WHO: No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1)
WHAT: The College Football Playoff at the 83rd Allstate Sugar Bowl
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
THE SKINNY: It’s Tide-Tigers III. The first was an unexpected shootout with multiple lead changes. The second was an instant classic. Can this one possibly top the other two?
The blueprint for the re-rematch will be the same as last year’s game: Can Clemson stay on the field and put Jalen Hurts into obvious passing situations? The Tigers weren’t particularly efficient in last year’s 35-31 win, averaging just 5.16 yards per play, but quantity mattered as much or more than quality. Clemson ran 99 plays, gained 31 first downs and owned a near 10-minute time of possession advantage, a strategy that wore the Alabama defense out and allowed Clemson to mount its comeback with 21 fourth-quarter points.
Hurts hit just 13-of-31 passes for 131 yards — 4.2 per attempt — though he did lead Alabama on a 6-play, 68-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 30-yard touchdown run, to put the Tide back on top at 31-28 with 2:07 remaining.
Led by Kelly Bryant‘s dual-threat ability, Clemson ranks eighth nationally in third-down conversions at nearly 47 percent, and Hurts hasn’t exactly refined his third-down passing this season. He’s thrown all of 12 passes this season when facing a third down between seven and nine yards. If Clemson can corral Alabama’s running game — a big ask — the Tigers will win the game.
The thought here is they can.
THE PICK: Clemson 31, Alabama 24