Before the season began, Alabama and Clemson were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. For most of the season it stayed that way and all throughout the College Football Playoff rankings it stayed that way.
So, no one is surprised to see the two best teams the last four years playing for the national championship once again.
The Tigers advanced to the CFP National Championship Game, which will be played next Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif., by thumping No. 3 and previously undefeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, while Alabama outlasted Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to advance.
“I think as the season evolved, just knowing how well Clemson played all year long and how they were pretty dominant in their league, it was no surprise to me that they would end up where they are right now,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Monday during a teleconference to preview the national championship game. “You’re always looking at the next game and not looking too far ahead and all that, but it’s no surprise to me that they’re in the championship game, as well.”
Clemson (14-0) isn’t surprised to see Alabama, either. Like the Tigers, the Crimson Tide steamrolled just about everyone that stood in their way this season.
“You know, I think that this is clearly the two best teams in Alabama and Clemson, and it’s going to be an exciting game,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I mean, this is the way it should be, and we know we’ve got a huge challenge. I want to congratulate Alabama, as well, for just another amazing year, and Coach Saban and what he’s done, it’s just – they’re hard to beat.”
Alabama (14-0) owned college football for the last decade, winning five national championships under Saban. However, the Tigers have been their biggest challenger thus far, beating the Crimson Tide in the title game two years ago.
Clemson also came close to winning the 2016 CFP National Championship Game.
How close is Clemson to Alabama?
In the last four years, Clemson is 54-4. Alabama is 55-3.
“I think everybody here at Alabama, because Dabo was a player here and a coach here, has a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Saban said. “He’s really a personal friend that I personally have a tremendous amount of respect for, as a coach, as well. They’ve done just as good a job as anybody in the country when it comes to what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last decade in terms of consistency and performance each and every year.
“They do a great job in recruiting. They do a great job of developing players. It’s just a really, really good program.”
Clemson and Alabama ranked in the top 5 nationally in total offense and scoring offense, while the defenses both rank in the top 12 in scoring defense and total defense.
The Crimson Tide rank second in scoring (47.7 pts/game) and fifth in total offense (527.6 yds/game), while Clemson ranks fourth in scoring (44.3 pts/game) and fourth in total offense (530.4 yds/game).
On the defensive side, the Tigers ranked second nationally in scoring defense (12.9 pts/game) and second in total defense (274.6 yds/game). Alabama ranks seventh in scoring defense (16.2 pts/game) and 12th in total defense (307.9 yds/game).
“I think when you’re playing against a very good team and you anticipate that it’s going to be a really tight game that you’re always looking for somewhere or someplace in the game where you can create an advantage for yourself and try to put your players in the best position to have a chance to be successful,” Saban said. “You know, I think we do that for every game, but I think when you play in games like this, sometimes those plays can have a huge impact because it’s probably going to be a pretty close game.”