How to watch and stream
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
- ESPN2 (Homer’s Telecast)
- ESPNU (ESPN Voices)
- ESPNEWS (Coaches Film Room)
- SEC Network (Finebaum Film Room)
- ESPN Classic (Sounds of the Game)
- ESPN Goal Line (Command Center)
Spread: Alabama opened as a 6-point favorite. They remain such at Bovada, but are at 6.5 in other locations as well.
Records ATS: Clemson 7-7 | Alabama 10-4
O/U: 53.5, but can be had at 50.5/51 in other locations
1. A CFP Final Rematch: For the first time in college football history, a rematch for the National Championship will be taking place. Tampa, Florida will be playing host to Clemson and Alabama, who met in last year’s title game out in Glendale.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have been on a proverbial collision course since that encounter, a game that ‘Bama won, and the Tide will be looking to make history of their own as the first repeat champion of the Playoff era. Clemson meanwhile will look to play spoiler in this era of dominance in Tuscaloosa with much of the same cast that played in that game last year and pick up their first National Championship since 1981.
2. Sark Attack: One of the more shocking developments that occurred in the leadup to Monday’s title game was Steve Sarkisian’s promotion to offensive coordinator. Sark is now in charge of heading the direction of the offense for the Crimson Tide after Lane Kiffin was unseated. It’s not too often that you see such a move happen during the season, let alone in the week leading up to the title game. Nonetheless, Alabama may look cosmetically differently on offense from when we last saw them with Sark leading the charge.
3. Watson’s Last Hurrah: Deshaun Watson is undeniably one of the most successful quarterbacks in Clemson football history. Watson was a Heisman Trophy contender in 2015 and 2016 and is likely playing his final college football game on Monday night with his pro stock alofting. He’ll have his toughest test to date on Monday night against the superb Tide defense, but comparatively, the Tide will have their work cut out for them in stopping him. We’ll see what Deshaun Watson has in him and whether or not he’s saved his best for last.
3 key players...
...Not named Deshaun Watson or Jonathan Allen
1. Mitch Hyatt: For all the fireworks both teams provide on both sides of the ball, this game is going to be won in the trenches. It’s a cliché at this point and I don’t like saying it, but it’s true.
In this case, Clemson’s sophomore left tackle Mitch Hyatt’s primary task will be fending off all-world Crimson Tide pass rushers Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Clemson’s young line was surprisingly effective against a very deep unit in last year’s title game, so it stands to reason that a more seasoned group can take on a team with less depth.
Still, Hyatt’s going to need to keep his head on a swivel to fend off the aforementioned monsters and many more. He’s a steady hand in a prolific offense and certainly Deshaun Watson can make his own electricity happen, but keeping ‘Bama’s front seven off #4 will be paramount.
2. Ben Boulware: The secret’s out at this point: Ben Boulware is a very good football player. There were plenty of great LBs in college football this year (the one on the other team won the 2016 Butkus), but Boulware continues to be easily the most overlooked.
His 110 tackles and four sacks is enough to give the jumps to any quarterback. He makes plays and if Clemson hopes to force Jalen Hurts into passing situations, stopping Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will be of the utmost importance. Boulware’s square-like frame and nose for the football will come in handy in making the newly-led Alabama offense one dimensional.
3. Clelin Ferrell: Christian Wilkins gets the notoriety, but Clelin Ferrell is the peaking at exactly the right time. When Ohio State left guard Michael Jordan went out of the game with an injury, Ferrell pounced immediately. While the stats may be a bit misleading, Ferrell had four tackles in the game (all of them solo) and one sack. He was to not be ignored.
Obviously, an injury during a game cannot be predicted, but along with Boulware, Ferrell is the guy who can help stop the run game. Unlike his cohort, Ferrell can disrupt the mesh point and truly render the Tide’s run game useless. Brent Venables’ defense is full of athletes all around, but Ferrell could be the guy blowing the game open for the Tigers.
1. Jonah Williams: Much like Hyatt, Jonah Williams is a precocious offensive tackle. The true freshman has played well beyond his age and save for a missed assignment against Ole Miss that led to this, Williams has been remarkably steady in his first year as a starter.
If you peruse the archives, you may notice that Williams has been picked by the Tide coaches as one of their Offensive Players of the Week nine times, more than any other offensive player. And like Hyatt, Williams is going to be tasked with keeping a cadre of massive and athletic linemen at bay. If Hurts finds a rhythm and can make his way around the right side for seven-yard gains, we’ll know who helped pave the way.
2. Reuben Foster: Here’s something that only ‘Bama fans are worried about: Star middle linebacker Reuben Foster and that knee of his. Foster was involved in a three-man friendly fire collision that left him with a limp in his right knee. He stayed in the game, waving off assistance from his teammates.
Later, he was examined in the Bama medical tent, but still played the rest of the game. Saban-coached players have been known to play through injury, including former defensive tackle Josh Chapman who played most of the season with a partially torn ACL. We don’t know the extent of his injury, if at all, but Saban doesn’t like any outside noise and if anything happens to be wrong with Foster, he’s probably not going to let on prior to the game.
The fact of the matter is, Foster is the heartbeat of the Alabama defense and if he doesn’t play, you might as well dump the orange and white confetti, because that’s not something this team easily recovers from.
3. Jalen Hurts: Bo Scarbrough’s getting the press because of his awe-inspiring game against Washington, but the championship is going to fall on the Alabama quarterback and his ability to run the zone read in the manner he did before hitting a slump at the end of November.
He’s worked to minimize his freshman mistakes and he’s still a special talent, but Clemson’s defense operates on a different level and if he remembers what it was like to play against LSU, he understands what he’s up against on Monday. Jalen Hurts has a good arm, but very little touch at this point. The only way they can open up the game for Scarbrough and Harris is if Sarkisian allows Hurts to chuck one deep on the opening drive. If it’s completed, then Hurts will take the rest of the game in his hands like he did midseason.
3 matchups to watch
1. Alabama’s offensive line vs. Clemson’s front seven: Despite the talent at the skill positions for both teams, the game will likely be decided in the trenches as we mentioned above. The Tide’s offensive line is as good as there is in college football, and they’re coming off a game where they only allowed two quarterback pressures on 20 pass attempts against a physical Washington team and created space in the run game to the tune of 297 rushing yards vs. the Huskies, with only 62 of those yards coming after contact, per CFBFilmRoom.com.
The unit has a tough road to hoe on Monday against a Brent Venables defense that confused a young Ohio State line with different zone pressures. They pressured J.T. Barrett 16 times for three sacks, seven hits, and six hurries. It’ll be interesting to see if ‘Bama’s line can pick up on the different blitz concepts and give Jalen Hurts opportunities for some big plays down the field.
2. O.J. Howard vs. Clemson’s secondary: Howard had a monster game last season against the Tigers in the title game, and his presence can make a tremendous difference in this year’s contest as well. Despite the Tide’s woes in the passing game versus UW, Howard was Hurts’ go-to guy with four receptions off of seven targets (including a drop) for 44 yards and two of the team’s three first downs coming through the air.
Clemson didn’t allow a reception by a tight end against OSU, and will likely have a plan to contain Howard on Monday night. But what will that plan be? Will the Tigers try to double him with a linebacker and safety and leave their corners one-on-one with Bama’s explosive receivers? Or will they try to have a LB in his grill at all times to prevent him from getting a free release at the line of scrimmage, taking away from Clemson’s run defense? Regardless, Howard will play a pivotal role Monday night whether he has a repeat of last season or not.
3. Wayne Gallman vs. Alabama’s front seven: Deshaun Watson may be the engine that drives Clemson, but Gallman needs to have a good game to give the offense some balance. He’s used to gaining tough yards as he earned 31 of his 85 rushing yards against the Buckeyes after contact and broke five tackles in the contest.
Gallman might be able to have some success against Alabama as the defense missed nine tackles against Washington in their last game versus an offense that wasn’t nearly as explosive as the Tigers. ‘Bama made up for the effort with five tackles for loss, so they can find a way to contain Gallman and limit the effectiveness of Clemson’s reads in the running game.