In a year where nothing is normal, once again Clemson is Alabama's biggest threat to win it all
No drama this time.
For as weird and complicated as this year has been in college football, we’re right back in the same place after Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
If there’s anyone capable of keeping the SEC off the national title podium, it’s Clemson. Again.
This sport we love can be so dang complicated sometimes. How many teams should be in the College Football Playoff every year? What’s the best structure? Who’s even in charge here?
And that’s outside the scope of playing football during a pandemic.
But Dabo Swinney, Trevor Lawrence and FBS’ No. 7 total defense make things so simple and straightforward. Kind of like the no-nonsense blue-collar culture of their northwest corner of South Carolina.
It sure is a land of gridiron milk and honey these days. The Tigers’ 34-10 win over Notre Dame gave them a 6th straight ACC crown and guarantees a 6th consecutive Playoff berth, too.
Putting in a 1-loss team has been tricky in the past. But Clemson made it easy — and at the same time, taxing — on the Playoff committee members gathered at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, to watch this weekend’s championship games.
There’s nothing dramatic or controversial about a team that avenges its only loss — which came without its once-in-a-generation quarterback — in absolutely dominant fashion.
That quarterback, Lawrence, is a bad, bad, bad man.
His 322 yards passing and 90 yards rushing Saturday were just the latest masterpiece. His mere presence ensured this was nothing like Notre Dame’s 47-40, double-overtime win Nov. 7 in South Bend.
There are folks in SEC country who will tell you an Alabama player — be it Mac Jones, Najee Harris or DeVonta Smith — winning the Heisman Trophy is a foregone conclusion. Thanks to Lawrence, they’d be wrong.
But it’s not just about No. 16. With Travis Etienne totaling 124 yards on just 10 carries, the Tigers averaged 8.1 yards per carry at Bank of America Stadium against the nation’s No. 8 rush defense.
On the other side of the ball, they held FBS’ No. 19 offense to 263 total yards. The Fighting Irish came in averaging 474.4.
Ian Book has had an up-and-down season. But the Notre Dame quarterback is an NFL-caliber athlete.
When he wasn’t sacked Saturday, he was running for his life.
Ranked No. 3 in the latest CFP rankings, Clemson made its portion of the 4-team selection easy. But by crushing No. 2 Notre Dame, it put the committee in a predicament: How do you choose between the Irish and Texas A&M, which both have 1 blowout loss to Playoff teams Clemson and Alabama, respectively?
That question will likely keep Gary Barta and friends up into the wee hours Sunday.
But what’s not up for debate is, as repetitive as it might be, Clemson is once again the most viable opponent to terminate Alabama and the SEC’s national championship aspirations.
If you strip away the fact the Tigers and Crimson Tide have already met 4 times in the national semifinals or championship game, Clemson and Bama represents the most entertaining possible matchup. Lawrence vs. Jones. Etienne vs. Harris. The No. 5 scoring offense against the top defense from the toughest conference. Saban vs. Swinney.
Repetitive? Yes. Substantial? Definitely.
Ohio State’s talent has it in the conversation, but Northwestern’s plucky defense exposed some things in the Buckeyes’ 22-10 Big Ten Championship game victory Saturday.
Alabama-Clemson would likely happen in the National Championship Game, just like 2015, 2016 and 2018. Now we wait and see who else fits into the mix, and where.
But the Tigers’ place is official even before Sunday’s 12 p.m. ET selection show on ESPN. Clemson is a top-level contender.