The first year of the College Football Playoff was a major success, giving college football fans a set of three championship-caliber exciting games. The second year didn’t disappoint either, as four of the top teams battled it out for the title of national champion.
The two playoff semifinal games took place on New Year’s Eve despite concerns (later vindicated) about low viewership. Clemson pulled away from Oklahoma late to win the Orange Bowl, while Alabama hammered Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Thus, an instant classic between Alabama and Clemson was set.
Clemson was the only remaining undefeated team in the FBS, which led them to seek their first national title since 1981. Highlights include a 2-point overtime victory against Notre Dame, 10-point victory against Florida State and an 8-point victory against North Carolina in the ACC title game.
Alabama’s title hopes seemed to be dashed early on, losing to Ole Miss at home. However, they finished strong, with wins at Georgia, at Texas A&M, LSU and Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
The national championship game was a great matchup on paper—Alabama had a strong and physical defense, but they hadn’t faced a dual-threat quarterback on par with Clemson’s DeShaun Watson. In addition, Clemson’s strong defense hadn’t faced a runner quite like Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner.
After a pair of punts to begin the game, Derrick Henry broke free for the first big play of the game, a 50-yard touchdown run. Clemson tied the game again on the very next drive, as Deshaun Watson completed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow. After an Adam Griffith missed field goal on the next Alabama drive, Clemson took the lead on the last scoring play of the first quarter, as Renfrow caught his second touchdown of the game.
The only score of the second quarter came on Derrick Henry’s touchdown run, tying the game at 14. On Clemson’s resulting drive, a clock issue seemed to take a play away from the Tigers. However, the time mistake seemed to be inconsequential, as Greg Heugel’s field goal attempt was blocked by D.J. Pettway. Thus, a 14–14 tie was taken into the locker room at halftime.
After Clemson was unable to move the ball in their first drive, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker passed to tight end OJ Howard for his first touchdown of the game, a highlight of his amazing game. Greg Heugel redeemed his missed field goal on the resulting drive, cutting the Alabama lead to four. Clemson took the lead on a Wayne Gallman touchdown run, capping a 60-yard Tiger drive.
The scoring opened up in the final quarter of play, as 40 total points were scored in the final fifteen minutes of the college football season. Griffith hit another field goal to tie it, then executed what is undoubtedly the play of the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Griffith hit a surprise onside kick that Alabama recovered to retain control of the ball. The Crimson Tide wasted no time after that play, as Coker found Howard again, this time for 51 yards and a touchdown.
After a field goal made it 31–27 Alabama, the slugfest continued, with two touchdowns by each team. An Alabama kickoff return touchdown by Kenyan Drake was answered by an Artavis Scott touchdown reception; however, the two-point conversion failed, leaving Alabama with a 5-point lead. After Henry ran for a touchdown with just over a minute left, Watson passed to Jordan Leggett for a last-second touchdown with just 12 seconds left. Yet Clemson’s onside attempt failed, and Alabama sealed the 2015 national title.
Deshaun Watson carried the Tigers throughout the game, passing for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Jake Coker had a great game in his own right, passing for 335 yards. However, the player of the game likely goes to the tight end Howard, as he burned the Clemson defense for 208 yards and two touchdowns on just five receptions.
After a bowl season filled with blowouts and lower ratings, a close national title game was desperately needed. Clemson and Alabama didn’t disappoint, as the 60-minute thriller was a perfect end to the college football season.