Alabama entered the 2018 season having made four consecutive College Football Playoff appearances, and Clemson was right behind with three straight trips.
The Crimson Tide and Tigers were 1-2 in the Associated Press preseason poll in August, and they are the last two teams standing after winning their respective national semifinal bowl matchups by double digits. There is not one ounce of shock value accompanying Monday's championship showdown in Santa Clara, Calif., with Alabama and Clemson providing the first matchup of 14-0 teams in the playoff's five-year history.
"I think as the season evolved, just knowing how well Clemson played all year long and how they were pretty dominant in their league, it was no surprise to me that they would end up where they are right now," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "You're always looking at the next game and not looking too far ahead and all that, but it's no surprise to me that they're in the championship game as well."
Monday night's meeting also will be a fourth consecutive collision between the Tide and Tigers in the playoff. Alabama outlasted Clemson 45-40 in the championship game of the 2015 season, and the Tigers evened the score with a 35-31 comeback triumph in the title contest of the 2016 season.
Alabama broke the tie last New Year's Day with a 24-6 victory in a Sugar Bowl national semifinal.
"We've played them now four years in a row, and this is a veteran team that we have," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "They understand that this is a game where you just have so little margin for error. I mean, it's two or three plays, literally. You've got to have great preparation mentally and physically to get yourself ready.
"These are two really good teams that are both hard to beat, and you've got to do the little things to give yourself a chance."
The Sugar Bowl matchup pitted quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Kelly Bryant, but Hurts is now the Tide backup behind Tua Tagovailoa, while Bryant was replaced in September by Trevor Lawrence and since has transferred to Missouri.
Clemson drubbed Notre Dame 30-3 in Saturday's Cotton Bowl despite not having junior defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who tested postive for ostarine, which can act as an anabolic steroid. Swinney didn't have much of an update on that front, adding that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich is heading the effort to get him reinstated.
"I know they'll be having some meetings and trying to figure out what the moving-forward process is going to look like," Swinney said. "Obviously we don't have a lot of time for this game. I'm hopeful that maybe something positive will come out, but I don't know anything at all."
Even without the services of the All-ACC defensive menace, the Tigers still held the Irish to 88 rushing yards.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Dexter Lawrence, who is probably one of the best linemen in college football in terms of his production and his performance," Saban said. "He's played really well against us in the past, but they've got a great front seven and a lot of other really good players who complement each other.
"They didn't seem to have a lot of issues last week in the game. They played to the standard that they've been able to play to all year long on defense."
Alabama is monitoring the status of senior outside linebacker Christian Miller, who suffered a groin pull in Saturday night's 45-34 defeat of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and is questionable for Monday night. Tagovailoa's ankle sprain that forced him to exit last month's Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia was not a factor against the Sooners, as he completed 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
Tagovailoa said after the Orange Bowl that his ankle was sore and provided an additional update Monday.
"I guess I can say it's better," Tagovailoa said. "I have treatment going on right now, and I think we're still going to stick with this 24-hour treatment protocol. Up until the game, I think I'm still going to be getting treatment, and I'm still going to be going through rehab and therapy as well.
"I definitely think it's improving."