College Football Playoff Championship II — Alabama vs. Clemson

As the NFL celebrates the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary this year with golden décor and Arabic numerals, the NCAA will fete its Final Four playoff format’s cotton anniversary with a title game contested at the home of the Fiesta Bowl. While Super Bowl II was a coronation of the greatness of Green Bay’s ’60s dynasty, culminating in the Packers 33–14 victory over Oakland to clinch their second-straight ring, CFP II assures the crowning of a new champion from a new conference in 2015 to follow its inaugural #1 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Matchup: An avowed, seasoned Tiger hunter will match wits with the biggest, baddest cat to appear in its sights this year; a relentless predator that mauled every opponent on its schedule for the first time in 34 years.

Alabama’s first Tiger hunt this campaign, initiated on its own home turf in week nine, cemented its status as a CFP big-game stalker. Heisman winner Derrick Henry’s 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns added a Bayou Bengal head to the Crimson Tide trophy wall, as ‘Bama knocked LSU out of the playoff race with a 30–16 win. UA complemented that haul with a second successful Tiger hunt organized east on The Plains to close out the regular season. The Tide avenged the ‘109-yard missed field goal return heard ‘round the world’ in the 2013 Iron Bowl with five successful field goal conversions in its 29–13 victory over Auburn, allowing ‘Bama to return to Tuscaloosa with a Tiger throw rug that really ties the trophy room together.

On the other side, the season-long thrashings at the hands of undefeated Clemson have rocked its opposition like a hurricane. The Tigers first signature win came in the midst of weather generated by an actual hurricane; a 24–22 home victory over Notre Dame. Three weeks later, Clemson hastened the demise of a Hurricane coach. The day after the Tigers rushed for 416 yards in a 58–0 shutout win at Miami, the ‘Canes fired head coach Al Golden. Clemson further bolstered its resume with a week nine victory over longtime Hurricane nemesis and last year’s ACC playoff representative Florida State, overcoming a 10–6 halftime deficit to outlast the Seminoles, 23–13.

The Site: This will be the Phoenix-area’s sixth time hosting a college football title contest in the last 20 years. Tempe hosted the first three at Sun Devil Stadium, starting with the inaugural Bowl Alliance Championship in 1995. In that game at the Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska won its second-straight national championship, rushing for 524 yards in a 62–24 drubbing of Florida. Three years later, the Bowl Championship Series title game debuted at the Fiesta, with Tennessee downing Florida State, 23–16. In 2002, Tempe capped its hosting duties with a classic. Miami’s bid to become CFB’s first repeat champion since the ’95 Huskers fell a yard short, as Ohio State edged the Hurricanes in double overtime, 31–24.

The silver bloomin’ onion in Glendale, more commonly known as the University of Phoenix Stadium, has welcomed championship contests on two occasions. In 2006, Gators head coach Urban Meyer claimed his first title, as Florida dismantled Ohio State, 41–14 to become the first Division I school to hold simultaneous top spots in football and basketball. Four years later, with Cam Newton’s father Cecil possibly in attendance, in what may or may not have been a Johnny Manziel-level disguise, Auburn held off Oregon, 22–19. Cam spent a fairly productive semester at AU, earning a Heisman Trophy and spearheading the Tigers’ first national championship since 1957.

The Legacy: Alabama holds a 12–3 advantage in the infrequently-contested rivalry. ‘Bama dominated the most recent matchup — a 34–10 victory in the 2008 College Kickoff at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Clemson’s last win came during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in 1905 — its third-straight victory in the nascent series coinciding with the establishment of the city of Las Vegas. Despite the absence of casinos, or even legalized gambling at that time, Vegas founders displayed uncanny foresight in not taking the Tiger bait, setting Alabama (-110 years) as the series favorite.

Clemson’s title history is bright and brief, bordered by the months of September 1981 and January 1982, inclusive. Its undefeated top-ranked ’81 team is akin to Olivia Newton-John’s Physical phase; it’s something that originated out of the Grease craze of the late ’70s, enjoyed a four-month peak, then was eclipsed by everything that’s occurred since 1/1/1982. The Crimson Tide’s championship era is more of a marathon. Coach Nick Saban’s contributions to the program alone have produced three titles since his debut in 2007. His level of excellence mirrors another cultural touchstone also in its ninth season. Like Tide football, just when it seems that The Big Bang Theory couldn’t possibly be any more original, relevant or significant, it exceeds its own lofty expectations.

The Pick (show your work): {Super Bowl II MVP Bart Starr} >= [null Clemson losses] — IFF — Heisman Trophy + low % AZ humidity…