Sports

Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Alabama's Nick Saban discuss CFP title game

Dabo Swinney knows all about Alabama football.

He grew up in Alabama, played wide receiver for the Crimson Tide's 1992 national championship team and coached at Alabama as an assistant.

So when Swinney's undefeated Clemson Tigers go up against Alabama and Coach Nick Saban in the College Football Playoff title game, Swinney will be well versed in all things 'Bama.

"They certainly have been the standard in college football for a long, long time," Swinney said Monday during a coaches teleconference, "but especially since Coach Saban has been there."

Saban won a Bowl Championship Series title at Louisiana State in 2003 before a stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. Since taking over in Tuscaloosa in 2007, he has won three national titles.

To win another, Alabama's vaunted defense will have to contain Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson next Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Watson has passed for 31 touchdowns and rushed for 12. The sophomore passed for 187 yards and ran for 145 to key Clemson's 37-17 Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma that earned the Tigers a chance to play for their first national title in 34 years.

The Heisman Trophy finalist, Saban said, is "probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time."

Alabama has not played Clemson since 2008, when Saban was beginning his second season at Alabama and Swinney was a Clemson assistant under Tommy Bowden.

Alabama had finished 7-6 in Saban's first season when the No. 24-ranked Crimson Tide played No. 9 Clemson in an opener at Atlanta.

Alabama won, 34-10, and went on to finish 12-2.

"We were building a program," Saban said. "Clemson was a good football team…. But let me say this: That's ancient history compared to the kind of team Clemson has now and the kind of team we're going to play against in this game."

Five games after the loss against Alabama, Bowden resigned under pressure and Swinney was named Clemson's interim coach. The Tigers finished 7-6, and Swinney has been in charge ever since.

Starting in 2011, Clemson has won at least 10 games every season. The Tigers are trying to become the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to win 15.

Clemson has not finished unbeaten since its 12-0 national championship season in 1981.

To accomplish the feat, the Atlantic Coast Conference champions will have to knock off an Alabama team that has won 11 straight games since a 43-37 loss against Mississippi on Sept. 19.

"The early loss to Ole Miss probably did a lot to jilt the attitude of this team," Saban said.

Alabama is coming off a 38-0 rout of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

The defense overwhelmed — "They're as good as it gets in the country," Swinney said of the Crimson Tide defensive line — Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry rushed for two touchdowns, quarterback Jake Coker played his best game and the Crimson Tide special teams shined.

Saban was asked whether it was as close to a perfect game as one of his teams had played. He said there were "a lot of things that we could do better."

Notes

Alabama opened as a seven-point favorite…. Shaq Lawson, Clemson's All-American defensive end, is expected to play against Alabama. Lawson sat out most of the Orange Bowl after suffering a knee injury. Swinney said Lawson would "run around" on Monday. "I'm very optimistic that he'll be able to play," he said…. Alabama reserve cornerback Tony Brown remains suspended, Saban said. Brown was sent home from Texas a day before the Cotton Bowl because of a violation of team rules.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 05, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "One more big test to pass - Clemson's Swinney and Alabama's Saban discuss the upcoming national title game." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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