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Sugar Bowl final thoughts and predictions

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

It’s a new year but the same story in the College Football Playoffs. Well, sort of. Clemson and Alabama are set to square off for the third straight year with National Championship implications. This year, however, the two teams fight for the chance to make it to the title game. With the series tied at 1-1, this could prove to be one of the most interesting rubber matches in recent memory. There’s a lot of speculation on how the two teams will perform, especially the two quarterbacks, and with good reason. Both teams have looked shaky at times this season and looked almost unstoppable at others. With that in mind, here are a few last-minute thoughts and predictions on how the Sugar Bowl will shake out.
Kelly Bryant will play as well as he has the last three games
Starting with a somewhat unimportant matchup with The Citadel, Bryant has been a different quarterback for the Tigers. While he led the team to marquee wins early in the year, a lot of those wins were the result of timely offensive runs and great defensive play. Bryant’s arm had little to do with the early season success, and fans were critical of the coaches’ decision of naming him the starter. However, against the Bulldogs, Bryant looked like a different quarterback. That trend continued against South Carolina and Miami, and his confidence, and the fans’ confidence in him, has grown exponentially. Expect Bryant to continue playing well this game. While his numbers may not jump off the page come night’s end, his mobility and ability to move the pocket to avoid Alabama’s pass rush will be key to the Tigers’ success.
Alabama’s linebackers will be healthy and looking for revenge
The Crimson Tide’s linebacking corps was decimated by injuries this season, and the team suffered for it. With the rest between their last game and the Sugar Bowl, most of the players will be ready to go. They will also be looking for revenge against the team that ran over them last year, and Nick Saban is 10-2 in games against teams he lost to the prior season. They will also use the fact they nearly missed out on a playoff berth as motivation. While Bryant is mobile and able to extend plays, Alabama will pressure him and make him make throws under duress. If the Tide can rattle Bryant early, their path to the National Championship will be a lot easier.
Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud will have to be reliable
By now, everyone knows Hunter Renfrow is the bane of Alabama’s existence. The walk-on wide receiver has made his name in games against the Crimson Tide, culminating in last year’s last-second winning touchdown. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide defense will be doing everything they can to keep Renfrow out of the game, both because of past experiences and because of his reliability. Renfrow gives Bryant and almost sure completion, and Alabama will want to take that away and force him to throw the ball downfield. That means receivers like Cain and McCloud will have to be ready when their number is called. Both have been plagued by too many drops this year, and that cannot happen against Alabama if Clemson wants a chance to win.
Final Prediction
This game, like its previous two incarnations, will be tightly contested and come down to the wire. Clemson’s defense has been strong all season, and with a rested and healthy defensive line, they are going to be able to make enough plays to put the Tigers on top. Clemson wins 28-24.

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