Alabama and Clemson are set to square off in the National Championship, and they’re set to do it again.
Last year’s classic saw the Tide take down the Tigers in Arizona, 45-40. This season, we’ll do it all again in Tampa, and the rematch is something that’s never been done before, not in the BCS era, the pre-BCS systems of the 1990s, or the older bowl system.
Before 1993, No. 1 facing off against No. 2 in a bowl game was downright rare, much less having the same top teams meet two years in a row. The top two teams in the land had only met eight times in bowl games before the sport initiated the first in a series of changes that led us to the present day.
Per ESPN’s Rece Davis, only twice in the history of the sport had the same two top-five teams ever met in consecutive bowl games.
Florida State and Oklahoma did it in 1980 and ‘81.
And Colorado and Notre Dame’s back-to-back helped lead us to the Playoff we enjoy today.
The Buffaloes and the Fighting Irish met in consecutive Orange Bowls after the 1990 and 1991 seasons. The Buffaloes entered both games as the No. 1 team in the country but came away with part of a title from only the 1990 season’s clash. It was a (not the) national championship game both times for Colorado, but not for the Fighting Irish, because the Irish didn’t rank quite highly enough and that’s how things worked back then. Notre Dame won in the first of those Orange Bowls but would not be the national champion that year. Miami would take home the consensus 1989 title after beating No. 7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Colorado’s ‘90 title wasn’t a slam dunk. There were myriad polls and postulations to derive national champions, but the big kahunas should sound familiar, because they’re still the major human polls. The AP and the Coaches Poll (run by rival service United Press International until 1990 and by USA Today and others through the present day) were the standard then and are the noncommittee standard now. The Buffaloes won the AP championship in ‘90, but Georgia Tech was the champion in the Coaches Poll.
The Washington team in 1991 might’ve been the best team of the decade. It’s at least in that conversation ...
... but that Washington team had to deal with a split title, too. It won the title by the Coaches Poll that year, but Miami won it by the AP.
Those split championships led to the Bowl Coalition. The march to the BCS and eventually the Playoff started there.
It was the stated aim to get Nos. 1 and 2 into a bowl consistently. But the Coalition and its successor, the Bowl Alliance (which came along in 1996), both had a problem: The Rose Bowl wouldn’t play ball.
The conference commissioners were choosing from among the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Gator and Cotton Bowls. The three winners will rotate the hoped-for annual face-off between the nation's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams. The games will most likely be played Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, with the latter being the one between the higher-ranked teams. Rose Bowl Could Ruin Plan
The catch in the plan could come from the Big Ten and Pacific-10 Conferences, which are contractually bound to the Rose Bowl. If there is a top-ranked or second-ranked team in either conference, it could derail the coalition's intention.
In January of 1995, 1997, and 1998, either No. 1 or No. 2 came from the Pac-10 or the Big Ten and played in Pasadena due to contractual obligation, robbing us of the chance to see a consensus national title game. We got a matchup of the top two in the other years, but we never got a rematch.
When the BCS started in 1998, the “Granddaddy of Them All” agreed to break from its traditional matchup and give the people what they wanted, even if the top teams happened to be Big Ten or Pac-10 schools.
Since then, we’ve had multiple back-to-back entrants in one title game slot but never in both of the title game slots.
Through 2007, one entrant in the BCS National Championship game was a repeat, but we never got the same pair.
Then, for the 2014 season, the sport’s powers that be gave us the Playoff.
And that, in a nutshell, is how we end up with what we have today: Bama and Clemson rematching for all the marbles, as the undisputed top two teams in the land. The Tigers have been looking forward to it.