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Sugar Bowl 2018: Underrated Stars to Watch and Picks in Alabama vs. Clemson

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 20, 2017

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 02:  Tavien Feaster #28 of the Clemson Tigers runs the ball against the Miami Hurricanes in the third quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The countdown clock has ticked down to 12 days ahead of the most anticipated rematch of the college football calendar. 

The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers are deep in preparation for the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, which will mark the third time in three years the programs have met in the College Football Playoff. 

While most players on both rosters were heavily recruited, some have fallen under the radar this season with their contributions.

Here's a look at a few of the underrated stars that could alter the course of the Sugar Bowl.

              

Tanner Muse, DB, Clemson

Tanner Muse will be one of many underclassmen thrust into the playoff spotlight and asked to thrive. 

Muse, who played eight games as a freshman last year, has turned himself into one of Clemson's top defenders. 

Steve Helber/Associated Press

The sophomore safety will see plenty of deep balls thrown at him with Jalen Hurts looking to pick out Calvin Ridley for a big play. 

Muse is Clemson's ideal solution to Alabama's passing game, as he leads the team with five passes defended. He also has one fumble recovery, which he turned into six points. 

The safety might not show up in the stat sheet after 60 minutes, but he'll be a vital asset in coverage to quell the threat Ridley possesses. 

             

Tavien Feaster, RB, Clemson

Tavien Feaster has been a solid contributor in the Clemson offense all season, but he won't be the first, second or third player the Alabama defense focuses in on. 

Feaster, who had 659 rushing yards and 115 receiving yards, saw his yardage dip in November, but he still found the end zone in four of his last five games. 

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The sophomore running back will be counted on in the red zone, and he'll be asked to close out the game if the Tigers are ahead late. 

Alabama's defense will have its eyes on Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud in the passing game, which could lead to space being there for Feaster or Travis Etienne within 10 yards of quarterback Kelly Bryant. 

If the Tigers can utilize their running backs in pass plays, they might be able to stretch the Alabama defense too thin. 

                   

J.K. Scott, P, Alabama

Although there's a plethora of star players scattered throughout Alabama's roster, its most important player may be punter J.K. Scott. 

Scott's punting average of 43.4 yards doesn't tell the whole story since he's punted less than he did in his first three seasons.

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 17:  JK Scott #15 of the Alabama Crimson Tide punts against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Starting with the October 14 win over Arkansas, Scott's recorded a punt of 50 yards or more in six consecutive games. 

With the Sugar Bowl expected to be a tight tussle, Scott could easily make an impact by switching the field position. 

A few deep punts by Scott could lead to quick stops by the Alabama defense which in turn would give the Crimson Tide offense short field position to work with. 

                 

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

We've already noted the big-play potential of Ridley in the Alabama offense, but there's another wide receiver that could wreak havoc on deep passes. 

Freshman Henry Ruggs III has seven catches this season, with five of them being for touchdowns. 

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 14:  Henry Ruggs III #11 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after pulling in a touchdown reception against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty I
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ruggs won't be a consistent target of Jalen Hurts, but he will be entered into the game to chase down a few long throws as Ridley attracts more eyes from the Clemson secondary. 

Ruggs will also be a vital asset in special teams, as he tries to set up Alabama with decent field position on kick and punt returns. 

If Alabama gets Ruggs involved early and keeps him on the field as a deep threat, it could open up the field for Ridley and the other Crimson Tide receivers. 

          

Pick

Both teams have a wide array of playmakers on offense and a plethora of top defenders that could turn this game into a defensive struggle.

Clemson is one of the few teams that has given Alabama trouble over the last few years, and despite Alabama's quest to avenge last season's defeat in the national championship, the Tigers will come out on top thanks to players like Feaster, Renfrow and McCloud who will open up the Alabama defense in the second half. 

Clemson 20, Alabama 14

             

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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