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College Football National Championship Preview and Open Thread

The time when Husky fans lament what might have been.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson Practice Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been said here before and warrants repeating: the Washington Huskies have not been this relevant in the world of college football since Jim Lambright, Napoleon Kaufman, Damon Huard and the 1994 Huskies marched into Miami and ended the 58-game home win streak that the Hurricanes had been cultivating since 1985.

22 years of non-relevance is a long time for a program and a fanbase that has national championship aspirations dating back decades.

Tonight the Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Clemson Tigers in a championship contest that the Huskies were just one win away from participating in themselves.

Never before has just one game seemed like such a wide gulf.

Alas, this is not the forum to debate how close or how far away from being a legitimate championship threat the Huskies truly are. Instead, I’d like to focus on queuing up the discussion for tonight’s open thread.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Media Day
Steve Sarkisian will be captaining the offense against Clemson in tonight’s national championship.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Crimson Tide demonstrated in their dominating victory over Washington that their game plan is simply to out-bludgeon their opponents. They are going to focus on taking away their opponent’s offense so that they can execute a conservative, run-heavy offensive strategy that controls the ball, controls the clock and limits the exposure that they have to their young quarterback, Jalen Hurts, making mistakes.

Against UW, ‘Bama were able to take the threat of UW’s passing attack by pressing their corners, playing two safeties back and running a blitz scheme that attacked the edges. They were able to execute that game plan very successfully after absorbing a very efficient opening quarter that saw Jake Browning start the game 8/10 for 81 yards and a TD.

Clemson is a contrast to Alabama in that they are more of a “nouveau riche” program when it comes to the college football landscape. In the last six years, the Tigers have averaged about 11.5 wins a season with every single season being a double digit win season. In the preceding six seasons - seasons viewed at the time as some of the most successful in Clemson history, the average was 8 wins per. The 2016 season is really a statement season for coach Dabo Sweeney and his team. Their second straight appearance in the national championship and their thorough dismantling of Ohio State in a 31-0 shutout Fiesta Bowl win erases any debate that the Tigers are still prone to “Clemsoning it” (leaving the term “Cougin’ it” as the undisputed champion in its category) or that they are not part of the college football elite.

Taking on Alabama, Clemson will try to showcase the multiple talents of QB Deshaun Watson. Watson presents a different challenge to the Alabama defense in that his running prowess nullifies the kind of numbers advantage that the Crimson Tide established by not having to account for Jake Browning. I expect that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will use more zone concepts in order to both contain Watson the runner and to nullify the threats of Clemson WR Mike Williams and TE Jordan Leggett. This might create an opportunity for Clemson to have a little more rushing success than UW experienced. The Tigers are not necessarily a run-first team, though RB Wayne Gallman is a 1000-yard guy while Watson himself has 8 rushing TDs.

NCAA Football: Troy at Clemson
True freshman DT Dexter Lawrence is a beast for Clemson.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

How Clemson performs defensively against the Tide will be an interesting benchmark for Husky fans interested in judging just how stout the UW defense was. Keep in mind that the Tigers are coming off of a shutout of one of the better offenses in the nation.

Statistically, the Tigers look very much like UW when you assess the traditional metrics of rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense. To the eyeball, they look stronger up front and not quite as dynamic on the back end. True freshman Dexter Lawrence is a 340 lb athletic beast in the middle of the defensive line and he is partnered next to 305 lb Carlos Watkins, who claims 10.5 sacks of his own. MLB Ben Bouware is the other name to know - an inside backer who racked up 110 tackles this season. It will be interesting to see if that strong middle does a better job than UW in containing RB Bo Scarborough.

One also can’t help but to wonder what Steve Sarkisian might be bringing to the table in his first official game as offensive coordinator for Alabama. You could already sense his influence when ‘Bama went up-tempo on UW in the first half of the Peach Bowl. No doubt that he has had the opportunity to assess Clemson’s strength up the middle. Will he choose to put Jalen Hurts to work as a rusher? Will he take advantage of the perimeter with jet sweeps and bubble screens? Will he simply just pound the rock and let the chips fall? It’ll be interesting to see the former UW head coach in action.

What do you think, Husky fans? Will you be watching tonight? Or is it just too soon for you to come back into the CFB waters and wonder what might have been?

This is your national championship open thread. Enjoy the last game of the 2016 season.