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4 things we learned from the College Football Playoff coaches Thursday, including an update on Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle

Notre Dame’s travel has been well-documented. The Irish played four of their final five regular-season games away from Notre Dame Stadium, with trips to San Diego, Evanston, New York and Los Angeles.

The way they toppled each of those tests to earn a College Football Playoff berth impressed Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

“They’re battle-tested,” Swinney said Thursday. “They’ve been in some great venues this year, some unique places that they’ve had to go play. They’ve played some excellent teams and they’ve had a lot of different challenges. They’ve handled adversity.”

Notre Dame (12-0) and Clemson (13-0) will meet Dec. 29 in a CFP semifinal in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama (13-0) plays Oklahoma (12-1) in the second semifinal in the Orange Bowl. The four coaches met with reporters Thursday in Atlanta ahead of the ESPN College Football Awards show.

Asked to name an X-factor for Clemson, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly pointed to the Tigers’ ability to close out games. Clemson is in the CFP for the fourth consecutive season.

“They know how to win,” Kelly said. “Everybody that’s up here has developed and built a winning culture within their teams. You can’t pin that on any one particular player. That’s something that’s within the fabric of the program that’s been built over time.”

Here are three other things we heard during Thursday’s news conference:

1. Nick Saban called Oklahoma’s offense “dynamic.”

The numbers back up the Alabama coach’s praise. The Sooners lead the nation in total yards (577.9 per game) and scoring (49.5 points per game).

“This is a team that is as explosive as any as I’ve ever seen,” Saban said. “It’s designed that way. And it’s very difficult to stop a team like that. Coach (Lincoln) Riley does a great job and their players believe in it and execute it extremely well.”

The offense has had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Oklahoma is 108th in total defense, allowing 448.1 yards per game.

2. The Sooners might have a second straight Heisman winner.

Yale (1936-37), Army (1945-46) and USC (2004-05) are the only schools to have two players win the Heisman Trophy in consecutive years. And Reggie Bush’s win in 2005 was later vacated.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is a finalist this year after quarterback Baker Mayfield won the award last season.

“To have a chance to have guys back to back, you’d really never dream it,” Riley said. “But give those kids the credit. Give those players credit around him. They’ve done a great job for a few years and given those guys those opportunities.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins are the other finalists. The award will be presented Saturday.

3. Saban is pleased with the progress of Tagovailoa’s ankle.

The sophomore was sidelined late in the SEC title game against Georgia with a high right ankle sprain. Jalen Hurts came off the bench and rallied the Crimson Tide to a 35-28 victory.

Tagovailoa had arthroscopic surgery this week to repair the sprain.

“The procedure they did usually takes two weeks for a guy to be able to have any explosive movements, and then we’ll go from there,” Saban said. “We’ll see how he progresses from there.”

Twitter @lamondpope

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