Although the Sugar Bowl is still more than two weeks away, the preparations for the national semifinal between the No. 1 Clemson Tigers and No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide began the second the matchup was announced.
Since the final College Football Playoff rankings were released, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was named head coach at Tennessee, Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick won the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe Awards and head coach Nick Saban had his name written on to the ballot for the Alabama special election by a few passionate fans.
Clemson has lived mostly out of the spotlight over the last week-and-a-half mainly due to its lack of representatives on the list of finalists for college football's biggest awards.
Sugar Bowl Odds
The Tigers, led by head coach Dabo Swinney, appear to have only the Sugar Bowl on their minds, but Swinney has also focused on the fantastic run his program has been on over the last few years, according to Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier:
"We're just such creatures of habit, and we're just so focused on what we do, and that's why we've been successful because we just have such a great daily focus and mindset. I mean, we've won 61 games in five years and we've got a chance to tie Alabama and they've won 62.
"But I don't think there's any question at some point down the road, we'll look back at this decade for sure and take great pride in it. I do now because I know where we came from and how hard it's been."
The Tigers have hit the double-digit win mark in seven consecutive seasons, and have won 14 games in each of the last two seasons. Clemson is looking to reach the 14-win mark for the third straight year with wins in the Sugar Bowl and national championship.
There are plenty of people who are surprised at Clemson's presence in the playoff, especially after losing talented players including Deshaun Watson after winning the national championship in 2016. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit is one of those impressed by a Tigers team he didn't expect to be back in the national semifinal, per Scott Keepfer of the Greenville News:
"When you look back at what they accomplished this year, who knows what's ahead of them, but as an outsider I'm blown away by what they've done," Herbstreit said.
Over on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Crimson Tide will lose Pruitt to Tennessee for good after their season concludes.
While some programs may see a departing coach still hanging around to help out as a distraction, Alabama operates differently than many college football teams in the nation.
Tim Tebow is one of the experts who believes Pruitt's new job won't have any affect on what the Crimson Tide defense does on January 1, per SEC Nation (h/t SEC Country's Andrew Astleford):
"Listen, I don't think they're going to miss a beat. I think Jeremy Pruitt is a very big-time coach. I think he does a very good job But this Alabama defense, it's about Nick Saban. And he isn't going anywhere."
Paul Finebaum echoed Tebow's sentiment on SEC Nation as well, as noted by the SEC Network's Twitter account:
SEC Network @SECNetwork
“There won’t be a distraction in terms of game planning. There may be a distraction when Pruitt is out in the parking lot talking to a recruit that Saban's going to be talking to in 5 minutes.” - @Finebaum https://t.co/AyJIJjSpVC2017-12-12 02:41:00
The key to victory may lie on Alabama's offense in the form of quarterback Jalen Hurts. The sophomore signal-caller has impressed many with his play in big games during his time with the Crimson Tide, and that could be the difference in the Sugar Bowl. ESPN's Rece Davis had high praise for Hurts, per Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News:
"The dude's a winner," Davis said. "Is he the most polished passer in the country? No, he's not. But that dude's a winner. He's a great athlete, he's got plenty of arm strength, his demeanor is perfect for what you want in a quarterback, and he has the team."
Despite having at least one game left on his schedule, Fitzpatrick has already been asked about his future. When accepting his awards last week, the junior defensive back admitted his focus is solely on the Sugar Bowl, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com:
"I'm not making any comments about that. I'm worried about winning the national championship."
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Odds obtained via Oddsshark.com.