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

6 Comments

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

WHAT
The College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Presented by AT&T

WHEN
8:00 p.m. ET (8:17 p.m. ET kickoff)

WHERE
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

HEAD COACHES
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (115-30 in 11 seasons with the Tigers; one national championship)
Alabama’s Nick Saban (142-20 in 12 seasons with the Crimson Tide, 233-62-1 overall; six national championships)

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Clemson
Passing: Trevor Lawrence, 239-365 (65.5%), 2,933 yards, 27 touchdowns, four interceptions
Rushing: Travis Etienne, 1,583 yards, 22 touchdowns
Receiving: Tee Higgins, 56 receptions, 855 yards, 11 touchdowns
Punt returns: Amari Rodgers, 7.7 yards per on 39 returns, one touchdown
Kick returns: Derion Kendrick, 23 yards per on 13 returns
Punting: Will Spiers, 39.5 yards per, 19 of 61 inside the 20
Kicking: Greg Huegel, 10-15 field goals, long of 49; 71-72 extra points
Tackles: Isaiah Simmons, 88
Tackles for loss: Clelin Ferrell, 18
Sacks: Ferrell, 11½
QB Hits: Dexter Lawrence, 15
Interceptions: Tanner Muse, A.J. Terrell, two
Passes breakups: Simmons, Terrell, K’Von Wallace, seven

Alabama
Passing: Tua Tagovailoa, 223-321 (69.5%), 3,671 yards, 41 touchdowns, four interceptions
Rushing: Damien Harris, 819 yards; Josh Jacobs, 11 touchdowns
Receiving: Jerry Jeudy, 63 receptions, 1,176 yards, 13 touchdowns
Punt returns: Jaylen Waddle, 15.1 per on 15 returns, one touchdown
Kick returns: Jacobs, 30.6 per on 13 returns, one touchdown
Punting: Mike Bernier, 37 yards per, four of 23 inside the 20
Kicking: Joseph Bulovas, 13-17 field goals, long of 49; 74-79 extra points
Tackles: Dylan Moses, 82
Tackles for loss: Quinnen Williams, 18
Sacks: Isaiah Buggs, 9½
QB Hits: Williams, Christian Miller, 12
Interceptions: Saivion Smith, three
Passes breakups: Anfernee Jennings, Shyheim Carter, 10

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Alabama’s 34th-ranked rush offense (202 ypg) vs. Clemson’s 2nd-ranked run defense (92.6 ypg)
Clemson’s 10th-ranked rush offense (256.3 ypg) vs. Alabama’s 19th-ranked run defense (120.3 ypg)
Alabama’s 6th-ranked pass offense (325.6 ypg) vs. Clemson’s 16th-ranked pass defense (182.1 ypg)
Clemson’s 24th-ranked pass offense (274.1 ypg) vs. Alabama’s 22nd-ranked pass defense (187.6 ypg)
Alabama’s 2nd-ranked scoring offense (47.7 ppg) vs. Clemson’s top-ranked scoring defense (12.9 ppg)
Clemson’s 4th-ranked scoring offense (44.3 ppg) vs. Alabama’s 5th-ranked scoring defense (16.1 ppg)

COMMON OPPONENTS
Texas A&M
Clemson won 28-26 Sept. 8 in College Station, Alabama won 45-23 Sept. 22 in Tuscaloosa.

Louisville
Clemson won 77-16 Nov. 3 in Clemson, Alabama won 51-14 Sept. 1 on a neutral field.

LOSSES
None for either team as this will mark the first time in the five-year history of the College Football Playoff that two undefeated teams will be playing in the national championship game.

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Clemson 11, Alabama 9
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: Clemson 3, Alabama 5
Wins in true road games: Clemson 5, Alabama 4
Wins by 10-plus points: Clemson 12, UA 13

THE BOVADA.LV LINE
Clemson, +5 (opened +6)
Over/under, 61

THE PREDICTIONS
Zach Barnett
Here’s a stat for you: in his two title bouts with Clemson, Deshaun Watson was a combined 66-of-103 for 825 yards with seven touchdowns against one interception, leading his Tigers to 40 and 35 points. In eight quarters against the most fearsome defense this side of the ’85 Bears, Watson and company averaged around 100 yards, a touchdown and field goal. If Clemson is to do the unthinkable for the second time in three years, true freshman Trevor Lawrence will have to put up similar numbers and a similar volume, keeping Alabama’s ultra-efficient offense off the field. I think they will.
Clemson 38, Alabama 34

Bryan Fisher
I’ve seen both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide win national titles before and the fourth edition of their heavyweight fight might just be the best yet. It’s got great quarterbacks, some terrific receivers and running backs, plus a host of defenders that will be playing on Sundays. Alabama will get pushed plenty by Dabo Swinney‘s side but the SEC champs have played at another gear, for the most part, this season and will wind up with Nick Saban lifting yet another trophy in a thriller out West.
Alabama 31, Clemson 27

Kevin McGuire
A season that was billed as a season-long exhibition before Alabama and Clemson square off in the national championship has delivered once again. Seeing Tua Tagovailoa appear to be just fine last week against Oklahoma was an encouraging sign for the Tide as they prepare to face the stiffest defensive challenge they have seen this season in the Tigers. The last two championship bouts between these two were instant classics, and we could very well have a third on our hands. This game has the look of a defensive battle, but the quarterback play is just too good to be stopped. In the end, Tagovailoa leads Alabama to one more critical touchdown drive than Trevor Lawrence and Alabama wins yet another championship.
Alabama 36, Clemson 31

John Taylor
I’ve picked against Alabama each of the past two title games — Georgia following the 2017 regular season, Clemson the year before — and the Crimson Tide split those meetings.  This year, Nick Saban has arguably his best squad overall during his dozen seasons in Tuscaloosa, with an offense that’s head and shoulders in the passing game above anything the future College Football Hall of Famer has ever fielded.  All of the ingredients are there for back-to-back national titles for Saban… for Saban to pass the legendary Bear Bryant for most career championships… for Saban to cement his legacy as the GOAT at this level… and yet I’m going with Dabo Swinney — with a heaping helping of Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback the likes of which ‘Bama hasn’t faced this season — to spoil yet another Tide coronation and pick up his second national championship at the expense of his nemesis the past four years.
Clemson 34, Alabama 31

Lincoln Riley finalizes defensive staff for 2019

Getty Images
3 Comments

Oklahoma’s defense was flat-out awful in 2018, as we know. The Sooners were 114th in total defense (453.8 yards per game), 102nd in yards per play (6.13) and 101st in scoring (33.3 points per game). Their ineptitude indirectly handed Kyler Murray the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners’ signal caller had to pull his rabbit out of a hat on a weekly basis throughout the fall, but without Murray’s exploits Oklahoma might’ve been a 7- or 8-win team in 2018.

Murray is gone, so the defense has to improve or Oklahoma will take a significant fall in 2019.

Lincoln Riley has spent the past three weeks reshaping his defensive staff, and on Sunday he finalized his staff and their assignments.

New hire Alex Grinch will coach safeties while coordinating the defense. He spent 2018 as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. (The Buckeyes’ pass efficiency defense slipped from 13th to 42nd in Grinch’s one season on staff, but Riley hired him for his success coordinating Mike Leach‘s defenses at Washington State.)

Assisting Grinch in the secondary will be cornerbacks coach Roy Manning. He spent 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at UCLA but worked with Grinch at Wazzu from 2015-17.

Brian Odom was hired away from Missouri to coach the Sooners’ inside linebackers, where he’ll team with new outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill. Riley’s mentor, McNeill is one of two holdovers from the 2018 staff. He was hired upon Riley’s promotion to head coach as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach but took over the entire defense following Mike Stoops‘ midseason firing.

The only Oklahoma defensive coach to coach the same position from 2018 to ’19 will be defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. The OU graduate has been on staff since 2016, when he returned to Norman as defensive ends coach.

Former South Carolina DE announces transfer to TCU

Getty Images
Leave a comment

TCU loses its top two sack artists from 2018 to 2019, but some help just arrived.

Shameik Blackshear (above, top) announced on Saturday he will spend his final year of college football in Fort Worth.

The Bluffton, S.C., native played his first three seasons at South Carolina, where collected 34 tackles and one sack. He appeared in all 13 of the Gamecocks’ games in 2018, including two starts.

He’ll have a chance to compete for an immediate starting role following the graduations of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier plus the departure of Michael Collier. Banogu and Collier combined for 14.5 sacks in 2018, more than 40 percent of the Frogs’ 35 total sacks.

Blackshear is the second Power 5 graduate transfer to pick TCU this week. The Frogs also secured the services of former Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton.

Penn State LB Jarvis Miller announces graduate transfer to UMass

Getty Images
2 Comments

UMass signed one of its biggest recruits since joining FBS, four years after he left high school.

Penn State linebacker Jarvis Miller has announced he will leave State College to spend his final season in Amherst.

“After much prayer and consideration with my family I have decided to play my 5th year of eligibility at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Amherst will pursuing my Masters (sic) Degree,” Miller wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account. “To the Penn State fan base you are the best fans anyone could ask for ! It has been the most memorable 4 years of my life.”

A consensus 3-star recruit, Miller was viewed as a top-10 player in the state of Connecticut when he signed with the Nittany Lions out of Suffield.

Miller redshirted in 2015, then played in 33 career games as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He collected 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack while in blue and white.

Florida State QB James Blackman reportedly not considering transfer after all

Getty Images
2 Comments

It appears a bad debut season for Willie Taggart at Florida State is not going to get worse.

After it was reported Wednesday that Seminoles quarterback James Blackman had entered his name into the transfer portalWarchant reported that no such entry had been made as of the end of the business week.

Of course, entering one’s name into the transfer portal wouldn’t guarantee a transfer, but it’s simply not possible to transfer without putting your name in, so it appears that — as of this writing, at least — Blackman is intent on returning to Tallahassee for his junior season.

Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also dealt with a similar rumor last month. As of now, he remains a Seminole as well.

While playing for the injured Francois, Blackman completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. Francois returned to health and the starting lineup this past season, connecting on 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,731 yards with 15 scores against 12 picks. Blackman went 33-of-51 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception as his backup.

As Francois’ numbers indicated, the Seminoles sputtered offensively in Taggart’s debut campaign. Florida State finished 110th nationally in yards per play, 93rd in passing efficiency and 113th in scoring. However, both signal callers would be wise to stick around. Taggart hired Kendal Briles to run his offense. In 1-season stints at Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles pushed the Owls from 80th to eighth in scoring and the Cougars from 65th to fifth.