Clemson football: Threepeat should be lots of fun

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Monday night should be fun.

Whether you love Clemson and hate Alabama, love Alabama and hate Clemson, love both schools, have a passionate dislike for both or don't care one way or the other but just love college football, the trifecta between the Tide and Tigers in the College Football Playoff in the Sugar Bowl should be another shootout slugfest between the two programs.

Of course, they've met in the national championship games the past two years, 'Bama winning the first time and Clemson last year. This time around, it's just for a chance to get back to the title game, but the intensity will be just as great, if not greater.

And shootout slugfest is an apt description of both games. While Alabama won the first meeting 45-40 and the Tigers followed it up with a 35-32 triumph, there were just as many big defensive plays as offensive plays.

Clemson is the defending champion and the No. 1 seed in this matchup, but one has to think head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have been selling their players on the fact that no one respects them. And, in fact, there is some truth to that.

With star quarterback Deshaun Watson and most of his skill position supporting cast having moved on to the National Football League, hardly anyone thought the Tigers would be back in the CFP. Most thought Watson to be a generational player, and Clemson would become a 2- or 3-loss team without his presence.

The Tigers are 12-1 though and Kelly Bryant has matured into his role as the leader of the Clemson offense. And don't think Swinney has forgotten about all of the naysayers. After all, in introducing the Tigers' newest recruiting class last week, he pointed out that teams that are in "rebuilding" mode need recruiting classes like the one they took in that day.

And, like it or not Clemson fans, even though the programs have split two close games, most people consider the Tigers to be lucky to have done so. Alabama is Alabama and everyone else is ultimately a pretender is the way many in college football figure it.

With getting Clemson back to the Final Four without the services of Watson it certainly appears that Swinney has laid the foundation for a long run of success. That doesn't mean the Tigers will be in the CFP every year, but they will much more often than not be in the conversation.

The key to this game will be how productive the Tide can be on offense. Unless quarterback Jalen Hurts morphs into a tremendous passer, Alabama is going to have to be able to run the ball very effectively to be productive on offense.

The fact that Alabama has had an extra week to prepare for Clemson since it didn't play in the Southeastern Conference championship game should help the Tide out. If anything, the extra week gave many players a chance to heal.

This Alabama team hasn't been as dominant as the past two, but the Tide were undefeated until they lost the Iron Bowl to Auburn in the regular-season finale.

And that fact is why Alabama worked its way back into the Final Four after falling to No. 5 following the loss to Auburn. Cry as its fans might, Ohio State never had a chance to get in the top four. Had Wisconsin beaten the Buckeyes in the Big 10 Conference championship game, it would have stayed in and Alabama would be out.

With Ohio State winning, that left the door open for the committee to slide Alabama back in the door.

Tide head coach Nick Saban and his staff will be keyed in on what they have to do to slow down the Clemson offense. That may be difficult to do though since it seems the Tigers have gotten into an offensive groove down the stretch.

Still, for whatever reason, I think Alabama is going to come away with a 24-21 victory.