And then there were two.
Clemson, at 14-0 the only undefeated team left standing, and Alabama, winner of 15 national titles in the past, will meet Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., to determine major college football’s national champion.
When you think of Clemson, you might remember the Atlantic Coast Conference champion school produced such players as defensive back Charlie Waters, who went on to star with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys; Dwight Clark, who became a prolific wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers; and William “Refrigerator” Perry, who made a name for himself on both offense and defense with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.
Many others, including Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Dawkins, New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller, defensive back Byron Maxwell of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, have gone on to enjoy productive careers in the NFL.
Even the man for whom the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top honor, is named has Clemson connections. John Heisman was the Tigers’ head coach from 1900 to 1903, compiling a record of 19 wins, 3 losses, and 2 ties.
The Tigers last won the national title back in 1981, defeating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the crown. Danny Ford was the head coach of a team led by Homer Jordan at quarterback, running back Cliff Austin, and wide receiver Perry Tuttle. Terry Kinard was a top-flight cornerback on a defense that only allowed eight points per game that season.
This year’s Tiger defense is almost as good as that unit 34 seasons ago. Clemson is ranked 6th in total defense among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams, allowing an average of just over 300 yards and 20 points per game.
When you think of Alabama, perhaps the first person to come to mind is former longtime head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who led the Crimson Tide to six national titles between 1961 and 1979. Over 30 years after his death, Alabama fans still sport hats and other clothing items with the houndstooth pattern that Bryant preferred to wear on the sidelines.
Other great names from Alabama's football past include players such as quarterbacks Bart Starr, Joe Namath, and Kenny Stabler. The more recent vintage includes 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr.
The Crimson Tide will be looking for their 16th national championship overall and fourth under current head coach Nick Saban. The last Alabama national title came in 2012.
Clemson will ride the right arm and legs of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw and ran for over 330 yards in the national semifinal victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl back on Dec. 31.
Alabama will hand the ball off to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who gained just 75 yards on the ground against Michigan State in the other semifinal. But the Cotton Bowl may have been the coming-out party for Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker, who completed 25 of 30 pass attempts versus the Spartans. Freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley caught eight of those passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
The other part of the victorious Alabama effort came from their defense, which shut out Michigan State. The Tide defenders are ranked second in the NCAA in total defense and first in scoring defense, allowing 13 points per contest.
The last time these two schools met on the football field was in the opening game of the 2008 season. Alabama rolled over the Tigers, 34-10, in Atlanta, and the Crimson Tide under Saban has continued to roll up wins, year after year.
You can watch Alabama take on Clemson at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time Monday on ESPN.