The 2018 Sugar Bowl Game could be considered a rubber game. That’s because, in each of the past two seasons, the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide have met in the College Football Playoff with each team winning once.
Today’s game isn’t quite the rematch it could be. If they were facing off against each other in the championship game, it would obviously have a little more importance, but, at the same time, for either of these teams to get to the National Championship Game next Monday, they must win tonight’s game.
Frankly, whether the Tide should even be playing in this game is questionable. They weren’t good enough to win their conference or even their division. They didn’t play in the SEC Championship Game and I’m of the belief that you should need to win your conference in order to deserve to play in the College Football Playoff.
I also think the Big Ten’s record in bowl games this season shows just how tough of a conference the Big Ten was this year. I think it’s a huge snub to not have the Big Ten Champs playing in this year’s CFP.
It’s one thing when you have to leave out one of the Power Five schools from the CFP, but, when you leave out two of the Power Five champs in favor of two schools from the same conference, I think you’re doing a disservice to college football.
But, that’s a discussion for another day.
Obviously, the Clemson Tigers deserve to be playing in this game. The defending National Champions won the ACC Championship again this year even though they have a new starting quarterback in Kelly Bryant. Bryant threw for almost 2,700 yards and 13 touchdowns while only throwing 6 interceptions. He added almost 650 yards rushing and 11 more touchdowns for the Tigers. His three favorite targets have been receivers Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud while Clemson has a pair of backs in Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster who have led the team in rushing.
And, despite all that, the cover of the Clemson Bowl Guide features three offensive linemen and four defensive guys along with head coach Dabo Swinney and Bryant.
In fact, Clemson’s Bowl Guide says:
The strength of Clemson’s offense might be on the offensive line.
Yup. Line wins games.
The Tigers will need that strength, too, as Alabama’s strength is their defense. They are ranked in the Top 10 in every significant defensive category. Most of all, they just don’t let teams into the end zone. They’ve only allowed 14 red zone touchdowns all season.
But the Tide can hurt you on offense as well, or should I say, Hurts you as Jalen Hurts is the team’s versatile quarterback. Even though he is only a true sophomore, Hurts is the all-time Alabama leader for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and he had two of the three best single-season rushing totals in Alabama history.
And, he has other weapons. Hurts has thrown for more than 4,700 yards in two seasons and is on track to become Alabama’s all-time leading passer. His favorite receiver has been Calvin Ridley, who is just a touchdown away from moving into 2nd place on Alabama’s all-time receiving touchdowns list.
In the backfield, look for Hurts to hand off to junior Damien Harris. After 302 carries, Harris has averaged 7.0 yards per carry, a mark only matched by Auburn legend Bo Jackson.
So, while you can certainly make an argument that the Crimson Tide shouldn’t be playing in the College Football Playoff, you can also make an argument that they should be.
Either way, Alabama-Clemson III should be another knockdown, dragout fight.
This is your College Football Playoff Semifinal Sugar Bowl open thread.