#2 Clemson Tigers vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
8pm ET, ESPN
Going into the season, there were two teams on paper better than any other. And there are two programs that over the last few years have collectively recruited better than any other. And while there are other candidates, you could easily argue the two teams that are the best coached that have gotten the most out of their results on the field are those same two teams.
Alabama and Clemson.
It wasn’t certain. Each season brings upsets and surprises. Injuries. Let downs. No shows.
But yet again, we’ve got a Bama-Clemson showdown that, maybe more than the previous three installments, is absolutely full of NFL talent.
The headliner is true sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa, but he isn’t the biggest NFL draw even though he’s not draft eligible until the 2020 NFL Draft.
No, it’s yet again the defense. Led by DT Quinnen Williams, S Deionte Thompson and ILB Mack Wilson, the Crimson Tide have talent at every level. DL Raekwon Davis, EDGE Christian Miller, DT Isaiah Buggs, CB Trevon Diggs and EDGE Anfernee Jennings are all draft picks as well. Scarily, the most interesting defensive prospect is a true freshman: CB Patrick Surtain, Jr., the son of former NFL Pro Bowl CB Patrick Surtain.
And yet for all that defensive talent, their offense is nearly as NFL-ready. LT Jonah Williams is likely the first OL taken in the draft and could be top 3. TE Irv Smith, Jr., could be the top tight end. C Ross Piersbacher could be the top center. RBs Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris are going to be rookie fan favorites wherever they land. And LG Lester Cotton is going to be a popular Day 3 mauler. But like Surtain, Jr., on defense, the Tide are stacked with youth on offense primarily at wide receiver. There isn’t a Julio Jones who (like Surtain) looks the part of at top NFL player as a freshman but the sophomore WRs of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith are all impressive. And diminutive freshman playmaker Jaylen Waddle is really exciting.
Sigh. They’re stacked.
But so is...
How good is true freshman QB Trevor Lawrence? He’s the best QB prospect I’ve seen since Indianapolis Colts and former Stanford Cardinal QB Andrew Luck (the best in between was Clemson’s prior QB star who led them to a national championship over Alabama before being drafted by the Houston Texans, Deshaun Watson). But he won’t be available until the 2021 NFL Draft when the bidding war should be intense.
Part of what makes him so fun to watch is the plethora of talents around him and the pure speed the Clemson offense has. WRs Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers and freshman Justyn Ross can fly. RB Travis Etienne is going to be a successful NFL running back and could be a top half of the first round prospect. And WR Hunter Renfrow who has been at Clemson since what feels like 1998 is going to be one of those guys who doesn’t get drafted nearly early enough but plays for a decade as a Danny Amendola clone.
But while Lawrence might be the star of the team, the draft headline is the defensive line. EDGE Clelin Ferrell is a first-round pick. DT Christian Wilkins is a first-round pick. DT Dexter Lawrence (who is suspended along with two other Tigers for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs) is a potential first-round pick. And DT Albert Huggins is a draft pick as well.
The linebackers? Insane athletes. OLBs Isaiah Simmons and Kendall Joseph are incredibly interesting 4-3 prospects while ILB Tre Lamar is going to be highly coveted as well.
Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen could be one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft not because of his flaws, but because I could see many banging the table for him as a first-round guy. And S Tanner Muse is going to be one of those guys that rises up boards over the next two months.
This game is just ridiculously stacked. It’s a bit indicative of the era we’re in. College football is unusually top heavy right now, and the main reason is these two programs.
To cite that piece I just linked, “Over the last four seasons, Alabama and Clemson are 106-4 in games that aren’t against Alabama or Clemson.”
These are the best two teams for college football. They’re the best two teams for the NFL.
Sit back enjoy this one, folks. We’re going to be reaching back to it for the next four years.