MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Unless you are a fifth-year senior, Alabama’s football players only know one way to end the season: play in the National Championship Game.
With its 45-34 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Alabama advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship for the fourth consecutive year. Only a few redshirt seniors remember the dark days of the 2014 season when Alabama blew a lead and lost to Ohio State in a Playoff semifinal.
Alabama safety Deionte Thompson, considered a potential first-round draft pick by many analysts, is one of those four-year players who has a chance to finish his career winning 3 of 4 national championships.
“It’s a blessing, and you can’t thank anybody but God for this opportunity, for this moment,” Thompson said on the field after the Orange Bowl. “Fourth year in a row, I’m going to play for the national championship. Not too many people get to say that. I’m blessed for the opportunity and thankful. One more to go.”
Added junior Alabama defensive back Shyheim Carter: “This is the type of thing we work for. It means a lot, especially to the seniors on the team. Those boys have been here for a minute, so we want to do it for them.”
Think back for a second: There was a time when many questioned if Alabama was done playing for and winning national championships.
After missing out on the championship game in 2013 and 2014, many questioned if the game had passed Nick Saban by. Some insisted the dynasty was dead, especially after the early-season loss to Ole Miss in 2015. All Saban did was continue loading up on highly-touted recruiting classes, and the back half of this run might be just as impressive as the start of it from 2009-12 that saw Alabama win 3 championships in 4 years.
They have a chance to match that Monday night against Clemson.
“It’s surreal,” Alabama junior running back Josh Jacobs said. “You think about teams that never get to go or teams that go once, and I’ve been three straight years. So, it’s surreal to me and very humbling.”
Alabama’s win over Oklahoma set up Round 4 with No. 2 Clemson in Santa Clara, Calif. It’s the fourth consecutive year the two powers have met in the Playoff and the third time to decide the national champion.
Alabama won the championship following the 2015 season with Clemson evening the score the following year. Both games were instant classics. Last year, Alabama easily put away Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal before winning a thriller over Georgia for its second national championship in three years and fifth under Saban.
These groups are completely different at key positions, mostly quarterback. Jalen Hurts started for Alabama in the past two Playoff games against Clemson, but was replaced in last year’s championship game by Tua Tagovailoa. After losing his job this season to freshman Trevor Lawrence, Kelly Bryant bolted from Clemson to play his final year of eligibility elsewhere next season.
Tagovailoa and Lawrence are widely regarded as two of the top young quarterback prospects NFL scouts are paying close attention to.
These two programs have separated themselves from pretty much everyone in the country outside of maybe Georgia.
Round 4 might be getting old and repetitive to some, but not to Alabama.
“It just speaks volumes about the two programs, how hard the players work and how hard the coaches work to get back to the same spot every year,” Thompson said. “Playing them for a fourth year in a row means a lot for both programs. May the best team win.”