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College Football National Championship 2019: Alabama, Clemson set for Levi's

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College Football National Championship 2019: Alabama, Clemson set for Levi's

Who else could it have been?

When the College Football Playoff concludes at Levi's Stadium on Jan. 7, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the No. 2 Clemson Tigers. Clemson steamrolled No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl, while Alabama withstood a late charge from Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and his Oklahoma Sooners en route to a 45-34 win in the Orange Bowl. 

That means one of the best rivalries in the sport is coming to the Bay Area. It will mark the third time in four years the schools will square off in the title game, and the fourth consecutive season they've met in the playoff.

49ers and Raiders fans with an eye to the future will have plenty of reason to watch, too. Both teams are on course to pick in the top five of the 2019 NFL Draft, and the best two teams in college football feature plenty of blue-chip players that could begin their NFL careers in the Bay Area -- and/or wherever the Raiders play next season.

Here are a pair of prospects 49ers and Raiders fans should have their eyes on:

Clelin Ferrell, DE (Clemson)

Ferrell moved into a tie with William "The Refrigerator" Perry for fourth on Clemson's all-time sacks list on Saturday. He also forced -- and recovered -- a fumble, and broke up a pass against the Fighting Irish. 

His ability to rush the passer is something the 49ers and Raiders desperately need, as the teams entered Week 17 standing 19th and 32nd in sacks, respectively. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound edge rusher was initially expected to enter the draft last spring, but his decision to spend another year in school could prove to be a boon for either Bay Area franchise if they take him in the first round. 

Ferrell may be a reach in the top five, as he's projected by many mocks to be picked after the top 10. That just may make him an option for the Raiders second (and maybe third) first-round pick -- one of which was acquired, ironically enough, when they traded their best pass rusher. 

Quinnen Williams, DL (Alabama)

Pro Football Focus rated Williams as the best player in college football this season, and he showed why on Saturday. Williams backed up his (almost) trash talk about Murray, helping the Crimson Tide hold the Sooners to just 10 points in the first half.

While the 49ers and Raiders don't need an interior lineman per se, Williams may be too good for either team to let slip past them. Rams superstar Aaron Donald has shown just how valuable an interior rusher could be, and neither the 49ers nor the Raiders are in a position to be choosy about how to make vital improvements in their pass rush. 

It's unlikely Williams will remain on the board much longer after San Francisco and Oakland end up picking, assuming he enters the draft. But if he does, a strong performance in their own backyard could be enough to convince the 49ers or Raiders to call his name. 

Why Justin Skule is thankful for 49ers O-line before first NFL start

Why Justin Skule is thankful for 49ers O-line before first NFL start

SANTA CLARA -- 49ers left tackle Justin Skule, who will take over for injured six-time Pro Bowler Joe Staley at the position in Sunday’s home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is just a rookie. But Skule already has a huge supporting cast to help him prepare. 

The 22-year-old is an unknown to most in the Niners fanbase. The rookie has quietly kept his head down since he was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the 49ers in April. Staley, who has vowed to help Skule adjust to his new responsibilities, has already made an impact on his replacement. 

“He’s been awesome since I’ve been here just taking me under his wing and giving me little tricks of the trade,” Skule said Wednesday of the veteran left tackle, who is out six to eight weeks after breaking his fibula in Week 2. “He’s done a phenomenal job just these past couple days giving me pointers just showing me how he goes through his process and everything like that. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.” 

Staley isn’t the only offensive lineman to offer Skule helpful advice. The rookie had to fill in for Staley in the 49ers' 41-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and Skule said Mike Person imparted some wisdom when the two shared the field at Paul Brown Stadium. 

“He’s like, ‘Take a deep breath it’s still just football,'" Skule recalled. "So, I think that’s something that I’m really going to focus on this week. It’s still the game of football. Just take a deep breath, and don’t let anything get too big for myself.” 

Skule apparently has taken that advice to heart during his first week of practice as the team's starter.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t notice the nerves that were brewing in his newly appointed left tackle. Garoppolo that Skule appeared unfazed when he first filled in for Staley and has been the same ever since. 

“He’s been very consistent,” Garoppolo said. “Smart guy, came into the huddle during the game, didn’t blink or anything. Just one of those guys, he does the right thing and he’s in the right spot. He’s been the same guy every day, and you’ve got to appreciate that.”

[RELATED: Chris Simms explains why unbeaten 49ers might be for real]

Thus far, Skule has taken it all in stride. Even with more than 20 media members surrounding him in front of his locker for the first time in his pro career, Skule seemed calm and deliberate. The rookie didn’t hesitate when answering any questions, and his replies seemed genuine. 

Still, Skule knows that even though he feels calm now, the nerves undoubtedly will come before his first start Sunday at Levi's Stadium. 

“No matter who you are replacing, you’re going to go in with some nerves,” Skule said. “Everyone has that competitive edge where you’re going to be nervous when you’re going in. The older guys and everyone in the huddle have just done a great job taking me under their wing and just making sure I’m good and relaxed and ready to go.” 

Chris Simms encouraged by 49ers' start, 'pumped' about offense, defense

Chris Simms encouraged by 49ers' start, 'pumped' about offense, defense

After two weeks, the 49ers are one of nine undefeated teams in the NFL. They've scored the most points in the NFC, and possess the second-best point differential in the league behind only the New England Patriots.

"I'm really encouraged by what I see from the San Francisco 49ers football team," NBC Sports' Chris Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday.

In heaping his praise, Simms broke down the 49ers' roster, unit by unit.

"The defense is legit, and of course, we saw it improved last year," Simms remarked. "We really did. It's well-coached, and now it has more weapons than since the years the 49ers were going to the Super Bowl against the Ravens and all that.

"Where it starts is the defensive line. The defensive line is special, and it's versatile. It can be a small, fast group that can create havoc. If they want to get big and have to stop a Dallas Cowboys-like running game, they're going to be capable of doing that. 

"Linebackers are extremely athletic with Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner. The secondary -- I'm encouraged from what I've seen from Ahkello Witherspoon. We know Richard Sherman is good. The safety play has been good. So the defense is really awesome."

Not to be discounted, Simms turned his attention to San Francisco's offense, coming off a 41-point explosion against the Bengals.

"Offensively, how could I not be pumped? That offensive performance last week against Cincinnati was mind-blowing. I mean, Kyle Shanahan cracked the code. He, like, broke into the Matrix on that one. That was a true show as far as what they did to the Bengals offensively. Huge holes in the run game, wide-open people in the pass game."

Moving forward, Simms believes Shanahan's football mind will help the 49ers withstand the loss of Joe Staley to a broken fibula, starting in Week 3 against the Steelers.

"It's not going to be easy to overcome, to lose a player like Joe Staley. I mean, he's a franchise left tackle. A Hall of Fame left tackle ... But either way, I still think the 49ers will be fine without him.

"As good? No, of course not -- you never replace Joe Staley completely. But there's a phenomenal offensive line in San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan, his run schemes, the play-action, the things he does that keep defenses off-balance is as good as anybody in the sport. So, he'll find ways to protect Justin Skule ... I was very encouraged with the way he looked after I saw Joe Staley go down.

"But he'll hold his own, and then when Shanahan feels like, 'Oh, okay, I don't necessarily like this matchup for my left tackle,' he'll find ways to help him out a little bit, too."

[RELATED: Jimmy G, Shanahan excited to play in front of 49ers crowd]

While Simms is encouraged by the 49ers' strong start to the season, there's still one issue holding him back from being all the way in on San Francisco.

"If I have one question about the 49ers right now -- I'm not totally in the trust tree with Jimmy Garoppolo. I don't think he's playing to his capabilities yet

"But the encouraging thing is, he's getting better and you're 2-0. So when that all meshes together, I say watch out for the San Francisco 49ers."

Time to take the red pill. The 49ers just might be for real.