Alabama failed to win its fifth national championship in eight years, falling to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game. But that doesn’t mean Nick Saban and Co. are going anywhere.
No one associated with Alabama football had felt the agony of defeat in 26 games, and things were par for the course for the Crimson Tide as they held a 14-0 lead over Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night in Tampa.
Things were normal, as the Tide were rolling. This is what college football fans had become used to since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Saban had not met defeat in any game when taking a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter of action as Tide head coach. But much like Urban Meyer had suffered his first shutout loss as a head coach when his offense failed to produce in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson, Saban suffered the rarest of setbacks in Alabama’s last-second 35-31 loss to Clemson in a rematch of their epic clash last season.
Since arriving at ‘Bama, Saban was 97-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead. The Crimson Tide entered the final 15 minutes against the Tigers with a 24-14 advantage, but the Tide’s offense could not do enough to complement the team’s defense, which was a suffocating unit throughout the 2016 season. An injury to star running back Bo Scarbrough hampered the offense, which was being coordinated by Steve Sarkisian for the first time after Lane Kiffin permanently left for his new head gig at FAU. So a fatigued unit that recorded 11 defensive scores this season failed to be extraordinary when we so often were used to seeing it be just that throughout an undefeated campaign.
That 97-0 mark says a lot about just how dominant ‘Bama has been since Saban arrived, and it reveals just how impressive Clemson played to ultimately come back for the win. Consider that Alabama gave up 53 fourth-quarter points in 15 games this season. Twenty-one of those points came against Clemson.
Two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson and the Tigers ran more offensive plays against the Alabama defense than it had seen all season, scoring four second-half touchdowns—including a two-yard scoring grab by walk-on Hunter Renfrow—to deliver Clemson its first national title since 1981. Former Alabama walk-on receiver Dabo Swinney, who would later be an assistant on the Tide staff, claimed his first career natty as head coach. Perfect symmetry for a head coach who seems to shine his brightest when doubted the most.
It appeared that Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts had scored the game-winner on a 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 to play, finally breathing some much-needed life into an offense that went stagnant. But the Tigers were able to march 68 yards down the field to go over the 500-yard mark for the game and score the winning touchdown just before time expired.
Alabama was denied a 17th national championship by the two-time defending ACC champs. But one thing is certain: the Tide will be right back in the title game, sooner than later. One loss won’t derail a championship train that has been chugging along with minimal resistance since Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa.
Monday night in Tampa, it was time for Swinney, Watson and the Tigers to reach the sport’s pinnacle once again. But, soon enough, Saban’s crew will return to the top and once again be the official standard in the sport. After all, The Process rarely fails.
For perspective, the Tide (14-1) failed to become the first FBS program to finish a season 15-0 as well as the first to win four championships in a six-season span—which would have included two instances of back-to-back national crowns. All of that was taken away by a touchdown pass with :01 remaining. That’s how close Saban had his team to history. The run this program is on has been incredible to watch, and—despite the temporary setback on Monday night—it will remain the envy of college football programs across the country.