REDEMPTION? OR REPEAT?
For the second year in a row, Clemson University will play for college football’s national championship. And for the second year in a row, they will go up against perennial powerhouse Alabama.
The Tigers decimated No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl national semi-final game – turning in a dominating defensive performance that would make even the staunchest Southeastern Conference apologist stand up and take notice. Led by redshirt freshman defensive end Clelin Ferrell, the Tigers held the Buckeyes to zero points, nine first downs and only 215 total yards.
Remember Ferrell? We do … and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is no doubt familiarizing himself with the 6-foot-5, 265-pound wrecking ball right about now.
Anyway, last year the Tigers’ title dreams came up just short against the Crimson Tide – who are looking to win their fifth championship in the last eight seasons (and 21st overall). Head coach Nick Saban’s team enters this game as the No. 1 team in the nation with a perfect 14-0 record – like Clemson did a year ago.
If they win, they’ll become the first team in college football history to finish a season 15-0 – a feat Clemson nearly accomplished in last year’s game.
Head coach Dabo Swinney’s team entered the fourth quarter of last year’s game with a 24-21 lead and all the momentum – but special teams miscues doomed the Tigers in the fourth quarter. A perfectly executed onside kick and a 96-yard touchdown return by Kenyon Drake kept the Tide in the drivers’ seat en route to a 45-40 win.
Alabama has won twenty-six consecutive games – the longest active winning streak in the country. That streak includes eight in a row against Top Ten opponents.
But the Tide is facing a much tougher Clemson team this year. Not only is Ferrell coming into his own on the defensive side of the ball, but two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson will play this championship game with superstar wide receiver (and sure-fire first round NFL draft pick) Mike Williams in the lineup.
Williams missed virtually all of last season with a neck injury sustained during the Tigers’ 2015 season opener. He’s caught 90 passes for 1,267 yards and ten touchdowns on the year – and creates match-up problems all over the field for Alabama’s vaunted defense.
Additionally, Clemson has the revenge factor on its side – and is exceedingly unlikely to get caught napping again on special teams.
Frankly, we’re amazed Alabama has been installed as an eight-point favorite in this game … but those are the odds.
Next Monday night’s championship tilt will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida at 8:00 p.m. EST. ESPN will provide the national television coverage, with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit calling the action and Samantha Ponder and Tom Rinaldi working the sidelines.
(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)