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Bama vs. Clemson Preview: What The College Football Playoff Got Right

Let's get something straight off the bat: I am not against bowl subdivision football.

Sure, it's patently unfair in that more than half of the "subdivision" is essentially unable to compete for their championship.  Yes, it's a money play.  Yes, it's overhyped.

But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it.  I'm a huge college football fan.  I love Army/Navy, big rivalry games (as long as they don't interrupt my Rivalry game), and marquee matchups.  When Temple played Notre Dame, I listened, and watched.  College football narratives remain the best narratives.

Tonight I'll be watching Alabama play Clemson, a most worthy conclusion to the FBS football season.  Let's take a look at what the CFP did right, and what to expect tonight.

Issue 1.  Can anybody really argue that the playoff didn't get the teams right?

After last years' contentious selection of Ohio State over Baylor, the Buckeyes then proceeded to obliterate the competition, thus amply justifying their inclusion in the field, and the process for including them.  Their win in the Big Ten Championship game didn't only help, it was essentially the only thing on their resume that put them in.

That's because the CFP committee came on TV every week to rank all the teams to show their relative place in the top of FBS.  Before the championship, Ohio State was not in the Top 4; afterwards, they were.

This year, was there any doubt the right four teams were in?

No way Iowa or Ohio State should have been in the field over the Big XII champion Oklahoma, even with the loss to Texas on there, never mind two-loss Stanford.

Despite the fact that the semifinal games weren't the greatest, you have to acknowledge that the right teams were in, and the teams playing tonight had stern enough tests to make it clear they deserve this shot at the FBS version of a championship.

Issue 2.  The CFP created a very compelling matchup for tonight.

There's the story of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who has finally gotten his team over the term "Clemson-ing" to describe blowing a big spot in a big game.  Oh yeah - there's also that little matter of Swinney being a former player at Alabama and a former assistant coach there for seven years before taking over at Clemson

Clemson has QB Deshaun Watson, who eventually made Oklahoma's defense look like they were trying to compete against QB Cam Newton.  For good measure, he had been recruited by Alabama, too.

Then there's perennial contenders Alabama, with their already-legendary head coach Nick Saban and a defense that hasn't yielded more than 24 points a game since mid-September.  Against Michigan State, reportedly after reading some pregame trash talk from the Spartans on Twitter, DL Jarran Reed and the Tide defense used that motivation for a dominating defensive effort.

Swinney has been effusive in his praise for Saban.

"It's been incredible.  He's one of the greatest coaches that have ever coaching the game.  People sometimes will say, 'Well, anybody can go win at Alabama,'" Swinney said. "Well, no, that's not the case. Not everybody can coach a great team. Not everybody can coach a great player, and I think that he has a gift to be able to do that."

Alabama's defense is stocked with future NFL players such as DL A'shawn Robinson and DL Jonathan Allen.    Clemson hasn't faced off against a defense like this, while, oh yeah, Alabama RB Derrick Henry - you know, the Heisman Award winner - needs to be stopped on the other end.

Can Swinney get to the top?  Is Watson the real deal?  Can Bama's defense be pried open?  Can Henry explode against the Tigers?  Will Saban smile?

If you watched the semifinal games, it's awfully hard to imagine that there are two other teams in FBS that are as talented as Clemson or Alabama.  The right two teams are in the final game, and it's created a matchup that is compelling and filled with intrigue.

Better yet, they have a game that has my interest.  Since Lehigh isn't involved, there's no reason for me to be invested in this game, but the truth is I am.  It has the potential to be great football, great talent on the field, and the sort of head coaching matchup that is perfect for this type of stage.

Issue 3.  Who wins?

Las Vegas has Alabama 7 point favorites, but frankly, I don't think they were watching how Clemson wore down Oklahoma's defense last week.  I could see Watson getting off to a slow start, but I think it will be a similar script to New Year's eve: a defensive battle to start the game, and the Tigers pulling away late after a tired Bama defense can't find a way to contain Watson in the second half.

It should be a good one.

Clemson 31, Alabama 13


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