Unbeaten Alabama is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. One-loss Clemson is No. 4. Great anticipation for a potential third consecutive entertaining national championship game has lingered for months. Both teams control their own destiny. Win out and they’ll be in the final four, and likely avoid seeing each other in the semifinals.
Alabama is 5/7 to win it all and Clemson is 7/1, per Bovada. Still, there’s something holding me back in believing that it will be one of the two to lift college football’s ultimate prize. With that in mind, let me pose the question: would you rather have these two or the field?
Clemson has been formidable with a stingy defense (15.1/game), and bruising Kelly Bryant-led offense. The Tigers’ big wins (Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State) all came on the road but aren’t as impressive as time goes on and those opponents come back to the mean.
Dabo Swinney’s team has the worst loss of any contender (at Syracuse) and have looked very human over the last month. Bryant averages less than 200 yards/game through the air and has all of seven passing touchdowns. Trusting this ground-based offense to outscore a high-scoring opponent gives one pause for concern.
Clemson has a decimated Florida State at home and a regular season finale at South Carolina, which will be tough, before a likely date with Miami in the ACC Championship Game. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m not so sure the Tigers will even be among the final four when the smoke settles.
Alabama is still Alabama and has won its nine games by an average of 31.1 points, passing even the sternest eye test. But none of those victories have come against a team ranked in the top-23 of the current rankings. LSU outgained and outrushed the Crimson Tide last week while dominating the time of possession. And this is far from a vintage Tigers team with a middling offense.
Alabama has trips to Mississippi State and Auburn upcoming and, likely, a date with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. There’s a perception that the conference can get two teams in if both the Crimson Tide and Georgia meet as undefeated in Atlanta. I’m not so sure I believe that. Notre Dame, Clemson, and Oklahoma could all jump over a non-conference champion, one-loss Alabama. Or should.
At this point, I’d take the field over Alabama and Clemson. Notre Dame is playing as well as anyone, Oklahoma can score in bunches, and Wisconsin is underappreciated. Obviously, the Tide are the most likely to emerge victorious, but people tend to overvalue the favorites–Alabama, after all, has won only of the last three titles while entering the playoff as favorite. We’ve seen teams in the playoff era catch fire and ride it all the way to a title (Ohio State in 2014). Perhaps that’s a Washington or even Auburn.
So, who you got?