Alabama has gone wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the country, which does not bode well for what’s to come for the Tide in the College Football Playoff. In the previous four playoffs, the No. 1 seed has never won. The championships have been won by the No. 2 seed twice and the No. 4 seed twice.
In the first year of the playoff, No. 1 Alabama lost to No. 4 Ohio State before the Buckeyes went on to beat Oregon for the national championship.
In 2015, No. 1 Clemson lost the title game to No. 2 Alabama.
In 2016, Alabama was again seeded No. 1 before losing on the last play of the national championship game to Clemson.
Then, last year No. 1 Clemson was dominated by No. 4 Alabama in the semifinals before the Tide went on to win an overtime thriller over Georgia for the title.
As they say in the financial world, “past results don’t guarantee future performance,” but four years is a big enough sample size to perhaps be significant.
Both Alabama and Clemson are double-digit favorites to reach the national championship game again. It would appear Clemson simply has too many explosive athletes for a Notre Dame team that is much more solid than the one that lost to Alabama in the national championship game six years ago.
The Tigers are likely to be in Santa Clara for the national championship game for the third time in four years. Will there be another matchup with Alabama for the title?
Most of college football may not want to see the same postseason matchup for the fourth year in a row. But there’s no disputing the Tide and the Tigers have become the class of college football.
Before the rematch can be set, Alabama has to find a way past an Oklahoma team leading the country in scoring at 49.5 points per game.
The folks out in Vegas who study these things for a living have set the betting line at 81 total points being scored in the Alabama-Oklahoma semifinal.
That is the highest such total for any Alabama game in history.
Many members of the proud Alabama defense have taken offense at the idea the Orange Bowl will be an offensive shootout. But the numbers would seem to point to just that.
From the Oklahoma standpoint there is no shame in how the Sooners win games. They beat West Virginia 59-56 late in the season, then were eager to brag about how their defense had scored two touchdowns to provide the difference in the game. Never mind that West Virginia’s Will Grier passed for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
On the other side of the field, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns while adding 114 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Those numbers were nothing more than routine for the eventual Heisman Trophy winner.
But will that be the case against Alabama?
Let’s take a look at what might happen when Oklahoma has the ball. First, forget the notion that the Sooners are a finesse, basketball-on-grass kind of offense.
Oklahoma just won the Joe Moore Trophy, which goes to the best offensive line in the country. Both Sooner guards are already committed to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and all five members of the group were included on the all-conference team. Not only are they big and talented, but experts who know offensive line play say they have a collective nasty streak that fans would normally associate with a power running team.
Murray has weapons all around him, although the most dangerous big-play threat, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, suffered a foot/ankle injury in the Big 12 Championship Game. Big tight end Grant Calcaterra made huge plays for the Sooners down the stretch and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has been a star for two full seasons.
Make no mistake, Alabama has not faced an offense this good all season.
But the same can be said for the Alabama defense the Sooners will be trying to solve. Nobody has stopped the Sooners, but that’s not Alabama’s mission.
Just a couple of breaks of serve, to borrow a tennis term, is all Alabama needs. The Tide offense should be able to run and pass at will against Oklahoma. That means the Tide is either going to win the game by about 24 points or it’s going to be a 45-40 type shootout in which the last team with the ball wins.
I’m guessing the Tide defense will get better as the game progresses, just as the Georgia defense did against the Sooners in last year’s semifinal game. Look for a 51-28 Alabama win to set up a rematch with Clemson for the national championship.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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