Nick Saban may be trying to get his fifth national title ring and fourth while at the University of Alabama, but it is Dabo Swinney who may be the hottest name in the college football coaching ranks. The Clemson Tigers front man has been building a winner in South Carolina that is now among college football’s elite programs. The former Crimson Tide player has a chance to beat his alma mater in a game that has the College Football Playoff committee salivating at the possibility of an instant classic.
Clemson has had to work its way into the establishment, a group that is close-knit and unresponsive to change. Think of the NCAA as a “Good Old Boys” network of sorts where the young, up and coming star in the east presents change – something blue bloods are not used to or happy to accept.
As Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com wrote…
“In the past 17 seasons, dating to the beginning of the BCS, few teams have shown up for a championship game and glided out of sight as quickly as they arrived. In fact, only four teams — Tennessee in 1998, Virginia Tech in 1999, Nebraska in 2001 and Notre Dame in 2012 — made a single appearance in a championship game. The other 28 slots were filled by a total of 11 schools.
There are a lot of reasons to believe Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney has built a program that will continue to contend. He isn’t the buttoned-up head coach, the prototype of which he will face Monday night.”
It’s hard not to like Swinney. Much like a younger Steve Spurrier, he is direct and says what’s on his mind. Spurrier took a Duke team and built a winner back in the 1980s and then came to Florida and saved his alma mater from disaster. Swinney has a chance to bring Clemson its first national title in 34 years when Danny Ford was the darling of college football.
Yes, it could happen again.
If Alabama, for all its pomp and circumstance and old guard, cannot stop Deshaun Watson and shut down the front seven of the Tigers defense, this game will get out of hand early. If Alabama can dominate defensively, then this could be a tight game the entire night. I’m hoping for closeness, not a runaway, especially after both teams disposed of their competition with ease last week.
Clemson has a chance to crash the party, and stay for a while. So much is made about an SEC bias in college football and the media giving other conferences little chance. Did everyone forget the Tigers were “voted” as the top team in the land for a reason? Hasn’t 14-0 meant anything? Swinney’s mantra of “15 for 15” has been the rallying cry for the ACC – a conference who has been the red-headed stepchild of the SEC for some time, but if Clemson wins it is two national titles by an ACC school in the past three years (FSU in 2013).
The Tigers had better follow Michigan State’s game plan and shut down Derrick Henry, which will force Jacob Coker to beat Clemson through the air. Does he have two career games in a row in his arm and can Alabama control the pace of the game like it did against the Spartans?
Win or lose, Saban’s legacy has already been set. The man trying to get one for the thumb and potentially the greatest college coach of this generation (there is still debate). Swinney is trying to rewrite history. Beating the team he caught passes for helps do that. In the end, the establishment will see this is a program built for longevity, not for speed. And the blue bloods will have to make room for a new shining star from the deep south.