I’d be fine with another Alabama-Clemson championship game, last season’s having been a classic. But I’m thinking it won’t happen. I’ve picked Bama, duh, to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but I like Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
I’m sorry if that disappoints IPTAY types — given my history, it should probably fill them with glee — but I haven’t been half as impressed with the Tigers this season as I was last year. (When I, er, picked them to beat Alabama.) They’ve suffered the same year-after blahs as Florida State in 2014 and Ohio State in 2015, with one difference: Those two were defending national champs; Clemson was the defending runner-up.
Deshaun Watson was the best player in the country at the end of last season. He was not the best this year, and not just because Lamar Jackson bubbled up in the same Atlantic Division. Watson seemed a hair off all season. His numbers weren’t awful — two more touchdowns than last season but two more interceptions — but if you go by yards per pass, which statheads consider a key metric, he slipped from 8.36 to 8.04. (This with the addition of the splendid receiver Mike Williams, who missed last season because of injury.)
Wayne Gallman was a 1,500-yard rusher last season. He has 1,002 yards now. The Clemson offensive line has struggled to block people. The defense is still statistically good. For all their talent, the Tigers have been involved in a slew of close games, seven of the 13 being decided by seven or fewer points. If North Carolina State doesn’t miss a gimme field-goal attempt at the end of regulation, the Fiesta is an Ohio State/Penn State rematch.
I no longer believe Dabo Swinney to be a lightweight, but if there’s one game for the fate of the world I’d want either Nick Saban or Urban Meyer coaching it. Saban will be otherwise occupied Saturday. Meyer will be on the sideline in Glendale. I’m thinking his team will win 27-24.
Further reading: The 1926 Rose Bowl – Alabama beat Washington, changing a sport.