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Alabama-Clemson II
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Alabama is putting its 26-game winning streak on the line tonight (at 7 p.m. on ESPN) when the Crimson Tide meet Clemson for the national championship in college football at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Clemson (No. 2 at 12-1) gets another crack at Bama in a rematch of last year’s National Championship Game. The Tide won that contest, 45-40. The Tigers scored with 12 seconds remaining, but Bama recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

Clemson rolled up 550 yards to 473 for the Tide. Bama running back Derrick Henry, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs. Henry skipped his senior season and now in the NFL. Watson is back and believes the second time could be a charm.

“We believe in each other. We are just going on out there to play football,” he said during Saturday’s media session. “It’s no different than any other game. We just focus on the task at hand and make sure we execute our game plan and worry about Clemson. We weren’t worrying about what Alabama is doing.”

Watson is off to the NFL after this game, as he too, is bypassing his senior year at CU.

One person who won’t be at this game is Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was hired several weeks ago as head coach at Florida Atlantic. Kiffin called plays for the Tide in their semifinal win over Washington in the Peach Bowl, but head coach Nick Saban cut him loose after the game.

Steve Sarkisian, former head coach at Washington and Southern California, will call the offensive plays in tonight’s game. Sarkisian has been on Bama’s staff this year as an offensive analyst. Tonight will be the first time he's coached a game in 15 months.

A reporter at Saturday’s media session asked Sarkisian if it was like riding a bike.

“We’ll find out Monday night,” Sarkisian cracked.

“Sark has done this for a long time, and he’s called plays for a long time,” Saban said Saturday. “He’s got a lot of experience. He’s got a lot of knowledge. I think he’s very well organized in his approach, and I’d tell him what I tell any coach: We’ve prepared to do certain things in certain situations. Let’s stick with the plan. Until we have to adjust the plan, that's what the players know, that’s what we’ve practiced.”

The Tide was picked No. 1 in the preseason and remained there all season long en route to a 14-0 record—all under the same offensive coordinator. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts thinks having a new play caller is a bit weird.

“You’re hearing this guy, and then you got another guy that’s coming in,” Hurts said Saturday. “So it’s kind of weird. But at the same time, it’s something that we’re going to have to get used to. I mean it’s something that I would have to have gotten used to next year because that’s what we were going to deal with next year. So I mean with that, it is what it is. We have complete confidence in Coach Sark, and we think he’ll do a great job come Monday.”

Hurts took over for Jake Coker under center for the Tide this year, and Bama didn’t miss a beat. Hurts passed for 2,649 yards and 22 TDs, and he added 891 rushing yards and 12 more scores.

The Tide is loaded with All-Americans and national award winners. Left tackle Cam Robinson was named unanimous All-American and was awarded the Outland Trophy. On the defensive side of the ball, end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ruben Foster were unanimous All-Americans. Allen earned the Ted Hendricks, Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards and Foster won the Butkus Award.

Foster led the Tide with 103 tackles including 12.5 for loss. Allen recorded 15 tackles for loss including 9.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries.

Defense was Bama’s signature again this season. The Tide led the country in points allowed (11.4 average) and total yards (244). Alabama was tied for ninth nationally with 27 takeaways.

Clemson’s defense isn’t shabby either. The Tigers ranked seventh in points allowed (17.1) and eighth in yards allowed (306.9).

Three Tigers were named to some All-American teams. Tackle Carlos Watkins and end Christian Wilkins. Watkins logged 10.5 sacks and a dozen quarterback hurries. Wilkins had 3.5 sacks and pressured the opposing quarterbacks 17 times. Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted 4 passes and broke up another 10.

Clemson ranked in the top 15 nationally on offense. They averaged 39.5 points (13th) and 503.1 yards (12th) per game. Watson completed 67 percent of his passes for 298.1 yards per game with 38 TDs and 17 INTs. Running back Wayne Gallman was the Tiger’s leading rusher with 1,087 yards and 16 scores.

Nine Clemson receivers have at least double-digit receptions. Mike Williams is the leader with 90 catches for 1,267 yards and 10 TDs.

Alabama was 14th nationally in scoring (39.4), and 31st in total yards (460.9) gained. Damien Harris led the Tide with 1,013 rushing yards and a couple of scores. ArDarius Stewart is the team's leading receiver with 52 grabs for 852 yards and 8 TDs.

Alabama is favored by 6.5 points to successfully defend its title. If the Tide does get it done, it will be their fifth national championship in the last eight years. A win also would give Saban his sixth title (five with Bama and one at LSU in 2003).

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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