National championship picks: SI's experts make their predictions for Clemson-Alabama

By The SI Staff
January 11, 2016

With 28 games and 27 wins between them, No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama will finally meet for the national championship.

Will the Tigers, underdogs despite their top ranking, pull the upset to finish off the first 15–0 season in college football history? Or will the Crimson Tide dynasty roll on to claim its fourth national title in seven seasons?

SI’s college football experts made their picks for the championship and the game MVP that will help seal the victory.

National championship predictions
National Champion
Championship MVP

Andy Staples

Tim Williams

Pete Thamel

A'Shawn Robinson

Brian Hamilton

Derrick Henry

Lindsay Schnell

Derrick Henry

Zac Ellis

Jake Coker

Joan Niesen

Derrick Henry

Ben Glicksman

Calvin Ridley

Colin Becht

Reggie Ragland

Gabriel Baumgaertner

Derrick Henry

Chris Johnson

Derrick Henry

Ben Estes

Deshaun Watson

Andy Staples: Alabama

Deshaun Watson will be the best quarterback Alabama has seen all season, but he hasn’t seen anything like Alabama’s front seven. I worry about how Clemson’s offensive line will hold up against wave after wave of fresh Alabama linemen. The Crimson Tide may have some issues scoring as well but, if that defense can get some quick three-and-outs—and they’re usually quick against an up-tempo offense like Clemson’s—then Alabama’s offense could wind up playing against a worn-out Clemson defense.

The score: Alabama 27, Clemson 23

Game MVP: Alabama LB Tim Williams

Pete Thamel: Alabama

As with most recent national title matchups, the difference here will come in the trenches. The depth of talent on Alabama's offensive line will eventually prove the difference. Deshaun Watson is one of the most accurate deep ball passers in college football. But the question here is whether he'll have the time to hit the two or three shots he'll need to help Clemson outscore the Tide. Alabama will eventually break Clemson's will and pull away.

The score: Alabama 31, Clemson 19

Game MVP: Alabama DE A’Shawn Robinson

Brian Hamilton: Alabama

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The team of destiny narrative will grind to a halt when it hits a defensive front like Alabama's. When I try to picture the Tigers winning the title, the Crimson Tide's many gigantic linemen get in the way of the picture. Deshaun Watson can't work magic if he's running for dear life. While Clemson's secondary should limit big-play daggers, it may not be able to slow Derrick Henry as well as Michigan State did in the Cotton Bowl semifinal. A balanced, methodical offense and an impenetrable defense should bring Nick Saban his fifth national championship.

The score: Alabama 27, Clemson 20

Game MVP: Alabama RB Derrick Henry

Lindsay Schnell: Alabama

I want to pick Clemson, really, I do. But I feel like picking against Nick Saban is foolish because he's been here before. People who play at Alabama believe they're supposed to win national championships and they play like it in the biggest moments. I mean, who predicted Jake Coker's semifinal performance? Probably no one—except the Tide, who play with supreme confidence. The smart money says the dynasty rolls on.

The score: Alabama 28, Clemson 24

Game MVP: Henry

Zac Ellis: Alabama

Clemson simply hasn't seen a defensive front this deep or talented. Like every other team this season, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman will struggle to run the ball against Alabama. Meanwhile, as the Tigers' own front keys in on Derrick Henry, expect Jake Coker to put together his second straight big performance to lift the Crimson Tide

The score: Alabama 24, Clemson 13

Game MVP: Alabama QB Jake Coker

Joan Niesen: Alabama

Alabama hasn’t won a game by a margin of fewer than two touchdowns since Oct. 24, and though I expect that run to conclude Monday against Clemson, I don’t anticipate the Crimson Tide’s 11-game winning streak to do the same. Alabama’s defense is too strong, and Derrick Henry’s rushing attack should pound Clemson’s defensive front into submission.

The score: Alabama 28, Clemson 21

Game MVP: Henry

Ben Glicksman: Alabama

Clemson will find more success on offense than Michigan State did in the Cotton Bowl, but it won’t be enough to prevent Alabama’s fourth national title in seven years. Look for a close game to turn on a long Calvin Ridley reception in the third quarter, and then for Derrick Henry to run out the clock in the waning moments.

The score: Alabama 29, Clemson 23

Game MVP: Alabama WR Calvin Ridley

Colin Becht: Alabama

I trust Clemson’s defense to keep the Tigers in the game. Clemson’s front seven can keep Derrick Henry in check, while Mackensie Alexander should limit Calvin Ridley’s production. But while Deshaun Watson and the Tigers offense may find some early success as Alabama acclimates to Watson’s ability, expect the Tide to wear down Clemson’s offensive line and bludgeon Watson in the second half. Once that happens, the physicality of Alabama’s offensive line and Henry will overpower the Tigers.

The score: Alabama 24, Clemson 20

Game MVP: Alabama LB Reggie Ragland

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Alabama

I’d love nothing more than for Clemson to turn me, one of its season-long doubters, into a believer. But I think the vaunted Tigers offense will be good for an early score or two to excite the fan base before the Bama steamroller gradually grinds the pace, confidence and will out of Clemson. And once Derrick Henry starts getting the ball again, again and again in the second half, Clemson won’t have enough in the tank to come back.

The score: Alabama 28, Clemson 17

Game MVP: Henry

Chris Johnson: Alabama

The Tide have yet to face a quarterback as dynamic as Deshaun Watson, but Watson also has yet to face a defense as suffocating as Alabama's. A'Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland and the rest of soon-to-be Georgia coach Kirby Smart's unit will get after Watson and shut down tailback Wayne Gallman. Meanwhile, Alabama will wear down Clemson's front seven by riding Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and burn the Tigers' secondary with some well-timed shots downfield.

The score: Alabama 27, Clemson 10

Game MVP: Henry

Ben Estes: Clemson

Clemson will sell out to stop Derrick Henry, and, equipped with a much better secondary than Michigan State, the Tigers will be able to keep Jake Coker and the Alabama passing attack in check. Deshaun Watson won’t finish with eye-popping stats, but he’ll do just enough on the ground and through the air to lead Clemson to the upset.

The score: Clemson 23, Alabama 20

Game MVP: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

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