Sapakoff: 10 reasons why Clemson will beat Alabama

January 1, 2017 GMT

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It’s not the postgame jabber.

“We want our revenge,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said Saturday night just after a 31-0 drubbing of Ohio State put the Tigers in a College Football Playoff national championship game rematch with Alabama. “We want our redemption. … This year’s team is stronger than last year.”

Washington “was soft,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said on the way to Tampa after a 24-7 Peach Bowl victory over the Huskies.

Nothing new there; Boulware pops off about as often as he makes tackles, which is a lot. Alabama’s schedule was cushy all year.

It’s the totality of a long night and early morning of College Football Semifinal replays viewed while combing through a season’s worth of hard evidence and eating Goldfish.

The clear conclusion is take Clemson and the points if you’re looking to win a dollar or a donut in a friendly wager.

The 10 reasons why Clemson will beat Alabama on Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium:

1. Leadership, starring seniors Boulware, Carlos Watkins, Jordan Leggett, Jay Guillermo, Cordrea Tankersly and Jadar Johnson and juniors Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman. Among others.

“The most low-maintenance, high-achieving group I’ve ever been around,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.

Head coach Dabo Swinney put it another way: “Not that last year’s was bad, but the leadership this year has been unbelievable.”

2. ACC tough. A few days ago, the Big Ten was beating its chest, caught up in mad love for Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. The ACC easily is the best overall conference this season, 8-3 in bowl games topped by Clemson’s “upset” of Ohio State and Florida State’s 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Alabama, meanwhile, built its 14-0 record on the perceived toughness of the SEC and Pac-12, not exactly distinguishing themselves this holiday season.

3. The revenge factor.

Smart fans, 31-0

4. The Tigers can take a punch. They didn’t flinch when behind against Louisville and Florida State or after Watson opened the Fiesta Bowl with an interception before a crowd overloaded with Ohio State fans.

5. Watson. He’s the quarterback Nick Saban said was the best player Alabama had faced since Cam Newton after Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns last January in a 45-40 national championship game loss to the Tide.

“Appreciate Nick Saban for the compliment,” Watson said Saturday night. “I just try to play my best and win games.”

Watson gives the Tigers a chance to keep the fierce Alabama pass rush at bay and win matchups downfield.

6. 31-0. Watch it again, and again. I dare you not to come away encouraged by a team that handed Meyer by far his worst defeat.

7. Smart fans. Clemson was outnumbered three-to-one by Ohio State people in Arizona because Tiger fans cash-strapped by College Football Playoff and ACC Championship Game trips simply assumed a victory. Clemson Nation will be way louder in Tampa.

Venables and Kiffin

8. Brent Venables vs. Lane Kiffin. Fresh from his shutout of Ohio State, Clemson’s crafty defensive coordinator is eager for redemption, too. With Kiffin calling the plays, Alabama piled up almost as many yards (473) as Clemson (550) in last year’s national championship game. Maybe Kiffin will be distracted by his dual role as Florida Atlantic head coach and his strong ties to Tampa (son of longtime former Tampa Bay Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin).

9. Non-intimidation factor. Sure, Big Al, Alabama’s elephant mascot, is pretty frightening for young children and tipsy fans. But unlike Washington and many other teams Alabama faces, Clemson after the tussle in Arizona last year won’t tremble at the sight of crimson.

10. Momentum. Clemson was already on a roll when it snapped a five-game losing streak to South Carolina and beat Oklahoma in a bowl game in 2014. The Tigers reached the national championship game last season. Beating beatable Alabama is the next logical step in the Deshaun Watson Era.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff