Alabama starts fast. Clemson finishes faster.

TAMPA, Fla.—We worked at convincing ourselves Clemson could win.

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We made cases for Deshaun Watson as maybe the nation’s best quarterback.

We said Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, trying to become the first true freshman in 31 years to play quarterback for a national champion, was likely to be bedeviled by Clemson’s stout defense.

We had a hard time believing Alabama could change offensive coordinators on the eve of this game and not have problems.

We saw the Tigers sink their claws into mighty Ohio State 31-0 while Alabama struggled for the longest time against unloved Washington, and we said, ``Clemson can do this.’’

And then, when the game started, Alabama was. . . Alabama.

Even as their offensive troubles mounted, the Crimson Tide rolled on to 10-point leads, 17-7 and 24-14. An improbable touchdown gave Alabama a 31-28 with 2:07 left.

It wasn’t enough. Clemson got it right in the rematch, beating the Crimson Tide 35-31. With the win, the Tigers atoned for last year’s heart-breaking 45-40 loss to Alabama and earned their first national championship since 1981.

And with the win, Clemson put a dagger in Alabama’s goal of adding another in its quest for college-football dominance.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

``Every loss is very painful,’’ Bama coach Nick Saban said. ``My loss is really the bad feeling I have for players who have worked so hard to create this opportunity for themselves. Not to be able finish it is is very disappointing for me because of them.

``I would have loved to see this team accomplish a goal they worked very hard for. That’s the part that makes it difficult.

``It’s tough to lose this way, but I will say this. Give a lot of credit to Clemson. Because they made some really good plays down the stretch. We had our chances. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.’’

The Crimson Tide was denied its fifth national championship in eight years—and Saban’s sixth title, including the one he won at LSU.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what you call a dynasty. Even without another championship gem in the tiara, Alabama still has a lot to be proud of.

But in the after-midnight hour, before a Raymond James Stadium-record crowd of 74,512, the Tide knew only disappointment.

We shouldn’t be too surprised that the Tide couldn’t finish the job. This stuff happens. Of the four defending champions that have reached a second straight title game in the last 20 years, three have come up short: Florida State in 2000, Miami in 2002 and USC in 2005.

The only back-to-back winner? Alabama in 2011 and 2012.

And so, even with this defeat on a night that began with such promise, Alabama remains on a pretty high pedestal.

The change at offensive coordinator was a non-factor. The freshman quarterback kid did all right.

When running back Bo Scarbrough left the game late in the third quarter, though, that was a tough blow.

``Bo has certainly been a bell cow for us,’’ Saban said. ``Not to have him was probably a disadvantage for us. I was pleased with the way the other backs played. But you always miss a guy with the size of Bo Scarbrough, especially when you want to take some time off the clock.’’

Some people think this loss is a good thing. Because they believe the Alabama-Alabama-Alabama broken record is bad for college football.

``I completely agree,’’ Crimson Tide tackle Cam Robinson said before the game. ``I think people kind of lose interest because they figure it’s going to be Alabama every year. [But] that’s not something [we] focus on. It’s not frustrating at all for us. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. I don’t know what to tell them if they’re tired of seeing us.’’

I agree with Robinson. I’m not a fan of the Big Juggernaut. I’m a populist, not into the Rich Get Richer.

But I also know that it’s up to the other guys to knock the King of the Hill off the hill.

Hats off to Clemson. They’re the King of the Hill now.[/membership]