ALABAMA VS. CLEMSON
6:30 p.m. Monday in Glendale, Ariz., ESPN
glendale, ariz.» Regardless of the outcome of Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama, a case can be made that no other team in the history of the sport has had a better run than the Crimson Tide with coach Nick Saban.
If Alabama beats the Tigers in the desert to win a fourth national title in seven seasons, the argument may be settled.
There was talk early in the season after Alabama lost at home to Ole Miss that the Crimson Tide dynasty was in decline. Now Alabama (13-1) is one victory away from an unprecedented achievement.
The Tide can become just the third school in college football’s poll era, dating to the creation of The Associated Press media poll in 1936, to win four championships in a 10year span. Notre Dame won four in seven seasons from 1943-49, but big-time college football is hardly comparable now to then. Those Fighting Irish teams didn’t play in bowl games and never needed more than nine victories to be the best in the country.
Miami won four championships in nine seasons (1983-91), but none of those teams had to play more than 12 games.
Alabama’s three championships with Saban, who took over in 2007, have all come in at least 13-game seasons.
“It’s incredible,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday during a news conference with Saban. Swinney heaped so much praise on his counterpart during the 30-minute session with reporters that Saban looked uncomfortable.
“Coach Saban, what he’s done, he’s one of the greatest coaches that ever coached the game,” Swinney said.
Saban has a BCS title from his time at LSU, giving him four overall. Only former Alabama coach Bear Bryant (six) won more.
“This is the first one I’ve sniffed as a coach, and he’s going for his fifth,” said Swinney, who is in his eighth season at Clemson. “It’s incredible.”
Clemson has one national championship. Coached by Danny Ford, an Alabama native and former Tide player for Bryant, the Tigers won the 1981 title by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
The Tigers are back on the biggest stage and again being led by an Alabaman and former Tide player. Swinney grew up near Birmingham and played for Alabama when Gene Stallings was the Tide’s coach in the early 1990s. He was on the Tide team that won a national championship in 1992, upsetting Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama then went through a long dry spell until Saban arrived.
“People will say, well, anybody can go win at Alabama,” Swinney said. “Not everybody can coach a great team. Not everybody can coach a great player, and I think he has a gift to be able to do that.”
The Tigers have won at least 10 games each of the last five seasons, just like Alabama. And they have their own shot at history: If the Tigers win the national title Monday, they would become the first team to achieve a 15-0 season.
“We want to be a program that is competing at this level on a consistent basis and to do that, you have to be a top-10, top-15 program year in and year out,” Swinney said.
Since going 7-6 in Saban’s first season, the Tide is 97-12.
Clemson freshman linebacker Kendall Joseph poses with the College Football Playoff championship trophy for a selfie Saturday in Phoenix. Joseph and the top-ranked Tigers are one win from becoming the first 15-0 title team in major-college history. David J. Phillip, The Associated Press