National championship picks: SI's experts predict Alabama-Clemson title game

Before the College Football Playoff, Alabama was SI's consensus pick to win the national title. Now five of SI's seven experts predict Clemson will win the championship game.
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It all comes down to this. One year after Alabama’s thrilling 45–40 win over Clemson in last season’s national championship, who is more deserving of a shot to knock off the Crimson Tide than the Tigers?

Dabo Swinney’s squad has once again proved worthy of a spot in the title game with a 13–1 record this season while Nick Saban’s Tide rolled through every opponent on their schedule to compile a perfect 14–0 mark. However, it’s Clemson that enters the championship rematch looking hotter, as the Tigers pummeled Ohio State 31–0 in the College Football Playoff semifinals while the Tide’s offense raised questions in a 24–7 win over Washington. Still, as the betting favorite and the defending champion, Alabama enters Monday’s showdown with big expectations.

Can the Tide down the Tigers for the second straight year and win their fifth national title in eight seasons? Or will Clemson get its revenge and claim its first championship since 1981? SI’s college football experts make their picks for the winner, the score and the game’s most valuable player.

Championship storylines: Breaking down biggest questions ahead of Alabama-Clemson


National Champion

Championship MVP

Andy Staples

Tim Williams

Pete Thamel

Deshaun Watson

Lindsay Schnell

Deshaun Watson

Brian Hamilton

Mike Williams

Joan Niesen

Deshaun Watson

Colin Becht

Jonathan Allen

Gabriel Baumgaertner

Deshaun Watson

Andy Staples: Alabama

Clemson is going to challenge the Alabama defense, but Alabama’s defense may remain an important part of the Crimson Tide’s scoring apparatus. Deshaun Watson will be the best quarterback Alabama has seen all season, and Mike Williams probably will be the best receiver, but the fact remains that Watson has thrown 17 interceptions and the Tide punish quarterbacks who throw interceptions. Alabama will need to rediscover its short- and intermediate-range passing game under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. If it can, it can move the ball on Clemson. If the Tide try to drop back and throw deep as often as they did against Washington, Jalen Hurts might get buried.

The score: Alabama 31, Clemson 28
Game MVP: Tim Williams

Pete Thamel: Clemson

The Tigers get another superhero performance from Deshaun Watson, who torched the Alabama secondary last year. Clemson's defensive line is stout enough to nullify Alabama's run game. The Tigers can't run between the tackles against the Crimson Tide, which means they'll run Watson more than anytime this year and use Mike Williams to blow the top off Alabama's defense.

The score: Clemson 28, Alabama 27
Game MVP: Deshaun Watson

Let's run it back: What could be better than Alabama-Clemson national title rematch?

Lindsay Schnell: Clemson

I picked the Tigers way back at the beginning of the season, and after watching them destroy Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, I feel even better about that pick. Confidence, plus a healthy receiving corps, will be the difference for Clemson this year. The Tigers already know they can play with Alabama and will arrive in Tampa with oodles of swagger after comparing their semifinal performance to Alabama's. I'm not sure Deshaun Watson can replicate his insane stat line from last season, but he'll do enough to be named MVP and make everyone question their Heisman vote, too.

The score: Clemson 38, Alabama 35
Game MVP: Deshaun Watson

Brian Hamilton: Clemson

Both teams should struggle to get much going offensively, but Clemson's deep reserve of skill players capable of eye-popping individual efforts will sneak in enough big gains to put just enough points on the board. Wide receiver Mike Williams again demonstrated in the Fiesta Bowl that tight coverage doesn't matter; he can use his frame and exceptional hands to position himself for sensational catches anyway. Alabama's Jalen Hurts is the sort of mobile QB threat that can vex Clemson's defense, but the Tigers move around a ton and that might complicate things for a true freshman on a huge stage.

The score: Clemson 24, Alabama 20
Game MVP: Mike Williams

Joan Niesen: Clemson

The ACC has been on a roll all bowl season, going 8–3 so far, and I just read a really interesting story on about the relative significance of that record. In short: ACC teams played difficult bowl opponents and still won. I think that's proof Clemson had a tougher road to the championship than a year ago, and I think that winning is going to carry over to Monday night. The Tigers’ offensive firepower will be enough to edge Alabama. It'll be close, maybe even closer than a year ago, but I'm giving the nod to the Tigers in Round 2.

The score: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
Game MVP: Deshaun Watson

Colin Becht: Alabama

Alabama’s been my pick all season. I don’t deserve credit for going out on a limb, but there’s also no way I’m changing now. No one is better than Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide at learning from what their opponent does and figuring out how to stop it (look at Washington after its early scoring drive for the latest example). Alabama gets a head start on that process from Clemson’s success in last year’s game, so I expect the Tide defense to be ready. Offense will be tougher to come by, as Clemson’s pass rush can make life difficult for Jalen Hurts. That just means Alabama will have to grind it out, perhaps Saban’s favorite way to win.

The score: Alabama 24, Clemson 20
Game MVP: Jonathan Allen

Championship X-factors: Six things that could decide Alabama-Clemson

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Clemson

My bowl picks have been embarrassing, so the best advice would be to take this and go to Vegas with your mortgage payments on Alabama. That said, the Crimson Tide are actually threatened this time. Clemson probably won't be able to run inside (no team can against Bama), but Deshaun Watson caused the Tide defense a ton of trouble last year, and wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are bad matchups for the Alabama defensive backs. Tight end Jordan Leggett will roam free for seven or eight catches and a touchdown. Bama's sputtering offense sputters more, and Dabo Swinney gives the most entertaining postgame interview since, well, his last postgame interview.

The score: Clemson 24, Alabama 20
Game MVP: Deshaun Watson