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Jumbo Package: Friday, 8 January 2016

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All about the big one...

Terrifying.
Terrifying.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. Working folks almost always look forward to the weekends and complain that they go by far too quickly. By Sunday afternoon, the dread of another work week starts to set in, and Monday is roundly criticized as the most awful day of the week.

For Alabama and Clemson fans, this weekend can't go by fast enough. Monday marks the coup de grace for what has been a brutal bowl season, but there is plenty of excitement surrounding a national championship game featuring two excellent teams of differing style. Needless to say, the game is a hot topic of conversation both locally and nationally. On to it:

Alabama football: Last Clemson game launched the Nick Saban dynasty | NCAA.com

"I didn't expect that type of outcome," said former Alabama quarterback and current ESPN and SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy. "Most people didn't expect that type of outcome. When Coach Saban was able to come to us after the game and say, 'Look at the hard work you put in and look at the fruits of your labor,' that allowed us to really have a perspective that we can beat anybody we played if we do what we're supposed to do in the week leading up." Alabama went on to play for the SEC championship that season and the Tide has done nothing but contend for national championships since. The loss led to changes at Clemson that ended up putting the Tigers on the path to playing for a national championship seven years later.

Clemson will join Georgia and Michigan State as the third team this season that will be looking at a game against Alabama as something of a litmus test for how far they have progressed since a Saban beat-down in years gone by. Here's hoping that the results are similar to the other two.

Clemson vs. Alabama: Why the Party Crashers May Turn the Tide - WSJ

"There are a couple of teams that are good every year, but parity is just rampant now," said Joel Klatt, the Fox Sports analyst and quarterback at the University of Colorado from 2003-2005. "When I played the cream of the crop was so much better than the middle of the road team. With the early exits of top players to the NFL, the television money that is so influential and the emphasis these college presidents are putting on the football programs, it’s all helped level the playing field."

Several factors have led to rampant parity in college football, but the reality is that ten to twelve programs generally dominate the national title landscape. Clemson is trying to join the club.

A'Shawn Robinson and the Alabama Crimson Tide defensive line are the heart of the team's title run

It was there that Barnett got an up close and personal look at what makes Alabama tick. Staring down the defensive line every day in practice, he heard their leadership as much as he felt their pain. He became their crash-test dummy with every bit of his lanky 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame tested against a unit that, according to defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, never takes a snap off and prides itself on bringing the same intensity Monday through Friday that it showed during game days this season. "We had to peel them off him each day," Smart said.

One can only imagine the thoughts that would be going through a skinny true freshman's head as he lines up under center for the first time and stares down the barrel of Robinson, Reed, and Ragland.

Time's not on Alabama's side like in past national title games | AL.com

Given the choice, you have to believe Saban and Kirby Smart would've rather had 26 days to prepare for Deshaun Watson and Clemson's fastball offense and taken their chances on a much shorter turnaround against Connor Cook and Michigan State's Ice Age attack. That doesn't mean this special Alabama defense can't slow down the best quarterback Saban's program has faced in a national championship game. It doesn't rule out another beatdown or even one more shutout. It just means the Crimson Tide is entering some uncharted territory beyond trying to hit for the cycle at all four former BCS Championship sites. They beat Texas in Pasadena, LSU in New Orleans and Notre Dame in Miami Gardens. Now comes Clemson in Glendale with little time to reflect or relax.

What makes Alabama's title-game prep unlike any regular-season or bowl game | AL.com

"This game is much more like a regular-season game feel," offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. "Maybe it's like having a bye week, so you have a little extra time, but it's not at all like a bowl where you have bowl practices that are relevant to the game you're playing. This game just feels like, maybe not a Thursday night game after a Saturday, but that extra time is more about making ourselves better." Alabama got two days off after the New Year's Eve win over Michigan State. Several players said they didn't even look at Clemson film until Sunday when they took the practice field for a light workout. They got Tuesday off as well before practicing Wednesday.

Preparation for the big game in the playoff era is certainly different as each team is given little more than a typical game week in terms of practice time. It will be interesting to see how both teams respond.

The special offseason workshops that made Alabama special

Beginning last spring and continuing over several months, Alabama engaged in a series of workshops focused on four pillars of interpersonal relations and team dynamics: effective communication, relationship building, critical thinking and problem solving. Many Alabama players and coaches credit the sessions with strengthening the bonds and teaching processes on the team, which faces No. 1 Clemson for the College Football Playoff championship on Jan. 11.

Saban has seemingly always been on the cutting edge in terms of player development and recovery, from nutrition to ice baths to psychology. After last season he suggested that player leadership and lack of focus were a concern. As always, he took action, bringing in Dr. Chenavis Evans, PhD in psychology from Auburn and the mother of LB Rashaan Evans, to conduct workshops intended to improve in these areas. People around the team this season have noticed a difference in the players' approach to practice. Perhaps these workshops played a role in that.

The Playoff was bad, but here are 5 reasons to be excited about the Clemson-Bama Championship - SBNation.com

With most teams, I'd be able to simply marvel at how across-the-board amazing this is. But this is Alabama. Alabama being unbelievable doesn't feel impressive. It just feels like Alabama going for its 16th claimed title. And as long as they're a year-in, year-out juggernaut, they're the easiest team to cheer against. In the title game, they actually have a chance of losing.

You can't beat Bama unless you break about 6 big plays. Is Clemson explosive enough? - SBNation.com

In September, Ole Miss completed seven passes of at least 20 yards. Last January, Ohio State gained 20-plus yards on four rushes and four passes. In the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma had five such passes. In these six losses, opponents have averaged 1.3 rushes and four passes of at least 20 yards. Take out the oddity that was the 2014 Ole Miss game (zero rushes, two passes), and the average rises to 1.6 rushes and 4.4 passes. You need about six explosive plays, plus a good game everywhere else, to have a chance to beat Bama.

Appreciating Dabo Swinney, the coach who'll make you believe you can beat Alabama - SBNation.com

A'Shawn Robinson can't be blocked by optimism. Optimism is notoriously bad at getting open against cover 2 press for Deshaun Watson. It won't clear run lanes for Wayne Gallman, and it won't slow down Derrick Henry. But if Clemson somehow pulls this off and beats drearily inevitable Alabama, who would argue that along the way it didn't matter? Optimism and attitude are the ghosts in the machine of football. Who would argue that they aren't real, if Swinney ends up holding a national title trophy in the desert?

Solid coverage from the mother ship with a familiar tone. The rest of the country is desperate for someone, anyone, to kill the Alabama juggernaut. The second link makes an interesting point that big plays are required to beat Alabama. The improved pass rush and secondary talent has limited those greatly this season. If Clemson is unable to find those big plays through the air, it is difficult to envision a scenario where they win the game.

Chip Kelly reportedly visited with Alabama coaches ... buy why? - CBSSports.com

What does it mean? Probably that Kelly enjoys spending time with other football coaches and exchanging ideas. It's something that Kelly has done throughout his time as a coach and right now there are few places with more highly regarded staffs than the one Nick Saban has assembled in Tuscaloosa. Does that mean Kelly will join Saban as an offensive coach? Does it mean Kelly will replace Saban? Will Saban and Chip Kelly be co-head coaches?!

Chip Kelly visited Tuscaloosa and it got all kinds of attention for some reason. Kelly was an NFL head coach this season and will likely be an NFL head coach next season. No, he is not coming to Tuscaloosa. Odds are that Saban brought him in for some additional insight into the spread offense.

Behind enemy lines:

Big Boss: Alabama is the final stage in Clemson's quest

Swinney has elevated the Clemson brand, but not yet above widespread mistrust and discounted acclaim. There is only one way to get past the final level. Through Alabama. A national championship should carry its own powers of persuasion, but earning it against the Crimson Tide will sway Clemson’s doubters and end the cycle of disregard. A champion welcomes this challenge. A champion seizes this chance. A champion plugs in and grips the controller. It is your move, Clemson. Press start.

Clemson gains confidence Lawson will play in championship game

"We’ll get him back out there today," Swinney said. "He looked pretty good, so, so far so good. We’ll see him out there today, but I think the prognosis is good at this point. But we’ve got to get him out there and let him run around a little bit and we’ll kind of go from there." Lawson, a junior defensive end who already has declared his intention of entering this year’s NFL Draft, was injured early in the top-ranked Tigers’ 37-17 Orange Bowl victory against Oklahoma on Thursday and did not return to the game. He had his left knee packed in ice after suffering a sprained MCL in the knee.

Roll Tigers? Dabo Swinney's hometown still devoted to the Crimson Tide

According to Causey, the city of Pelham has embraced Swinney through his rapid rise as a college coach. Yet, its arms may loosen slightly Monday night, when Swinney leads Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the University of Alabama. It is Swinney’s alma mater. It is Pelham’s priority. "It is mixed emotions," said Jim Latham, a 1961 Alabama graduate who has lived in Pelham since 1978 and rooted for the Crimson Tide his entire life. "If Dabo wins that's good, because he's one of the city's sons. But if it's just one point difference with Alabama on top, I'll probably be more happy than if it's one point less."

Shaq Lawson's status for Monday is still uncertain and will get plenty of attention leading up to the game, though Dabo insists that he will be available.

That's about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.