Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Clemson vs. Alabama

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Matchup: Clemson vs. Alabama
Venue: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Time/TV: ESPN, 8:00 p.m. ET

This rivalry started in 1900 when Clemson beat Alabama 35-0 in Birmingham. Clemson won the first three meetings by a combined score of 78-0 with shutout victories in 1904 and 1905. From 1909 to 1975, Alabama put it on the Tigers 11 consecutive times, dealing out cream-cheese treatment in seven of those encounters, including a 56-0 win in ’75.

But these storied programs wouldn’t collide again until the 2008 season opener, and that’s when the modern-day version of this rivalry began. I was at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on that Saturday afternoon, the lid-lifter for Alabama in its second season under Nick Saban and the last year that Tommy Bowden would roam the sidelines at Clemson.

As a five-point underdog, Saban’s Alabama team took the Tigers behind the woodshed in a 34-10 blowout that wasn’t even that close. Bowden would take a lot of criticism after media reports got out that Bowden had called Saban seeking advice after taking that pimpslap.

Six weeks later after a loss at Wake Forest in ESPN’s featured Thursday night game, Bowden was handed his pink slip. Some dude named Dabo Swinney was named the interim head coach. Alabama would remain unbeaten until going back to the Georgia Dome, where Tim Tebow led the Gators past the Tide in the SEC Championship Game.

That loss was the turning point for Alabama in its dynastic 12-year run under Saban. Since that defeat to UF, Alabama is 6-0 in SEC Championship Games, including this year’s 35-28 come-from-behind victory over Georgia.

The turning point for Clemson during Swinney’s 11 years on the job? That’s easy. It came at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 of 2012 when QB Geno Smith led West Virginia to a 70-33 win over the Tigers.

After serving as defensive coordinator under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma from 1999-2011, Brent Venables was hired away by Swinney to take the same gig at Clemson. Since then, the Tigers have an 86-11 record. They’ve posted double-digit win totals for eight consecutive years, winning 14 times in three of the past four seasons.

These teams are facing each other in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year and the third time in the CFP finals. In the first meeting, Alabama won 45-40 in a thriller, but Clemson took the cash as a six-point underdog thanks to a Deshaun Watson touchdown pass with 12 ticks remaining.

One year later, Watson found Hunter Renfrow for a two-yard TD pass with one second left to lift Clemson, a 6.5-point underdog, to a 35-31 win and the school’s first national title since 1981. Then in the CFP semifinals at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans last season, Alabama won 24-6 behind a sensational defensive effort.

Maybe Monday’s game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is just Chapter 4 of a novel in its infancy? Perhaps Clemson and Alabama will meet in the College Football Playoff for three or four more seasons in a row? Maybe Saban's run at The Capstone has 3-4, maybe even five, years left in it?

With Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailo and Clemson signal caller Trevor Lawrence both returning in 2019, there’s a strong chance these schools will meet again next year.

But you never know with these things. Maybe Saban wins his seventh career national title and his sixth at Alabama and then decides he wants to go out on top? Perhaps the competitive urge to try it again in the NFL will emerge and, with the chance to coach Aaron Rodgers, he won’t be able to turn down a lucrative offer from the Green Bay Packers?

In that scenario, Swinney would instantly become Alabama’s top candidate to replace Saban. Remember, Swinney was born and raised on the color crimson and played at Alabama under Gene Stallings. Maybe Swinney would return home, or perhaps he’d elect to stay put because it rarely works out when you replace The Legend (ask Ray Perkins about that one.)?

When I was making my weekly appearance on The Out of Bounds Show with Qualk and Kelly this past Thursday on 105.1 The Roar in Clemson, Qualk posed this question (or something very close to it) to me: “Are you tired of the Clemson-Alabama matchup? Is it a bad thing for college football when two teams meet in the playoffs four years in a row?”

I was borderline shocked. Is that some sort of theme across the country? If so, it’s nothing but bitterness and spilled milk from fan bases of schools consistently failing to make the CFP. Don’t like it? Do something about it. Beat Alabama when you have a 14-point lead in the second half. Seal the deal when you’re up 10 early in the fourth quarter at Death Valley with Clemson playing a third-string redshirt freshman at QB.

If anything, this showdown between the nation’s premier programs should be coveted by college football fans. Again, it might be Chapter 4 with many more remaining, or this could be it. Whatever the case, it’s likely the defining game for this rivalry and for Swinney, who with a win could claim his second national title and a 2-2 record against Saban (only Steve Spurrier has been better vs. Saban).

With an Alabama win, it would make Clemson the Joe Frazier of his rivalry with Muhammad Ali – the runner-up compared to the champion. It would further establish that there’s not a program on the Tide’s level these days (only Clemson is worthy of being in that conversation, anyway).

So no, hell no I’m not tired of these teams squaring off in the CFP. Why would anyone dread watching two unbeaten heavyweights slug it out with everything on the line?

As of Sunday afternoon, most betting shops had Alabama (14-0 straight up, 8-6 against the spread) installed as a five-point favorite with a total of 58 or 58.5. The Tigers were +180 on the money line (risk $100 to win $180). For first half-wagers, most spots had the Crimson Tide listed as a three-point favorite (with a -120 price tag) with the total anywhere from 28.5 to 29.5. Clemson had +160 odds to be leading at intermission.

Bettors can get down on the first quarter as well. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had ‘Bama as a one-point ‘chalk’ in the opening stanza, but most books had the Tide at minus one-half point (with -120 to -130 juice). The Tigers were +135 to go into the second quarter with the lead.

Remember, Alabama went 10-0 ATS for first-half bets until failing to cover in its last two regular-season games and against Georgia in Atlanta. However, it bounced back to improve to 11-3 ATS in the first half when it took a 21-point advantage into intermission vs. OU.

Saban’s team raced out to a 28-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter of last Saturday’s CFP semifinal showdown vs. Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl in Miami. From there, all that was in doubt was the spread cover and whether the game would go ‘over’ or ‘under’ the closing total of 80.5 points.

OU didn’t fade away into the South Florida night, however. The Tide had surged into a lopsided lead with a flurry of haymakers that started with Damien Harris’s one-yard plunge into the end zone with 11:54 remaining in the first quarter. Before ‘Bama was done with its early onslaught, Harris had found paydirt again from one yard out and sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa had hit Henry Ruggs III and Josh Jacobs on scoring strikes of 10 and 27 yards, respectively.

Finally, the Sooners stopped the bleeding on Trey Sermon’s two-yard TD run with 11:48 left in the second quarter. They added a 26-yard field goal from Austin Seibert midway through the second to get within 28-10, but it was a red-zone trip that was in dire need of a TD. With 25 ticks remaining until intermission, Alabama countered with a 38-yard FG from Joseph Bulovas to get the lead back to 21.

Lincoln Riley’s team once again settled for three with 9:42 left in the third on Seibert’s 26-yard FG. But with 3:03 left in the third stanza, OU’s Kyler Murray evaded Alabama’s pass rush and got out of the pocket. He spotted a streaking WR and launched a perfectly-thrown 49-yard TD pass to Charleston Ramo. Suddenly, the score was 31-20 and we had a two-possession football game with more than 18 minutes left. Most important for our purposes, the Sooners were back ahead of the number for the first time since late in the opening quarter, and the ‘over’ had a pulse once again.

Alabama would answer, however, as Tagovailoa found Devonta Smith for a 10-yard TD pass with 13:08 remaining. Again, OU would counter with Murray connecting with CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard scoring strike with 8:31 left to make it 38-27. (My gosh, how good was Lamb in that game?!)

Alabama surged back ahead of the number again on Tagovailoa’s 13-yard TD pass to Jerry Jeudy at the 6:08 mark. Barring a turnover or successful onside kick, Tagovailoa-to-Jeudy basically ended all hopes of an epic comeback win from OU. But there was still plenty of business left to take care of.

The backdoor was wide open and a TD and FG could hook up ‘over’ supporters or burn bettors supporting the ‘under.’ When Murray scored on an eight-yard TD run with 4:23 remaining, the Sooners were back in front of the number again as 14.5-point underdogs. The ensuing onside kick had a chance but an OU player touched the ball just before it went 10 yards.

This gave Alabama great field position and time to get a front door cover, and it nearly did just that. In fact, it could’ve but once a first down set the Tide up with first and goal with just under two minutes remaining, Saban opted to go into Victory Formation. In doing so, OU backers got paid and the 79 combined points slithered ‘under’ the 80.5-point total.

On Dec. 28 the day before the game, most books had the total in the 77-78 range so for those who bought ‘over’ tickets at that time, they were also rewarded with greenbacks. Even though Alabama led by double digits nearly the entire game, this was a 60-minute battle and the Tide had scars to prove it.

Senior LB Christian Miller sustained a hamstring that has his status (officially listed ‘questionable) vs. Clemson in major doubt. Miller has produced 36 tackles, 12 QB hurries, 8.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and one pass broken up.

One concern Alabama fans don’t have to fret about is the health of Tagovailoa, who was brilliant in the victory against the Sooners. Despite undergoing ankle surgery in early December, Tagovailoa looked sharp from start to finish, completing 24-of-27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The Heisman Trophy runner-up has now connected on 69.5 percent of his throws for 3,671 yards with a 41/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Clemson (14-0 SU, 8-6 ATS) has been an underdog eight times since Week 4 of the 2014 campaign. On that weekend in Tallahassee when reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was suspended, the Tigers took the cash as 10-point underdogs in a 23-17 overtime loss at FSU. Since then, they’ve produced a 7-1 spread record with five outright victories when listed as underdogs.

Swinney’s squad advanced to this year’s CFP finals by trouncing Notre Dame 30-3 as an 11-point favorite at Jerry World last Saturday night. The 33 combined points ducked ‘under’ the 58-point total.

After trading field goal in the first quarter, Clemson took over in the second quarter with three TD passes from Lawrence, who first found Justyn Ross for a 52-yard scoring strike with 12:50 left in the stanza. Then with 1:44 left until halftime, Lawrence hit Ross against for a 42-yard TD connection. With two ticks left in the first half, Lawrence threw 19 yards into the end zone to Tee Higgins. Travis Etienne’s 62-yard TD dash late in the third quarter closed out the scoring.

Clemson enjoyed a 538-248 advantage over the Fighting Irish in total offense. Lawrence completed 27-of-39 passes for 327 yards and three TDs without an interception. Etienne rushed for 109 yards and one TD on 14 attempts, while Ross had six catches for 148 yards and two TDs. Renfrow had four receptions for 62 yards.

For the season, Lawrence has a 65.3 completion percentage, 2,933 passing yards and a 27/4 TD-INT ratio. The true freshman has also rushed for 157 yards and one TD. Etienne has 1,573 rushing yards, 22 TDs and an 8.3 yards-per-carry average.

Clemson has won 12 games by margins of at least 20 points. The Tigers had just two close games, winning 28-26 at Texas A&M (before Lawrence was the starter) and rallying to nip Syracuse by a 27-23 count (after trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter and with Lawrence out of the game injured) at home. Meanwhile, Alabama won its first 12 games by at least 22 points before beating UGA and Oklahoma by seven and 11 points, respectively.

The Aggies and Louisville represent the only common opponents for these schools. Alabama dusted U of L 51-14 in the season opener in Orlando and dropped Texas A&M 45-23 as a 24-point home ‘chalk.’ Clemson blasted the Cardinals 77-16 as a 38-point home favorite.

If there’s a bone to pick with Clemson’s resume, it would be its strength of schedule (No. 59 compared to No. 6 for 'Bama). The Tigers faced Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game and won 42-10, but the Panthers finished the season with a 7-7 record. Only The ‘Cuse (10-3) and N.C. State (9-4) had quality seasons out of the ACC, but the Wolfpack got smoked 52-13 by Texas A&M at the Gator Bowl.

Clemson is ranked third in the nation in total offense, 24th in passing yards, 10th in rushing yards and fourth in scoring with its 44.3 points-per-game average. The Tigers are ranked fifth in the country in total defense, 16th at defending the pass, fourth in run defense and first in scoring ‘D’ (12.9 PPG).

With the exception of a 35-point outburst by South Carolina in the regular-season finale, Clemson has held eight straight opponents to 16 points or fewer and seven have been limited to 10 points or less. However, junior DT Dexter Lawrence won’t be in uniform vs. ‘Bama due to a suspension. Lawrence recorded 37 tackles, six TFL’s, seven QB hurries, 1.5 sacks and three PBU.

Clemson leads the nation in sacks with 52. Clelin Ferrell paces the Tigers with 11.5, followed by Austin Bryant (eight) and Christian Wilkins (5.5). Alabama’s offensive line has given up just 14 sacks this year (to rank 10th in the country) but it won’t have starting sophomore OG Deonte Brown, who is also suspended along with two other reserves.

Alabama is ranked fourth in the nation in total offense, sixth in passing yards, 35th in rushing yards and second in scoring with its 47.7 PPG average. The Tide is ranked 13th in the country in total defense, 22nd in pass defense, 19th at defending the run and fifth in scoring ‘D’ (16.2 PPG). They are fifth in the nation in sacks with 45.

The ‘over’ is 8-5-1 overall for Alabama with its games averaging combined scores of 63.9 PPG. The ‘under’ is 3-2-1 in its past six outings. The ‘over’ went 4-2 in the Tide’s six games that had totals closing in the 50s.

After going 4-1 in its last five games, the ‘under’ is 8-6 overall for Clemson. The Tigers have seen their games average combined scores of 57.2 PPG.

Kickoff is scheduled for Monday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets

-- has the following adjusted lines: Alabama -13.5 for a +220 payout, Clemson -3.5 for a +250 return, ‘over’ 68.5 for a +220 payout and ‘under’ 52.5 for a +210 return.

-- In four games against Alabama, Renfrow has 22 receptions for 211 yards and four TDs, including the game winner two years ago.

-- How many times has Clemson lost by more than five points in the last 61 games? Once, by a 24-6 count against ‘Bama last year in The Big Easy.

-- Alabama is +8 in turnover margin, while Clemson is +5.

-- Since clubbing Michigan by a 41-15 count at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 29, four additional UF players have joined safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft early. Those players include OT Jawaan Taylor, LB Vosean Joseph, RB Jordan Scarlett and DE Jachai Polite. On the bright side, WR Van Jefferson, RB Lamical Perine, LB David Reese, WR Tyrie Cleveland and DE Jabari Zuniga have announced they’re returning to school. Also, the Gators landed a huge commitment Saturday from Long Beach, Calif., CB Chris Steele, who chose UF over Southern Cal, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Steele is a 5-star at and a high four-star at the other recruiting publications. UF opens the 2019 campaign against Miami in Orlando at Camping World Stadium.

-- Former Georgia QB and 5-star recruit Justin Fields has elected to transfer to Ohio State. Four other UGA players have announced they’re heading to the NFL Draft early, including RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Riley Ridley, TE Isaac Nauta and WR Mecole Hardman.

-- West Virginia has hired Troy head coach Neal Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen, who chose to leave WVU for a pay raise at Houston. When Bleacher Report first indicated that Houston was making a move on Major Applewhite in order to hire ‘Holgo,’ I tweeted that he was doing the Mountaineers a favor by leaving. And with Brown now hired, I think WVU is the big winner with a solid upgrade in the head-coaching department (Disagree? See ‘Holgo’s clock management on the final drive in this year’s loss at Oklahoma State)

-- Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson made news by placing his name in the transfer portal a week ago. He would’ve been a good get for a Power Five program. However, Jackson announced Sunday that he’s headed to the 2019 NFL Draft.

-- South Carolina QB Jake Bentley has announced he’s coming back for his senior season. The Gamecocks are still awaiting word on WR Bryan Edwards.

-- Auburn DT Derrick Brown announced he’s returning to school on Sunday. Brown garnered second-team All-SEC honors this season.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

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