PHOENIX -- The College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T between Clemson and Alabama concludes the season Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) by crowning the 2015 national champion.
Here are five bold predictions for the game.
1. Run the football tonight, rule college football tomorrow: This game features two teams that run the ball well and two teams that are good at stopping the run. You might have noticed that coaches say those two things are critical for winning football games, which is probably why both teams are here. Alabama has Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry and the nation's best run defense. Clemson has the nation's No. 16 rushing offense, and quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman are the only pair of Power 5 teammates to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. The Tigers' run defense ranks 18th in the country. The team that runs the ball most consistently will win the title.
2. There will be a controversial call that will be endlessly debated on Twitter: Whether it's a key player getting the boot for targeting in the early going or a no-call here or a "what the heck did he see?" call there, the officials in this game are going to be part of the postgame analysis. Why? For one, this season has been riddled with controversial calls, so the final game should be no different. Second, it's a Pac-12 officiating crew. Fans from the only Power 5 conference left out of the College Football Playoff are grinning right now and imagining how ACC and SEC fans will react to officials who drive them batty -- fairly or unfairly. At the very least, be prepared to ask, "Is it just me, or are there too many penalties in this game?"
3. Third down is for closers, particularly in the red zone: Two of the odder statistics this season are Alabama's weaknesses on third down and in the red zone. You'd think that with Henry, third down would be a strength, but the Crimson Tide rank 96th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage (36.2 percent). Moreover, Alabama's red zone touchdown percentage is only 55.9 percent, which ranks 92nd in the nation. Clemson doesn't have a fantastic red zone touchdown percentage (60 percent, 70th), but its offense is much better on third down (47.7 percent, 13th). In a game in which every possession will matter and red zone trips could be precious, winning critical downs, particularly in the red zone, might prove the difference.
4. One play rarely wins a game, but in this one, it might: Imagine a struggling Alabama offense getting an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley. Or Watson going 65 yards for a TD on a third-and-13 scramble. Or Clemson coach Dabo Swinney pulling another shocking fake kick or punt out of his bag of tricks. Or Tide punt returner Cyrus Jones going yard -- again -- in a tight game. This could be a grinding, line-of-scrimmage battle in which both teams struggle to string a few first downs together, but explosive plays often prove the difference in tight games. Both teams have the sort of athletes who can turn one missed assignment into a No. 2 finish in the final polls for their opponent.
5. Alabama will win: Clemson is undoubtedly a rising power, and it's probably going to start the 2016 season ranked No. 1. The Tigers are a big, physical team at the line of scrimmage, and they have sparkling talent at the skill positions. But star defensive end Shaq Lawson is either not going to play or not going to be near 100 percent, and Alabama has the sort of offensive line that can take advantage -- something Oklahoma didn't have. On the other side of the ball, Clemson's offensive line has been good this season, but it's a year away from great. Alabama's defensive front seven is already great. In fact, the Tide have one of the best collections of depth and talent in recent memory. The Tigers' tempo and Watson's running ability might find or create daylight here and there, but there won't be enough to match the Crimson Tide offense, which seemed to find its rhythm in the second half of the season. Henry will attack the Tigers' body, and Ridley will beat Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander to provide a haymaker.