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Clemson vs. Alabama: Get to know the College Football Playoff national championship teams

Deshaun Watson of the Clemson Tigers reacts

Deshaun Watson of the Clemson Tigers reacts against the Oklahoma Sooners in the third quarter of the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

No. 1 Clemson plays No. 2 Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday, Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz. Get to know the teams a little better ahead of their title game showdown.


— This is Clemson’s second appearance in a national championship game. They won the 1981 national title with a 22-15 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

— Clemson last played Alabama in 2008, losing 34-10 in the season opener at the Georgia Dome. The Tigers only had 188 yards of offense, and C.J. Spiller returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for Clemson’s only touchdown of the game.

— Head coach Dabo Swinney has a 75-26 record in eight seasons as Clemson head coach, including five straight seasons with 10 or more wins.

Deshaun Watson finished third in Heisman Trophy voting. The sophomore quarterback has completed 303 of 444 passes for 3,699 yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 14 games (including Clemson’s 37-17 win over Oklahoma in the national semifinal). He has also rushed for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns on 187 carries.

Wayne Gallman has rushed for 1,482 yards — good for second in the ACC and 15th in the nation — and 12 touchdowns on 269 carries. He broke the school single-season record previously held by Raymond Priester, who had 1,345 yards in 12 games.

— Clemson has become something of a “Wide Receiver U” as of late, producing top NFL talent such as DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant in the past few years. Sophomore wideout Artavis Scott hopes to become the next breakout receiver for the Tigers. He led the team with 89 catches and 868 receiving yards to go with his five touchdowns. Junior tight end Jordan Leggett has a team-high seven receiving touchdowns.

Shaq Lawson has become one of college football’s most feared pass rushers. The junior defensive end, who has already declared for the NFL draft, leads the nation with 23 1⁄2 tackles for loss. He also has 10 1⁄2 sacks in 14 games, which is tied for 12th in the nation. However, Lawson’s status for the national championship game is up in the air after spraining his left MCL early in the first quarter against Oklahoma.

— Clemson’s secondary, led by star defensive backs Mackensie Alexander, Cordrea Tankersley and Jayron Kearse, has allowed an average of 177.2 yards per game, ninth-best in the nation. The Tigers have intercepted 16 passes in 14 games.

— Clemson’s rush defense has allowed an average of 124.4 yards per game, good for 18th in the nation.

— The key for the Tigers’ defense: third-down stops. Clemson’s opponents have run 202 plays on third down but have only converted 52 of them. That 25.7 third-down percentage ranks second in the nation.


— Alabama is no stranger to the national title game. The Crimson Tide last won it all in 2012, its third title in four seasons. The school claims 15 national titles, the most of any FBS program.

— Alabama last played Clemson in 2008, winning 34-10 in the season opener at the Georgia Dome. The Tide held Clemson to just 188 yards of total offense with the Tigers’ lone touchdown coming on a 96-yard opening kickoff return.

— Nick Saban has a 99-18 record in nine seasons as Alabama head coach, good for the third most wins in program history behind Paul “Bear” Bryant (232) and Frank Thomas (115). His three national titles trail just Bryant, who won six.

Derrick Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy, becoming the second Alabama player to win the award after Mark Ingram in 2008. The running back has rushed for 2,061 yards with 25 touchdowns in 14 games, including 75 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide’s 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

Jake Coker threw for 2,775 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. The quarterback has a lot of hardware in his career, winning two ACC titles and a national championship at Florida State before transferring to Alabama, where he’s won two SEC titles.

— Coker has a few weapons to utilize at receiver, but the most dangerous has proven to be Calvin Ridley. The 21-year-old true freshman caught 83 passes for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns this season. If he can catch at least six passes for 123 yards vs. Clemson, he will be the SEC leader in both categories.

— Linebacker Reggie Ragland took home SEC defensive player of the year honors in 2015 while leading Nick Saban’s defense. The 6-2, 252-pound senior has a team-best 97 tackles with 6 ½ tackles for loss this season.

— Up front, Saban’s defense has just as much talent, led by junior A’Shawn Robinson as well as seniors Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen. Reed and Robinson guide the Tide’s nation-leading rush defense (70.79 yards per game), while Allen’s 12 sacks are second best in the nation, just one half fewer than Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett.

— ’Bama’s defense doesn’t just rely on the guys up front. The secondary held opponents to 186 yards per game through the air, good for No. 18 in the country. Safety Eddie Jackson has emerged as one of the nation’s best, picking up five interceptions and returning two for touchdowns.

— One key for the Crimson Tide will be to keep control of the game clock to keep Deshaun Watson off the field. Alabama averaged 33:51 of possession this season, good for sixth-best in the nation.


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