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The Three Keys to the College Football Playoff National Championship

A'Shawn Robinson, Calvin Ridley, Deshaun Watson, and Mackensie Alexander are all players who are likely to play a part in tonight's national championship.
Will Deshaun Watson have enough time to make plays? Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama meet in the College Football Playoff Championship.

Clemson has gone undefeated this season, but Alabama is a seven-point favorite, coming off a dominating 38-0 win over Michigan State in the playoff semi-finals. It seems like almost nothing can stop the Crimson Tide right now, with undoubtedly the best defensive front in the country and an offense that is just starting to get rolling.


However, Clemson has a better quarterback than any of Alabama's opponents this season, and the high-powered Tigers offense has the ability to take advantage of a sometimes susceptible Alabama secondary.

Here are the biggest matchups to watch:

1. Alabama front seven vs. Clemson offensive line

Nobody is going to stop the Alabama defensive line. Led by star defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, this is the most talented defensive front in football, and possibly the most talented Alabama line ever. The Tide are No. 1 in sacks and No. 1 in rushing yards allowed per attempt.

The key for Clemson is giving quarterback Deshaun Watson just a little bit of time and opening just enough holes for him to make things happen. Watson is an outstanding playmaker and improvisor. The Tigers need to allow him to showcase his skills.

2. Calvin Ridley vs. the Clemson secondary

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows his receivers are so good that he can predict touchdowns before they happen. Last year it was Amari Cooper, and this year it's Calvin Ridley, the extraordinary freshman who has become the Crimson Tide's top deep threat. If he gets a big touchdown or two, it's going to be tough for Clemson to stay in the game.

Things could get even tougher with star Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander reportedly out or hobbled with a hamstring injury. If he gets burnt by Ridley in the early going — and you know Kiffin will test him — the Tigers will suddenly get very thin in their ability to stop both Ridley and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry.

3. Clemson pass rush vs. Jake Coker

Alabama's defensive front is more consistent and more talented, but Clemson's is better at disruption, leading the nation in tackles for loss. Disruption will be key in this game, specifically against quarterback Jake Coker.

Coker has come on at the end of the season, but he has been inconsistent and has struggled when he doesn't have the time to simply manage the game. The two things working against Clemson here are that the Alabama offensive line is awesome and star defensive end Shaq Lawson likely isn't 100 percent. But if the Tigers can force some mistakes from Coker and put the Crimson Tide on their heels, they'll gain the upper hand.