No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs.
No. 4 Alabama (11-1)
Monday, 5:45 PST, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans.
Clemson’s defensive line vs. Alabama’s ground game. For the Crimson Tide, it all starts with the eighth-ranked rushing offense in the nation, a three-headed monster that combines a fleet quarterback in Jalen Hurts with running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. The Tigers will answer with a defense that lives in the opponent’s backfield, averaging eight tackles for loss and 3.38 sacks. Along the front line, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins helped smother Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, limiting the Hurricanes to 214 yards.
Clemson (448.2 ypg/35.4 ppg): Balance is the key word for a unit that averages 204 yardds rushing and 244 yards passing. Running backs Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice share the workload. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has 646 yards rushing and 2,678 yards passing with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Alabama (465.4 ypg/39.1 ppg): The Crimson Tide offense ranks ninth in scoring and, just as important, has turned the ball over only eight times in 12 games, which is tied for best in the nation. Hurts doesn’t have gaudy numbers but is efficient with a 155.6 passer rating.
Clemson (277.9 ypg/12.8 ppg): While the front four gets most of the attention, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel is an All-American and Butkus Award finalist. The secondary is efficient and ranks seventh by limiting opponents to 165.1 yards passing per game.
Alabama (257.8 ypg/11.5 ppg): No surprise that Alabama has the best defense in college football, but this season’s version has only one non-offensive touchdown (NOT), down from the double-digit numbers posted the previous two seasons. Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick won the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards.
Clemson lost All-American kicker Greg Huegel to a torn knee ligament. … Ray-Ray McCloud can be a difference-maker returning punts for the Tigers. … Alabama punter JK Scott was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award with an average of 43.4 yards. He has placed more than half of his kicks inside the 20-yard line this season.
The teams have proven big-game coaches. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has defeated top-10 bowl opponents in each the last five seasons. Alabama’s Nick Saban has 19 all-time victories over top-five teams, best in college football history.