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Title-game theme? Will either QB be successful against the other defense

PHOTOS BY USA TODAY SPORTS

Not long after Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in last season’s national championship game, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney congratulated his alma mater.

Then he said this:

“There is no doubt that we will be back. And it won’t be 34 years (Clemson won its only national championship in 1981) before we’ll be going back, I promise you that.”

It only took a year and Clemson is back for a rematch with Alabama on January 9 in Tampa for the national championship. We have a whole week to break this one down, so for today let’s go with our five early impressions of the CFP championship game.

RELATED: Alabama dominates Washington, again gets Clemson in title game

The psychological component of this game is fascinating

Last January in Glendale, Ariz., Clemson stood toe-to-toe with Alabama, which needed a kickoff return for a touchdown and a successful onside kick to hold Clemson at bay.

A lot of teams that play Alabama are beaten by the Crimson Tide mystique before they even get on the field. So it’s fair to say Clemson respects Alabama but, based on the last meeting, the Tigers do not fear them.

Alabama, meanwhile, expects to win because, quite frankly, it is Alabama and no stage is too big for the Crimson Tide. Alabama players have complete faith that coach Nick Saban and his staff will put them in the best position to win and that they will execute the game plan. There is a reason Alabama has won 26 consecutive games.

And let’s get this in early: Over his career Saban has played in 13 championship games (eight SEC, five BCS/CFP) – and he is 12-1 in those games.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson played his best game of the season in the 31-0 win over Ohio State in the semifinals

Watson was at the top of a lot of Heisman lists as the 2016 season started based on his performance against Alabama in the title game. That night in Arizona, Watson was in total command of the game against one of the best defenses Saban has had at Alabama, putting up 478 total yards (405 passing, 73 rushing). And after the game, Watson felt he had left some points out on the field.

Watson led the ACC in passing this season, but at times he simply wasn’t sharp. He threw three interceptions in the 42-36 win over Louisville and three more in Clemson’s only loss of the season, 46-42 to Pittsburgh.

But down the stretch of the 2016 season, the old Watson started to come back. He was 27-of-33 for 347 yards and six touchdown passes against South Carolina. He was 23-of-34 for 288 yards and three TDs and rushed for 85 yards and two scores in the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. Watson was 23-of-36 for 259 yards and a TD against Ohio State; he also ran 15 times for 57 yards and two scores. He threw two interceptions against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes could do nothing with them.

“He’s the best player in the country,” Swinney said after the game.

It would be interesting if the Heisman vote had been taken after all the games had been played.

Jalen Hurts looked like a freshman against Washington

First of all, Washington had a good defense – much better than the general public gave the Huskies credit for. There are a bunch of guys on that Washington defensive front who are going to play in the NFL.

Washington’s defensive game plan was to contain Hurts as a runner and force him to throw. That’s everybody’s game plan against Hurts, but Washington did it well.

Hurts never got into an offensive rhythm and finished 7-fo-14 for just 57 yards. He did not throw a pick, but a couple of potential interceptions were dropped by Washington. Hurts ran for 80 yards but officially finished with 50 because he lost 30 on three sacks.

The consensus after the 24-7 win was that Hurts is going to have to play better and be more productive for Alabama to beat Clemson.

RELATED: Jalen Hurts: ‘It wasn’t Jalen Hurts’ day and I’m OK with that’

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