College Football Playoffs: Alabama gets exactly what it wants
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama gets a shot at revenge against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl despite a loss late in the season that put their hopes in serious jeopardy.

When the Alabama Crimson Tide fell short against their hated rival Auburn on Nov. 25, the rest of the college football world breathed a collective sigh.

After dominating college football it looked like the best team all season would not get a chance to make up for their excruciating loss to Clemson in the National Championship game last season.

What would those in charge of choosing the College Football Playoff decide now that Alabama lost to Auburn? Despite owning the top-ranked scoring defense in college football, a loss in their final game of the regular season and not qualifying for the SEC Championship Game could have knocked them from the College Football Playoff entirely.

For the first time all season the Crimson Tide did not hold their future in their hands. Would the committee decide that Ohio State should be chosen despite their loss to Iowa? If Wisconsin goes undefeated, how could they not be chosen?

On that fateful Sunday, you could feel the anxiety in the fans of Yellowhammer State. After waiting all season for the chance to get revenge on Clemson and win Nick Saban his fifth National Championship, tying him with Bear Bryant for the most in college football history, could it be possible that they would not make the playoff?

Fortunately for Alabama fans, they were not penalized by the College Football Playoff Committee for the timing of their only loss. Now after fearing for their college football life, the Crimson Tide gets the chance they were waiting for all season.

On New Years’ night, Alabama gets their rematch with Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Like any great trilogy, their third straight meeting in the postseason will determine who the best team really is. One downside for Nick Saban’s group is the fact that they “officially” are 0-3 in Sugar Bowls under him (despite the fact that they won the 2012 National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome).

Only four other coaches have longer losing streaks in any bowl in College football history. Could this be a mental roadblock for Saban?

Most Consecutive Losses at a Single Bowl – FBS History
Bowl Game
Tom Osborne 5 Orange Bowl
Bo Schembechler 5 Rose Bowl
R.C. Slocum 4 Cotton Bowl
Tom Osborne 4 Fiesta Bowl
Nick Saban 3  Sugar Bowl

When those two teams face off, it will mark just the second time in college football history that the same two teams have played in three straight bowl games (USC and Ohio State played in three straight Rose Bowls from 1972-74).

Despite being the number one seed and the defending National Champions, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are currently as high as a three-point underdog. Historically, that works out well for the Tigers under Swinney who are 6-1 as underdogs in bowl games during his tenure.

Clemson as Underdog in Bowl Games – Under Dabo Swinney
Opponent Line Result
2017   Alabama *+3>> ?
2016   Alabama *+6.5 Won by 4
2016   Ohio State *+2.5 Won by 31
2015   Alabama *+6.5 Lost by 5
2015   Oklahoma *+3.5 Won by 20
2014   Oklahoma *+6.5 Won by 34
2013   Ohio State *+2.5 Won by 5
2012   LSU *+5 Won by 1
>> Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook current line

While history is one thing, the 2017 season gives us another view of this game. The Crimson Tide have revenge on their mind. They have dominated teams all season, outscoring their opposition by 25 points per game, the 2nd highest margin in college football (Penn State outscored opponents by 26.0 PPG, but they played two sub-division one teams, Alabama only played one).

On defense, the Crimson Tide has worn people out all season. They allowed the fewest yards in college football this season (3,093 – 258 yards per game) and allowed the fewest points this season (11.5 per game).

While the Tigers had a very good season, they have not performed as well as last season. In 2016 the Tigers led college football in total yards (504 yards per game) while finishing 17th this season (448 yards per game). Despite this, Clemson lost only one game this season and that occurred when starting QB Kelly Bryant left with a concussion in the first quarter. That loss, although shocking, really put Clemson in the discussion of elite teams. You simply cannot be an elite team until average Joe fans hear that you lose and are shocked. It is what I refer to as “Oh my God, they LOST?!?!” moments.

While most of college football kind of forgot about Clemson after that loss, they rebounded very nicely to close out the season. In wins over ranked South Carolina (big time rivalry game on the road) and #7 Miami in the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers outscored their opposition 72-13. Any questions about their toughness were answered.

In the world of college football, Alabama fans are elitists. The fact that Clemson can match them to a position by position basis as far as pure athletes infuriate them. The fact that Clemson won the National Championship last season on a “pick play” is another reason for hatred towards the Tigers. However, after suffering through purgatory for a little over a week after their loss to Auburn, the Crimson Tide and their fans now have exactly what they want. A chance to pay back Clemson on their way to another National Championship.

Either way, the winner of this game needs to really focus on the fact that unlike their previous two meetings, this is not for the National Championship. While this is clearly the marquee matchup of the two New Years’ Day games (it gets the 8:45 EST start time as the second game), the winner still needs to remember that waiting for them will be a very good team and they will be just as hungry to get a shot at the National Championship.

Mark Everett Kelly, formerly of ESPN, Mark Everett is a 2-time Emmy Winner that had to retire from ESPN in 2008 due to side effects of cancer treatment. Since then Mark has been active as a Public Speaker, Author and Blogger. He is a Sports History Expert and his speeches inspire many who fight daily setbacks to pursue their goals. Mark occassionally writes for ESNY. He is the author of "My Scars Tell A Story" which highlights his endless battle fighting the side effects of cancer treatment. He also blogs on his website, about "Living As A Cancer Survivor". Mark also does not hide that he has a personal relationship with Jesus. He despises judgemental people and his speeches encourage and speak up for those who can't speak for themselves.