The moment Alabama recovered Clemson’s onside kick with 12 seconds left to preserve its 45-40 victory and last year’s national title, the college football world was clamoring for these two teams to meet again. Thanks to dominating performances by both teams in the College Football Playoff semifinals, fans have gotten their wish.
So we know this game is big, but where does it rank with the college football’s most anticipated rematches? Let’s take a look at the top five and see, but before we do, here are a few honorable mentions.
Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1979 – Miami
You know when your team loses to a fierce conference rival and you say, “Man, I wish we could play them again.” Well, this is the one time a bowl game granted that wish. After upsetting No. 1 Oklahoma in November, Nebraska blew its own national championship hopes by losing to Missouri the next week. With other teams losing that weekend and the Sugar Bowl setting up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup between Penn State and Alabama, the Orange Bowl was running out of marquee foes for Big 8 champion Nebraska. So it made the unusual move of inviting No. 4 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims to Miami for a rematch. The Sooners and their fans were ecstatic. The Cornhuskers? Not so much. The game itself was close until the third quarter, when Oklahoma pulled away to take a commanding 31-10 lead. Since the 1979 Orange Bowl, the only time two teams from the same conference played a rematch in the same season was in the 2012 national title game.
Miami 20, Oklahoma 14 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1988 – Miami
The Hurricanes were the only team to beat Oklahoma in the 1985 and ‘86 seasons. When they faced each other for a third straight time, it was in the Orange Bowl and the Sooners were No. 1 and Miami was No. 2. For Oklahoma, the third time did not prove to be the charm as the Hurricanes won 20-14 and secured their second national title.
Alabama 21, LSU 0 (BCS National Championship Game)
Jan. 9, 2012 – New Orleans
After beating Alabama 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa, LSU won its remaining games to finish the season undefeated and earn the top spot in the BCS National Championship Game. At No. 2 in the BCS standings was 11-1 Alabama, marking the only time a national championship game has been played between two teams from the same conference. The pairing was a bit controversial since many in the college football world felt 11-1 Oklahoma State deserved the shot at LSU (The Crimson Tide edged the Cowboys by a mere .0086 points in the final BCS rankings.). The frustration became even greater when Alabama won the title game and became the first team to win a national championship without even winning its division.
5. Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1991 – Miami
The year before, Notre Dame spoiled Colorado’s national title hopes by beating the top-ranked Buffaloes 21-6 in the Orange Bowl. When the teams returned to South Florida the next year after one of the wackiest seasons in college football history, Colorado was again ranked No. 1 and Notre Dame was No. 5. This time the Buffaloes hung on to win 10-9 and claim a share of the national championship.
4. Florida 52, Florida State 20 (Sugar Bowl)
Jan. 2, 1997 – New Orleans
The second-ranked Seminoles beat the top-ranked Gators 24-21 in the last week of the regular season. The next week, third-ranked Nebraska was upset by Texas in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game while Florida took care of business against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Since No. 2 Arizona State was committed to playing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the only option for the Sugar Bowl was a Florida/Florida State rematch. The Buckeyes beat the Sun Devils, making the Sugar Bowl the de facto national title game. This time, Florida scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to earn the program’s first national title.
3. Florida State 18, Nebraska 16 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1994 – Miami
The Seminoles had beaten the Huskers 27-14 the year before in an Orange Bowl that had no bearing on the national title race. When both teams returned to Miami the next season, they were more mature and Florida State was ranked No. 1 and Nebraska No. 2. The typical excitement surrounding this type of game was only intensified because it was guaranteed that either Bobby Bowden or Tom Osborne would win his first national championship. In a game for the ages, Nebraska kicker Byron Bennett’s 45-yard field goal attempt went left as time expired and the Seminoles won 18-16, securing Bowden’s first national title.
2. Miami 27, Notre Dame 10
Nov. 25, 1989 – Miami
The 1988 Notre Dame/Miami matchup, famously dubbed “Catholics vs. Convicts,” was recently highlighted in an ESPN “30 for 30” film because of its significance. Through all the hype, the two schools played one of college football’s best games, which the Irish won 31-30 en route to the national title. When the two schools met for the last game of the 1989 regular season, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 and riding a 23-game winning streak. This time No. 7 Miami was the spoiler, dashing the Irish’s hopes for a second straight championship and putting the Hurricanes in position to win their third.
1. Clemson vs. Alabama (College Football Playoff National Championship)
Jan. 9, 2017 – Tampa, Fla.
All of the games on this list were big, but Monday night’s showdown will be the only time the same two teams have faced off or the national title two years in a row. Given the excitement last year’s game produced, the anticipation surrounding this rematch will be bigger than any other we have ever seen.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.