Nick Saban has built Alabama into one of the most dominant college football dynasties of all-time, but Dabo Swinney has built a formidable rival for the Crimson Tide in Clemson. The Tide have faced off against the Tigers in each of the past two national championship games and both of their previous matchups came down to the wire. It feels like there is much more on the line than just a trip to the next round of the College Football Playoff. This game could define an era.

Alabama offense vs Clemson defense

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has endured as much criticism as just about any quarterback during his tenure with the Crimson Tide, but he ran in a spectacular 30-yard touchdown that gave Alabama the lead in last year's national championship game.

He hasn't put up gaudy passing numbers this season, throwing for 1,940 yards at 7.5 yards per attempt, but he's thrown 15 touchdowns and only one interception. He's also been able to do some damage on the ground, as the team's second-leading rusher with 880 yards at 7.6 yards per carry with 8 touchdowns.

However, Hurts will be facing a dominant Clemson defense that ranks second in the nation in Bill Connelly's S&P+ metric.

The Crimson Tide will need another target to emerge alongside Calvin Ridley in the passing game. In the 2016 national championship game, O.J. Howard had a breakout performance, and Alabama will need a similar sort of surprise from one of their secondary weapons to give Hurts some help in this matchup.

Clemson offense vs Alabama defense

Alabama's defense ranks right behind Clemson in defensive S&P+, even though they've been ravaged by injuries, especially at the linebacker position. The Tide will be getting some key contributors back in preparation for this game on New Year's Day, and they'll be tasked with slowing down a Clemson rushing offense that ranks 11th in the nation in S&P+.

Like Jalen Hurts, Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is a dangerous runner and he leads this Tiger backfield in rushing on the season. Clemson has plenty of talent at running back in underclassmen Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, who have really emerged over the second half of this season to complement Bryant's running ability.

Clemson is more balanced than Alabama at wide receiver, with three players who have gained over 500+ yards in the passing game this season.

The story of this game will come down to Clemson's ability to create big plays. They're 119th in Bill Connelly's offensive explosiveness metric this season, and they'll need to connect on some deep plays down the field to soften up this Alabama defense.

TV schedule

January 1, 8:45 PM ET on ESPN


It's hard to find many mismatches when comparing two of the most talented teams in the nation. However, Clemson's inability to consistently create big plays and the return of some experience at linebacker for the Crimson Tide gives Nick Saban's squad the edge in Alabama-Clemson Part III.