The rubber match goes to Alabama.
The Crimson Tide never trailed on their way to advancing to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game with a 24-6 defeat of Clemson in the 2018 Sugar Bowl.
Alabama will play for a national championship for a third straight season. The Tide have won four titles under Nick Saban, who would tie Bear Bryant for the most titles (six) in history for a college head coach if Alabama beats Georgia next Monday.
Unlike their previous two playoff meetings, Alabama had no issue stopping Clemson's high-powered offense. The Tigers were held to 188 total yards, just 99 of which came as Alabama opened a 24-6 lead through three quarters. Alabama scored both of its third-quarter touchdowns off Kelly Bryant interceptions, the second being returned 19 yards for a touchdown by Mack Wilson.
While Clemson's defense, one of the nation's best, did an excellent job at preventing big plays, Alabama found ways to keep the chains moving and put up enough points. Damien Harris and Jalen Hurts combined for 117 yards rushing on 30 carries, atoning for a down performance by Bo Scarbrough (12 carries, 24 yards).
Hurts also added 120 yards and two scores through the air. Calvin Ridley led all Alabama receivers with four receptions for 39 yards and caught a 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Da'Ron Payne also caught a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Bryant, so brilliant in his first season as Deshaun Watson's replacement under center, had no answer for the Alabama secondary. He recorded just 124 yards on 36 pass attempts (18 completions) and was limited to 19 rushing yards on 19 carries. No Tigers passing play went for more than 19 yards, and no running back on the team had a carry of better than nine.
The game, in almost all aspects, was quintessential Alabama. Throttle the opposing offense, avoid major mistakes on offense and control the pace with an effective run game. The Tide have wavered a bit from that blueprint as their offensive packages have become more expansive and Hurts opens the playbook, but this is arguably just a better version.
The Tide will move on to play a Georgia team that cloned the Alabama blueprint—and arguably has a better version. Kirby Smart is Saban's former defensive coordinator, a post he held for eight seasons, including each of Alabama's national championships under its head coach. He has a two-headed monster at running back in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel who gashed Oklahoma for 326 yards and five rushing touchdowns in Monday's Rose Bowl win.
The two teams did not meet during the regular season and were slated for a conference title game matchup until Auburn defeated Alabama to put everything into a state of flux. It was Georgia's win over Auburn that helped put the Tide back into the playoff picture.
The SEC will win its ninth championship in the last 12 seasons regardless of the result next Monday. After an ugly start to the bowl season, the conference will once again prove why it is the premier place to play college football.