CFP Championship Game Pits Upstart Coach Against Wily Veteran
By Burt Carey
Clemson Tigers head football coach Dabo Swinney cut his teeth on the collegiate game in Alabama, playing wide receiver for the Crimson Tide during its 1992 national championship season.
He even coached at Alabama as an assistant.
The College Football Playoff championship game will be held Jan. 11 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. It will air beginning at 8:30 p.m. (Eastern) on ESPN. Clemson carries an unblemished 14-0 mark into the game, while Alabama is 13-1.
To get here, top-ranked Clemson pounded No. 4 Oklahoma 37-17 in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve the same night No. 2 Alabama shut out No. 3 Michigan State 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl.
The last time these two teams met was in 2008, when Swinney was an assistant under Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. It was Saban’s second season with the Tide, and they were ranked No. 24 compared to Clemson’s No. 9. Alabama rolled that day, 34-10, and then finished the year 12-2. Bowden resigned midway through the season, and Swinney stepped up first as interim head coach, finishing the year 7-6. He’s been Clemson’s head coach ever since.
The last time Clemson finished a season undefeated was 1981, when the Tigers posted a 12-0 record en route to a national title.
Alabama has won 11 straight games. Its lone loss this season was to Ole Miss back in September. This is the fifth time in the past eight years Saban has led the Tide to the national championship game. He won titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Clemson’s high-powered offense is anchored by two sophomores, quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman. The 6’2” Watson has thrown 31 touchdowns, completed 68.2 percent of his passes and run for another 12 touchdowns in his inaugural season at the Tigers signal caller. Gallman became Clemson’s single-season rushing leader with 1,482 yards on 269 carries. He averages 5.5 yards per carry.
The NCAA ranks Alabama’s defense second in the country, giving up a stingy 256.8 yards and less than two touchdowns per game. Its offensive firepower relies on the legs of Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. The junior running back gained 2,061 yards and scored 25 touchdowns in 2015. He averages 5.7 yards per carry.