The rematch that everyone has been anticipating is finally here.
After Nick Saban won his fourth title—fifth overall—as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide last year, winning 45-40 over the Clemson Tigers in last year’s National Championship game, Saban will seek his fifth title in seven years 8 p.m. tonight at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
If Saban comes out on top once more, he will have earned his sixth national championship title, joining elite company, namely Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won six championships in the 60s and the 70s as the coach of Alabama.
While Dabo Swinney has never won a national championship, his team has a chance to join some interesting company. If Clemson wins this chip, according to Forbes.com, they will be the first team since the Florida State Seminoles to win a national title game the year after losing the title game. The Seminoles did this in 1998 and 1999, Tennessee in 1997 and 1998, Florida in 1995 and 1996 and Nebraska in 1993 and 1994.
However, if Clemson loses, they will join company that isn’t quite so memorable. The Crimson Tide could very well hoist the championship trophy, and if they do, Swinney will be the coach of the first team since the Ohio State Buckeyes to lose back-to-back titles, unfortunately. The other team to lose back-to-back titles is the Oklahoma Sooners, who lost titles in 2003 and 2004.
It’s been a month or so for both teams to rigorously prepare for the chance at history. Before the hefty grace period, however, Jalen Hurts led the Roll Tide to a 13-0 record as a freshmen quarterback, and to a 24-6 victory over the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl.
Hurts, who tossed the pigskin for 21 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, 2,620 yards, a 64.6 completion percentage and a 142.1 quarterback rating, is well prepared for the task.
Hurts is a dual-threat quarterback, and according to al.com, Clemson players are concerned that Hurts provides an added dimension, an aspect that is much different than last year’s winning Alabama quarterback Jake Coker.
“Last year, the quarterback wasn’t as dynamic as it was this year,” said defensive end Clelin Ferrell to al.com, the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP. “Jalen Hurts, he can do a lot of things. He’s very talented and very poised in the pocket so I feel like Jalen Hurts definitely changed the whole dynamic of their offense.”
But this won’t stop the Tigers’ game plan of rushing the quarterback. The Tigers have taken down opposing quarterbacks 49 times, which is just one shy of Alabama.
Though Hurts will get all the publicity as the quarterback, his team will try to do what they’ve been doing all season for their winning formula: run the football and play defense.
Last year, Derrick Henry won the Heisman trophy and the MVP in the SEC title game, but this year it will be Bo Scarbrough, and the running back committee, controlling the time of possession. Scarbrough was the MVP in the Peach Bowl as he rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The sophomore running back is a Derrick Henry clone—a guy who is a bruiser and relishes after the point of contact. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound back had 131 yards after contact against Washington last week.
Of course, the Roll Tide will try to do this again.
The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 2 in total defense, and this year the defense is preparing a little harder, and smarter, especially after giving up 550 total offensive yards, 31 first downs and five touchdowns to the Tigers last year in the title game.
Last year, former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was preparing his future coaching staff for his now Georgia job, so players may have had some thoughts on what the situation would be. This year, players wholeheartedly know who their coach is, and that is Jeremy Pruitt.
Pruitt is more of a players coach as opposed to Smart, who had a serious demeanor—much like Saban.
The Lane Kiffin departure to Florida Atlantic University may play a role, but the general feeling is that Kiffin departing early was best for the team.
Of course, the Tide will do their best to stop the ACC Championship MVP and the Davey O’Brien Award winner Deshaun Watson, but the Tigers will look to shut down Bama’s offensive attack, too.
The Tigers are ranked no. 15 in the country in total defense, but they will look to stop a potent rushing attack, said Clemson Linebacker Ben Boulware.
“Derrick Henry was a load. Playing somebody similar and faster is not fun,” Boulware said to al.com. “But we’re not scared. We respect him and the rest of their offense.”