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College Football Championship Game: No. 1 Alabama Vs. No. 2 Clemson


Two undefeated teams play for the college football championship tonight. Number one-ranked Alabama plays number two Clemson. They are meeting in the playoff for the fourth straight year. And if that feels monotonous to you, NPR's Tom Goldman reports the fans of the two teams don't really care.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The key word here is again. And how you say it reveals which side you're on. If it's Alabama and Clemson are playing again, Cheryll Woods-Flowers has no time for you. The 63-year-old real estate agent is a diehard Clemson fan sitting in her South Carolina home wearing Clemson colors, an orange Fitbit, purple glasses with purple rhinestones. Woods-Flowers reads her recent tweet to the complainers.

CHERYLL WOODS-FLOWERS: I said, listening to some sports talk on the radio while taking care of some paperwork and only had one thing to say. If you people are sick of Clemson, Alabama, then your team just needs to beat them. If no one can do that, then you just need to shut up, period (laughter).

GOLDMAN: In Alabama, the message is the same. Don't like tonight's matchup? Then beat us, says Birmingham resident Bobby Wesson.

BOBBY WESSON: But you can't just beat them on the field. You're going to have to beat Alabama in recruiting. You're going to have to beat Alabama in the weight room. You're going to have to beat Alabama in practice. You're going to have to beat...

GOLDMAN: OK, OK. And judging by Alabama's and Clemson's easy wins in the playoff semifinals, no one can beat them, especially 'Bama. The Crimson Tide are trying to win a sixth national title in 10 years. And this team may be the best. For all that dominance, Alabama hasn't had a dazzling, game-changing quarterback until now.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Tagovailoa steps up, fires to the end zone. Got it - Irv Smith for the touchdown.

GOLDMAN: Sophomore lefthander Tua Tagovailoa has turned Alabama into an exciting offensive team. Even the haters have to admit, 47 points a game - the Crimson Tide's season average - makes you sit forward and want to watch. But there is a seeming alchemy to the on-field success - Alabama's attention to detail in everything from recruiting athletes to analytics to what players eat.

And not surprisingly, Clemson has adopted much of the Alabama template for success, right down to turning the offense over to a freshman quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, the way Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, did with then-freshman Tagovailoa in last season's title game. Despite this football greatness, there is 'Bama-Clemson fatigue and nosediving championship ticket prices in recent days, although that may be as much about location. The game is in Santa Clara, Calif.

ANN KILLION: The Bay Area's just not a hotbed for college football.

GOLDMAN: San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ann Killion was skeptical when Santa Clara was awarded the game so far from college football's power center in the South.

KILLION: So it becomes a very difficult trip, very expensive for the hardcore fans of these schools that were likely to be the schools getting there.

GOLDMAN: College football playoff executive director Bill Hancock defends the choice. He told the San Jose Mercury News, we love the vibe we get from this area. The dedicated fans from earlier in the story will be sending their vibes from home, but not being there won't lessen their excitement.

For all the playoff familiarity, Clemson and Alabama have put on great shows. Two of the previous games were decided by five points or less. Alabama is favored - when is it not? - and while Crimson Tide fan Bobby Wesson may sound cocky, he really is just stating fact.

WESSON: When your team beats Alabama, it's a momentous occasion. It's a storied event. But understand when Alabama beats you, it's just Saturday.

GOLDMAN: Or Monday. Again, Tom Goldman. NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALLPOINT'S "BISHOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.