Crimson Tide, Clemson meet again with much on the line

Crimson Tide, Clemson meet again with much on the line
Alabama wide receiver Cam Sims (17) practices Thursday for the Tide's College Football Playoff rematch with the No. 1 Clemson Tigers on New Year's Day. (Kent Gidley / University of Alabama Athletics)

Alabama and Clemson will slug it out in the College Football Playoff on the first night of 2018 at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

It will be the third time the Tide and Tigers have met on college football’s biggest stage. Alabama won the first game 45-40 in Glendale, Arizona, and Clemson won last year 35-31 in Tampa.

Both games produced national championships for the winners.

Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team (12-1) is seeded No. 1 while Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (11-1) is seeded fourth. Alabama is a 3-point favorite.

The game will be televised by ESPN with kickoff at 7:45.

Alabama rolled to 11 straight victories this season before losing to rival Auburn 26-14 and missing the SEC Championship game.

Saban said after that game that he hoped his team would get a chance to make the College Football Playoff.

And so it happened.

“We didn’t finish like we wanted to and I think we need to show that we can do that,” Saban said after arriving in New Orleans.

“Everybody’s got to take ownership and do their job. I’ve been really pleased with how our players have prepared.”

Saban: Revenge not a factor

The Tide has been saddled with injuries, chief among them linebackers Sean Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses, and defensive back Hootie Jones. None are expected to play.

But Saban was upbeat at Thursday’s press conference.

“The fun of it all is having success,” he said. “The fun of it all is winning the game.”

Asked by a reporter if revenge would be a factor this year, Saban was quick to say no.

“I think our players respond because they have had a lot of success. Sometimes they get a little complacent with the success they’ve had, but they respond pretty well.”

He also talked about how his team did not close the deal last year after quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 30 yards for a touchdown with two minutes left in the game, giving Alabama a 31-28 lead.

Clemson charged back and drove 68 yards to score the winning touchdown with just one second left on the clock.

In that game, Alabama was successful on just two of 15 third-down conversions.

The Alabama mantra all season has been “don’t waste a failure.”

“I don’t think we finished well,” Saban said. “Your identity as a team starts with how you finish.

“This team,” Saban said, “has an opportunity to finish this season a little better than last season.”

Swinney: Make some new memories

Practice time in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be scheduled for both teams.

“It’s good to get practice time in the dome,” said Hurts.

“We were having a special (2017) season, but it kind of died down at the end,” Hurts said. “But now we’ve got a chance to make it better.”

For Clemson, the opponent and the stage are familiar, even if the venue is not.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” Swinney said. “It has been 59 years since Clemson was in the Sugar Bowl. It’s a great pleasure, a huge privilege.”

Swinney has his own pleasant memories of the Sugar Bowl. He was a member of the 1992 Crimson Tide team that defeated Miami there to win the national championship.

He said he wants his players to create their own fond memories.

“I want our players to enjoy the moment … and to win the game,” he said. “I don’t enjoy losing, ever.”

Facing the Crimson Tide on a big stage for the third straight year will be a challenge, Swinney admitted.

“Alabama is the best. They’ve been the standard. That’s never going to change,” he said.

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