No. 1 Clemson, No. 4 Alabama renew high-stakes rivalry
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1) at New Orleans, Monday, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Line: Alabama by 3.
Series record: Alabama leads 13-4.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
A third straight spot in the College Football Playoff national championship game. These teams have met for the national title each of the past two seasons, each winning once in highly competitive games. This time, they’re meeting in the semifinals, but it’s nonetheless and third-straight, late-season, high-stakes encounter between these programs. The winner not only stays alive for another title, but gets the bragging rights of having won two of the three showdowns between two of the top programs in the nation.
Clemson’s dominant defensive line, led by defensive ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, against Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Clemson racked up 44 sacks this season and ranks third in the nation with 3.38 per game. But Hurts has exceptional mobility and has been known to scramble for big gains. Clemson’s defensive front will have to be as disciplined as it is aggressive in order to keep from getting gashed by Hurts as it was on Alabama’s last drive of last year’s title game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alabama: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick was named the winner of the Chuck Bednarik award given annually to the nation’s top defensive player. He also received the Jim Thorpe award given to the nation’s top defensive back. RB Damien Harris’ average of 7 yards per carry ranks second in Alabama history (among rushers with at least 200 carries). He rushed for 906 yards this season. Hurts passed for 1,940 and rushed for 768.
Clemson: Ferrell and Bryant have combined for 16 sacks and 31 ½ tackles for losses. QB Kelly Bryant, in his first season taking over for Deshaun Watson, accounted for 3,504 yards and 24 touchdowns from scrimmage this season — 2,678 yards and 13 TDs through the air and 826 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.
FACTS & FIGURES
Alabama claims 16 national championships; the first four came before the era of consensus national champions, which coincided with the beginning of the AP Poll in 1936. ... The Crimson Tide is appearing in an NCAA-leading 65th bowl game, having won 35 and tying three. ... Alabama has won 13 of the past 14 meetings. ... This marks the second time since the 2011 season that Alabama was selected for either the BCS national championship game or the College Football Playoff without winning the Southeastern Conference. ... The Crimson Tide ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 11.5 points per game, while Clemson ranked second, allowing 12.8. ... Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney, an Alabama native who played receiver for Alabama from 1989 to 1992, is 1-1 as a head coach against his alma mater. ... Clemson has won three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championships and is 40-3 overall, with one national title, since the start of the 2015 season. ... Clemson has six seniors on scholarship, marking the Tigers’ smallest senior class since 1944′s senior and junior classes left for military service during World War II. ... Clemson’s 2017 seniors comprise the first senior class in ACC history to reach 50 victories.