The College Football Playoff semifinals were rather anticlimactic, as the two top seeds in the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide definitely lived up to their billing to secure spots in the national championship game.
Clemson used a second-half surge to crush the Oklahoma Sooners 37-17 in the Orange Bowl on Thursday, while the Crimson Tide didn't allow the Michigan State Spartans to have any hope amid a 38-0 Cotton Bowl blowout.
That sets up a showdown between coach Dabo Swinney's Tigers and the Alabama powerhouse constructed by Nick Saban. Read on for a closer look at the impending game, including a final score prediction for January 11's matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Clemson vs. Alabama Preview
Deshaun Watson continues to impress as the catalyst for Clemson's offense. He didn't have the best day passing against Oklahoma but made up for it with 145 yards rushing and a touchdown.
It's certainly going to be a clash of contrasting styles in the national title contest. Whereas the Tigers have more of a spread type of attack, Alabama wears opponents down by pounding the rock with Derrick Henry and a magnificent defense headlined by defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson and linebacker Reggie Ragland.
The Tide's front seven indeed came to play versus the Spartans and kept a savvy veteran quarterback in Connor Cook in check, flustering him with consistent pressure.
Watson's athleticism allows him to evade the rush more easily, but he hasn't faced a defense quite like Alabama's. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde alluded to how Watson was a bit of a shock to the Sooners' system in terms of caliber of competition:
Deshaun Watson is no backup QB, which is all Oklahoma had seen in its last three games. Sooners on the ropes, unable to stop Clemson.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) December 31, 2015
What was most surprising about the New Year's Eve CFP bowls was how well Jake Coker played in guiding the Tide to a win. Coker was 25-of-30 passing for 286 yards and two scores, as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin chose to go against what the Spartans planned for.
Henry had gotten 90 total carries over the previous two games, so Coker rising to the occasion on the big stage should have Clemson fans a little worried.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports felt it was more a testament to Kiffin's game-planning abilities, which also doesn't bode well for Swinney's spirited bunch:
Jake Coker now 21-25. Give credit where it's due, Lane Kiffin is good w/ QBs. Did wonders with Jon Crompton & got Blake Sims & Coker going.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 1, 2016
Another point of concern for the Tigers is the health of their top pass-rusher in Shaq Lawson. He left the Orange Bowl with a sprained medial collateral ligament, according to the initial diagnosis from Swinney, but is keen to suit up for the finale.
"I'm going to be ready to play in the national championship," said Lawson after the game, per the Associated Press, via USA Today. "I'm going to be back."
But the fact that Lawson won't be 100 percent is going to have a considerable impact. Coker is more athletic than given credit for and is evidently reliable to make plays rather than just manage games, which has been the standard protocols for Alabama QBs under Saban.
Elusive as Watson is, he'll need running back Wayne Gallman to produce against that stout Tide front seven to have realistic hope of leading his side to enough points to defeat Clemson's impending adversary.
Based on the rapport Coker and Tide freshman wideout Calvin Ridley had Thursday and the completeness of Alabama's whole team, all signs are pointing to a fourth national title trophy heading back to Tuscaloosa in the Saban era.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Clemson 20