The College Football Playoff Championship pits Nick Saban’s perennial juggernaut Alabama against Clemson and its exciting quarterback Deshaun Watson. Stay here for live scoring, updates and analysis.
When: 8 p.m. Eastern
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
How to watch: ESPN has the broadcast, but you can stream it here.
Here Are the Top Story Lines
■ Sark, Sark, Sark. Unless you are wise enough to mute your television, you are going to be hearing a lot about Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. This is not only because Sarkisian is a previous head coach, at Washington and Southern California, or because he ignominiously was relieved of his U.S.C. duties midway through last season due to reported struggles with substance abuse. It’s because the championship game is his first game as offensive coordinator. Alabama Coach Nick Saban dispatched his outgoing predecessor, Lane Kiffin, one game early. It was a striking move, particularly given the struggles of Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who could be just the second true freshman quarterback to lead a national champion.
■ Tigers in the backfield. Clemson loves to run pre-snap motions and shifts on offense no matter the opponent. Against Alabama’s top-ranked defensive line, such movements, which can threaten plays to the perimeters, will be more important than ever.
■ Brrrr. Well, not really. But this is the first outdoor national title game since 2014’s, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and it’s supposed to be 57 degrees at kickoff (an improvement from the unseasonable cold here in Tampa, Fla. through which heroic sportswriters have had to slog). A difference-maker? Saban, when asked this weekend, didn’t think so: “If it’s 50 degrees, I think it may be a little uncomfortable, but I don’t think it really should affect anyone’s ability to play the game.”
■ Watson. It is only fitting that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, should find himself the most important player on the field. Everyone understands that Alabama’s offense is not going to be stupendously explosive (which is not to say running back Bo Scarbrough or wide receiver Calvin Ridley could not offer some fireworks). The game will be won or lost, most likely, in how well Alabama’s high-scoring defense, which has not faced a quarterback this good, is able to get to Watson, who threw 17 interceptions this season.
■ Not close? I won’t predict the winner (oddsmakers generally favor Alabama by about a touchdown), but I will say this: I expect the game not to be close. With a few notable exceptions (including last year’s 45-40 Alabama win over Clemson), national title games in the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff era have been blowouts. But more than that, I think we will either see Alabama’s defense figure out Watson or vice versa. Meanwhile, Alabama’s offense isn’t built to come from behind against a defense this good, but is eminently capable of milking a lead. If you watch til the end anyway, be sure to check out our live-chat! — Marc Tracy
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