Sweet Sugary Revenge

Alabama & Clemson playing in January-stop me if you've heard this one before because this is becoming an almost annual tradition. If you're a Buckeyes' fan, I could see why you'd want to skip this one, but for everyone else we're in for a New Year's treat. After playing for the National Championship the past two years, these two storied programs will reunite again in 2018. Will Alabama exact some sweet, sugary revenge?

The most conspicuous difference between this year's Alabama squad and the defenses of past that have instilled fear into every team they played: the linebacker corps. Granted, Alabama has been plagued by injuries all season at that position, but that should be no excuse in this one with the return of Terrell Lewis and Mack Wilson. With plenty of time to rest and prepare, expect the Tide to bring the heat on third down after recording just 31 sacks all season. If Alabama can stop the run and force some long third downs, it will be a long day for Clemson QB Kelly Bryant. Having said all that, Clemson possesses the best defensive front four in the nation, hands down. Clemson ranks first overall in the nation in sacks and fourth overall in tackles for a loss. This is especially worrisome for 'Bama fans given the fact that Alabama gives up 1.83 sacks a game (51st in the nation). Whichever side records the most sacks wins this game.

The player with this highest X-Factor potential in this game will be the Crimson Tide's WR Calvin Ridley. Both squads will pound the rock early and often and try to control the clock. But most times Alabama goes to the air you can be sure that Ridley will be involved. Ridley has 55 receptions on the season; the next highest WR on Alabama has 14. Ridley has the sheerest talent of anyone on the field, plain and simple.

As a team, you've got to say that Clemson is the better side riding a wave of confidence and peaking at the right time. Unlike Alabama, who lost their final game, the Tigers utterly crushed their last game, leading Miami 38-0 going into the fourth quarter of the ACC Championship. In fact, the Tigers have only lost one bizarre, meaningless game all season when they went down to Syracuse in October after Bryant left the game in the first quarter. Clemson has all the momentum, but will it be enough?

Under no circumstances do I think you should be betting this one early. Alabama's injury situation remains a critical component, especially at linebacker. Keep an eye on that right up until kickoff. At the end of the day, in spite of Clemson's deserved confidence, I'm going with the better coach, the better overall defense and the school with more to prove. This will be a close one the entire game. It will be decided in the fourth quarter. But I just can't bet against that Saban magic in January. Take the Alabama Crimson Tide ML.