The college football bowl season is upon us. With 39 games spread out over the next two and a half 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. Find all our picks here. All lines are as of the date of publication
A bit of an added bonus to this bowl preview, along with the other five members of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games. In addition to the usual spread and total paragraphs we have in these previews, we’ll have a quote from one of the guys over at Sportsline, giving you some things they’re thinking about heading into these games. You’ll see it at the bottom of the post here and you can see more from the guys over at the site.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
#4 Alabama (11-1) vs. #1 Clemson (12-1)
Spread: Alabama -3
Spread: Here we go again. Alabama vs. Clemson in the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year. The series is tied at one apiece with each team capturing a national title in the process over the last two seasons. Heading into this game, many of the key cogs are the same on both sides. We’ll start with Clemson, who suffered the biggest loss of the two teams with Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman Jr. moving on to the NFL. But, that hasn’t stopped their offense at all. The Tigers averaged 35 points and 449 yards per game this season, doing the majority of their damage on the ground. The trio of QB Kelly Bryant and RBs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne combined for over 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. That doesn’t include a pair of other change of pace backs in Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller who added 529 yards and nine touchdowns of their own. Bryant was efficient in the passing game (67 percent, 7.4 yards per attempt), but the attack was based around the running game, which will be interesting to watch against a physical Alabama defense.
For the Tigers on the defensive side, once again Brent Venables has an aggressive, attacking unit that loves to get after the QB. The Tigers ranked 2nd in scoring defense (12.8 PPG) and allowed opponents just 277 yards per game. They were stingy against the run, giving up just 112 yards and 3.1 yards per carry. The front four of Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant combined for 43 tackles for loss and 23 sacks this year. They’re backed up by quick-twitch LBs Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph who combined for 14.5 TFL and 6 sacks as well. They’ll pose a problem for a Tide attack that struggled to get going over the last several games this year.
Speaking of that offense, it averaged 39 points and 470 yards per game this season, but those totals dropped to 23 and 374 over their games against LSU, MSU and Auburn. Jalen Hurts had a fine season with 2,700 combined yards and 23 combined touchdowns with just one interception. He was helped in the backfield by the triumvirate of Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris which totaled 1,761 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. The Tide dominated on the ground, averaging 265 yards per game, but again, they struggled in their final three SEC games, gaining just 176 yards per contest in those games. That’s nearly a 100 yard drop-off, and their passing game hasn’t proven capable of picking up the slack just yet.
Defensively, the Tide were solid despite an injury-depleted linebacking corps. They led the nation in scoring defense (11.5 PPG) and allowed opponents just 258 yards per game including only 95 per outing on the ground. The big losses though are LB Shaun Dion Hamilton and safety Hootie Jones. The Tide were vulnerable to the type of spread-option attack that Clemson runs with both Mississippi State and Auburn racking up 340 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Clemson could have similar success with their varied attack.
Clemson was much better ATS than the Tide this season, going 8-4-1, but they were never considered an underdog in any game. Alabama was just 5-7, being favored in every contest and 10 of their 12 games they were favored by 14 or more points. The two games they weren’t, they went 1-1, covering against Florida State (though Deondre Francois’ injury in that game contributed somewhat) and then losing outright to Auburn. Alabama usually finds a way, but for some reason, the vulnerabilities seem bigger this year and, Clemson is well-suited to attack them. Clemson +3
Total: It’s easy to look at a pair of dominant defenses and think that this game will be a low-scoring affair in the 21-17 range. But, the previous two times these teams have met on this type of stage, the scores have been 45-40 and 35-31. Over 47.
Sportsline Expert: “It’s hard not to get excited about Tigers-Tide III, the last two national champions squaring off in a semifinal in the rubber match. Clemson, defending national champion, has won 43 of its last 46 games, Alabama, runner-up last year and champ two seasons ago has won 39 of its last 42.
This showdown features two teams that average more than 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per game, and yet scoring is expected to be at a premium here.
This game will need big plays from big-time playmakers on the offensive end, because each defense will be bringing the heat.
Much is made of Alabama’s defense, which ranks No. 2 in the nation in yards allowed and is top 10 against both the run and the pass. But keep in mind, the Tide have been mired with injuries on the defensive side. A one-month break benefits Bama.
Clemson is averaging 35.4 points per game (18th nationally) and 448.2 yards per game (31st), with a running QB in Kelly Bryant.
Alabama will have its own offensive issues against a Clemson defense that ranks sixth.”- Sportsline staff writer Adam Thompson