Alabama And Clemson Face Off Under New Playoff System
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's turn now to college football and tomorrow's national championship game - Alabama vs. Clemson. You might remember that this is only the second year that the national champion will be decided under a playoff system. Previously, they had a computer algorithm that crunched various polls to determine the top two teams in the country. Now a 12-person panel goes behind closed doors to choose the top four teams, and then they battle it out. We've called sports writer Jemele Hill up at the ESPN campus at Bristol, Conn., which is going to broadcast the game tomorrow. So, Jemele, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.
JEMELE HILL: Hey, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: So can we talk about the playoff system? You know, people used to, you know, just howl all the time about the old system. What about now? How are people feeling about the new one?
HILL: Well, I think people feel a little bit better about it just because they believe that the two best teams are the ones that wind up in tomorrow's championship game. I think before, it used to be so subjective. And on some level, that will never leave college football. Like, subjectivity is a part of it. And I think the argument and the quote-unquote controversy is a reason why fans stay invigorated, why they're so invested and emotional in the sport. But generally speaking, I think that the - you know, the playoffs have been a resounding success. There's definitely a sense that the two best teams are playing in college football.
MARTIN: Well, you know, speaking about the matchup, the Clemson Tigers of the number one team in the country. But they're considered the underdogs when they take on the number two, Alabama Crimson Tide. I mean, the Vegas odds-makers - if you believe them - have Alabama as roughly a one-touchdown favorite in the game. Why is a number two favored to beat a number one?
HILL: Well, Alabama - you know, they're one of the powerhouse programs in college football. And, you know, Nick Saban - you know, there, the argument is definitely in play about whether or not he could be the best college football coach ever. Certainly, I don't think any Alabama fans ever thought that they would see a day where a coach would come there that could be better than Bear Bryant. I think he's already a better coach than Bear Bryant.
MARTIN: Can you even say Bear Bryant without the legendary Bear Bryant attached to it?
HILL: (Laughter) Yeah, I mean, he is a legend. I mean, for Nick Saban to have the kind of success that he's had there - I think that has a lot to do with it. And, you know, quite frankly, it has to do also with not only type of season Alabama's had this year, but the - their last game - their last national impression that they left -unfortunately, I went to Michigan State, and I was at the game. And we took a beating by Alabama - you know, didn't even score, lost 38-to-nothing, and that is why Clemson now is the serious underdog.
MARTIN: Alabama also has this year's Heisman Trophy winner that's running back Derrick Henry. You want to talk about him?
HILL: Yeah, this is - this is going to be interesting. You know, Derrick Henry, as great as he's been all season - he's been a real workhorse - in the last game against Michigan State, while he was a factor, he wasn't the factor. And...
MARTIN: You know I just asked you that so you could feel better - right? - about the game.
HILL: Yeah, I know you did. You did. Thank you. (Laughter).
MARTIN: I just - I just wanted you to feel good, so (unintelligible).
HILL: I know. Thank you so much because - trust me - I was plenty depressed after that game.
MARTIN: Well, he was kind of held in check. I mean, he was not a huge - he did score two touchdowns, so let's say that - but he was not a huge factor in the game. And so the question is can - do - is there a way that Clemson could repeat the same trick?
HILL: I do think that people are underestimating Clemson. They've had a great season. There's a lot of similarities, I think, between this game and the '06 Rose Bowl game, which was essentially for the national championship between Texas and USC. You had Vince Young, a Heisman Trophy finalist, DeShaun Watson, the Clemson quarterback. He finished third in the Heisman going against powerhouse USC, who had the Heisman Trophy winner with Reggie Bush. You have Clemson going against powerhouse Alabama with the Heisman Trophy winner in Derrick Henry. So while I still feel like Alabama will win this game, I think Clemson is certainly going to prove to people why they've been number one for as long as they have had. And I think they're going to give Alabama kind of all they can handle.
MARTIN: That's ESPN Jemele Hill. Check out her show with Michael Smith called "His And Hers" on ESPN2. Jemele, enjoy the game.
HILL: All right, thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.