GLENDALE, AZ (WIS) - The time for talking is officially over.
The last two teams standing in college football will square off for the top prize in the country. Clemson and Alabama have a total of 27 wins, but none of that matters. Come 8:30 p.m. on Monday, they will vie for the most important win of the year.
"Our players are very excited about the opportunity they've created for themselves to have a chance to participate in the College Football Playoff against arguably the best team in college football, which is the Clemson Tigers," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "Our focus and attention is to try to play the best game we possibly can, which is probably what we're going to need to have success."
Alabama is seeking its fourth national championship in seven years while Clemson hopes to secure its first since Danny Ford led the championship run back in 1981. Each team has played 14 games thus far. A grueling schedule for both teams could ultimately effect their teams, but neither coach believes fatigue will be a factor.
"After coaching in the NFL where you play a 16-game season, if you get in the playoffs it's 17, 18 games, whatever, I think that you kind of try to get the players to focus on doing the things that they need to do to accomplish their goals and not focus so much on how they feel because I do think it's a long season for them," Saban said. "They are young players. But our guys have done a really good job of sort of using the rest time that they have, that when we are practicing and preparing, their focus has been opportunity good."
Clemson comes into the contest one month removed from taking down fourth-ranked Oklahoma 37-17 in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve. Later that night, the Crimson Tide put together a dominant 38-38-0 performance against Michigan State. Efforts like those previously mentioned are just part of the reason each of these programs have so much respect for one another.
"Our goal was to have the opportunity to compete at the highest level," Swinney said, "and not only are we getting a chance to do that, but we're getting a chance to play the University of Alabama, which to me has been the standard in college football for a long time, but certainly since Coach Saban has been there. They've just been incredibly consistent, so to me this is the way it ought to be."
When it comes to defense, Alabama has made its mark year in and year out. This season, the Crimson Tide are second to only Boston College in terms of total defense. Led by the likes of senior linebacker Reggie Ragland and junior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, Nick Saban's defense boasts a staunch defense that prides itself on making plays and keeping teams off the scoreboard.
"When they can rush four and get pressure, then they can play coverage on the back end and take away your throwing lanes," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "That's the biggest challenge right there. And they've got so much depth. So, even though you're a tempo team, there's no guarantee that you can wear those guys down."
The Alabama defense will be tasked with stopping Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson. In his last contest against, Watson posted over 300 yards against the Sooners to lead the Tigers to victory. Alabama is well aware of what Watson is capable of and realizes the challenge he presents for them.
"It's impossible," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "You can't simulate that. If you could, that guy would be starting for us at quarterback. That's a tough challenge. We try to open field tackle. We practice against receivers tackling. We do that all the time. So that simulates a good athlete in space. But it's hard when he's in the pocket giving the D-line an opportunity to finish.
Clemson's defense is no pushover either. Ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, the Tigers have proven to be one of the toughest defenses to face all year long. The Tigers are expecting defensive end Shaq Lawson to play, but the top-ranked team in the country boasts a deep group of defensive linemen ready and able when their name is called.
"That's comes from the term, 'We Too Deep' and that's been around for a minute," Lawson said. "Since I've been here, we would just roll guys in and guys would be able to make plays with no drop off."
Despite being the top team in the country, many believe the Tigers are the underdog. for the men in orange, they're just fine with that.
"We take it as motivation," Mike Williams said. "We were the underdog in all of our big games this year. Out of all of them, we won all of them. So, we'll take that underdog role and we'll just show everybody what we're about."