When the College Football Playoff matchups were announced, we wrote that Washington actually had a chance to take down Alabama in the first semifinal. The Huskies matched up about as well as one could hope, and even in a season of Pac-12 bowl struggles, UW blew out most of its Pac-12 opponents, so they couldn't be faulted too much for the conference's relative weakness. Then, Alabama pummeled Washington, as Alabama does.
Clemson can beat Alabama, too. We promise this time! Clemson is better than Washington and is the undisputed second-best team in the country. The Tigers are playing their best football right now, having just dominated Ohio State 31-0. If Clemson plays another game like that and Alabama doesn't show up, the Tigers will win, perhaps by multiple scores. But if both are at their strength, Alabama will win. Even if Clemson plays above its average and the Crimson Tide play below theirs, Alabama probably still wins.
This entire season has basically been a competition for second place. Alabama lost games in some of its national title years, but this year, the Crimson Tide went 13-0. Only two of their wins were within 10 points. They beat USC by 46, Tennessee by 39, Texas A&M and Arkansas by 19, Auburn by 18, and Florida by 38.
If you're trying to talk yourself into anyone beating Alabama, you have to grade on a curve. You can talk about how Clemson beat Florida State and Louisville, and therefore can beat Alabama, but you have to ignore the Tigers less-than-impressive performances against Pitt, NC State, and Troy. You can talk about Ohio State's win over Michigan being more impressive than any Alabama win, but you have to ignore the fact that Alabama wouldn't struggle with Northwestern and Indiana.
There are teams whose 75th percentile performances are probably better than Alabama's 25th percentile performances, which is why we play the games. And the Tigers can beat the Crimson Tide if they play near their best and Alabama doesn't show up. But the fact that Alabama is that much better than anyone else in college football is truly remarkable.
We have basically gotten to the point in college football where it would be a surprise if anyone but Alabama won the national title. The Crimson Tide have had the best recruiting class in the country in each of the past six years. They have stockpiled a group of great coaches with brilliant X's and O's and play-calling minds who were undervalued elsewhere or didn't work out for non-football reasons. Despite all of his flaws, new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, has run some great offenses. Remember Jeremy Pruitt? The star Georgia defensive coordinator? He's Alabama's DC. Or what about Mario Cristobal, who made Florida F-ing International a nine-win team? He's the Tide's recruiting coordinator. Add in a full NFL-style staff of "analysts," hired by an athletic department that makes, conservatively, $100 million per year off football, and you have a monster.
Alabama is not a college football team. Alabama is a factory that can only lose if everything goes right for its opponent.
Clemson is a great college football team, and if some unlikely circumstances occur, the Tigers can win. But Alabama has the best talent and the best coaches in the nation—both by a wide margin. As history has borne out, that kind of team just probably isn't going to lose.