Alabama-Clemson, Round IV? Bring it on

Editor's note: This story originally ran after Alabama beat Clemson in this past year's College Football Playoff. It has been updated.

NEW ORLEANS -- Tired of Alabama and Clemson yet? Because these epic playoff matchups could be just the beginning.

We have all witnessed Parts I, II and III, a trilogy that has grown a new rivalry between programs that have more College Football Playoff appearances, and more consecutive 10-win seasons, than anyone else in the country.

So why not believe Part IV is coming soon to a playoff field near you?

"Good question," Alabama running back Damien Harris said.

"I'm not a genie, so I don't know," Alabama defensive end Da'Shawn Hand said.

None of us know. But the fun is in imagining the possibility, especially given the way the first three games played out. There are three main reasons to believe these games could become an annual event.

First: coaches. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have established themselves as elite head coaches. Only four active head coaches have won national championships: Saban leads the way with six, while Swinney has one.

Though much has been written about their different personalities, there is no question the key to the success at both programs starts with the way they have approached their jobs. There are different ways to win, and Saban and Swinney provide the perfect case study.

They also happen to be master motivators, finding different ways to get their players up for every game year in and year out -- a task that is easier said than done. Swinney, for example, told his team going into 2017 it was not the defending national champion. Rather, Clemson was the attacking national champion.

"It starts with great coaching," Harris said. "We've got the best football coach, maybe they've got the second-best, but we've got two great programs, two programs that work really hard, just do all the right things, and I think it's helped lead us to get to this point."

Second: players. Nobody has recruited at a higher level than Alabama, which churns out NFL players at a dizzying pace. Over the past 11 years, Alabama has produced 22 first-round picks, more than any other program in the country. Since 2009, Alabama has had 77 players drafted, also tops in the nation.

Clemson is starting to reach that status, too. Todd McShay's early 2019 mock draft featured three Clemson defensive linemen in the first round. (It also had three players from Alabama.) The Tigers brought in the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation, with four five-star players. Alabama was right behind it at No. 6.

When teams are able to sign classes full of ESPN 300 prospects and then develop them, depth becomes one of the greatest factors to that success. Because once players go on to the NFL draft, backups become starters without a drop in team performance. It's why Alabama has made all four playoffs. It's why Clemson made it back this season after losing so many players off its championship team a year ago.

"Three years in a row we've played them, so I think it says a lot about our program, where we are today, who we can be," Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel said. "It doesn't matter who we lose because we're just going to bounce back and reload. Guys take a lot of pride in that, and because guys take pride in that, they believe it and everything falls into place."

Third: staff. Look at the assistants Saban and Swinney have hired. Saban has started to grow his coaching tree, as nine assistants have gone on to become college head coaches. Swinney, on the other hand, has had incredible staff loyalty, a big reason for the Tigers' success. They are not shy about paying their assistants, either, as Clemson has the best defensive coordinator in the country in Brent Venables, the second-highest-paid assistant in the nation.

"I feel like they have to be doing something right, something like us to be getting to this point," Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison said. "Their players do a good job focusing throughout the year as well as us, so I feel like their coaching staff does a good job keeping their players focused."

The similarities do not end there. Both Alabama and Clemson players noted the way they practice and work, and the mindset that comes with having the type of staying power both programs have achieved. Alabama has been at the top longer, but nobody sees a reason why Clemson will suddenly lose an edge and stop winning.

"I feel like they're not going anywhere, and I definitely feel like we're not going anywhere," Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett said. "It may be like that, we're definitely two teams that are very dominant, very consistent, very good coaches. We're good all over the board."

If these two teams do meet for a fourth time in a bowl game, they would be making history. No teams have ever met four consecutive years in the postseason. As it is, this marks just the second time two teams have played each other in three consecutive years (USC and Ohio State met in the Rose Bowl every year from 1972 to '74).

So what will both teams look like in 2018? Alabama might have a tougher road because of all the players it has to replace. The Crimson Tide lost 21 seniors, but also saw underclassmen Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Da'Ron Payne, Calvin Ridley and Bo Scarbrough get drafted.

Clemson, on the other hand, lost just six seniors and saw several stars surprisingly return for another season in Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins.

"Everybody's talking about the trilogy like someone's fixin' to die or something," Swinney said Monday after the Sugar Bowl. "We'll be back. They'll be back. We'll have more of these."

So if there is a Part IV ...

"That would be a cool story to tell," Harris said.

"That means we're in a good spot, it means we might be back in the playoff next year," Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow said. "It would make for a good 30 for 30 down the line."