There’s no debate about who the co-favorites are to win this year’s College Football Playoff. Oddsmakers universally believe that Clemson and Alabama have the best chances to win it all in 2019. There may not be much fun in picking a strong favorite to win the title, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily go with a dark horse instead.
After all, both the Tigers and Crimson Tide come into the regular season with loaded rosters. Each school also has one of the top coaches in the nation. You can argue about who you like best between Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney, but neither fan base would trade one head coach for the other. That’s a pretty good sign that each deserves to be considered one of the top college coaches in the game.
The similarities between both teams don’t just end with their respective head coaches. Each program is blessed with a returning superstar at quarterback. Trevor Lawrence burst onto the scene in Tiger Town and played well enough to force Kelly Bryant to transfer last season. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t be even better in this, his sophomore season.
The Tigers also have great talent at the skill positions to help Lawrence out when he needs it. Travis Etienne put up video game numbers last year from his running back spot. Clemson’s offense is known for its passing game, but ignoring their run game would be a big mistake. Etienne could easily emerge as a Heisman Trophy finalist if things go right for him this season.
Junior Tee Higgins leads a receiving group that is long on talent, but a bit short on experience. They may miss the likes of Hunter Renfrow early, but they’ll hit their stride early in the regular season. Keep a close eye on sophomore Justyn Ross as a guy who could really break out.
The only potential weakness for Swinney’s team this year is the defense. In particular, he lost a ton of high-end defensive line talent to the NFL last year. There’s plenty of talent returning in their front seven, but they’ve got massive shoes to fill. Look for opponents to try to slow Clemson down by controlling the game with their rushing attacks.
Fans inclined to look for Alabama’s weaknesses will also point out that Saban lost a lot of defensive talent to the NFL. That’s true, but the Crimson Tide have demonstrated a strong ability to reload on that side of the ball during Saban’s tenure. Alabama will miss Quinnon Williams, but guys like Raekwon Davis and Ale Kaho will step up as the next generation of first round draft picks under Saban.
On offense, the Crimson Tide return arguably the best quarterback in college football. Tua Tagavailoa might have gone first in this year’s NFL Draft if he had been eligible to leave school. He’ll almost certainly be a top pick next year. In the meantime, he’ll mount a serious challenge on the Heisman Trophy this season for Alabama.
Tagavailoa isn’t the only high draft pick on the offensive side of the ball for Saban. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy could easily be the first pass catcher off the board in next April’s draft. He’s impossible to cover one-on-one and plenty of teams have struggled to contain him with double coverage. He and Tagavailoa are going to put up a ton of yards together this season.
Now that we’ve sufficiently sung the praises of both teams it’s time to make a hard decision. Which of these national title favorites deserves your support this season? Again, we’re making the assumption here that you want to make the safe choice of betting on either the Tigers or the Crimson Tide.
The right answer is to back Clemson at +240. The rationale to back Swinney and his Tigers is incredibly simple, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Clemson simply has an easier road to the title than Alabama. The SEC gauntlet Saban’s team will be required to traverse is fraught with more peril than Clemson’s ACC slate.
Sure, Alabama has a strong chance to get into the College Football Playoff with one loss, but is that really a risk you want to take? Clemson could also sneak into the field if they take the right loss. It’s also not impossible that the Crimson Tide could lose twice if you throw in a difficult matchup in the SEC title game.
There’s not much fun associated with betting either side, but the Tigers are the smarter play by a slim margin. It’s easy to envision a scenario where both teams end up playing for the title, but Clemson has slightly better odds of making it to the College Football Playoff. That increased opportunity is what makes backing them the better play.