NEW ORLEANS – Playing a team three consecutive seasons provides both perspective and familiarity.
Clemson and Alabama have plenty of both after playing in the last two national championship games, both of which have been labeled instant classics and came down to the wire.
Now they prepare to meet for the third consecutive season, this time in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.
No two players could be more familiar than Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Renfrow has been the thorn in the side of Fitzpatrick for the duration of the Clemson-Alabama saga.
It all began in Phoenix at the 2016 national championship game where then freshman Fitzpatrick was given the task of covering Renfrow. The Clemson wide receiver proceeded to score a pair of touchdowns on the Crimson Tide safety in the first quarter and finished the day with 88 yards on seven receptions.
The following year Fitzpatrick over the play at safety as Renfrow ran across the middle of the field and made him miss for a 24-yard touchdown. Then at the goal-line he watched helplessly from the other side of the field as Renfrow scored the winning touchdown to take down the Tide.
Renfrow recounted that final play at the Mariott Convention Center during Clemson’s offensive press conference Friday morning when asked I fit was an illegal pick play.
“No, it was defensive pass interference in my opinion, it was Mullen Humprey or Anthony Avery or one of them,” he said. “It might have been a designed pick play maybe but it never got there, even if the outside guys were there I still think I might have gotten open,” said Renfrow.
Fitzpatrick’s view of the catch was different than what Renfrow recounted Friday morning.
“Everybody has an opinion and is entitled to their opinion but I mean it happened and it doesn’t matter what I think because there was no flag thrown,” he said.
There cannot be a more unlikely rivalry in college football than a former walk-on in Renfrow and a highly touted five-star guy in Fitzpatrick.
The Alabama safety locked up the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back and the Chuck Bednarik Award for the nations defensive player of the year while also earning consensus first team All-America honors.
Renfrow on the other hand earned third-team All-ACC honors with 571 yards receiving and three touchdowns. However, the reliability of the Myrtle Beach, S.C. native has largely been his sure hands on third down.
Fitzpatrick has learned not to take Renfrow for granted and had high praise for the junior wide out.
“He does his job really well, he is not going to out physical you or out run you, he gets the ball in space and makes you miss,” he said. “He is a really shifty guy and smaller guy so he is hard to tackle in space,” Fitzpatrick said.
Another thing that makes Renfrow such a nightmare for opposing teams is the talent around him. He gets lost in the shuffle when you have to account for the likes of Deon Cain, Ray Ray McCloud and Tee Higgins.
The Crimson Tide safety recognizes the difficulty of covering Renfrow in the face of deep ball threats.
“When you have that challenge it is really hard for the secondary and linebackers to stop a player like him,” Fitzpatrick said.
With Fitzpatrick, who is projected as a first round draft pick, most likely heading to the NFL after this season the Sugar Bowl will be the last installment in the Renfrow-Fitzpatrick saga.
One thing is for sure everybody will have their eyes on them in the Superdome.