College football's biggest game is finally upon us. Clemson and Alabama will square off for the second time in as many seasons (which is a first), but each squad has a different feel from the 2016 version of themselves. Jim Oxley wrote about the biggest differences from last year to this year for Alabama and for Clemson earlier this week.
Names like Deshaun Watson and Jonathan Allen probably resonate with most FBS fans almost immediately. But how about those under-the-radar guys who could likely make a significant impact on the outcome of the game?
Here are five underrated players who could swing the national championship game: [divider]
5. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
Anyone who follows the Tide knows about Anderson, but he's never one of the most talked about players on that crippling defense. Anderson is the quiet anchor of Nick Saban's defense, but he also has the ability to make a game-changing play at the blink of an eye.
Remember the massive interception against Washington last weekend? The Tide were up 10-7, with under five minutes left in the first half, and the Huskies had a chance to drive down and take a lead going into halftime. Nope. Anderson picked off UW quarterback Jake Browning and basically put it out of reach. That's the kind of thing we are talking about. Watson and company will have to key in on Anderson the entire game, or it could be a long day. [divider]
4. Clemson S Jadar Johnson
The Tigers are known best for their crippling pass rush. When quarterbacks slip by the Clemson front seven, Johnson's eyes light up. Johnson is projected as a 6th round NFL Draft pick, but don't sleep on his skill set. The dude is a ball hawk who came down with five interceptions on the year, and he's a proven commodity against the run. It won't be surprising to see Johnson have a huge game when it matters the most. [divider]
3. Alabama TE O.J. Howard
The Alabama receiving corps is often overlooked. The Tide have taken a conservative approach with Jalen Hurts, resulting mediocre numbers from their pass catchers. Howard is a stud. He's big enough to block at the line of scrimmage, but fast enough to separate from linebackers and safeties in space. Coming off a game where the Alabama offense struggled mightily, don't be surprised if Steve Sarkisian plays it safe with comfortable, short passes to Howard.
It's Sarkisian's first game as a play caller, and it couldn't be a bigger audition. It's hard to see him gambling and more realistic to envision a conservative approach. [divider]
2. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman
A starting running back? Underrated? Yes. Let's be real for a moment. Clemson's offense is not focused on pounding the football from the backfield. Gallman is used strategically and effectively, picking up many big plays when Watson is used as a decoy. He finished the season with more than 1,000 yards rushing, but we still don't hear him talked about enough. Alabama's defense is the best in the nation at stuffing the run, but for Clemson to win, Gallman must be effective.[divider]
1. Alabama CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
This kid is a stud. He will be the next great defensive player to emerge from Tuscaloosa. We have seen Watson struggle in the passing game, particularly against squads with elite players in the secondary. Fitzpatrick seems to constantly rise to the occasion. The sophomore has six interceptions on the year and two of those have been returned for touchdowns. He has another seven pass deflections and even recorded 1.5 sacks in 2016. Watson better be careful.