The Alabama Crimson Tide boasts a storied tradition, and they’ve been the college football standard for many years. Next Monday, the team looks to add another trophy to its case, and go after its 16th football national championship in the school’s history, and its fourth championship since head coach Nick Saban took the helm in Tuscaloosa in 2007.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide (13-1) will match up against the No. 1 Clemson Tigers (14-0) on Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. CT for the College Football Playoff National Championship at Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Both teams advanced to the championship game after first round playoff games Dec. 31. Clemson defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 37-17, and Alabama bashed Michigan State 38-0.
These two teams haven’t met since the 2008 season opener, when Alabama dominated the Tigers 34-10 at the Georgia Dome.
It was Saban’s second season as coach of the Tide, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was on the sidelines as a wide receivers coach.
That 2008 season became a springboard for Saban’s squad. They went on to win three championship games in 2009, 2011 and 2012 in dominating fashion.
Overall, the Tide leads the series against Clemson 12-3, with the Tigers’ last win coming in 1905.
Head coaches from both teams met Monday for a teleconference to discuss the upcoming championship game.
The Alabama defensive line has been nothing short of dominant this season, ranking first overall in nearly every defensive category.
“They’re clearly the best that we’ve seen,” Swinney said. “I mean, they’re as good as it gets in the country. But, the biggest thing is they just have great depth in their defensive line.
“They roll them guys in there, play a lot of guys, a bunch of subs, and they all play at a really, really high level. That's why they're a great team. That's the biggest thing that jumps out at you. Most teams that you play don't have the type of depth that Alabama can present.”
The Tide’s strong defensive front will face one of its biggest tests. Clemson brings an offense that ranks nationally at No. 11 — Tigers’ quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 43 total TDs and more than 4,000 yards of total offense earned the sophomore a trip to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy presentation. Of course, ‘Bama tailback Derrick Henry ultimately took home the honors.
Saban said Watson was as good as any quarterback he and the Tide have faced in recent years.
“(Watson) is an outstanding player and does a great job of executing their offense,” Saban said. “He’s a tremendous dual threat in terms of being a very good passer and rushing for over 1,000 yards this year. (Watson) really is a very good rhythm passer, as well as a guy who can sustain plays and extend plays because of his athleticism and ability to scramble.
“He really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time, and certainly does an outstanding job of executing their offense — and there's no question about the fact that he's an outstanding leader, as well.”
Swinney said his defense would be ready to provide an answer for the Tide’s offensive attack.
His team lost standout defensive end Shaq Lawson to an MCL sprain against Oklahoma, but Swinney said he felt “optimistic” Lawson, who has 10.5 sacks this season, will be ready to suit up in time for the game.
“We’re excited about getting back to work, and we know that we’ve got an incredible challenge with Alabama,” he said. “We’ve got great respect for the University of Alabama and Coach Saban and their staff and what they represent.
“They certainly have been the standard in college football for a long, long time. We know that we're going to have to have great preparation here and play very well to have a chance to win the game.”
When you’re used to winning, it could be easy to become complacent, but Saban said his team understands it’s not about what happened last year— or any years previous— none of it has any bearing on the outcome Jan. 11.
“Whatever has been accomplished in the past certainly doesn't have anything to do with what the future holds,” Saban said. “The future is really in front of our team and our players all the time. This team has done a particularly good job of sort of having the kind of competitive character and want-to that you like to see in a team.
“Some of the teams, it's been a little more challenging to get that. They get a little bit satisfied when things go well. But I think the early loss to Ole Miss probably did a lot to jilt the attitude of this team in helping them do the things they needed to do to be what they could be and follow and do the things that were necessary for them to become a good football team.”