CFP title game: Alabama Crimson Tide-Clemson Tigers Picks Against the Spread

Alabama and Clemson will meet again for the national title in college football, as the Crimson Tide look to extend their dynastic run, while the Tigers aim to take over the top spot. SportsLine analyst Josh Nagel previews the game and offers a selection.



In an era with such high turnover among rosters and coaching staffs, it's rare to see college teams in any major sport develop enough continuity to form rivalries at the championship level.

Sportsline Image
Mon 01/09 8:00 PM EST
Clemson +197 O/U 51
vs. Alabama -225 -6.5

But college football has managed to pull off a mid-decade rematch that features some familiar story lines and several of the same key characters.

Alabama will look to keep its dynastic run alive by winning its fourth national title this decade and second back-to-back triumph under coach Nick Saban.

Standing in the Crimson Tide's way Monday night in the national title game Monday night is a Clemson team coached by an alternately surly and charming Alabama alum who has deftly used a super-talented roster and the no-respect card to take his club to a second straight championship game berth.

Dabo Swinney's club continued to prove naysayers wrong as the Tigers (13-1) thumped Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl despite closing as an underdog in the semifinals for the second straight season.

His team earned a second shot at Alabama (14-0), which kept its undefeated season alive with a dominant but far from polished performance in a 24-7 win over Washington in the Peach Bowl.

The Tide again opened as a touchdown favorite against the ACC champion after beating the Tigers 45-40 in a highly entraining CFP title game last season.


Both clubs are coming off dominant and memorable defensive performances. Such a showing was expected from Alabama, whose top-rated unit might be the best in a Saban tenure that is full of stingy crews.

The Tide allowed a first-quarter touchdown drive by Washington before blanking talented quarterback Jake Browning and his dangerous weapons the rest of the way.

A 26-yard interception return by Ryan Anderson late in the second quarter permanently changed the momentum in favor of the Tide, and an electric 68-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarbrough sealed the win.

Washington was held to 194 total yards, while Browning threw for just 150 while being sacked five times and intercepted twice.

The offensive side was a different story, as Alabama struggled to maintain drives and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts made few explosive plays.

Some much-publicized drama ensued off the field, as Saban terminated former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who had already accepted the top job at Florida Atlantic, ahead of the title game. That move has created plenty of drama ahead of the Championship game.

Even so, the Tide had no problem relying on a defense that allowed 73 combined points against Ole Miss and Arkansas, but has held all other opponents to 16 or fewer.  

However, in the past two years, Clemson's Watson is among the few opposing signal-callers to have substantial success against the Tide. In last year's title game, he totaled 478 combined yards and the four touchdown passes.

Clemson's defense had been vulnerable against the better offensive clubs in the ACC, but the Tigers buried Ohio State with an effort that suggested they were privy to the Buckeyes' playbook.

They flew all over the field to make tackles and failed to be fooled by the misdirection and explosive plays that made Ohio State nearly impossible to stop for its previous opponents.

Clemson held the Buckeyes to just 215 total yards, nine first downs and forced three turnovers, helping offset two interceptions thrown by Watson.

It was Clemson's second shutout this season of an FBS opponent, as the Tigers also blanked Syracuse 54-0 on Nov. 5.


On Saturday night after the semifinals ended, sportsbooks were split across the key number of a touchdown as they posted their first numbers for the title game.

Some sportsbooks, likely wary of all the big numbers the Crimson Tide have covered, opened on the high side with Alabama -7.5. Others, perhaps wary of the public?s short memory, opened as low as Clemson +6.

The two sides met in the middle after absorbing some early action. As of Wednesday afternoon, the consensus number was Alabama -6.5, a tickle below the omnipresent key number of 7.

The total has continually moved south in all markets. Some opened as high as 52.5 but, as of Wednesday afternoon, the consensus was 51, down a half-point from Tuesday.

By Sunday, the line held at Alabama -7 and the Over-Under was at 50.5, further sinking from its open. The money line of Bama -250 was about the same as the open of -245.


SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh has an ATS selection for this game. Get this and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.


This may sound counterintuitive given the performances we just saw in the semifinals, but I think there is a bit of a short-memory bias that is opening up some value in going Over the posted total.

While I don't expect Watson to repeat his eye-opening numbers in last year's game, he should still lead the Tigers to more success than any recent opponent has had against Alabama.

Both clubs are capable of scoring on defense and special teams, and one such score could help put the scoring pace on track for an Over.

I expect Alabama to be more loose and creative amid the departure of Kiffin, whose presence reportedly was causing some distress in the locker room.

I think the spread is accurate and sure to draw two-way action, but I would need at least a full touchdown to endorse the underdog.

But, as the total keeps dropping, I anticipate these two clubs will again get their share of chunk plays and send this Over with relative ease.