A look at the Alabama-Clemson playoff showdowns

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, tries to get away from Alabama's Jonathan Allen during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game in Glendale, Ariz. Clemson and Alabama will meet Monday in the College Football Playoff for the third straight year when they square off in the Sugar Bowl. After finishing third in the Heisman voting, Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns against ‘Bama while running for 73 yards in the 2016 game. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama will meet in the College Football Playoffs for the third straight year when they square off in the Sugar Bowl. They split the first two meetings in down-to-the-wire national championship games.

Here’s a look at those epic clashes and the teams’ seasons heading into Monday night’s semifinal showdown:

ROUND 1

– Jan. 11, 2016: Alabama 45, Clemson 40

2015 DIFFERENCE MAKERS

– Alabama: Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry punctuated his terrific final season with a monster game: 36 carries, 158 yards, three touchdowns, including the clinching 1-yarder with just over a minute left. The workhorse tailback rushed for a Southeastern Conference-record 2,219 yards, which led the nation. Another star of the title game: tight end O.J. Howard (208 yards, two TDs).

– Clemson: QB Deshaun Watson was the first FBS player to reach 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. After finishing third in the Heisman voting, Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns against `Bama while running for 73 yards. In the title game, defensive end Kevin Dodd, often overshadowed by teammate Shaq Lawson, set Clemson postseason records with three sacks and five tackles for loss.

MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN

– Alabama: Mostly steamrolled over opponents after an early, 43-37 loss to Mississippi. That included a 38-0 rout of Michigan State in the semifinals. The Crimson Tide committed five turnovers in the loss to Ole Miss, the only time all season Jake Coker didn’t start at quarterback. The Florida State transfer led the way in his only year as starter.

– Clemson: Entered the game unbeaten after back-to-back early nail-biters over Louisville (20-17) and Notre Dame (24-22). Watson and Lawson were the biggest stars – and eventual NFL first-rounders – but the Tigers also had other prolific players like Wayne Gallman (1,527 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (93 catches, 901 yards).

KEY PLAY

– Alabama had just tied the game with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter when coach Nick Saban gambled trying to keep Watson & Co. off the field. He called for an onside kick, or a Pop Kick, from Adam Griffith and Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey caught it over the shoulder at midfield.

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ROUND 2

– Jan. 9, 2017: Clemson 35, Alabama 31

2016 DIFFERENCE MAKERS

– Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts was the SEC offensive player of the year and came within a second of becoming the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national title since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.

– Clemson: Watson was a Heisman finalist again, finishing second in another spectacular season. WR Mike Williams was a huge weapon after returning from an injury to collect 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.

MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN

– Alabama: Made it to the title game unbeaten and scarcely challenged, whipping Florida 54-16 in the SEC championship game and beating Washington 24-7 in the semifinals.

-Clemson: The Tigers were stunned by Pitt, 43-42 in mid-November but then won four straight, including an ACC championship game victory over Virginia Tech and a semifinal shutout of Ohio State to advance.

KEY PLAY

– Deshaun Watson’s 2-yard TD pass with a second left to Hunter Renfrow lifted Clemson to the title. It was Renfrow’s fourth touchdown catch in two championship games against Alabama.

ROUND 3

– Jan. 1, 2018

2017 DIFFERENCE MAKERS

– Alabama: S Minkah Fitzpatrick is the Tide’s biggest star even if his stats don’t necessarily show it. The unanimous All-American plays a number of different roles and won both the Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) and Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back).

– Clemson: QB Kelly Bryant answered the question of how the Tigers would fare in life without Watson. Bryant is completing 67.4 percent of his passes and has also run for 11 touchdowns.

MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN

– Alabama: Had to sweat out its playoff berth after losing to No. 7 Auburn 26-14 in the regular-season finale with the SEC West title on the line. Still, the Tide has outscored opponents by an average score of 39.1-11.5.

– Clemson: The Tigers went 5-0 in September to mark themselves as title contenders with a stretch that included showcase wins over top 15 opponents in Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. They were surprised by Syracuse in October when Bryant missed most of the contest with a concussion. He returned two weeks later as Clemson began a six-game win streak highlighted by a 38-3 dismantling of then seventh-ranked Miami for its third straight ACC title.

KEY PLAY

– To be determined Monday night.

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