College Football Playoff: Five keys for Alabama to win the national championship

TAMPA, Fla. -- We arrive here at the third College Football Playoff National Championship with no regrets.

The two best teams made it. Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers are the only two teams currently sports six-year streaks of at least 10 wins.

The CFP itself got it right by basically creating an NFL-style playoff and Super Bowl out of scratch. (OK, the BCS helped.)

And as usual, Alabama is here. No matter what the result Monday night one dynasty (Bama's) will continue while another (Clemson) tries to take hold.

Here are five keys to Alabama protecting its national championship turf ...

1. Stop Deshaun Watson : Or at least slow him down. Clemson's quarterback has become the best player in the country at the moment and has thrown for more than 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two CFPs.

Alabama knows first hand how Watson can dominate a game. Watson accounted for 478 yards in last year's title game and was almost the difference.

Clemson is essentially playing with an NFL quarterback playing his last college game. (Watson is rated the No. 1 or No. 2 QB in the draft depending on who you talk to.) He is armed with a load of talented receivers. The difference for Alabama will be limiting Watson's ability to run effectively.

Make him a passer and Bama doesn't necessarily win, but it becomes easier to win.

2. Dominate on D: This is Nick Saban's best defense, right? The eye test and the numbers scream yes. Eight of 14 opponents have been held under 200 yards. That ties for the most since 2011 in Tuscaloosa. Eleven opponents have been held at least 19.2 points below their season-ending scoring average.

Here's the whopper: Opponents have been held to a cumulative 2,634.1 yards below their average total offense output.

Alabama specializes in stopping the run -- No. 1 in that category for the fourth time in five years -- then destroying the passer. There's a reason only Clemson (249) has more tackles for loss the last two seasons than Alabama, Penn State Nittany Lions and Boston College Eagles (all tied at 220).

Jonathan Allen -- arguably Bama's MVP -- must have a monster day to neutralize Watson. If not Allen, then Tim Williams . If not Tim Williams, then Reuben Foster . You get the picture.

3. The Sark Factor: Nick Saban has deemed one of his analysts with an admitted substance abuse problem, who hasn't called a game in more than two years, is a better option than Lane Kiffin.

Steve Sarkisian is an accomplished coach, but he is being thrown into a winner-take-all game with all the pressure in the world on him.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts said he hadn't even met Sark until halfway through the season. For his part, Sark says he's more than ready.

Maybe. A week ago, he was making $28,000 breaking down film. Now, he's being asked to break down Clemson's defensive line with his play calling.


4. Win on first down: That's true for any offense, but it's especially important in this game.

Blame Lane Kiffin or blame the opponents, but the Alabama offense hasn't really clicked in a month. Alabama has fallen behind in each of the last four games.

While they've answered each of those early deficits with convincing victories, Bama may not be able to fall behind against Clemson.

Dabo knows the gameplan left over from last year, or at least has a general idea what the Crimson Tide are going to do.

Saban's first-down offense has become the most predictable since at least his first season in 2007. The Tide rushes almost 60 percent of the game on first down.

Suggestion: Loosen up that Clemson D with some play action passes to Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart . They've caught a total of eight passes (for 59 yards) in two games this month.

That has to change.

5. Feed Bo: No runner on the field has been more productive than tailback Bo Scarbrough .

After a career-high 180 yards against Washington Huskies , the budding sophomore has 361 rushing yards in his last three games. That's what was expected of him going into 2016, but Scarbrough was injured early. Joshua Jacobs and Damien Harris were playing better.

In this game, Scarbrough is the new Derrick Henry . No, he won't get 45 carries but he might get 30 if that's the best way to soften up Clemson's big, athletic defensive line.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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