SAN JOSE, Calif. — College football has an Alabama-Clemson habit it can’t seem to kick.
The College Football Playoff National Championship Game gave us Alabama-Georgia last year, an exciting, a 26-23 thriller won by the Crimson Tide. But the “traditional” CFP final matchup has followed the grand new game over the Rockies and out here to the coast, sitting on the dock of the bay with the Roll Tide cheers and the strains of Clemson’s inferior version of “Tiger Rag.”
The CFP has clearly delivered on its mandate with this game. It is folly to dispute these two 14-0 teams are the best in the game this season. In fact, it’s the first battle of unbeaten teams in the five-year history of the CFP final.
But is such dominance, such familiarity, actually good for college football? This is three times in four years that Bama and Clemson will have met for the championship, 60 percent of the sample size to date, with both teams beating each other so far. This is actually their fourth straight meeting in the CFP — the Tide beat the Tigers 24-6 in the 2018 Sugar Bowl/CFP semifinal.
So is college football, the most provincial of sports in terms of its fan interest, made poorer while Bama and Clemson get rich? Or is this college football’s version of the Celtics and Lakers from the NBA Finals of the 1980s, or of the Steelers and Cowboys of Super Bowls past, a compelling ultra-rivalry of the highest magnitude?
The two competing coaches — Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney — have more immediate concerns. Their word to the rest of college football: Tough.
“I'm not going to apologize for having a great team and a great program and a bunch of committed guys,” Swinney said Sunday, “and coach Saban is not, either. I think the objective is to get the two best teams. That's kind of the way it is.
“If that's not best for college football, then why did we even do it? Why don't we just go back to the way it was and have bowl games and you put this team against this team, and it's not necessarily the two best teams playing, and then at the end, like it used to do, you just vote on who you think is the best team.”
Saban, who often weighs in on weighty topics that concern the game, basically took a “let them eat cake” approach.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Will Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game be the last game for Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts?
“I don't really get too concerned about a lot of other programs,” Saban said.
“I can't really speak for other teams or what the impact of college football really is, but it's my job and my responsibility to do the best job that we can for our team, our players, our program in terms of what it takes for us to be successful, and I guess that's what we'll continue to focus on.”
As well they should. The onus is not really on Saban and Swinney and Alabama and Clemson, but on all the other schools trying to close the continental divide the Crimson Tide and Tigers have created for themselves.
Still, there clearly is some Alabama-Clemson fatigue creeping into the mix.That, the distance for fans of these two southern fried football powers had to travel and the blasé reaction to the game here in techy, trendy Northern California conspired to make this the softest secondary market of any CFP championship game. According to Forbes magazine late last week, a few clicks online could secure a ticket for Monday night’s battle royale for as little as $136. It’s a far cry from last year’s CFP high of $1,752 for the cheapest secondary market ticket, when Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta created the perfect storm of geographic interest.
Whether this is all something to be concerned about, however, remains debatable.
“The game has always gone in cycles,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “We happen to be in a cycle now where these two teams have been very successful. Look back at Florida State and USC. To expect cycles not to continue would be to not pay attention to history.
“Will it continue forever? It never has. My perspective is get the best two teams in every championship.”
Whether Alabama-Clemson Part Quatre is good or bad for the game, the CFP could definitely use some new blood somewhere. Only 10 teams have taken part so far, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 shut out the past two years.
And can you name the last national champion that was a first-time national champion? How about Florida, way back in 1996.
“As for a championship matchup, when it comes down to playing for the trophy, I don’t know how you can complain about the two best teams,” said Chris Fowler, who will call the game Monday night on ESPN. “Unlike an NBA series, it’s not best of seven. They meet once a year for all of it.
“Is it bad for the sport? That’s sort of in the eye of the beholder. Not in my opinion. But we need more regional distribution of title contenders. We need one from the west, the Big Ten to be in the mix. That’s just logic.”
So more teams, different teams, would be better in some respect. But it would folly not to pencil in Bama and Clemson for two of the CFP’s four spots next year, nor to expect the Tide and Tigers to be in next January’s championship game in New Orleans.