College Football Preview: Clemson-LSU Title Game Predictions

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In our first college football preview of Championship Monday, we laid out the statistical particulars for tonight’s College Football Playoff title game between No. 3 Clemson and No. 1 LSU.  Now, it’s the CFT staff’s turn to go on record as to how the matchup will play out.

Zach Barnett (Twitter)
Clemson is a team that can very much repeat as national champions. Heck, Ohio State was good enough to win the damn thing, and these (orange and purple) Tigers beat them, ripping off a 29-7 run in the process. And I don’t think they have much of a chance to win this game. This LSU team is on a manifest destiny unlike any we’ve ever seen and, while I don’t think it’s a blowout, I think Joe Burrow, J’Marr Chase and company are simply too much for Clemson to overcome.
LSU 34, Clemson 28

Bryan Fischer (Twitter)
What a great national title game this portends to be and, despite plenty of defensive talent on hand, it would not surprise me at all to see things turn into a shootout at the Superdome. Obviously LSU will have the home-crowd advantage and come in plenty motivated to win one in their own state to cap off one of the best seasons in college football history. That said, Dabo Swinney has to enjoy using that underdog status for a talented team that has won 29 in a row and knows all too well how to play in big games like this. My head keeps saying LSU will take this one after forcing a 4th quarter turnover but the visiting Tigers just can’t be discounted to keep the train rolling. In the end, though, Heisman winner Joe Burrow has the ball last and there’s nothing Trevor Lawrence can do as he watches the purple and gold march down and score the game-winner on a field goal as time expires.
LSU 44, Clemson 41

Kevin McGuire (Twitter)
LSU and quarterback Joe Burrow have been writing a story that is too good to end on a sour note, so it would seem. With one of the top offenses in the game, LSU will face their stiffest defensive challenge yet in Clemson. Even so, LSU will still manage to move the football and put up some points. In a battle of arguably the two best quarterbacks in college football, we are in for a treat. Burrow and LSU get one last scoring drive to edge Trevor Lawrence and Clemson in a back-and-forth game from start to finish.
LSU 41, Clemson 38

John Taylor (Twitter)
Each of the past two years they’ve played in it, I’ve gone with Clemson to win the CFP championship game — they beat Alabama 35-31 in the one following the 2016 regular season after I picked them to win 27-23, then beat Alabama again 44-16 after I picked them to win 34-31.  That most recent win over Alabama was part of the current 29-game winning streak Clemson is riding, tied for the 12th-longest in FBS history.  This season, 11 of the Tigers’ 14 wins have come by at least 30 points.  In the end, though, none of that matters.  My history with Clemson doesn’t matter, the streak doesn’t matter. LSU has seemingly been a team of destiny all year long. Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow has been putting up ridiculous passing numbers throughout 2019 in leaving quality defenses in his wake, and Clemson’s top-ranked pass defense will be no different.  It’s been preordained by a college football power greater than I that Coach Eaux and Jeaux Burreaux and the rest of the Bayou Bengals claim their first national championship since 2007 — they’re playing in their own backyard for crying out loud.  Who am I to geaux against such a storyline?
LSU 44, Clemson 31

Week 2 Bold Predictions review, or the one where Zach absolutely nailed it

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If you haven’t noticed — and judging by the traffic numbers you probably haven’t — there’s a new weekly feature that we’re running at CFT that offers up a quick-hit look at the upcoming weekend of college football. In the most recent “CFT Cheat Sheet: What to know for Week 2,” we added a new facet to the preview piece — Bold Predictions.

The concept is simple: the four of us — Bryan, Zach, Kevin and myself — pull something out of our backsides, throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. Simple, right?

In this post, we’ll take a look back at each of the Bold Predictions for the last weekend and see exactly how, for better or worse, we all fared.

With that, let’s bring out the microscope and take a peek

BRYAN FISCHER (@BryanDFischer): Arkansas (+6½) upsets Ole Miss for their first SEC win in 679 days. The Razorbacks were uninspiring — to say the least — in their opener against Portland State, but they move to 2-0 with a last-minute win at the Rebels as Chad Morris breaks through and Matt Luke‘s hot seat turns to lava.

THE VERDICT: Bryan, Bryan, Bryan.

Ole Miss 31, Arkansas 17. The Razorbacks’ SEC losing streak now sits at 12 straight.

ZACH BARNETT (@zach_barnett): Tennessee drops to 0-2. The Vols didn’t lose to Georgia State because they were dehydrated, a la Florida State. They lost because Georgia State was a better football team. BYU is, too.

THE VERDICT: BYU 29, Tennessee 26, in overtime. In Knoxville.

Nailed it. Damn you Excellent work, sir.

KEVIN MCGUIRE (@KevinOnCFB): There is a lot of speculation that Army and Cincinnati will give Michigan and Ohio State, respectively, some good battles. I don’t see it happening. After some slow starts in the first quarter, both the Buckeyes and Wolverines romp at home this week.

THE VERDICT: Not, bad, Mr. McGuire. You hit .500 on this one.

Ohio State easily handled Cincinnati in Columbus, with the Buckeyes building up a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 42-0 whitewashing of the Bearcats that extended OSU’s streak of wins over in-state opponents to 42 in a row.

On the other hand, Army was the better team that Saturday afternoon — come at me, U-M bros — in The Big House but fell to Michigan in double overtime.

JOHN TAYLOR (@CFTalk): Joe Burrow set a school record with five touchdown passes in the season opener a week ago; that benchmark will last exactly seven days as Burrow will break his own record by tossing six in LSU’s win over Texas in what will be an unexpectedly high-scoring affair.

THE VERDICT: Burrow threw “just” four touchdowns, so that was off the mark. Conversely, the over/under entering this game was 55 points; LSU dropped Texas 45-38 in a shootout, so consider that part nailed.

Take that, Zach.

One final note: There is also a category within the Cheat Sheet titled “Best/Worst Wagers of Week 2.” This past week, I wrote the following:

BEST: Cal (+14) at Washington. I’m taking Cal’s defense and running with the points as Washington’s offense is still a work in progress after losing the school’s all-time leading passer, rusher.

Final score? Cal 20, Washington 19.

via GIPHY

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

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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

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Playoff Predictions

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Every season is a snowflake, in that each set of circumstances is unique to the dynamics and characters of that season and is unlikely to be repeated again. We saw Ohio State jump TCU in Baylor in 2014. The 2016 debate saw a 1-loss non-division champion (Ohio State) jump a 2-loss conference champion (Penn State), despite the non-champion losing to the champion. Last year we saw a non-division champion that lost its final regular season game (Alabama) fend off a 2-loss conference champion (Ohio State).

But one lesson has remained constant: talent wins out. The College Football Playoff has not been kind to the underdog. With the understanding that there’s really no such thing as a Cinderella in a system that selects excludes 126 of the 130 teams, the biggest upset we’ve seen is… Ohio State over Alabama in 2014? And given what we know now, that Buckeyes win wasn’t an upset at all. Only three “developmental” programs have reached the Playoff in four seasons — Oregon in 2014, Michigan State in 2015 and Washington in 2016. Oregon blew out an overrated Florida State team, then was blown out itself by Ohio State in the championship game. Michigan State lost to Alabama 38-0 in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. Washington was dusted 24-7 by Alabama in the 2016 Peach Bowl.

Meanwhile, Alabama has reached three straight title games. They played Clemson twice, and Georgia once.

Getting to the College Football Playoff is extremely hard for anyone to do. Winning it, for anyone other than the elite of the elite, has proven to be impossible. Such a reality appears in the CFT staff’s picks for the 2018 CFP field.

Kevin
Orange Bowl: Clemson over Penn State
Cotton Bowl: Alabama over Oklahoma
CFP National Championship: Alabama over Clemson

Bryan
Orange Bowl: Clemson over Wisconsin
Cotton Bowl: Alabama over Washington
CFP National Championship: Clemson over Alabama

Zach
Orange Bowl: Clemson over Washington
Cotton Bowl: Georgia over Wisconsin
CFP National Championship: Clemson over Georgia

John
Orange Bowl: Ohio State over Clemson
Cotton Bowl: Georgia over Washington
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Georgia

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

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WHO
No. 3 Georgia (13-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (12-1)

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

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

WHERE
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

HEAD COACHES
Georgia’s Kirby Smart (13-1 in his first season with the Bulldogs, 13-1 overall)
Alabama’s Nick Saban (126-20 in 11 seasons with the Crimson Tide, 217-62-1 overall; five national championships)

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Georgia
Passing: Jake Fromm, 165-259 (63.7%), 2,383 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions
Rushing: Nick Chubb, 1,320 yards; Sony Michel, 16 touchdowns
Receiving: Javon Wims, 44 receptions, 704 yards, seven touchdowns
Punt returns: Mecole Hardman, 11.3 yards per on 21 returns
Kick returns: Hardman. 27.5 yards per on 17 returns
Punting: Cameron Nizialek, 44.9 yards per, 25 of 55 inside 20
Kicking: Rodrigo Blankenship, 17-20 field goals, long of 55; 61-61 extra points
Tackles: Roquan Smith, 124
Tackles for loss: D’Andre Walker, 13½
Sacks: Smith and Walker, 5½
QB Hits: Smith, 17
Interceptions: Dominick Sanders, four
Passes breakups: Deandre Baker, nine

Alabama
Passing: Jalen Hurts, 151-247 (61.1%), 2,060 yards, 17 touchdowns, one interception
Rushing: Damien Harris, 983 yards, 11 touchdowns
Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 59 receptions, 935 yards; Henry Ruggs III, five touchdowns
Punt returns: Trevon Diggs, 8.9 per on 13 returns
Kick returns: Ruggs III, 18.4 per on 13 returns
Punting: JK Scott, 42.4 yards per, 25 of 48 inside 20
Kicking: Andy Pappanastos, 16-21 field goals, long of 46; 54-54 extra points
Tackles: Ronnie Harrison, 70
Tackles for loss: Rashaan Evans, 11½
Sacks: Raekwon Davis, 7½
Interceptions: Mack Wilson, four
Passes breakups: Levi Wallace, 14

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Alabama’s 10th-ranked rush offense (255.8 ypg) vs. Georgia’s 20th-ranked run defense (121.9 ypg)
UGA’s 8th-ranked rush offense (267.4 ypg) vs. UA’s top-ranked run defense (91.8 ypg)
UA’s 91st-ranked pass offense (193.9 ypg) vs. UGA’s 8th-ranked pass defense (167.6 ypg)
UGA’s 109th-ranked pass offense (172.9 ypg) vs. UA’s 3rd-ranked pass defense (160.6 ypg)
UA’s 12th-ranked scoring offense (37.9 ppg) vs. UGA’s 5th-ranked scoring defense (15.7 ppg)
UGA’s 17th-ranked scoring offense (36.3 ppg) vs. UA’s top-ranked scoring defense (11.1 ppg)

COMMON OPPONENTS
Auburn
Georgia lost 40-17 in Auburn Nov. 11 and won 28-7 in SEC championship game rematch, Alabama lost 26-14 in Auburn Nov. 25.

Mississippi State
Georgia won 31-3 in Athens Sept. 23, Alabama won 31-24 in Starkville Nov. 11.

Tennessee
Georgia won 41-0 in Knoxville Sept. 30, Alabama won 45-7 in Tuscaloosa Oct. 21.

Vanderbilt
Georgia won 45-14 in Nashville Oct. 7, Alabama won 59-0 in Nashville Sept. 23.

LOSSES
Georgia: 40-17 to No. 10 Auburn (10-4) in Auburn Nov. 11
Alabama: 26-14 to No. 6 Auburn (10-4) in Auburn Nov. 25

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Georgia 8, Alabama 6
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: UGA 4, UA 3
Wins in true road games: UGA 4, UA 3
Wins by 10-plus points: UGA 11, UA 10

THE BOVADA.LV LINE
Georgia, +5 (opened +4½)
Over/under, 45

THE PREDICTIONS
Zach Barnett
Maybe I’m just a fool, but I don’t believe anyone can beat Alabama at their own game until it actually happens. Yeah, the Tide has lost its share of games over the years — so rarely you can probably remember each individual one — but all those losses have come from the same formula, a formula Georgia can’t replicate. Georgia’s run game is good, but Bama’s run defense is better. Jake Fromm is an effective game manager, but Jalen Hurts has another dimension the Bulldog freshman doesn’t. When push comes to shove (and it will), I think it’s that extra dimension that will push Alabama over the top. Again.
Alabama 21, Georgia 14

Bryan Fisher
I go back and forth on this game every 30 minutes, that’s just how close the two SEC foes are when you look at where their programs and rosters are at this point in the season. Both sides are a little tired after two very different semifinal games and from the toll of traveling back on a short week.  That likely leads to a slower, more conservative approach on both sides of the ball to shorten the game up and that in itself might play a little bit more into Alabama’s hands. While Georgia might have better starting 22 talent overall if you go down the list, the quarterback run game is a difference maker for the Tide with Jalen Hurts behind center. It will be a close, hard-fought title game but ultimately Nick Saban‘s side has just enough to best the hometown team and hoist another trophy
Alabama 28, Georgia 23

Kevin McGuire
It is hard not to get carried away with what Georgia did running the football in the Rose Bowl, but the truth is Alabama is much better equipped to slow down Georgia’s running game the way Oklahoma could only dream. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb will have an impact, but 30, 40-, and 50-yard touchdowns are not going to happen against the Tide the way they did against the Sooners. On the same line of thinking, it’s hard not to go overboard with Alabama’s defense after dismantling Clemson the way they just did. Georgia’s offense operates differently though, and odds are we get a national title game that falls somewhere in between the semifinal performances for both. As much as Georgia is the best-equipped to give a Nick Saban assistant more than a puncher’s chance against Nick Saban (11-0 vs. former assistants, including 1-0 in College Football Playoff era), Alabama will be able to play their style of game and allow Jalen Hurts to make some plays to lead Alabama to yet another national title.
Alabama 27, Georgia 23

John Taylor
How can you bet against Nick Saban and Alabama? Since the Nicktator took over the Crimson Tide in 2007, they are 9-1 in games played in Atlanta, including nine straight wins since losing to Florida in the 2008 SEC championship game.  Saban is also 11-0 all-time against head coaches who were his former assistants.  Where’s tonight’s game being played?  In Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  Who’s Georgia’s head coach?  Saban’s former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart. Last year at this time I went against the CFT grain and picked Clemson over ‘Bama; despite that ominous-looking 20-1 mark staring me square in the face I’m doing the same this time around as UGA’s ground game will prove to be too much for even the suffocating UA front seven, with the underdog Bulldogs denying Saban his latest shot at tying the great Bear Bryant for most national championships — and their program’s first since 1980.
Georgia 24, Alabama 20