Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 12:55 PM
Alabama has played the entire season of free drama. There have been no unexpected slipups like they had in the title runs of 2012 and 2015. The Crimson Tide opened the season at #1 and save for one game against Ole Miss in September, they haven’t been seriously challenged. It’s with good reason the Tide are a 4-7 favorite to win the College Football Playoff for the second straight year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting warning signs to keep an eye on.
The secondary of Alabama hasn’t been consistently tested against top-quality passing games. The one instance they were was Ole Miss—and in that game Chad Kelly lit up the Tide for 43 points, over 400 yards passing and better than 10 yards per attempt.
Now we come to the Playoff and we know for certain that ‘Bama will have to face Washington’s Jake Browning out of the chute in the Peach Bowl semifinal game on December 31. If the Tide survive that one, it’s possible DeShaun Watson and Clemson would be up in a national championship game rematch—and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that Watson torched Alabama for 40 points in last year’s title bout and it took special teams to save the Tide. Here are some relevant numbers on both Browning and Watson…
*Jake Browning stretches the field to the tune of 9.3 yards-per-attempt and his TD/INT ratio is a sparking 42-7. Browning completes 63 percent of his passes and if a defense tries to drop too many man in coverage, running back Myles Gaskin is a stud in his own right.
*DeShaun Watson completes 68 percent of his passes and while he’s been a little more mistake-prone, with 15 interceptions, Watson has also thrown 37 TD passes. He gets eight yards-per-attempt and his excellent game against Alabama last season shows the championship stage is not too big for him.
If Alabama has to beat Washington and Clemson in succession it will be the stiffest test Nick Saban’s defense has faced in any previous title run. Of course we don’t mean to dismiss Ohio State—the Buckeyes could well knock off Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Eve. But Ohio State has had some inconsistency problems in its passing attack that make them less likely to exploit the Tide’s primary weakness.
Each team has question marks—we mentioned Ohio State’s passing game problems, Watson’s turnover issues and Washington has to prove they can play with top-quality competition. Just don’t be blind to the fact that Alabama is not a perfect frontrunner.