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Alabama-Clemson IV may bore some, but it’s the best possible result in this Season of Chalk

No. 1 Alabama wasn’t even close to being done trucking No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday night when, halfway across the country in an interview room at AT&T Stadium, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins of No. 2 Clemson was already looking ahead to the seemingly inevitable: Alabama-Clemson IV.

“It’s like they almost should almost be part of our regular schedule,” Wilkins said of the Crimson Tide. “We get used to playing them every year. It’s like they’re in our conference.”

Though not in the same conference, the two programs are definitely in the same league, if you know what I mean. Alabama and Clemson not only separated themselves from the rest of college football this year but are the signature programs of the College Football Playoff era. They will meet for the fourth consecutive postseason next Monday in the CFP National Championship. By that time, one or the other (or both) will have played in 13 of the 15 games in the five-year history of the CFP.

In the last four seasons, everyone else has literally been playing for second.

You bored yet?

Maybe that’s too harsh. The matchup is great for those teams, their conferences and fan bases. But as far as everyone else?

There are already whispers about seats not being filled at Levi’s Stadium on Monday. Tickets on the secondary market have reportedly declined in price. If you’ve waited until this late to book, airfare to San Jose for the game is prohibitive. Don’t even try landing a decent room in the area.

Essentially, Alabama-Clemson IV on the West Coast is a big ask for fans to travel across the country — especially when they’ve seen that game before.

The dominance doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. Nick Saban could set the record for national championships out of sight. His next one will be his seventh overall, sixth at Alabama where Saban is poised to overtake Bear Bryant in that category.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has assembled the best four-year run of excellence in program history. “It never gets old,” he said Saturday. 

Yes, but will it get old? College football was never meant to be inclusionary. The game and its revenue are basically controlled by the Power Five conferences, not the NCAA.  It just so happens Alabama and Clemson have consolidated the power on the field.

This was the Season of Chalk. Remember? 

These teams are meeting for the fourth straight year in the CFP and for the third time in the championship game. There will the rote questions about whether such dominance is good for the game.

Yes, because brand names always sell. This isn’t the Alabama-LSU same-season rematch in 2012 that was the final straw before dumping the BCS in favor of the CFP. This is a game of the two best teams, no doubt.

We’ll watch because we always do. This a championship game. No doubt it will pull a fine ratings number on ESPN. We’ll watch for the same reason we watch Yankees-Red Sox or Cowboys-whoever. Those brand names draw eyeballs. You don’t have to like those teams but hate fuels a lot of ratings, too.

College football has almost always been exclusionary. From the time it was born almost 150 years ago, it was a game for the elite. (The schools in that first game in 1869 — Rutgers and Princeton — are still considered upper-class institutions.)

Only 30 teams have won national championships in the wire-service era (since 1936). The last team to win it all outside the Power Five was BYU in 1984.

Only 10 teams have played for it all in CFP era. When Notre Dame is the latest “newcomer” to the dance, you know this is an exclusive club. The CFP Rankings said Notre Dame was the No. 3 team in the country. The Irish lost by 27 in a game that was noncompetitive for much of the night.

It continues to be, then, a long way to the top two. One example: USA Today‘s Steve Berkowitz reported Alabama owes more in bonuses to its assistants to date this season ($1.35 million) than 32 programs pay their assistants in regular salary.

Saturday’s results might have added to the misguided screams for expansion of the bracket. Those screamers have missed the original point. Alabama and Clemson have separated themselves from the rest of the sport. Since teams put on the pads in August, Alabama and Clemson have been projected to play for it all. They began the season 1-2 and stayed that way for nine of the 14 weeks of the regular season. Bama went wire to wire at No. 1. Clemson never dropped below third in the AP Top 25.

This is the first CFP title game between two unbeaten teams.

Lately, everyone else has literally been playing for second. It is assured that Alabama or Clemson will now have won the last four national championships.

The last time two teams dominated like that in a four-year period it was Nebraska (winning in 1994, 1995, 1997) and Florida (1996).

The way the Tide and Tigers have monopolized the sport, it’s worth asking who ya got in 2019: Alabama-Clemson V … or the field?

Clemson’s two best players Saturday night were freshmen — quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross. Alabama returns a Heisman Trophy runner-up named Tua Tagovailoa. The three receivers he threw touchdowns to on Saturday are all sophomores.

I know where my money would go on next season’s favorites.

The FBS commissioners and CFP management committee will meet next week in Santa Clara, California, to review the system. Based on folks I talked to in Dallas last week, there continues to be no momentum for expansion of the bracket.

At this rate, it makes more sense to go back to two teams than to expand to eight. With either system in place this season, Alabama and Clemson would be playing for it all.

Might as well tread lightly before going to eight. The 10 CFP semifinal games have basically failed as appointment television. They’ve mostly been blowouts. Eight of the 10 semis have been decided by at least 17 points. The average margin of victory has been three touchdowns. 

Have we seen enough of the Tide and Tigers? Before answering, consider this: You might as well get used to it.   

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