The college football gods granted the wishes of those fans who couldn’t get enough of last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson, as both schools will meet again on Monday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 in last season’s thrilling contest at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Alabama (14-0) sliced through its regular season to earn a trip to Atlanta and win a third straight SEC championship, blasting Florida 54-16. The No. 1 Crimson Tide returned to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve and beat No. 4 Washington 24-7 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to give them a shot at back-to-back national titles.
Clemson (13-1) began the season with a six-point win at Auburn en route to starting 9-0 before falling 43-42 at home to Pittsburgh. The Tigers won their last two regular-season games and then outlasted Virginia Tech 42-35 in the ACC Championship Game, putting them back in the College Football Playoff. Clemson shut out No. 3 Ohio State 31-0 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, setting up a national championship rematch with Alabama.
Here are 10 stats you need to know to get you ready for Monday’s title tilt.
11: Defensive touchdowns scored by Alabama
Alabama’s offense at times this season has underwhelmed, but thankfully for Crimson Tide fans, it’s had the good fortune of being able to rely on a vicious and opportunistic defense to pick up the slack. Alabama has returned five fumbles and six interceptions for touchdowns through its 14 games played this year, the most recent coming in the Peach Bowl when linebacker Ryan Anderson returned a pick of Washington’s Jake Browning 26 yards for a score in the second quarter. What’s even more impressive about the Tide’s defensive scoring prowess if the fact the unit has only allowed 15 offensive touchdowns on the season.
112: Career touchdowns accounted for by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson
Watson has accounted for a whopping 112 touchdowns in 36 games with the Tigers. That total – 25 rushing and 87 passing – place him at second behind Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes among active FBS signal-callers. This season, Watson has been responsible for 46 touchdowns through 14 games and has had two or more in all but one game. He posted six touchdowns against in-state rival South Carolina and produced five against both Louisville and Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
16: Consecutive wins by Alabama against ranked teams
The Crimson Tide’s 24-7 win over Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl not only was their 16th in a row over a ranked foe, but it also tied the 2002-05 USC Trojans for the most consecutive victories of that nature in AP poll history (since 1936). Alabama’s 16-game winning streak dates back to Sept. 19, 2015, when Ole Miss scored a 43-37 upset in Tuscaloosa. With a win over Clemson, Nick Saban and Alabama can claim another record.
3: Clemson’s strength of schedule ranking
The only schools that can boast about having played tougher schedules this season are Tennessee and Ohio State. Of the 14 opponents Clemson has faced this year, 11 played in a bowl. The Tigers’ opponents have gone a combined 76-46 for a .623 winning percentage. Clemson’s 11 bowl opponents are the most the team has faced in a season since 2010 when it matched up against nine such teams.
40-3: Alabama’s record under former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin
After nearly three seasons directing the Crimson Tide’s offense, Kiffin was hired as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic in December. Originally expected to stay until Alabama’s season was over, Kiffin left the program on Monday, just two days after the playoff win over Washington. Former USC head coach Steven Sarkisian has taken over Kiffin’s duties. While questions may surround what ultimately led to his dismissal, what can’t be questioned is Kiffin’s impact as the Tide’s offensive coordinator. In his three years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has won the SEC title each year and is a victory away from back-to-back national championships. In 2014, Kiffin helped first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims set several school records, take home SEC Championship Game MVP honors and earn second-team All-SEC recognition by the Associated Press. Last season, it was Jake Coker getting his first shot at starting and eventually guiding Alabama to a national title. This season, it has been true freshman Jalen Hurts grabbing the spotlight and being named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Love him or loathe him, Kiffin’s track record with Crimson Tide quarterbacks pretty much speaks for itself.
6.28: Clemson’s yards per play this season
The Tigers have run 1,121 plays from scrimmage for 7,044 yards, good for 6.28 yards per play. In 2015, the Tigers ended the season having run 1,207 plays for 7,718 yards, which translated to 6.39 yards per play. Clemson’s offensive production might not be quite as explosive as it was a year ago, but the Tigers still are a formidable force when they have the ball. Clemson enters this game 12th in the FBS in total offense (503.1 ypg) and just put up 470 yards (265 passing, 205 rushing) against an Ohio State defense that still ranks sixth nationally.
50: Sacks tallied by Alabama’s defense this season
With some considering this year’s iteration of the Crimson Tide defense to perhaps be the best head coach Nick Saban has assembled during his time in Tuscaloosa, it’s no surprise to learn that ‘Bama has racked up 50 sacks in 14 games. That puts the Tide second in the FBS behind only Florida State (51 in 13 G) and one ahead of Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line has done well in protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson this season, as the Heisman Trophy runner-up has only been sacked 16 times. Fans of line play will be in for a treat Monday night.
1,267: Receiving yards this season for Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams
If not for a scary-looking neck injury sustained after colliding with a goal post following a touchdown catch against Wofford in September 2015, Williams could be looking at a third consecutive 1,000-yard season. He posted 1,030 in 2014 and following a six-catch, 96-yard showing against Ohio State in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, he enters Monday night with 1,267 on 90 receptions. He has five 100-yard games (Auburn, NC State, Syracuse, South Carolina), including a career-best 202 in the loss to Pittsburgh.
208: Receiving yards for Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in last year’s national championship game
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did his due diligence in scheming for breakout wide receiver Calvin Ridley in last year’s title game, holding the then 1,000-yard receiver to 14 yards on six receptions. But neither Venables nor Clemson’s secondary, however, had an answer for Howard, who burned the Tigers for 208 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions, including a 51-yard score in the fourth quarter that put Alabama ahead to stay. Howard has 489 yards and two touchdowns entering the rematch and you know Venables and company do not want to let the tight end beat them a second time.
20: Interceptions by Clemson’s defense
With two picks of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Tigers now have 20 interceptions on the season. Only five other teams have more. Alabama true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has done a good job throwing the ball (2,649 yards, 22 TD), but he has tossed nine picks. During a five-game stretch starting Oct. 8 and ending Nov. 12, he threw at least one and has been picked off in seven of 14 games thus far. Since throwing two against Auburn in the regular season finale, Hurts has been mistake-free (in just 34 pass attempts) in wins over Florida and Washington.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.