Four reasons why No. 2 Alabama will win the College Football Playoff
Alabama is the favorite to win the College Football Playoff for good reason ... they're going to.
Alabama is the only team to make it into the first two College Football Playoffs, and for the second-straight season, the Crimson Tide enter the semifinals as a large favorite over the reigning Big Ten champions.
Last year, the Tide watched as Ohio State hoisted the Sugar Bowl trophy following a huge upset and went on to win the CFP National Championship. Nick Saban will undoubtedly be reminding his team of that this year to ensure that they are properly motivated to redeem themselves for falling short of the title game last season.
Despite being ranked No. 2, the Tide are the prohibitive favorites to win the national championship at even odds -- Oklahoma is second at +220. The oddsmakers see Alabama as the nation's best team, and there are plenty of things to point them in that direction.
Here are four reasons why Alabama will live up to its status as the favorites and win the College Football Playoff.
1. Defense wins championships. This isn't always the case in college football, but Alabama will hope the old adage holds true this year because the Tide have the nation's best defense -- by a good margin. Football Outsiders' Defensive S&P+ ratings have the Tide ranked No. 1 in every category but passing downs defense (where they are No. 3). In the overall rating, which is an opponent-adjusted points per game allowed, Alabama is at 7.6, nearly double No. 2 Michigan at 13.0.
Alabama's defense is as well-rounded a group as you'll ever see in college football. It's exceedingly difficult to create big plays against them -- the Tide were No. 2 in the nation, allowing just 113 plays of 10 or more yards -- and trying to put together a long, sustained drive is equally tough -- No. 5 in the nation in opponent third-down percentage at 27.92 percent.
The Tide were the nation's top run defense, allowing just 74 yards per game on the ground. While the pass defense was the weaker part of the unit, they still allowed just 184.2 yards per game through the air (16th in the nation) and were fourth in the country with an opponent completion percentage of just 49.1.
The Alabama defense was a juggernaut all season and come into the CFP healthy, so there's no reason to assume there will be much slippage -- even defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is staying on board through the playoff despite taking the Georgia coaching job.
2. The Heisman Trophy winner. Oh yeah, the Tide also happen to have the Heisman Trophy winner lining up in their offensive backfield. Derrick Henry rushed for a school-record 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns on 339 carries this season, accounting for a ridiculous 36.1 percent of Alabama's total offensive production.
Part of what makes Alabama so difficult to deal with for four quarters is the way it dominates the time of possession battle. The Tide were fifth in time of possession per game this season, controlling the ball for an average of 33:52 each game.
With Henry getting so many touches -- he had 90 combined carries in the final two games -- Alabama wears down opposing defenses. That takes its toll in the fourth quarter when the defense gets tired, and Alabama has taken advantage of that with eight of its 21 rushes of 20+ yards coming in the fourth quarter this season.
3. Line play. On offense and defense, it all starts up front for Alabama. The defensive line is insanely talented and deep, rotating NFL talent in and out of the game seamlessly. The offensive line is a strong group that is a terrific run blocking unit, led by Rimington Award winner Ryan Kelly at center.
Alabama's defensive line was the best in the country, finishing the year as the only group to rank in the top 10 in adjusted line yards (2nd) and adjusted sack rate (3rd). The Tide led the nation with 46 sacks (3.5 per game) and, as already noted, they were the best run defense in the country. There are no weaknesses on the line, and because of their depth -- and Alabama's pension for holding the ball on offense -- it's hard to tire them out as a unit.
The offensive line is among the nation's best, particularly at run blocking. Alabama was 13th in adjusted line yards and paved the way for Henry's Heisman season. The Tide execute one-on-one blocks as well as any team in the nation and that allows them to do a lot of chipping and climbing to the second level to create lanes for Henry and Alabama's other backs down the field.
Alabama's lines will be tested by some very quality fronts in the College Football Playoff, but the Tide are at a different level in the trenches this season than anyone else in the country.
4. Coaching. A lack of experience in national championship games doesn't mean a team is doomed, but having a coach with the experience of Saban to help prepare a team for these games is certainly a plus for Alabama. As for the assistants, Alabama has two of the best coordinators in the nation. Smart is still locked in and focused on his role with Alabama through the end of this run, and Lane Kiffin has been terrific calling plays this year -- and committing to the running game -- for the Tide.
Alabama has the talent and the coaching to make it the favorite to win it all, and after the disappointment of losing in the semifinals last year, the Tide should have plenty of added motivation to go win a fourth national championship in seven years.
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