Sports Journalism Blog

By Tyler Fenwick & Michael Whitlow | @Ty_Fenwick & @couldbelikemike

TAMPA, Fla. – When the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers meet Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, the teams will create a rare matchup in the history of college football. For the second consecutive season, the two top-ranked teams will meet in a post-season game to determine a national champion.

Tyler Fenwick and Michael Whitlow, students in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, have examined the factors that could determine whether No. 1 Alabama wins a fifth championship in eight seasons or No. 2 Clemson equals the championship won 35 years ago.

Tyler Fenwick: Why Clemson will win

Clemson is probably the only team in the country that could meet Alabama on college football’s biggest stage right now and not get stage fright. Perhaps there are some teams that could give the Crimson Tide a run for their money, but the Alabama aura would still be there. That’s not true for Clemson this time.

This is virtually the same game as last year being played by many of the same players. Most of the staples are still there. What Clemson was able to do last year was incredible, and there’s no good reason to think the Tigers won’t be up for it again this year. But this time there is a depth of knowledge and understanding, based on the experience of last year’s heartbreaking defeat, that the most sophisticated video study cannot equal.

Tyler Fenwick: Why Clemson will lose

Clemson certainly has the firepower to beat Alabama, but at this point it’s almost completely appropriate to account for at least one big defensive and or special teams play from the Crimson Tide, one that changes the outlook of the game.

Whether it’s a pick-six or a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown, the Tigers might just want to factor that into the equation when looking at what they’ll have to do to dethrone Alabama. The defense has been so dominant this season, and it’ll be looking at a turnover-prone Clemson team.

If there’s a big play to be made late, Alabama has no shortage of players who can deliver and secure a second straight national title.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Clemson 35

Michael Whitlow: Why Alabama will win

The simple answer is, it’s Alabama. The Tide always wins. But, it’s not that simple.

Clemson has one of the best front fours in all of college football, so the bread-and-butter offense of handing the ball off to a five-star running back isn’t going to get the job done for Alabama on Monday night. Jalen Hurts, the gifted freshman quarterback for the Tide, has to not only take care of the football against the Tigers, he has to make his own plays with it. Whether it’s getting the ball to ArDarius Stewart or Calvin Ridley, or utilizing his legs to make a play, Hurts has to put some points on the board.

If he does that, and if Alabama’s often-dominant defense forces a few Clemson turnovers, Alabama wins its fifth title since the 2009 season.

Michael Whitlow: Why Alabama will lose

The simple answer this time is Deshaun Watson.

Alabama could lose on Monday night because Clemson’s youthful front four keeps Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough and the Crimson Tide offense corralled, along with Watson putting on a show once more against the ferocious Alabama defense.

Watson led an effort that lit up the Alabama defense for 40 points in the first meeting. If he does that again (or close to that) and Clemson’s defense can find a way to limit and frustrate a freshman quarterback, the dynasty talk will end just as abruptly as it did for Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl and Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Clemson 34, Alabama 26