(Editor's note: Tennessee Titans guard Chance Warmack, who was an All-SEC guard at Alabama on three national championship teams before entering the NFL, offers his thoughts on the Crimson Tide's title game matchup against Clemson and his experiences in a championship program, as told to College Football 24/7's Chase Goodbread).
The national championship game is a historic game to be in, and Clemson and Alabama have both done what it takes to deserve to be there. You're talking about two of the best programs in the game, with some of the best players in the game, and two of the best coaches in the game.
As a player, it's what you put in all the time for. It's a combination of the whole season, and all the work that goes into it throughout the year. No matter how the season shakes out, whether you get there undefeated or not, you got there and it's your time to shine. You just have to win one more game. It means more to the players than the fans probably even think about, because for some of them, it's the last game they'll ever play.
I do get to watch Alabama games on Saturdays, but sometimes when they play at night, I'm asleep before the game's over with, because I'm tired from the week and I've got a game myself the next day. From time to time, I catch a whole game. The first 5 or 6 games, you couldn't tell who this Alabama team was. You knew the defense was stacked. The defense is always going to be amazing, because it's Alabama. But it took time for the offense to shake out and find itself. There were a lot of questions about it early, but Jacob Coker turned into this awesome player who just gets the job done every week. Derrick Henry became an absolute monster running the football, and the offensive line grew up and started to do its thing. There are a couple of young receivers (Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart) who have grown up and are playing like veterans, and now the offense is looking like one unit that knows exactly what it needs to do and how to react to different looks from a defense.
This might be best 'Bama team I've seen
There might be some people mad at me for saying this, but I think this might be (the top) Alabama team that I've seen, and I was on three national championship teams. I think it might be the best, based off the game I saw against Michigan State. It wasn't so much the score (38-0), but it was how they did it. Special teams, offense, defense, they scored in so many different ways. They could do whatever they wanted to do. And they just get stronger toward the end of games, and you don't see many teams that do that. They always pull together and do more in the fourth quarter -- it's amazing. My (2012 national title team), we would come at you hard but coach (Nick Saban) would always have to get on us about staying consistent at the end. This team, it gets better the more it plays.
I was a freshman on the 2009 team that beat Texas at the Rose Bowl for the national championship. My junior year, we beat LSU in New Orleans to win it, and my senior year we beat Notre Dame in Miami. I only played in five games that first year. The first game I played, I was only 17 years old. Against FIU, my first game, I was the youngest O-lineman to play at Alabama. And I had so much still to learn. Look, when I first got to Alabama in January of 2009, I had just seen Alabama get beat by Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and that team would have been on its way to the national championship, too, and they lost. So I get there in January, enrolled early, and the first thing I'm hearing everyone say is "We're going to beat Florida (next year)." I'm a 17-year-old kid, and I'm thinking "Dang, what about these other 12 games we got?" But that's where the program was in terms of buying in throughout the whole year and being determined, and we went out the next year and did it -- we beat Florida. They were already thinking about a rematch in January, and you see all these iconic players and coaches so serious about it, it makes an impression. And it carried over to individual things like Mark Ingram winning Alabama's first Heisman Trophy.
It was a culture shock for me being so young. You had to take it in at a fast rate. You didn't have time or know what you were getting into. By my sophomore year, I'm being told I have a chance to start with some veteran guys, but it's got to be at left guard, and as a young player, the challenge is you can take it or leave it. It's an intense situation. They treat you like family, but if you want to play, you'd better be ready. I had to compete against six older guys to start that year. It wasn't just given to me. The best team I played on was my senior year. Our defense was still amazing. Everybody talks about the 2011 defense, which was really good, but the 2012 defense shut out four teams. AJ McCarron was in his prime, Eddie Lacy was in his prime, and the O-line was one of the best to play college football. It was D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones, me, Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio, and all five of us made the NFL.
Alabama football a family affair
My younger brother, Dallas, is a freshman offensive lineman at Alabama, he's enjoying it. He's probably one of the most honest people I can think of, and he tells me it feels like family there, just like I told him it was like for me when I was there and he was in high school, so that shows me the program is still doing things right. He's embracing the playbook and learning from guys, and he's gotten more playing time this year than I did when I was a freshman. That makes me happy. Between his practice schedule and my schedule with the Titans, we don't talk very often. But when we do talk, it will go on for two or three hours. But he's in camp when I'm in preseason, and there isn't as much time to talk as I'd like.
The conversation always starts with something away from football, but it always ends with football. He's dealing with a little different situation than me with this playoff now. From the fan experience, the playoff is probably more exciting because there's one more game. But from a player's perspective, you've got to be kind of bummed out. I know if I was a senior now, I'd be bummed out if we had to play an extra game to win a championship. You're talking about a 15-game schedule now.
Why Tide will roll in title game
I'm pretty sure coach Saban's approach now is different from when I was there. You're dealing with two different teams, and the playoff makes things different. But I don't think those boys need to be told anything. They're trying to (win the playoff), something that hasn't been done (at Alabama), so there is nothing but focus going on in that locker room. Before, it was a little different. My teams had a chip on our shoulders, like we had something to prove. Now, Alabama's won so much and has been so good for so long, when kids go there, the culture is automatic. Older guys come back to talk to the young guys. I went to the Senior Day game against Charleston Southern, and you could tell on the sideline how close this team is. You can always tell if a team is really pulling for each other or not, and the whole sideline was full of unselfish guys. I don't want to sound cocky, but they just know what to do because they've been in a system that's been there and done it. This isn't their first rodeo.
Of course, Alabama is going to win -- I can't say what the score will be -- but I think we'll beat Clemson by two touchdowns.