Every national championship game puts history on the line. But there’s even more history involved in this year’s Alabama-Clemson meeting than you’ll find in a typical title game.
That centers around the two programs’ total dominance over this huge sport, highlighted by this being their third National Championship meeting in four years and fourth Playoff meeting in that span.
1. Two teams meeting in a championship three times in five years, let alone four, is really rare across the major American sports.
The NBA is the only one of the pro leagues that does this anywhere close to semi-frequently, most recently with Cavaliers-Warriors. But it’s rare even in basketball, and it only gets rarer in other sports.
The NFL hasn’t had a three-in-five championship meeting duopoly in the Super Bowl era. Baseball’s had just three World Series duopolies, all involving long-ago Yankees dynasties. The NHL hasn’t had one since the league had six teams. The MLS has never had one. Men’s college basketball never has, and women’s college basketball has just once.
2. A big reason it’s so rare in college football is this sport’s historical lack of a title game. In that way, Bama and Clemson are making up for lost time.
It’s not as if two teams have never dominated college football at the same time. That’s happened a lot, but if there’d been a Playoff all along, this would’ve happened maybe once a decade or so. The Tide and Tigers are only living out a reality the ultra-elites of the past never got to experience.
3. Alabama could make history as a wire-to-wire No. 1.
Just two teams have stayed in the No. 1 AP Poll spot all the way from the preseason to the end. Those were 1999 Florida State and 2004 USC. Bama joins them by winning. Or, if the Tide lose, they join a slightly longer list of close misses, including themselves in 2016, also at the hands of Clemson.
4. This is the chalkiest title game matchup in recent history. Call that boring, or call it the best teams just being the best.
Alabama and Clemson are 106-4 in their last 110 games against not each other, and their dominance has started to take on a very 1970s feel, Bill Connelly writes:
The 2010s aren’t that one-sided. But they’ve begun to feel pretty close.
Alabama is at its most dominant level ever and currently has a sophomore-heavy two-deep, plus the No. 1 recruiting class. Clemson will have a lot of star power to replace after Monday’s title game but, well, had a lot to replace two years ago, too — and its QB is a true freshman.
And the closest challengers to the Saban/Swinney throne — Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma — have plenty of blue in their blood as well.
Saban will retire one day, in theory, and maybe Ohio State will lose its stride now that Urban Meyer has left. Maybe Georgia’s Kirby Smart or Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley elect to move up to the NFL coaching ranks. Maybe Swinney’s magical program culture powers will dissipate.
But this sport appears to be forming one hell of a ruling class at the moment, and in 2018, we couldn’t even count on funky bounces to throw the heavyweights off their stride.
Aside from Ohio State getting whomped by Purdue, the year didn’t have a single big upset involving a serious title contender after the first few weeks. In part, that’s because there were so few contenders. Really, there were only two all along, and they’re both still here.
5. Alabama and Clemson are farther ahead of the rest of the country than any two teams have been since USC and Texas in 2005.
Vince Young helps us explain that here, but the big point is that the computers almost never see two teams tower so far over everyone else. S&P+ says Bama and Clemson are closer together and farther ahead of the rest than any other two teams have been in the Playoff era. (Of course, they’re really just competing against themselves there.)
ESPN analyst Brad Edwards says the network’s Football Power Index has tracked about 11,000 all-FBS games since 2005, the start of its data. Only two have come between two teams that FPI pegged as more than 31 points better than the average FBS team. One was Young’s USC-Texas Rose Bowl, and the other is this one.
6. If Nick Saban wins, he’ll pass Bear Bryant in AP national titles. Yes, Saban already has more titles, generally, but this is a complicated topic.
Saban already has more years in which he can make a convincing championship case than Bryant could, though the postseason format of Bryant’s era meant he didn’t get as many shots as Saban did. (Take Saban winning the title last year as the Playoff’s No. 4 seed, for instance. In the ‘60s or ‘70s, he wouldn’t have won it.)
But to be simple about it: If Saban wins, that’s six AP titles to Bryant’s five, the record they currently share. Saban is shorted an AP title in 2003, when his LSU team won the BCS (and the Coaches Poll, pursuant to that) but lost the AP title to USC.
7. The winner will be the first 15-0 FBS-equivalent champion since the 1800s.
There have been 15-0 teams at other levels, but the Playoff means it can now happen again at the top level.