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Monday’s bowl previews: No. 1 Clemson, No. 4 Alabama to continue three-year rivalry at Sugar Bowl

Clemson's Hunter Renfrow, right, catches a TD pass in front of Alabama's Tony Brown during the second half of the 2017 NCAA college football playoff championship on Jan. 10. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)
Clemson's Hunter Renfrow, right, catches a TD pass in front of Alabama's Tony Brown during the second half of the 2017 NCAA college football playoff championship on Jan. 10. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)
Associated Press

The three-peat will be complete.

Then again, there might be a few more chapters in college football’s most intriguing new rivalry.

For the third year in a row, Clemson will meet Alabama in the College Football Playoff, only this time it will be in the Sugar Bowl semifinal rather than the national championship game.

They’ll be hard-pressed to match the drama and excitement of the last two meetings: Alabama’s 45-40 victory that featured 40 points in the final 10 1/2 minutes, followed by Clemson’s 35-31 triumph on a touchdown pass with one second remaining .

“We haven’t competed against each other a lot,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday on the eve of the New Year’s night game. “But all of a sudden you’ve got this three-game series that has just happened at the highest level. And this is kind of a rubber match. But, to be honest with you, this is probably not going to be the last one. There will probably be more of these down the road.”

Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson is the top seed in the playoff, bouncing back from a shocking 27-24 loss to Syracuse in mid-October. Alabama didn’t even get a chance to play for the Southeastern Conference title, losing to Auburn in the regular-season finale after being ranked No. 1 all season by the Associated Press.

Despite the setback, the selection committee went with the Tide as the No. 4 seed over Big Ten champ Ohio State.

That set up Clemson-Alabama, Part III.

“This is kind of like a rivalry now,” Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “This is something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life, just to be able to be a part of this whole big thing. I’ll have faced these guys three times, watched so much film of us winning and losing. Now we have another chance.”

Sugar Bowl

No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1), 5:45 p.m. TV: ESPN. Line: Alabama by 3.

Both teams are looking for a third straight spot in the national championship game. These teams have met for the national title each of the past two seasons, each winning once in highly competitive games. Clemson’s dominant defensive line is led by defensive ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell. The Tigers racked up 44 sacks this season and they rank third in the nation with 3.38 per game. Clemson’s defensive front will have to be as disciplined as it is aggressive in order to keep from getting gashed by Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts as it was on the Tide’s final drive of last year’s title game.

Rose Bowl

No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1), 2 p.m. TV: ESPN. Line: Georgia by 2 1/2.

Georgia and Oklahoma are also looking for a spot in the national championship game. The Bulldogs are making their first playoff appearance and have not won a national title since 1980. Second-year coach Kirby Smart guided Georgia to a big jump from 8-5 in his first season to SEC champions. First-year coach Lincoln Riley led the Sooners to their third straight Big 12 championship and second playoff appearance in three seasons. The Sooners have not played for the national championship since 2008, and have not won it since 2000. Quarterback Baker Mayfield draws most of the accolades for the Sooners, but the Heisman Trophy winner operates behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. He faces a tough 3-4 defense from Georgia, which has run-stuffers up front in defensive end Trenton Thompson and nose tackle John Atkins. Most of the pass rush comes from linebackers Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, who have combined for 13 sacks.

Peach Bowl

No. 7 Auburn (10-3) vs. No. 10 Central Florida (12-0), 9:30 p.m. TV ESPN. Line: Auburn by 10.

Central Florida is playing for the respect of the America Athletic Conference and to show it deserved a higher ranking, if not a spot in the College Football Playoff, as the nation’s top-scoring and only undefeated team. Auburn is looking to make up for a poor showing in its 28-7 loss to Georgia in the SEC championship game at the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta where it will play in the Peach Bowl. The loss to Georgia cost the Tigers a spot in the playoff after it beat two No. 1 teams in the playoff ranking – Alabama and the Bulldogs.

Citrus Bowl

Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3), 10 a.m. TV: ABC. Line: LSU by 3.

The teams meet in a bowl game for the second time in four seasons. The Fighting Irish are looking for their third double-digit wins season in Brian Kelly’s eight seasons. The Tigers have won eight games or more for 18 straight seasons, which is the longest active streak for a Power Five team. They have won their last three games by 20 or more points, which is the first time that has happened since 1949.

Outback Bowl

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4), 9 a.m. TV: ESPN2. Line: Michigan by 7 1/2.

Michigan aims to avoid its first three-game losing streak under coach Jim Harbaugh. Regardless of the outcome, it has been a disappointing season for the Wolverines, who expected to contend for the Big Ten title and a playoff berth. All four of their losses came in conference play.South Carolina took a step forward in its second year under Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks finished second in the SEC East, with their only losses over the last two months of the season coming against Georgia and Clemson, two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

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