There were 40 bowl games in the 2017 college football postseason – the national title game technically isn’t a bowl – and the last of those is on New Year’s Night as No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama meet for the third year in a row, this time in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game.
There are plenty around college football who are howling that Alabama is even in the College Football Playoff considering the Tide didn’t even win their own SEC West Division thanks to a 26-14 loss at Auburn in the regular-season finale. If it wasn’t “Alabama,” the Tide probably don’t squeak in. It should be noted, however, that Ohio State got in the playoff last season the same way. The Buckeyes proved they weren’t worthy, getting trounced in the semifinals by Clemson. Bama is the only team to reach the playoff in all four years. It’s the third straight year in the playoff for ACC champion Clemson.
Alabama vs. Clemson Spread and Betting Analysis
I’m sure I don’t need to remind readers that these teams played in the past two national championship games, both epic shootouts and both Clemson covers. Following the 2015 season, Alabama won 45-40 as a 6.5-point favourite to win its fourth national title under Nick Saban. That game turned when Saban called for an onside kick with just over 10 minutes remaining and the game tied 24-24. It worked and momentum changed. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson was magnificent in the loss, throwing for 405 yards and four scores and rushing for 73 yards.
This past January, Clemson was a 6.5-point dog again and won one of the great games in NCAA history, 35-31. Watson threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with 1 second left for Clemson’s first title since 1981. He threw for 420 yards overall and three scores and rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown.
There are two major differences from those games and this one: Watson is no longer at Clemson and both coaches had about a month to prepare instead of just over a week.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Some bettors might be asking how the No. 4 Crimson Tide (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS) could be favoured here considering the past two Clemson games and that losing ATS record in 2017. Well, Bama has opened as a betting underdog just once this decade and is the most “public” team in the sport. For the third year in a row, Saban has to deal with a coordinator having taken another job ahead of the playoff. In 2015, it was defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, now at Georgia. Last year, it was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, now at FAU. Saban let Kiffin coach the semifinal game but replaced him for the title matchup.
Alabama again had one of the country’s best defences but showed some cracks late in a close win at Mississippi State and the loss to Auburn. That unit is beaten up, with linebackers Dylan Moses and Shaun Dion Hamilton and safety Hootie Jones all out for this game.
Clemson (12-1 SU, 8-4-1 ATS) has basically become the Alabama of the ACC, not a shock considering the Tigers coach is Dabo Swinney, an Alabama native and former football walk-on at the school. Many believe the only job he would leave Clemson for would be Alabama if Saban ever retires. This was expected to be a slight rebuilding season for the Tigers after losing Watson and several other key players off last year’s team. Yet other than a trap-game loss at Syracuse on Oct. 13, Clemson hasn’t missed a beat. It enters on a six-game winning streak and slaughtered then-No. 7 Miami 38-3 in the ACC title game.
Kelly Bryant is no Watson but has filled in well, throwing for 2,678 yards and 13 scores while rushing for 646 yards and 11 TDs. Mobile quarterbacks have historically given Alabama fits. Clemson played a tougher schedule this year and beat the Auburn team that beat the Tide. It also should be noted Clemson has covered seven straight as a dog. It will again.