Championship Preview Saturday 6-Pack: Alabama-Clemson

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COACHES

Old School vs. New School summarizes the coaching battle afoot in the College Football Playoff Championship. Nick Saban knows this stage well, Monday marking his fifth national title game appearance. Dabo Swinney is a newcomer, but this is unlikely to be his final time coaching for a championship.

ALABAMA

Greatest Of All Time gets trotted out a lot in today’s sports media landscape. Hyperbole wins eyeballs in a saturated market, which is why the GOAT label can often be treated with a fraction of a grain of salt. Not so in the case of Nick Saban. With a win Monday, he’ll have distinct claim to recognition as college football’s greatest coach ever.

The question for Alabama isn’t about Saban, or even Kiffin, whose play-calling has earned him plaudits, but also shows signs of his old, bad habits. The continued upheaval of the Tide’s coaching staff is an interesting subplot. How much will defensive coordinator Kirby Smart prepping for the head-coaching job at Georgia, including adding Tide staffer Mel Tucker, impact Alabama’s preparation?

Jim McElwain called an excellent 2012 BCS Championship Game despite being bound for Colorado State, so the distraction should be minimal. Emphasis on should.

CLEMSON

Has anyone’s rise to coaching stardom in recent years been more unlikely than that of Dabo Swinney? The rare interim-named-permanent head coach of Clemson capitalized on every opportunity granted him, with Monday’s national championship opportunity marking the culmination.

Swinney’s energetic personality crystallizes Clemson football’s presence, and also explains the staff he’s assembled. Longtime Oklahoma staffer Brent Venables was rejuvenated with his move to Clemson, and the Tigers have flourished as one of the nation’s most aggressive defenses under his watch.

Losing Chad Morris on the offensive side had minimal impact, thanks to Scott and Elliott. The offensive coordinator duo has indeed brought its own guts.

However, will this particular stage be too big? Clemson’s cruised along as college football’s lone unbeaten, but Alabama on a national championship stage is perfect in the Saban tenure.

Dabo Swinney will have to channel his mentor and former Tide head coach Gene Stallings, whose 1992 Alabama squad shell-shocked heavily favored Miami for the national championship.