Regardless of how you cut it up, the college football world for the past four years has really been ruled by these two teams.
Or co-ruled. Or taking turns being ruled. Either way, Alabama and Clemson have dominated the college football landscape. And have dominated to the point of the fans are getting sick and tired of seeing these two teams.
Maybe because I am a giant Alabama fan and like Clemson, I am in the other camp where I just love seeing them face off on the biggest stages on a yearly basis. My take is people who gripe about Clemson-Alabama better not be griping about seeing Golden State and the LeBron-Cavaliers. Or the Lakers-Celtics back in the 80’s. It’s fun and it is must-see TV.
However when both Alabama and Clemson get mentioned, most people somewhat go “well, Alabama is Alabama; they can get anyone and anything to improve their program especially under Nick Saban” Clemson on the other hand, the take is different. “Yes, Clemson has been the one school that can beat the brakes off of Alabama and expose everything about them, but sooner or later the Tigers run will end and Alabama will remain atop.”
People who say things similar to Clemson need to be careful in what they say.
In fact, if I had to choose which program will have a stronger run and to win more national titles in the next five seasons, I would pick Clemson over Alabama. So let’s look at why.
#1. THE GEORGIA FACTOR: I am taking it from a few angles when I mean Georgia. I mean Georgia as the university and Georgia as the recruiting playground. Georgia in the sense of the university will be barking (no pun intended) at Alabama given their recruiting prowess, but also the last two yeas had Alabama on the ropes before inexplicably letting them off the ropes (two straight years of double-digit leads in the second half blown). Georgia with their recruits are not going anywhere and will be a thorn in Alabama’s side for a good while (I like to think Georgia as the Pistons to Alabama’s Celtics right now) and could upend Alabama at some point soon. Also, Kirby Smart has mad a strong attempt of keeping Georgia high school players from going to Tuscaloosa by any means. Speaking of Georgia and high school recruits, what Clemson is also doing is sneaking those Georgia recruits that the Bulldogs aren’t as high on and having them cross the Savannah River to South Carolina. Bulldog fans are still irritated by the fact that Georgia didn’t keep Deshaun Watson in-state and won a national title at Clemson while Trevor Lawrence may end up doing the same thing to Georgia fans (to some it already has). It also may be a huge albatross for Smart if Georgia cannot get over that hump (especially when he took Justin Fields over him and now Fields transferred to Ohio State).
#2. CONFERENCE PLAY: For what Alabama has done in the past decade has been nothing short of incredible. When we look back on this run when the Saban Era is over, Alabama fans (hopefully) including myself will appreciate what they have seen. The Tide had to deal with programs like LSU, Auburn, the Tebow-Florida years, Georgia, Johnny Manziel Texas A&M, Ole Miss in the mid part of this decade, Dak Mississippi State, etc. And given how things are rolling in College Station, Gainesville, Athens, and always threats in Baton Rouge and Auburn, the Tide will continuously have to deal with those programs on a yearly basis. Clemson does not have it in the ACC really. The Tigers have had issues with Syracuse the past few years, but overall, the conference is fairly weak top to bottom. The football powerhouses of the conference aside from the Tigers historically are Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech, and those three have a lot of questions to answer moving forward. The rest of the conference? You could have a big year from another school in the conference but that momentum will not be carried over for a long period of time and then fall back (see Louisville, North Carolina, and probably coming to you next year: NC State). Clemson barring injury could dominate a conference that doesn’t have a major contender to them like Alabama does.
#3. THE RECRUITING TRAIL: I mentioned before Clemson has done a good job of sneaking in and taking Georgia players, notably at QB. But they can recruit very well. The oddity is and this is the scary part is, despite this strong run, they have not been in the top 3 like Alabama and Georgia have lately. They are a top recruiting school, but currently the Tigers have the top recruiting class for the upcoming season. Of course a lot will change, but if Clemson ends the recruiting class with being the #1 program, watch out. And if they keep getting those players from Georgia that the Bulldogs snubbed, having a guy like Dabo Swinney who is probably the best motivator in the game today as your head coach will only get them better (I like to think it’s the Mark Dantonio approach at Michigan State when he takes the recruits that Michigan or Ohio State doesn’t want and use to his advantage).
#4. DABO SWINNEY: I could probably write five pages on this guy. People will still give Nick Saban the “Best College Coach in Football” title (unless you are a FS1 Loudmouth having your own TV show). And you know what? I wouldn’t complain. However, if there is one major advantage I would give Dabo Swinney over Nick Saban is I think is the motivation factor with Swinney. Swinney is energetic, but not to the point where he’s ultra rah-rah and you somewhat see through the ineffectiveness of it (see Butch Jones/Will Muschamp/PJ Fleck). But he also lets his college players be college players. He tells them to go out there and have fun really. Saban… as much as I love him as an Alabama fan, I feel can get in that mode where it is “football is a business” approach. It works for him and works for Alabama (as really anybody who plays at Alabama goes into the NFL as it is a football factory). But the other thing is that Swinney has over Saban is the age factor. Swinney is nearly 20 years younger than Saban. There’s more of a run where Swinney can coach for a longer period of time. Of course the talk (notably by ESPN who evidently wants more drama) is with Swinney’s new contract from Clemson has a unique buyout should Alabama come calling for Saban’s replacement whenever Saban steps down. Of course, the buyout would cost 50% higher if Swinney leaves for Alabama. However, it won’t be anytime soon and I honestly don’t know if Dabo at this point would leave for the Crimson Tide given how long it has taken for him to build Clemson to the program it is.
While nothing is given in the football world, Clemson seems to be on the right track of being the team to beat on the college level for the foreseeable future. They are in the perfect conference to dominate. They are recruiting at a top-notch level. And they have a coach that knows how to press all the right buttons on his players. And what is happening at Clemson is a sign of things to come.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat