Alabama has made it to the Championship game for the fourth time in eight years, where they will face top-ranked Clemson. So what sets this time apart?
For starters, the Tigers are arguably the most talented opponent the Crimson Tide has faced in a title game to date. Secondly, despite their strong showing this season, the last time Clemson was in a National Championship game was in 1981. Lastly, this is the first time since 2008 the Tide and the Tigers will battle it out on the football field.
At their last meeting, Alabama handed Clemson a humbling 34-10 loss, but that was a different time and Clemson was under a different coach. It wasn’t until midway through the 2008 season that current Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney took the reins and began to form the Tigers into the undefeated championship contenders they are today.
Since Alabama head coach Nick Saban won his first championship with the Tide in 2009 – their first since 1992, in which Swinney lined up at wide receiver for the Tide – his team has managed to lay down the hammer on their opponents, regardless of rank or matchup history: In 2009, Alabama beat Texas 37-21 with the help of now-NFL player and Heisman winner Mark Ingram; in 2011, Alabama beat LSU 21-0 after a previous loss during regular season; and in 2012, Alabama beat Notre Dame 42-14 when the Fighting Irish headed into the game ranked #1 in the nation. Because history has a tendency to repeat itself, it seems as though Alabama is the safe and likely bet to win again this year.
Clemson’s biggest challenge will be stopping this year’s Heisman winner, running back Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 2,061 yards and 25 touchdowns, and run for more than 200 years four times this season. On the other hand, Clemson boasts the top quarterback in the NCAA, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who not only has a great arm with great accuracy – he’s sporting an almost gaudy 68% completion rate – he can also scramble and slip out of sacks. When Watson fires the football, it’ll be to wide receiver Artavis Scott. If Scott is on an upswing this week, it’ll be tough for Alabama to stop the Clemson offense.
In addition to Henry, Alabama has senior QB Jake Coker working for them. Coker is coming off the best game of his career against Michigan State, with 25 of 30 completions for 286 yards and two touchdowns; he has a completion rate of 67% and 19 touchdowns overall.
Both teams have a lot of pride on the line: If Clemson can keep from being washed away by the Tide, a win tonight will make the Tigers the first team in FBS history to finish 15-0. Meanwhile, Alabama will be looking to reinstate themselves as champs after missing the big game last year due to an upsetting loss to Ohio State in the semifinals.
As much fun as rooting for the underdog is – which, in this case, is #1 Clemson – Nick Saban doesn’t just win National Championships, he dominates them, and Alabama seems likely to raise the crystal football over their heads under bright lights and crimson and white confetti at the end of the night.