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Alabama's O.J. Howard (88) celebrates a 51-yard touchdown reception during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz.

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Alabama and Clemson in national championship

By the numbers

› 2: Touchdown catches this season by Alabama junior tight end O.J. Howard, with his first coming from 53 yards out Monday night with 12:53 remaining in the third quarter. He added a second score with 9:45 remaining.

› 6: Teams at the start of the season who had better odds of winning the national championship than Clemson — Ohio State, TCU, Alabama, Baylor, Auburn and Notre Dame.

› 10: Number of 100-yard rushing games this season by Crimson Tide tailback Derrick Henry, breaking the school mark of nine shared by Mark Ingram (2009) and Trent Richardson (2011).

› 13: Seasons at Clemson by Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, matching the number of seasons he spent at Alabama as a player, graduate assistant and assistant.

› 20: Consecutive games in which Henry has scored a touchdown, a streak that started after the 2014 overtime win at LSU.

› 51: Games in a row Clemson had won entering Monday night when leading through three quarters, the longest streak nationally.

› 118: Consecutive games in which Alabama has scored in the first half, the longest streak in the nation. The last time the Crimson Tide failed to score in the first half was in a 2007 loss to Florida State.

› 207: Total first-half yards by Clemson sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson (162 passing and 45 rushing).

› 1,100: Available tickets on StubHub at the opening kickoff, thus going unsold.

— David Paschall

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Alabama football seasons under coach Nick Saban, whether rightly or wrongly, have been judged by whether the Crimson Tide win the national championship.

The Crimson Tide beat Clemson 45-40 in Glendale, Ariz., to win their fourth national title in seven years. They will begin the 2016 season ranked among the nation's elite regardless of how many underclassmen declare for April's NFL draft in the upcoming days.

"Every year, Coach Saban does a great job of recruiting some of the best talent in the country and really get the right guys who want to come here," senior center Ryan Kelly said. "He gets guys who not only want the best chance to be successful later in life but those who are all about the team. You look at all the guys we've got on this team, and the bigger picture is not about individual awards.

"It's about how far we could take this team and what we needed to do to keep developing every week, but it's always a huge transition for us when you keep getting new guys prepared to play at a really high level and playing for the team."

Saban hasn't always liked the chemistry and focus with recent Tide teams — most notably in 2010, 2013 and 2014 — that came up short in winning national titles. He expressed a fondness for this season's team from the start and remained upbeat after the 43-37 loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19.

The Crimson Tide survived Tennessee 19-14 on Oct. 24, their eighth game in eight weeks, and they regrouped after a bye week to win their next six games by double digits.

"This team has been together for a year now, and we've had very few issues," Saban said. "We haven't had a lot of problems with the players, and everybody has bought in and done what they're supposed to do. The leadership on this team has been very, very good, and we've also had players on the team who responded to leadership.

"We've had teams before at the end of the season lose their priority a little bit. They start thinking about not what's necessarily best for Alabama, and I don't think there is one player on this team who is like that."

Kelly, who recently won the Rimington Award as college football's top center, and senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, a Butkus Award finalist, were the unquestioned leaders of this season's team. Those roles for 2016 could be determined in the next few days, as Heisman Trophy tailback Derrick Henry and defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and A'Shawn Robinson are expected to forgo their senior seasons for the NFL draft.

Tight end O.J. Howard, who had two long touchdown receptions Monday, could be an offensive leader if he stays for his final season, and left tackle Cam Robinson is certain to be one as only a junior. Reuben Foster could assume Ragland's leadership chores defensively should he return for a final go-around in Tuscaloosa, with kicker Adam Griffith and punter J.K. Scott returning to give Alabama what should be the Southeastern Conference's best kicking tandem.

"Coach Saban is a great technician as far as putting things together," Ragland said, "and I know he'll do a great job of putting a team together next year and getting the guys he wants on the field."

The Tide will have to determine a starting quarterback and tailback before its 2016 opener against Southern Calfornia. Alabama also has to transition defensively between coordinators Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt, but moving forward with the likes of Robinson, receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley, defensive linemen Daron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand and defensive backs Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick is an envied place to start.

"Alabama is not for everybody," Kelly said. "It's not for the faint of heart at all. You have to want to really get better and really be all about the team. Coming in, every single person is an All-American and was the best at their high school, so it's obviously a very competitive environment here and one that Coach Saban thrives on.

"We're going to have talent every year, but it's all about developing these guys and understanding the playbook."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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