Has there been a changing of the guard in college football? Since 2009, Alabama has rolled the competition and run the show, but has their time at the top of the sport come and gone? It’s a legitimate question after what Clemson did to them in last Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship game in Santa Clara.
Nick Saban was outcoached by Dabo Swinney, Tua Tagovailoa was outplayed by a true freshman, Trevor Lawrence, and the Crimson Tide were flat-out embarrassed and run out of Levi’s Stadium on national television. The 44-16 drubbing capped off a perfect 15-0 season for the Tigers, who will undoubtedly be the top-ranked team heading into next season. If that is indeed the case, it will be the first time since 2015 that a team not named Alabama was the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
For years upon years, it was Alabama and then everybody else. Now, it’s Clemson and then Alabama and then everybody else. And there’s not much evidence to suggest that changes anytime soon. The Tigers are young and here to stay.
Saban can easily be viewed as somewhat of a grumpy old grandpa, but Swinney is turning into a folk hero in college football. Though Tagovailoa will be a problem next year and an early favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, Lawrence is already projected by many to be the top NFL quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. The six-foot-six Lawrence could play on Sundays next year, but instead he’ll have to settle for tearing up college defenses for at least two more years.
Clemson and Alabama are similar in that they both attract a bevy of blue chip prospects, like Lawrence and Tagovailoa, every year. They begin to differ, however, when it comes to coaching hires. The teams have played one another four straight years in postseason play, with the first coming in 2016 for the second-ever College Football Playoff National Championship game. In every meeting since, the Crimson Tide have had different offensive and defensive coordinator combos, whereas the Tigers have had the same coordinators (Jeff Scott/Tony Elliot, Co-OC’s and Brent Venables, DC) in place for the duration of the rivalry. Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt hit the nail on the head when he said that Clemson is a football family and Alabama is a football factory.
A revolving door of coaches leaving for bigger opportunities and players leaving early for the NFL doesn’t help Alabama. Meanwhile, Clemson is consistently rewarding and retaining their assistant coaches, and many of their players stay all four years for an opportunity like last Monday night.
Taking all that into consideration, it’s easy to see why Clemson has won two of the last three national championships and why they’re now the premier program in college football. With that comes a target on their back and an angry Nick Saban eager to get back on top, though. Rest assured that we haven’t heard the last from the Crimson Tide. Like most of you, I expect we’ll see these teams meet up again next January in the soon-to-be-named Clemson-Alabama Invitational. Can’t wait.