2018 Sugar Bowl Expert Picks & predictions Alabama vs. Clemson
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers, Monday Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET
Is it just me, or does it feel like we have seen this one before? These teams have, of course, met in the last two National Championship Games, with Clemson avenging their loss in the first with a win in the second. This won't necessarily end things because both teams are always a threat to make it back to the playoff, but the winner of this game will at least have bragging rights for a year. It's a different game for the teams than the last two. The teams have had much longer to get ready for this one than they have the last two meetings, so they are healthier are will have had longer to work on game planning. That changes the dynamic and makes things more interesting than they might otherwise be.
Sugar Bowl Betting Storylines
We have to address something up front - Alabama has played only one good team, and they lost. It's actually striking that a team, through a combination of planning and luck, could play a schedule as weak as Alabama did this year. And that creates a headache for us as handicappers. The defense is statistically elite, but it didn't look that way against Auburn. What did it all mean? The offense has rushed well but hasn't generally inspired. But then they haven't been pushed to excel for much of the year, either, so we don't know what they are truly capable of. Horse racing fans will get what I'm about to say - betting Alabama right now is like betting races featuring top two-year-olds at this time of year. We know that their pedigree is impressive and that they are potential champions on paper, but they haven't yet proven on the track that they can race to their pedigree, and we are forced to guess and hope.
I have not picked Clemson in either of the two prior meetings, so I obviously have a natural inclination towards Alabama. That hasn't changed this year. In fact, despite the questions about Alabama, and the lack of faith I have in their passing game, I feel better about Alabama this time around than I have in the past. There is one player that makes the difference in my eyes - Deshaun Watson. These teams have been reasonably well matched in the past, but Watson was the most dangerous player on the field and had the ability to make things happen in the games that were special and which Alabama couldn't deal with. Kelly Bryant has been solid in replacing Watson, but he's just not the same. Alabama could only hope that Watson didn't hurt them - and he really did the second time. Now they are up against a lesser player, and they have had much longer to prepare for the game and strategize about how to make Bryant miserable. That factor alone makes it tough for me to see Clemson as a viable pick here.
There is another factor here - Nick Saban is a robot programmed for vengeance. He shows no joy or other human emotion, but he never forgets. He has two huge things to fuel him in his preparations here - the loss to Clemson last year, and the loss to Auburn last time out. Those will fuel him, and he will be ready for this one. I obviously have tremendous respect for Dabo Swinney, but when it comes down to Swinney against an angry Saban who has had a month to prepare, I'll take the robot every time.
Sugar Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by two and that has since climbed to the key number of three. A very small majority of bets have been on the Tide, and the line movement suggests that a small majority of sharp money is on that side as well. The total opened at 47 and has been stable at that level in early betting action.
The Tide are 4-1 ATS in their last five neutral-site games and 5-2 ATS in their last seven against the ACC. They are a bleak 0-4 ATS in their last four January games and 3-14 ATS in their last 17 following a straight up loss. They are just 2-5 ATS in their last seven overall. They have gone "over" the total in 10 of their last 13 bowl games. The Tigers have covered the spread in their last eight nonconference games and their last four against the SEC. They are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 neutral-site games. The "under" is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games overall.
Alabama vs. Clemson Sugar Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
Sometimes there is drama about what my pick is going to be when we get to this section of the preview. This is obviously not the case. I am happy to take Alabama at this price, and I feel comfortable in that pick. I also feel like the winner of this game will lose their next game, but that's a discussion for later.
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