Alabama-Clemson is the game that won’t go away. It is as persistent and predictable as the headache after a night of drinking schnapps. It is the standing appointment, college football’s annual physical. As close to an eventual inevitability as anything this side of a romaine lettuce recall.
Such a regular and unsurprising occurrence is their upcoming national championship game – this will be the fourth straight season the Tide and Tigers have met in the postseason, three times in the championship – that some have wondered if this is all becoming a bore. Could such two-party dominance be a bad thing for college football?
For one thing, it is going to be interesting to see how a meeting of southern powers plays in California next Monday. Just as it will be a bit of a downer should the Chargers and Rams advance to an Atlanta Super Bowl in a month. Such geographic dissonance makes for weak profits for ticket scalpers and a ratings’ plunge for the mothership networks. But are you going to feel sorry for either of those affected groups?
If the point of holding a championship is to bring together the two best teams, then there should be an appropriate level of excitement anytime Alabama and Clemson meet. Bad for college football? What’s bad for college football is whenever these two teams play anybody else. It’s when they don’t meet – say, like in this year’s semifinals – that the matchups are as uninteresting as dry melba toast.
There are, at best, maybe three programs that wouldn’t go into a catatonic state at the prospect of playing Alabama. Georgia had its chance, and should have punted, but didn’t. Ohio State lost this season by 29 to a team (Purdue) that just lost its bowl game by 49 points to the fifth-place team in the SEC West (Auburn). Enough said about the Buckeyes.
That leaves Clemson as the only hope of derailing the Alabama coronation parade. One program alone has proven itself built to beat Alabama this time of year – and it has another well-earned shot in a few days. When either wins, it will become the first program in a couple centuries to amass 15 victories in a season. That distinction should belong to one of the two signature programs of the college playoff era.
Without daring to admit it, Alabama and Clemson surely have been eyeing each other from across their separate borders with Georgia all season. How could they not? Everyone else was. Somewhere deep down, you just knew it had to come to this.
When these two meet in northern California, there will be great skill players all over the field. The skirmishes along the line of scrimmage will be epic, because both Alabama and Clemson have built themselves formidable border walls. That’s the game some would call bad for college football?
If this is a bad sequel, then Godfather II should never have been made.
While the call grows to expand the college playoffs, here are Alabama and Clemson offering the greatest argument against it. To bring in more teams at this point would only make for more mismatches, and for an increase in lesser teams playing for their participation trophies.
And the harsh reality is that neither team looks to be going away anytime soon. Clemson has itself a game-shaping freshman at quarterback. Alabama’s offensive and defensive MVPs in the Orange Bowl were both sophomores. Both just came off top-five recruiting classes – again. And Nick Saban may never go away. Yes, he just may coach from beyond the grave.
Georgia is making a real attempt to break into this gated community of two. Other legitimate challengers, honestly, are hard to find now. But in the meantime, until someone breaks up this dominant duet, I’ll watch Alabama-Clemson every time.
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