Alabama and Clemson ready for postseason round 3 in Allstate Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS — Here we go again.
Alabama vs. Clemson, Part III.
Two years ago Alabama beat Clemson for the College Football Playoff Championship. Last year Clemson beat Alabama for the College Football Playoff Championship.
On Monday night they will meet in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the College Football Playoff in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the winner advancing to face the winner of the Rose Bowl game between Georgia and Oklahoma for the national championship.
“We might as well add them to the schedule at this point,” Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said Thursday.
Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was asked if he was tired of seeing Clemson.
“No,” Fitzpatrick said, “that means we’re in a good place if we’re seeing them.”
Clemson is the defending national champion and the No. 1 seed in the CFP. Alabama is the No. 4 seed and had to sweat out whether it would even get in after losing to Auburn at the end of the regular season and failing to play in the SEC Championship.
But ultimately Alabama was chosen ahead of Big Ten champion Ohio State and it’s even a three-point favorite.
“I feel like they deserve to be in,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “Obviously they lost that game to Auburn and their schedule wasn’t as strong and some people feel like they shouldn’t have been in, but we feel like Alabama has consistently and always will be one of the best teams.
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I was excited when I saw them in there because we’re going to have the opportunity for the past three years to be the best team in college football which is where we want to be and they, for the past ten years, have been the best team in college football.”
Both of the last two meetings were shootouts. Alabama won, 45-40, and Clemson won, 35-31, making the combined score Alabama 76, Clemson 75.
“The last two years we’ve given college football two of the best two games in the history of the college football championship era in terms of how competitive and the amount of superstars on the field,” Ferrell said. “We know the amount of juice and hype that comes with this game and it would be huge to get a win again because it’s becoming a bit of a rivalry and right now it’s one and one, so hopefully we can go up two and one.”
After Clemson’s victory last season, which came on a touchdown with one second remaining, Alabama coach Nick Saban told his players “don’t waste the feeling.”
“That means learn from the things that you did or didn’t do and I didn’t think we finished very well,” Saban said. “We didn’t finish very well in the game, we lost the game at the end of the game, and I think your identity as a team starts with how you finish. And this team has an opportunity to try to finish this season a little better than what we did the last.
“I’m proud of the way they went through the season. I think we lost our identity a little bit in the last game, maybe forgot who we were and what we needed to do to be able to succeed in our last game. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to sort of rectify that in the playoffs.”
Traditionally bowl games have been seen as a reward for a successful season. Teams generally have tried to balance game preparations with enjoying the sights of the host city, especially in a unique city such as New Orleans.
But, Saban said, that dynamic has changed with the advent of the playoff three years ago. Alabama has been in each playoff and its approach to the experience has evolved.
That’s because there’s more at stake Monday night than a bowl trophy. The outcome of this game isn’t the ultimate; it decides who moves on to Atlanta to play for the ultimate Jan. 8.
Saban lets the leadership among his players make decisions about curfew and what events they’ll participate in at the playoff site.
“Each passing year they have been more serious about the game and less interested in the bowl experience,” Saban said. “They have experienced consequences in the game, good consequences and bad consequences. I think they understand that after going through the experience as I do, the fun of it all is having success. The fun of it all is winning the game and no matter what you do, you do not remember all the things that you did but you always remember whether you won or lost the game.
“I would love to see them have a good time and be rewarded for having a great season but the playoffs have significant consequences. The opportunity that you have really does not afford itself. The two (having a good time and the outcome) do not fit together that well.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…