The rematch that everybody spent the entire regular season anticipating is officially on. It’s time for Alabama-Clemson IV. While it’s the fourth time they’ll be facing off in the College Football Playoff, last year’s showdown was in a semifinal. This will be the third time in four years they will battle for the CFP National Championship.
No. 2 Clemson reached the title game by blowing out No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl. No. 1 Alabama made its way to Santa Clara, California, beating No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in the Orange Bowl.
Early lines from sportsbooks have Alabama as a 6.5-point favorite over Clemson in the title game. It will be played on Monday, Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium. These are the basic facts. What else do you need to know? Well, I’m glad you asked.
1. This is the first time two undefeated teams will play for the CFP title: And it was almost bound to happen this season. Now, the College Football Playoff hasn’t existed very long. This year’s playoff is only fifth ever, but this year’s was somewhat different from the first four versions. In the previous four seasons, only three undefeated teams reached the CFP. This year there were three that made it, but Clemson disposed of Notre Dame rather easily, and now the other two will meet for the title.
This ensures that the 2018 national champion will have a perfect record. That hasn’t happened in the playoff era as the last national champion to finish with a perfect record was Florida State in 2013. FSU was also one of the three undefeated teams to reach the playoff before this season, doing so in the first CFP in 2014. It lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
2. The quarterback matchup is basically the Spiderman pointing meme: You know, this one.
Alabama sophomore Tua Tagovailoa was the No. 1 QB in the Class of 2017. Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence was the No. 1 QB (and No. 1 overall player) in the Class of 2018. Tagovailoa got to Alabama and began his freshman season on the bench behind a QB who had won a conference title and national championship before he arrived. Lawrence came to Clemson and started at No. 2 on the depth chart behind a QB who had won a conference title before he got there. Lawrence did see plenty of snaps, however.
Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts in the second half of last year’s title game and was then named the Alabama starter before the 2018 season, essentially taking his offense to a ridiculous level that almost doesn’t seem fair. Lawrence took over for Kelly Bryant as Clemson’s starter near the halfway point of the 2018 regular season, essentially taking Clemson’s offense to a ridiculous level that almost doesn’t seem fair.
Looking in my crystal ball, both could end up being the No. 1 pick in an NFL Draft sometime soon as well. I think it’s safe to say there’s never been a better quarterback matchup in a CFP game. And neither of these guys is even a junior yet!
3. Alabama can be the first to go back-to-back … since Alabama: Maybe you’ve heard that the Tide has a dynasty going? Seriously, if Alabama wins the game, it will be the first team to win the title in consecutive seasons since the Tide won the title in 2011 and 2012. If you want to look a little deeper, an Alabama title will also be its third title in four seasons. The last team to do that? You guessed it: Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The last team to do it before then (using major titles) was Notre Dame. The Irish won the AP national title in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
4. Alabama has a 2-1 advantage in the first three games: These teams split the two CFP meetings, and Bama beat Clemson 24-6 in last year’s Sugar Bowl. The combined score of their three games in the College Football Playoff has been Alabama 100-81. In the two championship games, things have been closer, with Alabama holding a slight 76-75 edge. So, if history tells us anything, this game should be close. Maybe take Clemson and the points.
5. This likely won’t be the last time Alabama and Clemson meet for the title: One of the most ironic things about all this talk about playoff expansion in recent weeks is that there’s a stronger argument to be made that, if the 2018 season showed us anything, it’s that we should go back to two teams, not expand to eight. Still, if they’re talking expansion now, it’s only a matter of time before it happens, but I don’t know that it’ll do anything to stop the inevitable that seems to be Alabama and Clemson meeting at the end.
There aren’t many teams in the country that have what it takes to compete at this national championship level, and Alabama and Clemson are already at that level. Everyone else is trying to catch up. Georgia has shown signs that it can get there, and Ohio State has the talent but seems to come up short at the strangest moments.
Meanwhile, Alabama and Clemson have two young quarterbacks and more depth than anybody else. They don’t rebuild; they reload. They’ll be back for more.