Sugar Bowl – Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers
Date and Time: Monday, January 1, 2017, 8:45 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Opening Sugar Bowl Odds: Alabama -2
Sugar Bowl TV Coverage: ESPN
Alabama should be thanking its lucky stars that its name is Alabama. The Crimson Tide only snuck into the CFP on the back of their name as opposed to their resume. Their 11 wins this year were largely unimpressive, and they haven't even played a single team yet finished with fewer than three losses on the campaign.
Still, no one denies the fact that this team is awfully good, even if it did get pounded by Auburn at Jordan-Hare on Thanksgiving weekend. The Crimson Tide finished as the only team in America to rank in the top-10 in total defense, pass defense, rush defense and scoring defense, and even after getting ripped apart by the Tigers, they still finished tops in scoring at 11.5 points per game allowed.
Alabama has some problems throwing the ball at times, but it's not like Jalen Hurts isn't a good quarterback. He threw for 2,005 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and was picked off just once.
Still, the strength of this team comes on the ground. Whether it's Damien Harris, Hurts, Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris or Joshua Jacobs, all of these men can really pound the ball on the ground. None of them had over 1,000 rushing yards this year, but in totality, Alabama was good for 265.3 rushing yards per game, No. 10 in the nation.
Clemson, though, was the most-impressive looking team in the game at the end of the season. Sure, the team slipped against Syracuse, but Kelly Bryant didn't play in the second half of that game and was hurt when he did.
The Tigers haven't lost since then, and their 38-3 win over Miami in the ACC Championship Game was the most impressive showing on the last day of the season.
Credit goes out to Dabo Swinney for rebuilding this team from the ground up in such a short period of time. Mere mortal teams would have fallen apart if they lost their starting quarterback, top running back, two top wide receivers and top tight end to the NFL all at one time. Clemson just kept plugging in pieces to the puzzle, and it finished the year with three men who rushed for at least 600 yards and three wide outs who had at least 500 receiving yards.
We're not totally sure why Nick Saban hasn't asked Hurts to do more in the passing game this year, but he hasn't. No one can deny the fact that not having Lane Kiffin here is hurting the Crimson Tide and their passing game. When you've got a talent like Calvin Ridley on the outside, you have to use him.
Ridley only scored three touchdowns all season long, and he finished the Iron Bowl with just three grabs for 38 yards.
Simply put, the Sugar Bowl aren't winning this game if they can't get Ridley the football. Last year, Ridley was held to just five catches for 36 yards in the National Championship Game, though that team at least included both O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart. As a freshman, he had six grabs for just 14 yards in the title game against Clemson.
Sugar Bowl Free Picks
This is a rubber match of sorts between these two teams since both have won a National Championship at the expense of the other over the course of the last 24 months. This game is going to be a little different since there's such a long turnaround time for this game, and that should result in more defense than what we've seen in the last two title games.
That might feel like an advantage to Alabama, but let's not forget that pundits largely refer to the Clemson defensive line as the best unit in America. If the Tigers can hold up defensively in the face of the Alabama running game, they could hold serve.
Clemson might be the first No. 1 seed to ever be an underdog in a CFP game at the best online sportsbooks, but we think it's going to take care of business against the Tide to move onto the title game for the third-straight year.
Sugar Bowl ATS Pick: Clemson +2 at BookMaker.eu
Sugar Bowl Score Prediction: Clemson 23, Alabama 14