No. 2 Clemson was hardly dominant during the regular season, winning six games by seven points or fewer, including nail-biters against Troy and N.C. State. The Tigers, however, were as dominant as can be in the Fiesta Bowl, blanking an Ohio State team that beat three top-eight teams this season.
None of that will matter January 9.
“I still like Alabama to win, but obviously this offensive coordinator situation with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian rocks the boat a little bit,” Sporting News college football writer Bill Bender said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “They have as good a front scene as I’ve ever seen Everybody is talking about how Clemson wants another shot at Alabama. Well, I bet that defense wants another shot at Deshaun Watson.”
Watson threw for 405 yards, ran for 73 and accounted for four touchdowns in Clemson’s 45-40 championship loss to Alabama a season ago.
“So I think it adds up to a classic game,” Bender said. “We’re going to get the best college football title game that we’ve had. I think it’s going to be even better than last year.”
Clemson was uncahllenged in its 31-0 win over Ohio State. The same could be said for Alabama, which, after giving up a touchdown on Washington’s opening drive, scored 24 unanswered points to win by 17 – even though it felt like 37 for much of the game.
“Oh, (the games) were bad,” Bender said. “When Alabama got the pick-six, I was like, ‘Game over.’ And when Clemson went up 17-0, I said, ‘Game over.’ So you spent basically four quarters watching nothing. . . . We’ve had six (semifinal games) in three years, and really, the Ohio State/Alabama game was the only good one. But the goal is to get the two best teams in the title game. These have been the best two programs of the last two years. Clemson looked like a team that was kind of waiting on that one. And Alabama, I think it’s good for the sport for now, that they’ve gone on this run, they’re this villain. (Saban) is just like Belichick. It’s the same thing.”
Which is why Kiffin will not call plays for Alabama (14-0) against Clemson (13-1). Most coaches wouldn’t send their OC packing before the national championship. Saban did.
“That’s such a Belichick move,” Bender said. “I think this is going to work out for the best. I don’t know if they had some drama behind the scenes, but I do think he kind of foresaw this with Lane taking the other job. He hired Sarkisian five days later to be the offensive coordinator. It’s going to be interesting to see how that pans out. I think that’s the big question. They can’t be as conservative offensively with Jalen Hurts as they were against Washington. He’s going to have to go out there and make some plays – and if he doesn’t, they’ll get beat.”