Alabama-Clemson Again? Stop Complaining and Enjoy a Matchup for the Ages

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterJanuary 7, 2019

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, tries to get away from Alabama's Jonathan Allen during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game in Glendale, Ariz. Clemson and Alabama will meet Monday in the College Football Playoff for the third straight year when they square off in the Sugar Bowl. After finishing third in the Heisman voting, Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns against ‘Bama while running for 73 yards in the 2016 game. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

Congratulations, whiners of the world. Your voices have been heard.

The best possible matchup for the College Football Playoff National Championship has arrived, and you can't complain enough.

You're sick of Alabama and Clemson.

You're sick of Nick Saban's dominance and Dabo Swinney's syrupy Southern accent.

You're sick of the same ol', same ol' when the games matter most, even though this time around—the fourth straight game between the Crimson Tide and Tigers in the CFP, and the third national title game between the two—might just be the best in the modern era.

"What? Are we supposed to apologize for playing in this game again?" Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams asked.

He is told the world is tired of Alabama and Clemson sucking the drama out of the playoff. There's Tide-Tigers title game fatigue, you know.

A smile creeps across Williams' face, and Alabama's brash All-American—the very guy who a week earlier in a viral video nearly acknowledged he wasn't so impressed with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray before stopping mid-sentence because that's the last thing Saban wants to hear—just can't help himself.

"Yeah, well, we ain't tired of being here," he said.

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Deal with it, America.

It's not boring; it's beautiful. It's not inevitable; it's indisputable.

The two best teams in college football, with the two best rosters in college football, with the two best coaches in college football, with 14-0 records, playing for the whole damn thing.

That's not too much Alabama vs. Clemson. That's a dream matchup.

It's as good as any faceoff we can imagine: the Steph-KD Warriors vs. the Showtime Lakers or Brady's Patriots vs. the '85 Bears. It's Pep Guardiola's Barcelona vs. Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid or, heaven help us, Michael vs. LeBron.

Clemson's Christian Wilkins
Clemson's Christian WilkinsStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

"I feel like [Alabama] is part of our schedule," Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said.

And what—in this age of fans constantly asking, "Who has your team played?"—could be wrong with that?

Two of the three previous playoff games between the teams produced two of the best championship games since the beginning of the BCS era in 1998, when the sport first changed its postseason to get the best possible matchup in the national championship game.

Alabama won the 2015 title despite a remarkable effort by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and only after Saban decided mid-game that his vaunted defense couldn't stop Watson and that he should risk an onside kick to change momentum.

Then in the 2016 season, Watson delivered a performance for the ages, driving the Tigers 68 yards in two minutes and completing the game-winning touchdown pass with one second to play. A series earlier, Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts engineered an unforgettable go-ahead drive that, but for Watson's heroics, would've been the stuff of legends.

Yet suddenly the nation is fatigued by all this thrilling history. Even last year's bland semifinal win by Alabama over Clemson can't stain what the Tide and Tigers have brought to the playoff.

Tua Tagovailoa
Tua TagovailoaBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

Fast-forward to 2018, and there's a new dynamic: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up and the player who changed the way Saban thinks about offense taking on Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the player who (like Tagovailoa) beat out a previous starter (Kelly Bryant) who had led his team to the CFP and one day could become the best NFL draft prospect ever.

That's right, ever.

"I don't think that's hyperbole at all," one NFL scout told Bleacher Report. "With what he now knows, his physical ability at 19 years old, how he wants to be coached and wants to be great, his ceiling is limitless. He makes throws now that guys in our league can't make."

But go ahead and complain about Alabama vs. Clemson. You're bored with great and want intrigue or the unexpected or even an upset.

There won't be an upset. Alabama is favored to win its second straight national championship and fifth in eight years, but almost no one in the coaching fraternity will be shocked if Clemson beats the Tide again for its second national title in three seasons.

"Clemson is as complete a team as you will see in college football," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. "That quarterback has changed everything."

Or as one Power Five coach said: "Everyone else thinks they can beat Alabama. Clemson has a lot of dudes on that team that know they can beat Alabama. That's a big deal. They can trade punches with Alabama on the lines of scrimmage, and they'll kill you with the skill guys."

Who would want to watch that, Mr. Fatigue?

Forget about sagging ticket sales or the reality that this might be the first CFP National Championship to not sell out. According to TickPick.com, prices for tickets are down 65 percent from last season, and many tickets likely will go for less than face value. And maybe, just maybe, there will be empty seats at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California (that has more to do with geography than interest).

You're wasting oxygen focusing on that nonsense. Instead, bathe in the glory of a national title game that will feature two teams that rank in the top five in the nation in scoring offense, scoring defense, plays of 30 yards or more and sacks—basically every key stat in the book.

But here's the best thing about the same matchup over and over again: watching the best players over and over again.

Years from now, we'll look back at this championship game and marvel at the sheer number of NFL players who played. It's not just the potential first-round picks (of which there will be many) but the mid-draft players who could make NFL rosters. Another NFL scout told Bleacher Report the combined figure might be as high as 30 to 40.

"Great players win big games," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "That's the easiest way to explain it."

So when you recruit and develop players better than anyone in college football, you're going to have the best players and you're going to play in a lot of big games. Alabama has won 55 of its last 58 games, Clemson 57 of 61. Take away their losses to each other, and each team has been defeated just twice over those spans.

This doesn't happen often in college football, especially in an era when big-money television deals have given every Power Five school an opportunity to build a winner. Instead of complaining about fatigue, maybe it's time to embrace a college football rarity: two monster programs peaking at the same time.

"It's the two best teams for the last I-don't-know-how-many years. I would think that would make everyone want to turn on the TV," Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy said. "As a player, you want the best team possible on the other side of the ball. You want to prove yourself. They have a great program; we have a great program. It's the heavyweight title, and we're both coming out swinging."

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

It's no coincidence these programs mirror each other, with dynamic coaches fueling recruiting powerhouses and driven by an underlying philosophy of "best player plays." Not the oldest or the previous season's starter.

The best player. Period.

That's why Lawrence was named the starter in Week 5 despite Bryant's experience and seniority. Or why Tagovailoa overtook Hurts and a group of true freshmen—Tagovailoa, tailback Najee Harris, wideouts Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith and offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood—became the stars of last year's national championship game despite limited action in previous critical games.

In fact, Tagovailoa hadn't done enough to supplant Hurts throughout the regular season, but he practiced so well during preparation for last year's semifinal against Clemson that the staff had a series of plays designed for him. Hurts struggled against Clemson's stout defense, but Saban never made the switch.

Then last year's national championship game came around—and the scope and feel of a Saban-coached Alabama team changed.

"Tua allowed us to do some different things offensively," Saban said.

Which is the same sort of understatement as saying Alabama has been decent in Saban's 12 seasons. Or that Lawrence has played well for a freshmen, when the reality is Swinney has somehow recruited and developed two generational quarterbacks in the last five seasons.

"Things don't just magically happen. There's a lot of hard work, across the board, that goes into winning," Swinney said. "If it were easy, everybody would be doing it."

Then what would the whiners of the world complain about?


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