SAN JOSE, Calif. -- No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson began the 2018 season as the top two teams in college football and will be ending it the same way, but will the Tigers use this opportunity in the College Football Playoff National Championship to finally overtake the Tide for good this season? That leaves us wondering whether the season of chalk will continue as it has to this point. Will it be Alabama going back-to-back or Clemson taking down its new rivals for the second time in three years?
The stadium may not be packed to the brim as fans would have hoped in Santa Clara, California, but a hell of a game is in store for us as Alabama and Clemson square off for the fourth straight season and third time in that span with a national title on the line. The Crimson Tide are playing in their fourth consecutive national championship game and the seventh over the past 10 seasons. That's astounding.
Alabama is 5-1 in its past six appearances -- the lone loss coming to Clemson, of course -- and looking to win coach Nick Saban's record-setting seventh national title. On the other side, coach Dabo Swinney is steadily building the Tigers into a national power akin to the Tide. No two teams have dominated more over the last few seasons, and a Clemson win on Monday would truly put it at the same level as Alabama in the national conversation.
Here's what the CBS Sports panel of college football experts believe will go down on Monday. Keep on scrolling for their individual national championship game predictions.
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2019 CFP National Championship predictions
Dennis Dodd, senior college football insider: Clemson is not intimidated, but Alabama is destined. The dynasty continues because Tua Tagovailoa and Bama's best-ever offense is able to survive in a game that goes down to the final two minutes. It's a field-goal game for destiny. Alabama 30, Clemson 27
Jerry Palm, playoff and bowls expert: I honestly don't remember the last time I picked against Alabama, and that strategy has worked very well. This is a game the Crimson Tide know how to win. They have won five of the last nine national championships. However, if there is a team that can match them stride for stride, it is Clemson. The Tigers knocked off Alabama to win the title two years ago, so they have an institutional belief that they can win, which is something no other Alabama opponent can boast. In the end, though, this Alabama team has been too dominant all season long for me to pick against them. Alabama 24, Clemson 21
Tom Fornelli, SportsLine expert: These two teams are almost mirror images of one another. They feature young, dynamic passers throwing to a set of game-breaking receivers, as well as running backs they can count on to move the chains. Defensively, they're both led by their defensive lines, and behind them are smart linebackers and talented secondaries that have occasionally proven to be the most vulnerable part of the defense. What's truly each team's weakest link, though, are its special teams units. While they're both similar, one team usually has somewhat of an edge on the other at every key spot, but neither has a huge advantage. That makes this game almost a coin flip in my eyes, but it's a coin flip I see Alabama winning a few more times than not. This is why I'm taking Alabama to win, but Clemson to cover because I don't think Alabama's nearly a touchdown better than this Clemson team. Alabama 34, Clemson 31
Chip Patterson, Cover 3 Podcast host: I think Alabama will start fast (again) and then at some point the Tide's offense will slow (again). What will be different this time than in the Orange Bowl is that Clemson's red zone defense has a much better chance of getting stops and forcing field goal attempts than Oklahoma, which ranks No. 130 among FBS teams in opponent's red zone touchdown percentage. I think 35 is the magic number for Clemson to win, and it's going to take withstanding that first charge by Alabama in order to give Trevor Lawrence a chance to warm up and get settled. Look for Justyn Ross to be a huge factor in the second half with a Mike Williams-like breakout performance as yet another true freshman quarterback snags a national championship. Clemson 35, Alabama 33
Barton Simmons, Cover 3 Podcast host: There are only two areas in this game where either team has an advantage and both tilt towards the Tide. Alabama can exploit Clemson's safeties in the pass game and its defensive line can give Clemson's offensive line some fits. Every other matchup is strength against strength. In particular, it's strength vs. strength at quarterback. The fact that Tua Tagovialoa looked perfectly healthy against Oklahoma one week ago suggests to me that he will be clicking on all cylinders and the offense will be clicking around him. We'll see this matchup again next year and maybe then Trevor Lawrence will be ready to take down Tua and the Tide. Not this time, though. Alabama 35, Clemson 31
Nick Kostos, SportsLine host: Trevor Lawrence has his (first) moment in the sun -- he'll outplay Tua Tagavailoa as Clemson wins another national title. Clemson 34, Alabama 30
Barrett Sallee, college football writer: This game will come down to which team generates the most pressure, and we found out last week that the absence of Dexter Lawrence doesn't make much of a difference for the Tigers. On the other side, Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence will have his hands full with Quinnen Williams and the stout Crimson Tide defense. Both coordinators will heat and try to confuse the signal-callers. We saw Georgia rattle Tua Tagovailoa with creative pressure with three and four, and Clemson will replicate and build off that to force Tagovailoa into uncharacteristic mistakes. Lawrence will take advantage of a Tide secondary that got picked on by Kyler Murray, spread the ball around to all of his different receivers and Hunter Renfrow will be the X-factor ... again ... in a title game for the ages. Clemson 35, Alabama 31
Ben Kercheval, college football writer: As tough as it is to pick a winner, Clemson just seems to be peaking at the right moment. The move to quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been worth the risk, as he showed in his 327-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Cotton Bowl. This stage is not too big for him, and his combination of arm talent and mobility makes him a difficult quarterback to stop. However, Lawrence has plenty of help around him with running back Travis Etienne and perhaps the best group of wideouts in the country. Offenses should showcase themselves in this exciting game that, like so many previous editions, could also come down to the fourth quarter. Clemson 33, Alabama 30
Adam Silverstein, deputy managing editor: Fan preferences aside, this is the best possible national championship that college football could have given us this season, and the fact that Alabama enters as a five-point favorite tells you all you need to know about how close this game will be. I like Quinnen Williams and Alabama's talented defense to slow down Trevor Lawrence enough. Remember, while Lawrence may be exceptional as a true freshman, he's not the Heisman Trophy winner; Kyler Murray kept Bama off balance with his legs, particularly late when the defense got tired, and Lawrence is more one-dimensional. Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide's tremendous wide receiving corps are difficult to handle, and the Tigers have simply not seen an offense this caliber all season. Alabama, meanwhile, has taken down the No. 1 offense in the nation in Oklahoma and another top-tier unit in Georgia plus been tested by some of the best defenses around. The Tide are battle-tested, more talented and at near-full strength. Alabama 37, Clemson 31
Brandon Wise, college football editor: This game will be ugly from the word go. You want me to trust a freshman quarterback in the national title game against a defense that is starting to find its rhythm? The flying death machine that is the Alabama offense puts this one out of reach early and coasts to yet another title, leaving all of us wondering what the point is anymore. Alabama 38, Clemson 13
Jack Jorgensen, college football editor: We can focus all we want on dynasties, legendary coaches and potential future first-round quarterbacks dueling leading into this one, but in the end, we'll be talking about the spectacular play of that dangerous Clemson defensive front one last time. All season long (for the most part) the Crimson Tide offense hasn't really faced much resistance. Even without Dexter Lawrence, the Clemson defensive line will cause headaches for Tua Tagovailoa and Co., massively disrupting their rhythm throughout. Freshman Trevor Lawrence does just enough leading the Tigers offense, and Clemson comes away with its second national championship in three seasons. Clemson 34, Alabama 28