By Ryan Mayer
The college football bowl season is upon us. With 40 games spread out over the next two weeks there is plenty of opportunity to add a little bonus to your holiday gift pile. Our bowl picks series will let you know who we think will come out on top against the spread. All lines and totals courtesy of Sportsline/Bookmaker.eu. Find all our picks here.
All lines listed are as of publishing date (1/4/17). As always lines may change in the lead up to games so be sure to check.
Well, here we are. The end of another college football season is upon us. After a solid two weeks of wild bowl game results and two spectacularly boring semifinal games, we have a rematch for the national title. Dabo Swinney, Deshaun Watson and company look to unseat the defending champs after falling to them by just five, 45-40, in the title game a year ago. Things are a little different this year than they were last season, but the game should be just as entertaining.
#1 Alabama vs. #2 Clemson
Spread: Bama -6.5
Spread: These two teams put on dominant, statement of intentions displays in their respective semifinal match-ups. The Tide did it mostly through defense and a punishing ground game (stop me if you’ve heard that before) holding Washington to under 200 yards while forcing three turnovers and scoring as many points on defense (7) as Washington did on offense. The Tigers got another big-game, big-time performance from QB Deshaun Watson who totaled 316 yards and three scores, while their defense stuffed the Buckeyes running game allowing just 88 yards on 23 carries (3.8 average).
Now, we get a rematch in the title game. Interestingly, Alabama decided to move on from Lane Kiffin prior to the title game, installing Steve Sarkisian as their new offensive coordinator. Last year, Kiffin utilized tight end OJ Howard to great effect against the Tigers as he racked up 208 yards receiving on just five catches with two scores. You can bet Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables has watched tape of last year’s title game a million times and will scheme to try and keep Howard in check.
However, Alabama brings a different element to the table this year that they didn’t have at their disposal last season. The running ability of QB Jalen Hurts. Hurts completed just seven of his 14 pass attempts for 57 yards in the semifinal against Washington, but, he also had 19 carries for 50 yards. That doesn’t seem like much, but the threat of Hurts’ running ability is what opened up a lot of holes for Bo Scarbrough (19 carries 180 yards 2 TDs). The Tigers have experience in stopping a dual-threat QB as they were able to hold Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson in check for the first half of their game against Louisville earlier this year. But, Hurts presents a different running style. Where Jackson is more elusive, Hurts is more of a bulldozer.
For Clemson on offense, they’ll need a similar performance from Deshaun Watson to the one they got last year. Watson’s 478 total yards and four touchdowns were the main reason the Tigers were able to hang with the Tide. Watson was very good in the semifinal, but, he did throw two interceptions and that is something you just cannot do against Alabama. The Tide thrive off of creating turnovers and turning them into points by themselves as they’ve recorded 11 defensive touchdowns this season. The Tigers do have the speed on the outside to challenge a depleted ‘Bama secondary with the trio of Mike Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain along with tight end Jordan Leggett. If Watson can play a clean game, Clemson could put up some points on the Tide. Still expect Alabama to win, just think it will be within a three to five point margin. Clemson +6.5
Total: In last season’s title game, these two teams combined to score 85 points largely because both sides got explosive plays from their offenses/special teams. There’s a similar explosiveness to this Clemson offense (we saw it against Ohio State), but the Tide are more methodical this year. Not to say they can’t break big plays. Ardarius Stewart, Scarbrough, Calvin Ridley and the aforementioned Howard are all explosive weapons. This line feels just a little low, and I think we see more of a 33-28 type of game. Over 51