Ready to roll into history
Alabama’ seeks its fifth title in eight seasons, but a motivated Clemson stands in the way
TAMPA, Fla. — Nick Saban and Alabama are on the verge of leaving college football history behind. The top-ranked Crimson Tide face Clemson tonight in a College Football Playoff national championship game rematch. A victory would give Alabama five national championships in eight seasons, a feat never completed at the highest level of the sport during the poll era.
The Tide (14-0) can become the first FBS program to finish 15-0, along with the first to win four championships in span of six seasons, going back-to-back twice in that span.
A case can already be made that Alabama’s current run is the greatest in college football history. Better than Notre Dame back in the grainy black-and-white footage days of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy. Better than Miami’s long run of dominance in the
1980s and early ’90s. Better than anything Alabama did when Bear Bryant was leading the Tide in the 1960s and ’70s.
Another title would give Saban six during the poll era that began in 1936, including a BCS crown at LSU in 2003, matching Bryant for the most of any major-college coach. With one more championship, there will be no more college football dynasties left to compare to Saban’s.
“I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, an Alabama native who grew up worshipping Bryant and ended up playing for the national championship Tide team in 1992. “Every year is kind of that season of its own and you have your challenges, and it’s a journey of its own. But to be able to regroup and create that edge and meet those challenges, continue to manage your staff and your roster and compete at the highest level, I mean, it’s just unbelievable what has happened.”
Swinney and Saban held a joint news conference Sunday in Tampa.
Swinney’s team stands in the way of an Alabama championship again. The Tigers have not won a national title since 1981. As Swinney and his players have said over and over, it is the only box left for the program to check as it has taken a place among the elite in college football.
Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson said he knew when he decided to come to Clemson in 2012 he was joining a program poised for big things.
“I felt the energy, I bought into what Coach Swinney was saying and what he thought the future was going to bring to this program, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Watson, a junior most certainly playing his last college game.
Clemson is working on a streak of six consecutive 10-win seasons, topped only by Alabama’s 10 straight.
Watson, the quarterback from Gainesville, Ga., has been maybe the biggest reason why Clemson has become Alabama’s final and greatest challenge the last two seasons. He was spectacular against the Tide in the title game last year with 478 total yards. Unable to stop Watson, Alabama used a surprising onside kick to swing the game its way and win 45-40.
The Crimson Tide defense enters the game ranked tops in the nation in total defense, rushing defense, yards per play allowed and points allowed. It is also responsible for 12 of the team’s stunning 15 non-offensive touchdowns.
Clemson, meanwhile, is coming off its best defensive effort for the season in a 31-0 Fiesta Bowl win against Ohio State.
The Tide has won 26 straight games. The Tigers are 27-2 the last two seasons.
“Frazier-Ali type of fight,” Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said. “Two great teams, and we’re going to go at it and it’s going to be a great game Monday night.”
Howard added: “We’re Ali.”
Alabama tight end O.J, Howard (88) compares his team and Clemson to the boxing rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he came to Clemson because he believed the program was on the upswing and would play in big games.