CFT Previews & Predictions: Alabama-Clemson Tale of the Tape

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WHO
No. 1 Alabama (14-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-1)

WHAT
The College Football Playoff championship game, presented by AT&T

WHEN
8:00 p.m. ET

WHERE
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

HEAD COACHES
Alabama’s Nick Saban (114-18 in 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide, 205-60-1 overall; five national championships)
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (88-28 in nine seasons with the Tigers)

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Alabama
Passing: Jalen Hurts, 227-351 (64.7%), 2,249 yards, 22 touchdowns, nine interceptions
Rushing: Damien Harris, 1,013 yards; Hurts, 12 touchdowns
Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 67 receptions; ArDarius Stewart, 852 yards, eight touchdowns
Punt returns: Trevon Diggs, 10 yards per on 13 returns; Eddie Jackson (injured, won’t play), 23 yards per on 11 returns, two touchdowns
Kick returns: Diggs. 23.7 yards per on seven returns
Punting: J.K. Scott, 47.4 yards per, 20 of 54 inside 20
Kicking: Adam Griffith, 20-27 field goals, long of 48; 62-63 extra points
Tackles: Reuben Foster, 103
Tackles for loss: Ryan Anderson, 17
Sacks: Jonathan Allen, 9.5
QB Hits: Allen, 15
Interceptions: Minkah Fitzpatrick, six
Passes breakups: Anthony Averett, 14

Clemson
Passing: Deshaun Watson, 352-523 (67.3%), 4,173 yards, 38 touchdowns, 17 interceptions
Rushing: Wayne Gallman, 1,087 yards, 16 touchdowns
Receiving: Mike Williams, 90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns
Punt returns: Ray-Ray McCloud, 8.4 per on 21 returns
Kick returns: Artavis Scott, 22.9 per on 20 returns
Punting: Andy Teasdall, 38 yards per, 21 of 53 inside 20
Kicking: Greg Huegel, 14-19 field goals, long of 48; 66-68 extra points
Tackles: Ben Boulware, 121
Tackles for loss: Carlos Watkins, 12.5
Sacks: Watkins, 10.5
Interceptions: Jadar Johnson, five
Passes breakups: Cordrea Tankersley, 10

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Alabama’s 11th-ranked rush offense (246.7 ypg) vs. Clemson’s 19th-ranked run defense (123.1 ypg)
CU’s 62nd-ranked rush offense (175.4 ypg) vs. UA’s top-ranked run defense (62 ypg)
UA’s 81st-ranked pass offense (214.2 yp) vs. CU’s 17th-ranked pass defense (183.8 ypg)
CU’s 7th-ranked pass offense (327.8 ypg) vs. UA’s 14th-ranked pass defense (182 ypg)
UA’s 15th-ranked scoring offense (39.4 ppg) vs. CU’s 7th-ranked scoring defense (17.1 ppg)
CU’s 13th-ranked scoring offense (39.5 ppg) vs. UA’s top-ranked scoring defense (11.4 ppg)

COMMON OPPONENTS
Auburn
Clemson won 19-13 in Auburn Sept. 3, Alabama won 30-12 in Tuscaloosa Nov. 26.

LOSSES
Alabama: N/A
Clemson: 43-42 to No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5) in Clemson Nov. 12

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Alabama 12, Clemson 10
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: UA 6, CU 5
Wins in true road games: UA 4, CU 5
Wins by 10-plus points: UA 13, CU 7

THE BOVADA.LV LINE
Clemson, +6 (opened +6½)
Over/under, 51

THE PREDICTIONS
Zach Barnett
Here’s one thing I know: Tide-Tigers II won’t be as high scoring as the last time around. Alabama — both offense and defense — won’t allow it. And here’s what I think: I think Alabama is just too far ahead of the rest of the country that even a marked deficit at quarterback can’t overcome the Tide’s advantages elsewhere. The defense is too good, the rest of the offense is too good, and Bo Scarborough is too, well, Bo Scarborough.
Alabama 21, Clemson 17

Bryan Fisher
I think this year’s rematch should be just as close of a game as last season’s version, with Alabama squeaking out another close victory over Clemson in slightly lower scoring fashion. Turnovers will play a huge role in this one and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Crimson Tide’s defense finds the end zone at least once to make up for what should be a grind-it-out type of night for their offense. The Tigers defense plays heroically throughout, but ultimately it’s Nick Saban holding up the trophy in the end.
Alabama 31, Clemson 27

Kevin McGuire
The biggest question mark for this game is just what to expect from Alabama’s offense given the bizarre staff shakeup that forced Lane Kiffin on his way to his new job and inserted Steve Sarkisian to call plays, which has never particularly been his strong suit. But who am I to question Nick Saban? It all comes back to winning the rematch though, where Clemson is coming off an impressive shelling of Ohio State and looks like a true threat to Alabama, especially if the Tide is a mixed bag of ineptitude on offense with a freshman quarterback. But Deshaun Watson will have to play the same kind of game he did a year ago, and I’m not so sure that will be possible. Fool Alabama once, it happens. Do it twice in a row? I’m not as confident that is possible.
Alabama 26, Clemson 24

John Taylor
I’m truly torn on this one.  On the one hand you have a Brent Venables-coached Clemson defense that shut out Ohio State and its veteran quarterback, J.T. Barrett, going up against a true freshman quarterback in Alabama’s Jalen Hurts — and with a new playcaller no less. On the other, you have an Alabama defense that, in addition to being ranked No. 1 in myriad statistical categories, is in the Top 15 nationally in interceptions with 16 — six of which were returned for touchdowns — matched up with a quarterback in Deshaun Watson whose 17 picks this season are tied for second at the FBS level.  In the end I’m going to go against the grain and with Venables and Watson denying Nick Saban his Bear Bryant-tying title.  Hell, The Nicktator says (winkwink nudgenudgeClemson’s the best team; who am I to argue with the greatest college coach of this generation?
Clemson 27, Alabama 23

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.

Tennessee OG Jack Jones retires due to neck injury

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The playing career of Tennessee offensive guard Jack Jones has come to an unfortunate end. On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced Jones was stepping away from football as injury concerns with his neck continue to interfere with playing.

Jones played in the season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta but has essentially been out of action for the entire season after that. After consulting with doctors, Jones came to the decision to step away from football as it became clear playing football would only put his long-term health in jeopardy.

The loss of Jones leaves Tennessee’s offensive line depth thin down the stretch. It could be quite a bumpy finish to what has already been a turbulent season in Knoxville.

Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night trap at Iowa

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Sitting from his office in Columbus, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been able to see just how dangerous a night game at Iowa can be. Last season, Iowa upset Michigan with the first loss suffered by the Wolverines setting off a wild finale to the Big Ten season. Earlier this season, a night game at Iowa nearly caught Penn State before the Nittany Lions managed to get out of Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. Knowing the history of Kinnick Stadium at night, Meyer may have managed to successfully lobby himself from having to play a night game at Iowa.

Big Ten kickoff times for Week 10 have started to come together on Monday, with Minnesota announcing it will host Michigan in primetime on FOX. The decision to have the Gophers and Wolverines in primetime was a tad puzzling considering two of the other game son the Big Ten schedule that day. Penn State is playing at Michigan State and Ohio State is playing — you guessed it — at Iowa.

The Buckeyes will be playing at either noon or 3:30 p.m. eastern on November 4, with the Nittany Lions and Spartans likely to be slotted in the other timeslot. The speculation is the 3:30 p.m. ET slot will be reserved for the winner of this week’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, as the game will likely begin to take more weight in the College Football Playoff picture on top of the Big Ten championship hunt.

Meyer addressed concerns about playing so many road games at night this season, and perhaps the conference is responding to his concerns. Ohio State has already played four primetime games, including three on the road (Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). If not for the World Series coverage this weekend, odds are good the home game against Penn State would have been a lock for primetime as well. Ohio State also played a primetime game earlier this year against Oklahoma. But Meyer’s chief concern was playing so many night games on the road, as it becomes quite tiresome for players.

Was Meyer looking forward all along to prevent Ohio State from having to play a night game at Iowa? Regardless of the motive, the Buckeyes will not have to test the fates under the lights at Kinnick Stadium in two weeks.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill apologizes for one-finger salute to Penn State crowd

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Over the weekend, Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden flipped a double-bird to fans at Alabama after the Vols scored a touchdown. It has quickly become one of the top images from the weekend, and Gauldin has apologized for his obscene gesture to the Alabama faithful. On Monday, another player on the road who decided to flip off the home fans has now apologized for his actions.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill was seen offering a one-finger salute to fans at Penn State after Michigan had suffered a 42-13 loss at Beaver Stadium. The image of Hill gesturing to the fans made the rounds, and now Hill has offered his own apology in a brief statement.

“I sincerely regret my inappropriate gesture at the end of Saturday’s football game. I let my emotions get the best of me and learned a valuable lesson,” Hill said in his statement. “I am truly sorry for this offensive gesture and vow that it will not happen again.”

Hill had committed to Penn State during the recruiting process before flipping to stay in state with the Wolverines. It was a rough night for former Penn State commits playing in a Michigan uniform on Saturday. Kicker Quinn Nordin, who committed to Penn State with an airplane music video but flipped to Michigan after Jim Harbaugh slept over has been rock solid with his kicking this season, but he missed his first kick Saturday night for an extra point.