Do you really want to watch Notre Dame play the Crimson Tide?
Or Michigan square up with Clemson?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Instead of complaining about the sport’s lack of parity and how it’s becoming as predictable as the NBA or women’s college basketball, ask yourself this: Why wouldn’t you want to watch Alabama play Clemson again?
Their first two meetings in the CFP National Championship were two of the greatest college football games ever played; it’s nearly impossible to decide which one was more memorable. And there’s no reason to believe this season’s edition at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Jan. 7 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) won’t be as electric.
Instead of grumbling about having to watch the No. 1 Crimson Tide play the No. 2 Tigers again, we should be embracing what they’ve accomplished during the CFP era and particularly this season. It has undoubtedly become the greatest rivalry in the sport — they played in the CFP national semifinal last season, with Alabama advancing — and it’s probably not going to end anytime soon.
After watching Clemson demolish No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in a CFP semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday, then seeing Alabama take down No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in the other semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl, there’s zero debate about which two teams should be playing for a national title.
“They’ve got a great program and a great team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Clemson. “[Coach Dabo Swinney] has done a great job there. I’m sure it will be a real challenge for us. I’m sure we’ll need to play better then than we did today.”
How predictable was their matchup? Las Vegas oddmakers released lines for Alabama-Clemson IV at halftime of the Crimson Tide’s semifinal game. Alabama is an early 6 1/2 -point favorite.
Here’s what we have to look forward to in nine days:
It will be the third time No. 1 has played No. 2 for a national championship in the CFP era; the No. 1-ranked team has never won the CFP, which might bode well for the Tigers.
It’s the first time two undefeated teams will play for the national title in the CFP era, and the winner will become the first FBS team since Penn in 1897 to win 15 games in a season.
Alabama is playing in its fourth consecutive CFP National Championship; the Crimson Tide went 2-1 in the previous three. Clemson is playing in its third title game in four years; the Tigers split the first two against the Tide and lost 24-6 against Alabama in the CFP semifinals last season.
It’s Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, the best sophomore quarterback in the FBS and the Heisman Trophy runner-up, against Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who will attempt to become the first freshman quarterback to start and win a national title game since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985. (Tagovailoa came off the bench at halftime in last season’s CFP title game to lead Alabama back from a 13-point deficit in a 26-23 victory over Georgia in overtime.)
Seriously, what more could you possibly want? It’s the two deepest and most talented teams, which are led by two of the sport’s most successful coaches. With a victory over Clemson, Saban would win his seventh national title (one at LSU and six at Alabama) and surpass legendary Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most in FBS history. With a win over Alabama, Swinney would join Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer as the only active coaches with multiple national titles.
Alabama and Clemson are almost mirror images of each other. Both teams have accurate, strong-armed quarterbacks and running games by committee. Their receiver corps are as deep and athletic as any in the country.
Clemson has the sport’s best defensive line — the Tigers didn’t miss a beat against the Fighting Irish without All-American Dexter Lawrence, who was suspended by the NCAA after failing a drug test — and Alabama has the best defensive lineman, Outland Trophy winner Quinnen Williams.
Neither one is particularly good at kicking field goals, which tends to keeps things interesting.
Lawrence completed 27 of 39 passes for 327 yards with three touchdowns against the Fighting Irish, becoming only the second player to throw for at least 300 yards with three scores in a CFP game.
“I just think he’s gotten better and better, all year long,” Swinney said of Lawrence. “But I definitely envisioned him being a great player, there’s no question about that. That’s why we recruited him. … He’s just so poised, and he’s [6 foot, 6 inches] — he just sees it — and he’s got a gift of an arm.”
Tagovailoa, a left-handed quarterback from Hawaii, was even better against Oklahoma, completing 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards with four touchdowns against the Sooners. He didn’t show any effects from a sprained ankle that bothered him against Georgia in the SEC championship game.
We saw how close these teams were the past two times they played in the CFP National Championship. In the first title game after the 2015 season, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson put an elephant-sized scare into the Crimson Tide, throwing for 405 yards with four touchdowns.
Alabama trailed going into the fourth quarter before the teams combined to score 40 points in what might have been the most entertaining 15 minutes of action we’ve ever seen. There was a very un-Saban-like onside kick that turned the tide for Alabama, followed by a 51-yard touchdown to a tight end and a 95-yard kickoff return.
Watson threw his final touchdown with 12 seconds left, and the Tigers simply ran out of time in Alabama’s 45-40 victory for its fourth national title in seven seasons.
But that classic proved to only be a precursor to the sequel the next season. After a defensive slugfest in the first half, the Crimson Tide led by 10 going into the fourth. Clemson score two touchdowns to go ahead before Jalen Hurts scored on a 30-yard run to put the Tide in front 31-28 with 2:07 remaining.
But then Clemson reached the Tide’s 9-yard line with 14 seconds left. After a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 2, Watson fired a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining to give the Tigers a 35-31 victory, which ended their 35-year national title drought.
Here’s hoping Alabama-Clemson IV is as good as the first two.