BY PAUL NEWBERRY
The national championship race is down to two.
Top-ranked Clemson and No. 2 Alabama will face off in the desert after dominating wins in the national semifinals Thursday. The Tigers romped in the second half for a 37-17 win over No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, while the Crimson Tide rolled Michigan State 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl.
The Jan. 11 title game in Glendale, Arizona, matches a high-scoring offense led by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson against Nick Saban’s latest dominating defense at Alabama, which limited the Big Ten champion Spartans to 239 yards.
There’s another story line to the title game. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is an Alabama alumnus who played on the Tide’s 1992 national championship team.
Now, he’s going against the greatest coach of this generation. Saban has won three national titles in the last six years at Alabama, to go along with a BCS title at LSU.
Clemson and Alabama will be playing for the first time since 2008, when Alabama won 34-10 in a game that signaled the Tide’s return to national prominence under Saban.
That was also a pivotal year for the Tigers. Embattled coach Tommy Bowden resigned after six games, and Swinney — who was in charge of receivers — took over as the head coach. Serving at first on an interim basis, he got the job permanently after leading Clemson to bowl eligibility.
Now, he’s got the Tigers within one win of their first national title since 1981.
“I knew that we would be here,” Swinney said. “It was just a matter of when.”
Alabama is playing for another title after being upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Saban said his team came into this playoff with a different attitude.
“Last year we sort of just participated in the game,” he said. “This year, we really wanted to make a statement and do something special.”
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