TAMPA (RNN) - The simplest way to summarize what's at stake Monday night is that Clemson wants a championship in a way Alabama can't relate to. Clemson needs it.
An Alabama win will be for numbers: six titles for Nick Saban, 17 for the Crimson Tide.
A Clemson win is for pride and respect, things Alabama has and is in no immediate danger of losing.
"The hardest thing I had to do was stand up in front of that offense and console them after that loss," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "I don't ever want to have to do that again."
Elliott took the loss particularly hard and put the blame on himself for not finding a way to pull out what was a 45-40 loss to Alabama in last year's championship game.
"I couldn't find a couple more yards. I couldn't find six more points to help this team be successful," Elliott said. "I just broke down and cried because we were so close. To be at the top of the mountain, to be that close, not to get it done, everybody felt for that."
Despite being in the championship game for the second straight year, Clemson still feels a sting of contempt.
It's clear when coach Dabo Swinney points out the Tigers have just one more loss than Alabama over the last two years. It's in the tone of linebacker Ben Boulware's seething over "four or five uncontested plays" that determined last year's outcome. And it's written on the hopeful expressions of the lifelong Clemson fans now in position to claim that title.
"I feel like people love an underdog story," offensive lineman Jay Guillermo said. "People love the guys who aren't supposed to win who are able to get it done."
Guillermo is a fifth-year senior who wants to close his career with a championship for the fans who've been waiting decades for that opportunity. He said Swinney talks about using the game to inspire people, and the coach expanded on what that means for the Tigers.
"National championships aren't just for the Alabamas and the Michigans and the Notre Dames and the Ohio States," Swinney said. "Greatness is for all of us. You've just got to be willing to work for it. Eight years ago, I don't think anybody saw us as a national championship contender. It's just been one day at a time.
"A lot of these teams that have these great traditions of championships, they're not going away, but there's no reason why we can't be great at Clemson as well."
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he hopes the Crimson Tide players are motivated by last year's game because they didn't play their best.
That's a hard sell to the guys on the other side who are motivated because they lost.
Elliott, who also coaches running backs, is again tasked with navigating Alabama's defensive front and finding a way to move the ball against a unit that has allowed just 62 rushing yards per game.
The approach he favors is attacking that defense before it has the chance to attack first.
"You have to be aggressive," Elliott said. "If you sit back and are timid, you're not going to be able to attack some of the weaknesses they possess. If you don't do that, you won't have an opportunity to score points."
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