Alabama reclaims college football's crown, beating Clemson 45-40

For the fourth time in seven seasons, Alabama is your college football national champion.

In what was a great game from start to finish, the No. 2 Crimson Tide just played a little bit better than the No. 1 Clemson Tigers, using a tremendous special teams effort en route to victory in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. 

Quarterback Jake Coker overcame a slow start to throw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, while Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards and three scores on 36 carries. And neither of them had the biggest night for the Tide. That was reserved for tight end O.J. Howard, but we'll have more on him in a bit.

For Clemson, QB Deshaun Watson had an amazing game, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for another 73 yards. Unfortunately for Watson and the Tigers, it just wasn't enough.

Story of the Game: Big plays. For most of the night, Clemson's defense did an excellent job of slowing down Henry, Coker, wide receiver Calvin Ridley and the rest of Alabama's offense. The problem for Clemson was that it kept giving up big plays.

Alabama scored six touchdowns, four of which were of the 50-plus yard variety. Alabama had seven plays of 25 yards or more from scrimmage, while Clemson had four (seven if you drop it to 24 yards or more). It was two very good teams trading haymakers for 60 minutes.

And both defenses played well, too. Yes, there were big plays allowed, but the Alabama and Clemson defenses combined for 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks in this game. Simply put, there were no half measures on either side of the ball.

It's just: Every time Alabama needed a big play, it seemed to get it. When Clemson seemed to take control, Alabama would answer immediately, with one player coming up bigger than anyone else.

Player of the Game: It can't go to anybody other than Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. He was a forgotten man during the regular season, as he had 394 receiving yards and no touchdowns on 33 receptions through the first 14 games of the season.

Then Alabama made the trip to Glendale, and Howard had an absolute monster evening, finishing the night with 208 yards receiving and two touchdowns on only five receptions. He averaged 41.6 yards per reception and had touchdown grabs of 53 and 51 yards

His biggest play of the game, though, was a 61-yard catch in the fourth quarter in which he caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, reached the edge and turned upfield down the sideline, outrunning the Clemson defense. The play set up what turned out to be Alabama's final score of the game, which put the final nail in Clemson's championship hopes.

If Alabama's strategy this season was to ignore Howard all year to unleash him in this game, well, I guess it was the right call!

Highlight of the Game: If I had to pick one moment when this game completely turned around, it was the onside kick. Alabama had just tied the game 24-24 when it pulled this out to the surprise of everybody, and it really seemed to shift the momentum.

Alabama went on to score to take a 31-24 lead, and it never relinquished the advantage.

Tweet of the Game: What does it take to get Nick Saban to smile on the sideline during a game? A successful onside kick that nobody saw coming. You can tell by looking at Saban in this moment in time that he believes the decision, and the execution, may have just won him another national title.

Grade: Some of the drama was sucked out late, but I don't care. This was easily one of the best bowl games of the season, and one of the better title games we've had recently. Both Alabama and Clemson played extremely well and gave you everything you could have asked for. It was just Alabama who played a little bit better on this evening. A+

Nick Saban receives his fifth national title Gatorade bath on Monday. (USATSI)
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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