The much-anticipated College Football Playoff National Championship Game between No. 1 Clemson (14-0) and No. 2 Alabama (13-1) is just five days away, with two teams squaring off in Glendale, Arizona.
As the Crimson Tide go for their fourth national title since 2009, the Tigers look for their first since 1981. Alabama features the most dominating defense in football and the nation’s best running back while undefeated Clemson has perhaps the nation’s best quarterback and an all-around team that may be capable of hanging with Alabama in a way very few of their opponents did this season.
As was made evident in the semifinal games, when the best players on the best teams show up and play up to their capability, wins follow. These two rosters are loaded with future NFL talent and will likely be making the move from Saturdays to Sundays shortly. For now, they’re gearing up for the national championship and below we take a look at three players that are major keys to winning it all.
Derrick Henry, Alabama RB: The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner led the nation in touchdowns (23) yards (1,986), breaking Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing record. And that was before rushing for 75 yards and two scores on in the national semifinal against Michigan State. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows they have their work cut out for them stopping the best back in the nation. “He's a whole different animal,” Swinney said of Henry to reporters this week. “If you don't stop the run, you have zero chance. Absolutely zero.”
Henry carried the ball at least 30 times in four games this season and twice got 40-plus attempts. He scored a touchdown in every game this season and found the end zone multiple times on seven occasions.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB: Watson didn’t bring home the hardware at the Heisman ceremony but had a more than deserving season. Alabama coach Nick Saban told the media Watson is "one of the best players in the country, no doubt," and who is anyone to argue? He is the prototypical dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 3,699 yards but running for 1,032 more in 14 games. Watson threw for 30 touchdowns and ran for 11 more before two more scores in the national semifinal win over Oklahoma. Alabama’s defense has been dominant all season long but so has Watson, who led his team to 30 points or more in 11 games. While the Crimson Tide are the most formidable unit Clemson will play this season, the same can be said in reverse as Watson is the most dangerous quarterback Alabama will see.
Reggie Ragland, Alabama LB: Nobody has done more for a more dominant defense the way Ragland has for Alabama. A unanimous All-American selection, Ragland is the heart and soul of the best defense in the country and a future first-round draft pick in the NFL. In an era of sports when analytics are counted more than ever and intangibles are sometimes dismissed, Ragland satisfies both standards. The senior piled up a team-leading 90 tackles and is credited with leading a defense that ranks in the top five nationally in almost every important statistical category. “When he’s on the field, he flips a switch and he’s the general,” fellow linebacker Denzel Devall said. When he’s out there, it’s just a different Reggie.”