Here we go again. For the third time in three years, Clemson and Alabama will be squaring off in the College Football Playoff and if this year’s game is anything like the last two, we are all in for another treat.
But this time around, it will be a semifinal battle and not a championship tilt. And interestingly, despite Clemson coming in as the No. 1 seed, Alabama is actually favored. Here are five reasons why Vegas is wrong and Clemson will win the 2018 Sugar Bowl.
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the Sugar Bowl
1. Clemson's defensive line
The Tigers' dominant defensive front will cause problems for even the best offensive lines. And while Alabama blockers are always among the nation's elite, this is not a typical Crimson Tide O-line. Alabama quarterbacks were sacked 22 times during the regular season and teams with quality defensive lines (like LSU and Auburn) gave the Tide some problems. This Tiger D-line is at least as good as those SEC West Tiger units.
2. Defensive versatility
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is a master at creating confusion for opposing offenses. They can go from man-to-man on one play and next time drop into zone. They will show a four-man front on one sequence; then line up in a three-man front the next. Having linebackers like Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph — two players that are skilled enough to excel in many facets of the defense — gives Clemson the flexibility to change up looks. Alabama always prepares as well as any team, but look for some wrinkles from Venables and his crew.
3. Clemson has the better passing game
Jalen Hurts is an efficient passer, with 15 touchdown passes and just one interception thus far. But in terms of making plays with his arm, Kelly Bryant is more dangerous. Part of the reason is that with a deep receiving corps, head coach Dabo Swinney relies on Bryant and the passing game more than Nick Saban leans on Hurts. That gives Clemson better balance and, as Jarrett Stidham and Auburn showed, balance is how you beat the Crimson Tide.
4. Big-play potential
Against an Alabama defense, it’s hard to have long, sustained drives. There has to be the threat of a home run every time to succeed against the Tide. Clemson has just that. Running backs Travis Etienne (above, right) and Tavien Feaster can go the distance on any carry and Deon Cain is a field-stretching receiver. It’s not as though Clemson has to hit on a lot of long scoring plays. But the fact that Alabama knows it can occur will make it easier to move the ball.
5. Clemson is healthier
The month off will undoubtedly help a Crimson Tide squad that was ravaged by injuries at the end of the year. Defensively, the linebacking group was especially hit hard and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has had time to heal from his bumps and bruises. But Clemson is still in better health. For the Tide, linebackers Shon Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses, along with defensive back Hootie Jones will miss the Sugar Bowl. Alabama does have linebacker Mack Wilson returning, but how effective will he be after missing three games in November? Meanwhile, Clemson has few major injury concerns and will most likely get linebacker Tre Lamar back from an injury that has sidelined him since the Florida State game.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.