ATLANTA — This season’s College Football Playoff centers on one simple question: Can anyone stop Alabama?
Because if it’s not clear by now, it should be: The national championship is the Crimson Tide’s to lose.
No. 1 Alabama is back in the national championship game for the second year in a row, winning the Peach Bowl semifinal 24-7 against No. 4 Washington at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Crimson Tide’s next opponent is a familiar one. No. 2 Clemson, who lost to Alabama 45-40 in the title game last season, pummeled No. 3 Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to set up a national championship rematch.
Alabama (14-0) has won four of the past seven titles and is favored again.
On Saturday, Alabama’s defense reinforced that it’s the nation’s best, stuffing the Huskies’ high-octane offense and scoring a defensive touchdown off an interception.
“I think our defense did a really good job against their explosive, big play receivers and offense that they have, and I’m just really pleased with the way we played together as a team,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said.
Washington, in the College Football Playoff for the first time, ends its season at 12-2.
Clemson (13-1), meanwhile, asserted its will against Ohio State (11-2). Quarterback Deshaun Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who finished second in the voting this season, accounted for three of the Tigers’ touchdowns.
Clemson hasn’t won a national championship since the 1981 season.
“What a night,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “What a journey. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our team, our staff. Just incredible resolve, relentless pursuit to get back here and to try to find a way to win. Just awesome, man.”
Alabama defense the greatest ever?
Alabama’s dominance this season starts with defense, and the Crimson Tide boast the nation’s best, coming into the Peach Bowl leading the country in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and defensive touchdowns.
In fact, the Tide’s defense has scored almost as many touchdowns this season (11) as it has allowed (15).
One of those defensive scores came Saturday, when Alabama senior linebacker Ryan Anderson picked off Washington sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and took it back 26 yards for the touchdown. That made it a 17-7 Crimson Tide lead with 1:13 left in the second quarter.
Anderson was named Peach Bowl defensive MVP.
Additionally, a forced fumble late in the first quarter by Alabama junior defensive back Anthony Averett led to a 41-yard field goal for senior kicker Adam Griffith.
The Pac-12-champion Huskies entered the Peach Bowl fourth in the nation in scoring offense with 44.5 points per game. But aside from a 16-yard touchdown pass from Browning to junior wide receiver Dante Pettis with 8:01 left in the first quarter, which gave the Huskies at 7-0 lead, Washington couldn’t muster much.
Following that score, Washington didn’t take a snap in Alabama territory until there was 1:46 left in the game. The Huskies finished with a season-low 194 total yards.
“It was disappointing we didn’t move the ball better,” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said. “We’ve studied every snap that they’ve had this year, and the tape doesn’t lie when you watch that much tape. I mean, that’s as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it.”
It was a short-lived lead. Alabama answered Washington’s score on the following drive with an 18-yard touchdown rush from sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough with 5:01 left in the opening period.
Scarbrough also scored on a 68-yard run with 11:56 left in the fourth quarter, putting the game firmly out of reach.
It was a career day for Scarbrough. He finished with 180 yards — an Alabama bowl record — and two touchdowns. He was named offensive MVP.
“You guys know me,” Saban said. “Whoever is hot, that’s who’s going to get the ball. And he’s been hot lately, and he’s going to get the ball.”
Alabama, which has been ranked No. 1 since the beginning of the season, is making the case for being the greatest team of all time, and now it needs to win just one more game to cap off a perfect season.
Since September 2015, Alabama has won 26 consecutive games. It also has won the past three Southeastern Conference championships.
Watson stars in Clemson blowout
In big games, Watson has a history of showing up. Saturday was no exception.
Clemson’s star junior quarterback was 23-for-36 passing for 259 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 57 yards and two scores.
With his performance, Watson was named the Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP. It’s the second consecutive year he has earned that honor in a College Football Playoff semifinal, also doing so in the Tigers’ Orange Bowl win against Oklahoma in 2015.
“I just try to play my best and win games,” Watson said.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, were dreadful. Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for just 127 yards and was intercepted twice. It was the first time Ohio State had been shut out since 1993, and it was the first time in Urban Meyer’s head coaching career that he has been shut out.
“Ohio State is not used to this,” Meyer said. “I’m not used to this, and we will not get used to this. That’s not going to happen again. So we’ll get things worked out.”