By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) Well, I guess I’m a believer now in Alabama. It sounds a little ridiculous, I know.
It’s not as if I didn’t believe that Alabama was great. I knew the Crimson Tide were a national championship contender and probably the favorite to raise the College Football Playoff trophy. So I’m not talking about that kind of disbelief.
But it has taken me a long while to believe in the idea that this Tide team, namely its defense, was a transcendent kind of good. I previously thought it was fallible. And yes, I thought a Michigan State team with lots of offensive talent would beat Alabama. Heck, I at least thought Sparty would keep it close in the national semifinal.
But Alabama’s front seven is a freakish kind of great. College football hasn’t seen, in recent memory, a defensive front more dominant than what Alabama has put on the field this season, so it’s difficult for me to see any scenario in which Clemson will have the kind of offensive success needed to beat Alabama in Monday evening’s national championship game.
Sure, Alabama was bad against Ole Miss when it lost 43-37 on Sept. 19. But the Tide weren’t settled on a quarterback back then and turned the ball over five times, including throwing three interceptions. Lost in that game is that they still held the Rebels to 92 yards rushing.
Aside from Ole Miss, no team has scored more than 23 points against Alabama. Six times this season the Tide have held teams to 10 points or fewer, including its most recent 38-0 win over the Spartans in the CFP.
A fair question: Would Alabama running back Derrick Henry have won the Heisman Trophy if he had to play his own defense?
Alabama ended the Heisman hopes of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, holding him to a season-low 31 yards. Fournette only had one other game under 100 yards. That was the following game against Arkansas when he ran for 91 yards but also had 36 yards receiving. Heading into the Alabama game, Fournette had games of 159, 228, 244, 233, 158, 180 and 150 yards rushing.
I could inundate you with more stats, but I think you get the picture.
So how does Clemson stand a chance? The key is to beat Alabama through the air. Tigers quarterback DeShaun Watson, a Heisman finalist, is certainly among those one would choose to try and beat this Tide defense. Then again, so was Spartans quarterback Connor Cook. Fournette was one of those guys too.
Is anything possible? Most things are. I’m just beginning to think sustained success against this Alabama defense isn’t one of them.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.