Tonight marks the end of the college football season as the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Clemson Tigers (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) inside the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Tide are looking for their 4th National Championship under Nick Saban while Clemson is looking for their second-ever title.
This will be the first all-South National Championship Game since the 2013 matchup between Florida State and Auburn among the BCS/Playoff era (since 1998) this will be the fourth meeting between schools in the South. Overall, a team from the South has been in 15 out of the 18 National Championship Games over this time period.
It comes as no surprise to anyone to say that the South is packed with talent and a lot of it will be on display tonight. For future National Championships you'll be seeing plenty of it too as 54 of the current Top 100 recruits in the 247 Sports Composite Rankings hail from the South.
As you'd expect, out of the 60 starting and impact players in tonight's game a whole bunch come from the South.
Those 7 non-South players include:
WR Richard Mullaney, Alabama- Grad transfer from Oregon State who grew up in Thousand Oaks, California.
LG Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama- Redshirt freshman from Cedar Falls, Iowa.
C Ryan Kelly, Alabama- A 5th-year senior from West Chester, Ohio.
RT Dominick Jackson, Alabama- Senior JUCO transfer originally from San Mateo, California.
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama- Junior from Forth Worth, Texas and somehow still college-aged.
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama- True freshman from Old Bridge, New Jersey.
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson- True freshman from Springfield, Massachusetts
It speaks to the culture of football in the state of Alabama that they have, with a total population of under 5 million people, 11 impact players suiting up for the Crimson Tide.
Clemson hasn't been troubled one bit recruiting within their home state (8 players from South Carolina) or from their region where they add 6 players from North Carolina, 6 players from Georgia, and 7 players from Florida. Although the Crimson Tide recruit a little more nationally 18 of their 29 impact players come from just 3 states: Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Can Alabama Win a Title with Jacob Coker at Quarterback?
The consensus is that Jacob Coker is not among the nation's best quarterbacks. He did not throw for 3,000 yards, just barely has a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio with only 19 touchdown passes, and was even briefly benched earlier in the season.
I don't know if anyone would call Coker a bad quarterback but it would be a major testament to Alabama's overall program strength if they win yet another title under Saban with a not-terrific signal-caller. The good news for the Tide is that Coker just finished his best game in the semi-final against Michigan State with career highs in completions (25), yards (286), and completion percentage (83.3%) with at least 15 pass attempts.
Still, a matchup between Coker (2,863 total yards and 21 touchdowns) and Deshaun Watson (4,731 total yards and 43 touchdowns) is a rather large mismatch in favor of Clemson.
Can Clemson Not Crack Under the Pressure?
The whole "Clemsoning" thing is in the past and now the Tigers are on the game's biggest stage. They don't have a bunch of conference titles to their name but they've won at least 10 games for 5 straight seasons.
They've already set their school record for most wins in a season and have the chance to become the first team in history to finish a season 15-0.
That brings a lot of pressure. The whole "perfect" season doesn't carry the same weight in college as it does in the NFL but then we're talking about 15 wins and that's a lot of football to play without losing. You have to wonder how Clemson will deal with that pressure against a program that has won this big game numerous times.
Does Saban Put His Foot Down Against Swinney?
There's got to be more pressure on Dabo Swinney to not only win his first National Championship but do so against the program where he played college football. If Clemson wins this game they are a rock solid elite program and Swinney solidifies himself as one of the game's best.
For Saban, a different narrative is at stake. A win gives him a 4th title at Alabama, and his 5th overall as a head coach. A victory would cap off perhaps the greatest 8-year run in the history of the game with 98 wins, 12 losses, and no defeats to unranked teams.
A loss doesn't cripple anything but moves the needle a little further away from 'greatest coach ever' with Urban Meyer firmly in the mix among his contemporaries. That 2009 to 2012 run will still be as memorable as ever but there'd be 6 losses in 3 years which, why still damn impressive, isn't quite legendary.
I'm feeling a couple of factors butting heads tonight in the title game. One, we've seen a real decrease in all the SEC whining as they haven't captured a championship since that fateful night in Miami a few seasons ago that we all would like to forget. Then you have Clemson who has been knocking on the door for a number of seasons now. Do they finally breakthrough or does the SEC top-end talent get that conference's bragging rights back on track?
The Watson vs. Coker dynamic really bothers me because Clemson can absolutely keep Alabama's run game in check. I think Lane Kiffin knows this and might come out with a very aggressive passing game like in the semi-final. But can it work as well as it did against Michigan State?
I know this is a big factor why many will be picking Clemson. It makes a lot of sense. I was planning on taking Alabama this whole time but I'll roll with the team that has the X-factor mobile quarterback.