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Alabama, Clemson Meet Their Match In Monday’s Title Showdown

The day may come when the committee delegated to select teams for the College Football Playoff may decide to massage its metrics and expand its borders.

Every day there’s a new dollop about how certain national factions in the inclusionary mood want the playdown process to grow to eight teams. That would make the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Central Florida happy and expand the season to 15 or 16 games for those making it to Championship Monday.

Trevor Lawrence

Streeter Lecka / Getty

We will see. Like the Speaker of the House, the Rose Bowl swings a powerful gavel. Time will tell.

That said, it’s hard to argue the committee got it right seeding Alabama and Clemson first and second. They were the best teams in the country in September and they still are today.

But on Monday in Santa Clara, CA., one will lose for the first time this season and the other will be national champion. And the money is on the Crimson Tide, a 5 ½-point favorite heading into the weekend. If that seems like a lot, remember, Alabama has been at least a 10-point favorite in each of its first 14 games.

Don’t let anyone tell you one is better than the other. That’s partisan politics and we will have none of that here at The teams are identical twins, with different team colors, and practically perfect in every way.

This rivalry has become Yankees-Red Sox with cheerleaders and a big brass section. This will be the fourth time the teams have met in the CFP in four years – the third time for the enchilada – and if you’re not from Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame or Ohio State, it’s a very good thing, indeed. The Tide and Tigers have each won one title against each other.

They both have exceptional coaches, in Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. They both have future NFL first-rounders at quarterback, the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa and the Tigers Trevor Lawrence, who beat out winning incumbents for their jobs.

They score in big bites. Alabama is second in the nation in scoring offense (47.7) and Clemson is fourth (44.3) and both average just over 525 yards.

They can run, they can pass. They can fly, their stingy defenses can sting. And between them, they have won 112 of their last 119 games.

“They’ve got a lot of speed everywhere, but so do we,” Lawrence said. “For a game like this you’ve just got to have an edge, physically, mentally, because the playing field is so even.”

As Lawrence said, the game will come down to who makes more big plays or fewer regrettable errors. Each team has three runners who have gained more than 500 yards, four receivers with 40 or more catches.

They both are coming off exceptional performances in the semifinals.

The Tigers picked all three leaves off Notre Dame’s clover, delivering a 30-3 bashing in the Cotton Bowl Classic that would have surprised Knute Rockne, Frank Layden, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz, but probably not Gerry Faust. Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three TDs.

“We tried to recruit him here, as well, and things have worked out well for him in terms of the position that he’s in and the job that he’s done for them,” said Saban, who is taking the Tide to its seventh National Championship Game on his watch. They have won five. “We know he’s a fine young man and really a great competitor. He’s certainly proven that over the course of this season.

Alabama, which is looking to defend the title it won in overtime over Georgia last year, jumped to a four-touchdown lead over Oklahoma and held on for a 45-34 win in the Capital One Orange Bowl that left everyone winded.

Tagovailoa, the Walter Camp Foundation’s player of the year and Heisman Trophy runner-up, who won that game in relief of Jalen Hurts, returned just three weeks after ankle surgery to throw for 318 yards and four TDs.

“I think it’s something you kind of develop, but then again, I think it also comes down to coaching,” Tagovailoa said. “When you go out there, you’ve got to feel comfortable first, and when you’re comfortable, then you’re able to play fast. I definitely think that comes from practice, the amount of reps that you take over practice and just the coaching that you get, because once you start to feel comfortable, then I mean, the sky’s the limit.”

If you are looking for a trend to hold onto, The Sporting News pointed out that in the three previous CFP meetings between the teams, the Tide ran 71, 66 and 66 offensive plays. Clemson countered with 85, 99 and 70. If this happens again, the Tide might ebb because there’s no telling what Lawrence might do with all those extra possessions.

As for Alabama’s task, can they do what the Irish gagged on, piercing the Tigers defensive front – Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, still formidable even without the suspended Dexter Lawrence?

Clemson’s defense allowed 35 points against South Carolina in the regular season finale. Of the other three to reach 20, Texas A&M lost by just Tigers 28-26 in Week 2 in College Station with 595 yards of offense. Alabama has had no such breakdown. Perhaps that’s the fission.

Regardless, the game is filled with stars like Alabama running backs Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, tight end Irv Smith, linebacker Mack Wilson, left tackle Jonah Williams, safety Deionte Thompson and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, who could be the first pick in the NFL’s 2019 draft. Clemson’s defense also has linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons and there’s running back Travis Etienne.

Pick a winner, if you dare. Just pay attention because one play may decide it all. Just ask Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He knows all about that doesn’t he?

“It’s funny because Coach (Dabo) Swinney was talking about that yesterday,” Clemson sophomore wide receiver Amari Rodgers told USA Today. “It’s like two of the same teams playing against each other. We’re exact, across the board.”