Alabama-Clemson: First look at the national championship game

Deshaun Watson and Calvin Ridley helped drive their teams to the national championship game. Getty Images, USA TODAY Sports

Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinals set the matchup for the Jan. 11 national championship: the Clemson Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Below we take a look at the top stats about the teams. The Crimson Tide are a seven-point favorite, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and have a 61 percent chance to win, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Clemson continues pursuit of perfection

Clemson is the sixth FBS school since major classification began in 1937 to start a season 14-0. No FBS team has been 15-0, and no team of any classification has started 15-0 since Penn in 1897.

The Tigers' offensive hallmark Thursday was their running game. They finished with 312 yards on the ground, a school record for a bowl game. Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman each exceeded 100 rushing yards. In the title game, Clemson will face a team that ranked first in rushing yards allowed and second in expected points added by rush defense.

Watson has rushed for 100 yards in five of his past six games. South Florida's Marlon Mack is the only other FBS player with five 100-yard games since the beginning of November.

Watson also showed his versatility: The Orange Bowl was his FBS-high ninth game this season with both a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown.

Clemson has won its last two bowl games by a combined 54 points, the largest combined margin in consecutive bowl games in program history. The Tigers have won a school-record 17 straight games, the longest active win streak in the FBS.

Their dominance Thursday came against a team that had won seven straight games. Since Oklahoma's loss Oct. 10 to Texas, the Sooners had led the FBS in scoring (52.0 points per game) and total offense (592.9 yards per game), ranked third in offensive expected points added per game and closed the regular season with three wins over ranked opponents.

Alabama is used to being here

The Crimson Tide are seeking their fourth national championship in the last seven seasons and their record 11th in the poll era (since 1936). Notre Dame, with eight, has the second-most national championships. With one more win, Nick Saban would join Paul "Bear" Bryant as a five-time national championship-winning coach (Bryant won a record six).

Defense was a clear strength for Alabama in Thursday's Cotton Bowl, as it has been all season. Thursday's game was the fourth bowl game in the last 10 seasons in which the Crimson Tide held its opponent scoreless in the first half. It was the first shutout in the Cotton Bowl since LSU beat Texas 13-0 in 1962.

Getting close to the end zone, much less scoring, has been difficult for Alabama's opponents. The Crimson Tide entered Thursday's game having allowed 13 red zone drives in their 10 games since they lost to Ole Miss. That's five fewer red zone drives than any other FBS team.

Alabama's offense boasted Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, but he didn't have to be much of a factor Thursday. In his last six games against FBS opponents before the Cotton Bowl, Henry averaged 208.8 rush yards per game -- almost 100 yards per game more than his average in the first six games of the season.

Odds and ends

Clemson's only previous national championship came in 1981, the second-longest active title drought among teams in this year's College Football Playoff. (Michigan State hasn't won a national title since 1965).

Alabama and Clemson have played 15 times, but their most recent matchup was Aug. 30, 2008. The Crimson Tide are 12-3 in the series, having won the last 12 -- including seven by shutout.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was a member of Alabama's 1992 national championship team. Danny Ford, Clemson's coach during the 1981 championship season, also went to Alabama and was a captain in 1969.