it again from 56 yards out to give ‘Bama a 28-27 lead.
Clemson is behind for the first time in the game, and victory seems highly improbable with Deshaun Watson and Co. facing fourth-and-10 from their own 37-yard line with 36 seconds remaining. But Watson hits Deon Cain for a 25-yard gain, then Jordan Leggett for 10 more before Dave Huegel drills the game-winning 45-yard field goal as time expires. Box score
Alabama 34, Clemson 30 (OT): The Tigers overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game on a Huegel field goal with 5 seconds left. Huegel hits a 41-yard attempt to open overtime before Harris crashes into the end zone from 12 yards out for an Alabama win. Box score
Clemson 32, Alabama 30: Adam Griffith and Heugel combine for 21 straight points between the second and fourth quarters, with Griffith’s last two giving ‘Bama a 30-26 lead. Given a final drive, Watson takes the Tigers 75 yards down the field to set up the last play (with the clock running) at Alabama’s 14-yard line. Surprisingly, the Tigers opt for a run by Gallman, who dashes up the gut for the game-winning touchdown. Box score
Alabama 27, Clemson 23: Much of the nation tunes out early as Clemson takes a 20-0 lead on Artavis Scott’s second touchdown reception of the night. But the Crimson Tide chip away with a couple field goals before shocking the Tigers with three consecutive second-half touchdowns, the last of which comes on a 9-yard pass from Hurts to Ridley with 5:37 left. Box score
Alabama 25, Clemson 22: Huegel’s fifth field goal of the night gives Clemson a 22-17 advantage with 46 seconds remaining. Alabama fans don’t need to wait long for a response as Hurts finds Ridley for the game-winning 68-yard score on the first play of the drive, and Clemson’s ensuing botched kickoff return seals the Crimson Tide’s 17th national title. Box score
How do you think the game will play out? Let us know in the comments section below.