NCAAF
November 2, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Clemson vs Alabama Will Be CFP National Championship Game

Over the last handful of years, it’s undeniable that the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers have been the two premier programs in college football. They have combined for four of the last five national championships, facing each other in three of the last five College Football Playoff National Championship Games and once more in a national semifinal. Well, guess what college football fans? That’s not going to stop anytime soon. 

Both the Tide and the Tigers have once again established themselves as the two elite teams in college football thus far in 2020 and are on a collision course to play in the CFP National Championship Game once again. Granted, the regular season is only half over and just getting started for the Big Ten and Pac-12. But we should all be mentally preparing for Clemson vs Alabama Part V to decide the national champion for the 2020 college football season. Nothing else matters in the grand scheme of things because this is happening.

Why Clemson?

There are two big reasons why Clemson is a lock for the National Championship Game barring a catastrophe: Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. This is now the third consecutive season that both are among the best in the country at their position. Lawrence has long been the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy while Etienne would be a safe bet to at least be a finalist if he wasn’t teammates with Lawrence and if running backs were given equal consideration for the award.

In any event, no other team in the country comes close to having a quarterback-running back tandem as good as Clemson has with Lawrence and Etienne. Not since USC had Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush has any college football team had a combination like this. No other team in the country has an offense that can keep up with those two players and few have a defense that can even hope to slow them down.

In fairness, the news of Trevor Lawrence testing positive for COVID-19 could potentially throw a wrench in Clemson’s season. Even with Lawrence missing the showdown with Notre Dame, it’s reasonable to think that the CFP Committee would forgive Clemson for losing a game without their starting quarterback, especially if it’s a road game against the Fighting Irish. As long as the Tigers are able to win the rest of their games and take care of business in the ACC Championship Game, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be in the top-four and get a chance in the CFP.

More importantly, Clemson is a lot more than just Lawrence and Etienne. Dabo Swinney’s recruiting at Clemson has turned the program into a conveyor belt. Even when they lose star players to the NFL, the Tigers have another player of comparable talent ready to take their place. That’s been true of several young players who have stepped into prominent roles on the Clemson defense this year, and it could even be true for Lawrence. Freshman D.J. Uiagalelei showed off his immense gifts in his start against Boston College. He should be able to keep the Tigers on course until Lawrence is ready to return and lead Clemson back to the National Championship Game.

Why Alabama?

After going without a national championship in back-to-back seasons, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are back with a vengeance in 2020. There were some lingering questions after two losses in 2019 and a sluggish start defensively this season. However, after a convincing win over Georgia and a blowout of rival Tennessee, there should be no more questions that Alabama is back among the elite, not that they ever left.

Quarterback Mac Jones has not only filled the shoes of Tua Tagovailoa but he is putting up Heisman-worthy numbers. While the loss of Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending injury is a blow for the Crimson Tide, it’s still hard to find a better receiving duo than DeVonta Smith and John Metchie. Even if the Alabama offense loses something with Waddle, they have something that most teams don’t in Najee Harris. After scoring 14 rushing touchdowns in five games, Harris is also working his way into the Heisman conversation and drawing comparison to the likes of Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. After all, the Crimson Tide didn’t have Waddle for most of the Tennessee game and the Alabama offense didn’t skip a beat.

Perhaps more importantly, the second half of the Georgia game was a sign that Alabama has a defense that is capable of dominating quality opponents. All of the injuries on the Alabama defense last season has made the Crimson Tide deeper this season thanks to the younger players being forced into prominent roles. The result is a defense that looks capable of playing at a championship level and living up to the great Alabama defenses of the past.

Why Not Anyone Else?

When you look around the country, there isn’t a team that can measure up to Clemson or Alabama. While the ACC has more top-25 caliber teams than in recent years, none of them compete with the Tigers. Even a top-five ranked Notre Dame team is too flawed to scare the Tigers when they are anywhere close to full strength.

In the SEC, Alabama has already defeated both Georgia and Texas A&M, the league’s two best teams outside of the Tide. With Auburn and LSU taking a step back, Alabama won’t receive much of a challenge until the SEC Championship Game when they play either Georgia, a team they’ve already beaten, or Florida, a team that has displayed serious defensive shortcomings.

Elsewhere, the Big 12 is a mess. Oklahoma is not a serious contender, leaving Oklahoma State as the only viable CFP contender in the conference. The Cowboys come a little closer to measuring up to Alabama and Clemson offensively, but OSU defense still has a lot to prove during the second half of the season, especially given the program’s reputation for subpar defenses. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 doesn’t figure to factor into the CFP picture at all since it has no teams ranked inside the top-10 heading into the league’s seven-game schedule.

The only team that can come anywhere close to Alabama or Clemson, naturally, is Ohio State. The Buckeyes gave Clemson a run for their money in last year’s national semifinal and have a bonafide Heisman contender in Justin Fields. However, the Buckeyes lost a lot of star power in J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, and several key players in their secondary. It remains to be seen if Ohio State can adequately replace those players and reach the same level as Alabama and Clemson. Until that happens, it’s safe to pencil in the Crimson Tide and Tigers to meet in Miami on January 11 to decide the national championship.  

Photo: Getty Images