Alabama has already beaten LSU when it was ranked No. 2 and knocked off No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl last week, but according to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, Clemson is on another level from anyone else Alabama has faced this year.
Speaking during the College Football Playoff National Championship teleconference Monday afternoon, Saban said his team will have its hands full with the Tigers in the National Championship Game.
“This is certainly going to be the most challenging game we've had to this point,” Saban said. “Clearly Clemson is a team that is good in all facets of the game. Very, very good offensive team, great defensive team, play well on special teams, very well-coached. Dabo (Swinney) has done an outstanding job, and they have a lot of good players that are very well-coached that play very well.”
The most challenging player for Alabama to stop will likely be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Heisman finalist has passed for nearly 3,700 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 while accounting for 43 total touchdowns through 14 games.
In Clemson’s 37-17 Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma, Watson did not have his best day passing the ball but did rush for a career-high 145 yards. It marked his fifth time in the past six games rushing for more than 100 yards.
“The guy is an outstanding player and does a great job of executing their offense, tremendous dual threat in terms of being a very good passer and rushing for over 1,000 yards this year,” Saban said. “You know, really is a very good rhythm passer as well as a guy who can sustain plays and extend plays because of his athleticism and ability to scramble.”
The Crimson Tide faced several dual-threat quarterbacks this year, including Chad Kelly of Ole Miss, Josh Dobbs of Tennessee and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, but Saban said you have to go back a ways to find a dual-threat quarterback Alabama has faced who is as good as Watson.
“Really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time, and certainly does an outstanding job of executing their offense,” Saban said. “There's no question about the fact that he's an outstanding leader, as well, because you can see the way the players sort of rally around him.”
While Watson and Clemson can certainly challenge Alabama, the Crimson Tide will provide a big test for the Tigers as well.
Alabama sports the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, allowing 13.4 points per game. The Crimson Tide also has the nation’s leading rusher in Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
“They certainly have been the standard in college football for a long, long time, but especially since coach Saban has been there,” Swinney said. “It's a great honor to be able to go and compete at the highest level with the team that represents the best. We know that we're going to have to have great preparation here and play very well to have a chance to win the game.”