• The NBA has had the same championship matchup for three straight seasons now. Will college football follow suit?
By SI.com Staff
June 09, 2017

With one more victory, the Warriors will defeat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and take home the championship.

It is a rematch of last year’s Finals, which Cleveland won by rallying from a 3–1 deficit in the best-of-seven series. And that was a rematch of the previous year’s Finals, which Golden State won.

College football could face a similar thing in the upcoming season. Alabama beat Clemson to win the College Football Playoff two seasons ago. Clemson avenged that loss and dethroned Alabama last year.

So will it happen again? Will we see Alabama-Clemson III? What are the odds? Here’s what our college football staff members think (click on their names to follow them on Twitter).

Or, about the odds of Wisconsin winning a national title this year. Clemson’s defensive line could be the nation’s best and should keep the Tigers among the ACC front-runners, but with the turnover at the offensive skill positions they could find themselves in more street fights like their 2016 season opener against Auburn, and any game where the score stays in the teens could easily swing the wrong way. It takes a pretty special team to lose a multi-year starter at quarterback and a 1,000-yard rusher and still get back to the national title game. There’s also the matter of Florida State positioning itself for a title run in Deondre Francois’s second year under center. Alabama still runs the SEC, but Nick Saban’s last campaign for a third consecutive title game trip was foiled by the Kick-Six, which should be proof enough that accomplishing this feat takes more than simply fielding the best team in the country.

Alabama is a safe bet to make it back to the national championship game. The Crimson Tide return starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, they’ll have arguably the best running game in the country and, at this point in Nick Saban’s tenure, assuming his team’s defense will be awesome is the right play. Clemson has amassed a deep talent base of its own, particularly along the defensive line, but it won't easily overcome the loss of one of the greatest college QBs ever. The Tigers could compete for a College Football Playoff berth, but they don’t even look like the best team in their own division (Florida State is the pick here).

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There’s a pretty good chance that one of these two teams makes the national championship again. I’d argue that’d be close to 50% because I believe Alabama is the clear favorite to win it all. But I don’t like Clemson’s chances. The last couple of years have taught me to not worry about the Tigers’ loss of production on the defensive side of the ball, but what about the offense? It was one thing to get back to the championship game with Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Deon Cain, Artavis Scott, Jordan Leggett and Hunter Renfrow all returning and Mike Williams coming back after injury; but now the bulk of those stars, including Watson, are gone, and just five offensive starters return. The competition to be Watson’s successor is still up for grabs, and while the Tigers have plenty of talent, some growing pains seem inevitable. That makes battles with Auburn and at Louisville in the season’s first three weeks particularly risky. And that’s before even getting to the showdown with Florida State, which looks like the class of the ACC. I doubted Clemson last year, and the Tigers proved me wrong. I’m going double or nothing this year.

Without Deshaun Watson, I can't see Clemson as a lock to get there this winter, even if I would pick Alabama to make it to the title game again. Playing Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech in the first month of the season will leave Clemson with at least one early loss, which might be enough to see it out of title-game contention pretty early. And frankly, I’m glad. In the NBA, despite the three-peat, we’re getting some novelty in the form of Kevin Durant in the Finals this year. (Yes, I know. College rosters turn over, too. But we’re not going to get Lamar Jackson playing for Alabama all of a sudden.) And really, who doesn’t want the maximum amount of Stephen Curry and LeBron James? I just don’t think college football has the individual greatness and celebrity that can carry interest in the same matchup, year after year.

Pete Thamel: 100-1

With the quarterback turnover at Clemson and the offensive staff turnover at Alabama, it’s hard to project that both those schools will meet again for the national title. Ohio State, USC and Penn State are with them among the country’s most talented teams, and each has enough challenges both in and out of the conference schedule to prevent projecting another trip to the title game with any certainty.

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Mike Harris: 250-1

It will be stunning if it happens again, just stunning, and that’s not a knock on Alabama or Clemson.

Teams in pro baseball, basketball and hockey play a series of games and that usually (but not always) makes it easier for the best teams to advance.  In pro football and college football, there are no series. There’s one game. There’s a reason it is very rare to see the same Super Bowl matchup in successive years. You have a bad day, you can’t come back and get ’em tomorrow. You’re done. To get through a regular season, a league championship game and a national semifinal unscathed is very difficult. It’s actually kind of stunning Clemson and Alabama each made it twice in a row.

A third matchup would be a lot of fun, but there’s an extremely slim chance.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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