Tonight, the Clemson Tigers will go head to head against the Alabama Crimson Tide for college football’s national championship. The game features arguably the two best teams in the country. Alabama blanked Michigan State 38-0 in the college football playoff semifinal, and Clemson trounced Oklahoma 37-17 to make it to the title game in Phoenix.
There’s no shortage of story lines for this matchup, at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, but here are three things you should know.
Alabama Chasing 4th Title In Six Years
The Tide won the national championship in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and with head coach Nick Saban at the helm, has become synonymous with college football greatness. After a disappointing semifinal loss last year, Alabama will be looking to retake the top spot. Clemson is angling for only its second national title in the program’s history, the first coming in 1981. Led by head coach William “Dabo” Swinney, the Tigers were undefeated this season and earned the No. 1 seed. But even at No. 2, one-loss Alabama (Ole Miss got the win in September) is still the seven-point favorite, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.
Best Quarterback vs. Best Defense
One prevailing narrative for this game pits Clemson’s star sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson against Alabama’s rock-solid defense. Watson was one of three Heisman finalists this season (along with the trophy winner, Alabama running back Derrick Henry). Watson has emerged as a dual-threat quarterback, meaning he is as deft running the ball himself as passing to his receivers, and some say this could give Clemson an edge in getting past Alabama’s monstrous front seven. In five of his last six games, Watson has rushed for more than 100 yards. On the other hand, Alabama has held opponents to a minuscule average of 2.3 yards per rush attempt this season, for an average of 70.8 rushing yards per game.
TV ratings for college football playoffs were way down this season, a phenomenon widely attributed to the fact that the two semifinal games were held on New Year’s Eve. John Ourand of Sports Business Daily told NPR’s Audie Cornish that although ESPN was “spinning [the rating numbers] furiously … this is about as worst a case scenario as ESPN could have come up with.” He said ratings were down about 35 percent from last year when the games were held on New Year’s Day. To make up for the low viewership, ESPN is reportedly negotiating with advertisers to the tune of $20 million. A big draw for tonight’s game could help soothe the concerns of both advertisers and the network.