Forget the hype. Don’t watch the celebrities. Pay no attention to the talking heads.
This is about players. Football always is.
So which players could change tonight’s game? A handful of possibilities for each team:
1. Deshaun Watson, quarterback: Watson is the key figure to the game for both teams. If he gets loose – he had 405 yards and four touchdowns last year – then he can lead Clemson to a surprisingly easy win. If Alabama can contain him, their job gets easier. Watson does have 17 interceptions, however, and the Tide has been known to return one or two.
2. Mike Williams, wide receiver: Williams is a difference-maker. He caught 90 passes for the Tigers this year for 1,267 yards and 10 scores. He can expose the Tide corners, which some suspect is the vulnerable part of their defense.
3. Ben Boulware, linebacker: He’s the voice of the Clemson defense, an effusive tackler and leader. He has 110 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. He’ll be the guy in charge of stopping the relentless Alabama running game.
4. Wayne Gallman, Clemson: Gallman has rushed for more than 2,600 yards for Clemson the last two seasons. If there is a crease in the Alabama defense, and there haven’t been many, it’s up to him to exploit it. A very underrated back.
5. Clelin Farrell, defensive end: Farrell just dominated the Ohio State Buckeyes a week ago. His matchup with Cam Robinson of Alabama will be one of the more interesting head-to-head competitions in the game. Farrell, a redshirt freshman, has blossomed in the playoffs.
1. Reuben Foster, linebacker: A lot of other players get a lot of attention, but Foster is the guy in the middle of the highlight reel tackles. He’s projected to be among the top two inside backers in the draft. He’ll have a lot to do with stopping Watson.
2. Jonathan Allen, defensive end: Allen is the most physically dominating the Tide has had in years. Allen has 24 sacks the last two seasons, and before Watson can work his magic, he’s going to have to get free of Allen.
3. Cam Robinson, tackle: Robinson has already been projected as a 10-year left tackle on the next level. It is up to him and his linemates to allow the Alabama running back to click. If it doesn’t, the Tide is vulnerable.
4. Jalen Hurts, quarterback: Hurts’ play will be one of the most revealing aspects of the game. Hurts struggled against Washington, the Tide offense looked lethargic. In some games this season, however, Hurts has been a difference-maker. He isn’t as good as Watson – yet – but his game will help decide things.
5. Bo Scarbrough, running back: For much of the season, Scarbrough was just another guy on the Tide team. But in his last three games, he’s rushed for 361 yards. If he can move the pile against Clemson, it will go a long way toward Alabama winning.