Alabama is looking to win their fourth national title since 2009. The last came in 2012, and they have had some frustrating bowl losses since then. However, they are renewed and ready - and despite being lower-ranked than Clemson they come into this one favored by as much as a touchdown. Obviously, then, Alabama is capable of winning the National Championship Game. In order to win it all, though, they have to maximize the advantage they have. Here are three keys to their success:
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Aggravate Watson: DeShaun Watson bears at least a passing resemblance in style to Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel - two guys who torched Alabama back in their day. A common storyline heading into this game is that Watson could give the Tide those same issues.
While that is certainly possible, it's not as easy as it seems. The Tide get a lot of credit for reinventing themselves this year defensively. They have never really been a team focused on rushing the passer in the Saban era. It just hasn't been a priority. This year, though, they looked at their ridiculous defensive line depth, and the increase in talented and mobile quarterbacks, and they decided to change that focus. They have sacked opposing quarterbacks 50 times, and there is no line worse for opponents to face. That D-line has been able to cause some good players to have some very bad days. Michigan State's Connor Cook, for example, will be having nightmares about his semifinal game for years to come.
Watson is the best quarterback they have seen this year, though, and it's not really close. If they can force Watson to run for his life all the time then they are going to have a much better chance at success than if he can stand in the pocket and execute his plan. It's not as easy as that, of course - Watson is as good as anyone in the country at passing on the move, and his feet are dangerous, so just disrupting him isn't going to nearly as effective as it was last game. A relentless and creative attack will certainly make things better for Alabama, though.
Let the good Kiffin rise: I can't actually believe that I think Lane Kiffin is an asset to any team. He certainly wasn't for USC. Or Tennessee. Or Oakland. And I would still not want him anywhere near the head coaching job of any team I even sort of cared about.
In his role as offensive coordinator at Alabama, though, he has been shockingly good. He is creative and versatile, and he has breathed a new offensive life into a team that needed one. The Tide offense had too much of a tendency at times in the past to just do the same thing - pass the ball off to one of a billion super-stud running backs and overpower the opponent. There is still obviously plenty of that going on -- the running back just won the Heisman, after all - but things are done much more creatively now, and the offense isn't nearly as predictable as it once was.
Kiffin is up against a very good defense here, though - one that made Baker Mayfield and the Sooners look ridiculous in the second half last week. Kiffin is capable of going head-to-head with the defensive powers of the Tigers, and if he has his best day then he will be fine - even though his quarterback is, by a wide margin, second-best here. If he goes away from what has worked so well, though, and is somewhat more tentative - like many would argue he was in the loss to Ole Miss - then things won't go as well as they could.
Exploit their experience: For Nick Saban and Alabama, this game is not a particularly big deal. It matters a whole lot, obviously, but it's nothing they haven't been through many times before. They have played in National Championship Games with frequency, and every game they play is the biggest game of the year for their opponents. They are used to the spotlight, and they know everything there is to know about handling pressure.
For Clemson, though, this is all new. They last won a national title in 1981, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has the most recent national title experience and his was back in 2000 at Oklahoma, and it has only been a couple of years that they have been at the highest levels of the sport. They are not going to be as ready as Alabama - they can't be. Alabama needs to take advantage of that in every way possible - early and often. It is a potentially massive advantage.
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