Instead of criticizing Alabama-Clemson IV as another repeat, we should be celebrating it. Both programs are at the height of their existence. There has never been a better four-year run by Clemson. Nick Saban has won five national championships at Alabama since 2009.
The difference is that the Crimson Tide are the alpha male of this age. For the Tigers to begin to supplant them, they must win Monday night in Santa Clara, California.
Here are five keys to No. 2 Clemson toppling No. 1 Alabama in the final game of the season.
1. Make Alabama chase: The Tide haven't trailed much all season -- less than 36 total minutes the entire campaign, in fact. Most of that was in the Georgia game. Let's see how Alabama reacts if Clemson gets an early lead and makes the Tide come from behind.
2. Have no fear: Clemson is one of the few teams in the country that legitimately is not intimidated by Alabama. There are players on the team that came within an eyelash of winning two national championships over the Tide. What form that will take in this game is questionable. Bama has completely remade itself offensively. "This is by far the best version of Alabama we've played," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. Meanwhile, the biggest question rests on the Clemson defense …
3. Questionable secondary vs. Alabama's talented receivers: OK, that's not fair. Clemson's pass defense is top 22 in completion percentage allowed, yards per attempt and rating. But if you have to find a weakness on the Tigers, this is it. Clemson faced eight teams that were 100th or worst in at least one of these categories -- yards per game allowed, opponent pass efficiency, yards per pass and completion percentage. In many ways, this is the Tigers' first real test in the passing game. The Tide are in the top six in each of those categories.
4. Trevor Lawrence must outplay Tua Tagovailoa: This didn't seem likely until Lawrence strafed Notre Dame. But, oh, that arm. Lawrence showed no fear in dropping it down silos against the Irish. Until now, it's been a bit difficult to evaluate Lawrence against what has been largely sub-standard ACC competition. Obviously, Alabama is different. Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are going to have to get open against a unit that defended 85 passes this season, third in the country. Big shocker here, but Lawrence is going must have a big game. If he does, a true freshman quarterback will win a national championship for the first time since … 12 months ago.
5. Stop -- or slow -- Tagovailoa: The above goes hand-in-hand with putting some sort of governor on Alabama's quarterback. The is another way of saying an All-Everything defensive line must put up or shut up. They're facing a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, who is maybe the best in Alabama history. "He'll lie to you in a heartbeat," Dabo said of Tua's deceptiveness.
Tagovailoa can turn on a dime, create naked bootlegs out of straight drop-back passes and is a total winner. If Alabama wins, it will be because of the quarterback who won it last year. This is one last hurrah for one of the greatest defensive lines in history. As Swinney said last week when asked about that unit's legacy, "That's to be determined right now."