Back Tide Sets Up Inevitable Showdown

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Tide Sets Up Inevitable Showdown

By Matt Smith
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14-0 No. 1 Alabama will meet 14-0 No. 2 Clemson on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the national championship.

I don’t make many good predictions.

I thought Kentucky would go 4-8, LSU would go 5-7, and Wisconsin would go 12-1. I missed all of their records by at least four games. Given that, it’s easy to see why I often don’t have confidence in my predictions.

Despite my frequent failures, one of my most confident preseason predictions was that the national championship game would feature 14-0 Alabama and 14-0 Clemson.

Boom. Nailed it.

I say that in jest, as nearly everyone with any sort of pulse on college football also predicted we would get Tide-Tigers IV, after the teams split national championship games in 2015 and 2016 and Alabama defeated Clemson in last year’s Sugar Bowl en route to another championship.

After four months of the most boring college football season I’ve ever gone through, it’s now official. 14-0 No. 1 Alabama will meet 14-0 No. 2 Clemson on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the national championship.

The Tigers knocked off Notre Dame in Saturday’s first semifinal, at the Cotton Bowl, 30-3. No. 3 Notre Dame was in the game for a quarter, but its offense was overwhelmed by the ferocious Clemson front seven.

Alabama was up next in the Orange Bowl, and there was little hope that we wouldn’t see an eighth blowout in the 10 semifinals since the start of the College Football Playoff in 2014. That hope went from slim to none in short time, as Alabama jumped to a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter before hitting cruise control in a 45-34 win over No. 4 Oklahoma.

Sure, there was a brief moment of trepidation late in the third quarter when Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray found Charleston Rambo for a 46-yard touchdown to cut the Alabama lead to 31-20, but the defending champions did what they always do. Alabama took the ensuing kickoff and marched 87 yards in nine plays for the game-clinching touchdown with 13 minutes to play. The teams again traded touchdowns before Alabama chewed up the final four minutes.

Tua Tagovailoa, who was edged out for the Heisman by Murray, did most of his damage in the first half, tossing touchdown passes of 10 and 27 yards to Henry Ruggs III and Josh Jacobs. He connected on 15 of his first 17 pass attempts, outdueling Murray, who shook off a shaky start to lead a pair of touchdown drives in the second half that kept Alabama’s starters in the game for the entire 60 minutes.

Murray finished 19-of-37 for 308 yards and another 109 rushing yards, with touchdown passes to Rambo and CeeDee Lamb and an eight-yard run for the game’s final points. He showed his terrifying skill set at times, but the slow start prevented any hopes of an upset. Star wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, injured in the Big 12 Championship Game four weeks ago and clearly not 100 percent, was held without a catch

Alabama’s offense displayed an impressive collection of ground-and-pound running, quick passes, and deep throws, averaging eight yards per play before garbage time. The Crimson Tide had to punt twice in three drives sandwiching halftime, but every other Alabama drive ended points until late in the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa threw only one incompletion after halftime, capping a spectacular night with a stat line of 24-of-27 for 318 yards and four touchdowns. The running game finished with an even 200 yards on 42 carries.

Nick Saban also has plenty of messages to send, as the Crimson Tide were surprisingly undisciplined, committing nine penalties for 86 yards, including four on one drive in the second quarter that ended with a field goal.

There are still 11 more bowls to play on Monday and Tuesday, but we are now set for one final clash in the 2018 season – one that can hopefully save a season that has lacked any semblance of drama.

Even the 2005 season that saw USC and Texas go wire to wire as No. 1 and No. 2 included both teams having to pull out dramatic victories in spotlight games (the Trojans at Notre Dame, the Longhorns at Ohio State), and even some inferior opponents such as Fresno State and Oklahoma State threatened to spoil the dream matchup. No one did spoil it, of course, and we got one of the best games in the history of the sport when Vince Young and Texas rallied past Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

Please, Alabama and Clemson, recreate that Southern California classic 13 years ago in Northern California a week from Monday. If not, the only lasting memory of the 2018 season will be one of these two teams becoming the first in FBS history to finish 15-0.

Or, for me personally, that I actually got a national championship game prediction correct.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.