Though this will mark the third straight season Alabama and Clemson have met in the College Football Playoff, the other two have been in the national championship game, Nick Saban says he is looking forward to the Clemson-Alabama Trilogy.
Like a lot of trilogies, this one will have a few different stars playing in it than it did the last two years. No longer does Alabama have to worry about Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Jordan Leggett or Wayne Gallman, but they do have to pay attention to that kid named Hunter Renfrow.
Renfrow has eaten up the Alabama secondary in the previous two meetings, catching 17 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning score in last year’s title game.
Saban says he can learn a lot from last year’s national championship game despite Clemson having so many new faces on Clemson’s roster.
“I think you can always take some things from someone you have played in previous seasons,” the Alabama coach said. “You try to develop a little history on things that they do and you get to know them a little bit better.
“Even though they have different players now, systematically they have a lot of the same coaches. So I think you can take some things technically from those games and maybe a little strategically.”
Obviously, Clemson (12-1) is different at the quarterback position the most. Kelly Bryant is not putting up the same gaudy numbers as Watson did, but he has been very effective and efficient in critical situations.
The junior ranks fifth nationally in completion percentage, completing 67.4 percent of his passes. He has also accounted for 24 total touchdowns, including 11 on the ground.
Then of course there is running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, who have combined for 1,403 yards and 20 touchdowns. Clemson is also averaging 204.1 yards per game on the ground and 244.1 yards through the air.
“Clemson is a fantastic team,” Saban said. “Coach (Dabo) Swinney does a fantastic job with his program and his team. We have met these guys two years in a row in the finals so this is something that we are certainly looking forward to.”
Swinney and the Tigers are looking forward to the third installment of the trilogy as well.
“What a great year they had as well,” the Clemson coach said. “I have no doubt this will be a heck of a matchup. Obviously, we have played each other for two years and it has come down to a few plays, and I don’t doubt this one will be the same.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it and like I said, we are really looking forward to coming to the Sugar Bowl.”
This will be Clemson’s first appearance in the Sugar Bowl in 59 years, when LSU’s Billy Cannon beat the Tigers 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl.
As for Alabama, it is playing in the Sugar Bowl for the 16th time.
“The Sugar Bowl has always been something that has been special to Alabama,” Saban said. “It has always been something that is special to the SEC.”
It’s also special to Swinney, who last played or coached in a Sugar Bowl in the 1993 Classic when the Crimson Tide ripped through Miami to win the national championship. He also was a part of the 1989 team that lost to Miami in the 1990 Sugar Bowl.
“This is a great privilege to be a part of the playoff,” Swinney said. “I’m really, really excited about going to the Sugar Bowl. I’m just so excited to come back.
“It has been 59 years since Clemson has been there and I don’t have any doubt that the Clemson fans will turn out and it will be a great showing all the way around. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”