The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Barnhart's Take: CFP National Championship

316 days ago
Tony Barnhart
Photo: AP Images

Tampa, Fla. -- With only 2:07 left in the national championship game of the College Football Playoff, it appeared Alabama was going to keep its date with destiny.

The Crimson Tide had let a 24-14 fourth-quarter lead slip away and trailed No. 2 Clemson 28-24 with only 4:38 left before a record crowd of 74,512 yards at Raymond James Stadium.

That's when Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts led a 68-yard touchdown drive that he ended with his 30-yard touchdown run. It appeared that after struggling on offense for most of the second half, the 2016 Crimson Tide had found a win and secured a spot in history.

But at the end of the evening Alabama's tired defense did not have an answer for Deshaun Watson, Clemson's splendid quarterback.

Watson, who had posted 473 total yards in losing the national championship to Alabama one year ago, cemented his place in Clemson history, driving the Tigers 68 heart-pounding yards. His one-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with only one second left gave Clemson a 35-31 victory and sent Alabama home in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable.

It was the second national championship in school history for Clemson (14-1), which won its previous title in 1981.

Alabama (14-1), which was trying to become the third team in the modern era to go wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 team, was trying to win the 17th national championship in school history.

In addition to the game, here is what Alabama lost on this unforgettable Monday evening in Florida:

**--Alabama was trying to become first major college team since Penn in 1897, to finish a regular season 15-0.

**--Alabama lost the opportunity to win its fifth national championship in eight years (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015), which would have set another NCAA record. The fastest any team had ever won five national championships was 16 years. From 1964-1979 Alabama won five national championships. This Alabama team could have cut that record in half.

**--Alabama had won 26 consecutive games dating back to last season. The Crimson Tide school record is 28 straight wins.

**--And last, but certainly not least, the loss denied Alabama Coach Nick Saban his sixth national championship. That would have tied him with the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most national championships in a career.

"Every loss is painful if you're a competitor," said Saban, in his 10th year at Alabama. "When you've had a great season, losses like this are especially tough. My loss is the bad feeling I have for these players who worked very hard to create this opportunity for themselves."

"But I will say this: That you have to give a lot of credit to Clemson because they made some really good plays down the stretch. They made some great catches and we never got the ball down and we never got done what we needed to do. We had our chances, and there's nobody that we can blame but ourselves."

Alabama came into the game with a bit of drama on the offensive side of the ball as one week ago the school announced that offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, would be leaving the team immediately to begin his duties as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic. In Kiffin's place was former Washington and USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who had served Alabama all season as an offensive analyst.

And at the end of the day it was Alabama's lack of offensive weapons that left its No. 1-ranked defense on the field for 99 plays. It was just too much to ask, even of a defense that was considered one of the Crimson Tide's best.

Saban said after the game that the switch to Sarkisian just seven days before the game was "a challenge" but thought that the preparation for the game was good.

"I think we scored 31 points against a very good defense," said Saban.

But there were a couple of areas on offense that Alabama could not overcome.

It was an especially difficult night for Hurts, who completed only 13 of 31 passes for 131 yards.

Alabama also missed running back Bo Scarbrough, who scored on touchdown runs of 25 and 37 yards to give Alabama an early 14-0 lead. But Scarbrough had to leave the game late in the third quarter and did not return.

Alabama took a 24-14 lead on a 68-yard touchdown pass to O.J. Howard. But without Scarbrough the Crimson Tide could not run the ball and put the game away.

Clemson came back with a 72-yard drive on nine plays, which ended on a four-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams.

Ultimately Alabama, the team that many felt could not be beaten, had the lead with two minutes left and could not hold it.

"What it came down to was that Clemson made the plays and we didn't," said defensive end Jonathan Allen. "You have to give them credit."

"We knew it was going to be a 60 minute game," said Howard, who caught four passes for 106 yards in his last game at Alabama. "Clemson is a great team and we knew it was going to be a tough game. Basically that's just football. You've got to go and play for 60 mintues."