Eleven days removed from their blowout victories in the College Football Playoff semifinals, the No. 1 Clemson Tigers (14-0) and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1) collide for the right to be called national champions Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
On top of their stellar regular season resumes, both teams showed why deserve to vie for the nation’s crown in the semis. Head coach Nick Saban and the Tide rolled out 440 total offensive yards, with quarterback Jake Coker firing off two touchdowns and running back Derrick Henry rushing for two more, for a 38-0 domination of No. 3 Michigan State.
More importantly, and perhaps fairly ominous for the Tigers, Alabama held the Spartans to 239 total yards with just 29 on the ground and a poor 4-for-16 third down conversion rate. The Tide also picked off quarterback Connor Cook twice and sacked him four times for their second shutout of the season.
The Tigers offense looked just as impressive, but their defense suffered a serious injury and could seep into the Alabama matchup. Quarterback Deshaun Watson accounted for 332 yards and two touchdowns while running back Wayne Gallman ripped off 150 yards and two more touchdowns as Clemson punished Oklahoma for a 37-17 victory.
Scoring 27 points between the second and third quarter, the Tigers couldn’t be denied and gained 530 total yards for their 14 th consecutive victory.
However, early in the first quarter Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson endured a sprained MCL in his left knee and he never returned for the game. For the last 11 days Lawson’s status for the title game has remained unclear.
The junior Lawson, who leads the nation with 23.5 tackles for a loss and powered the Tigers pass rush with 10.5 sacks, told reporters on Saturday there’s a “very good chance” he will play against the Tide.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney also sounded optimistic, but also said he has contingencies.
"We expect him to play," Swinney said. "If not, I don't think coach Saban is going to cancel the game so we'll put the next guy in there. He looked good yesterday (in practice)."
Statistically, junior defensive end Kevin Dodd is the Tigers next-best pass rusher after he tallied 9.0 sacks this season. Otherwise Clemson doesn’t have much depth behind Lawson with most of their second defensive unit consisting of freshmen.
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN