Mark Clark: Clemson, Alabama on a collision course for 2019?

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To the surprise of absolutely no one who follows NCAA football, Clemson and Alabama are on a collision course to meet once again for the National Championship. Well, at least that is according to the pundits who follow the sport more closely than the average fan.

Why would any poll of college football teams not begin the preseason with these two teams at the very top? After all, the two have been selected for the Final Four playoffs in each of the last four years. The teams are 2-2 in their four meetings – three of which determined the National Title winner. Clemson has beaten Alabama twice for the title, and Alabama has one victory over Clemson that gave it the title. The other Alabama victory over Clemson came two years ago in the semifinal round before the Crimson Tide’s title win in overtime over Georgia.

Another reason to put Alabama at the top of the preseason poll is the fact that Nick Saban has won five of the last 10 National Championships, and he has not gone more than two years, since 2009  (2013-2014), without winning one. Alabama beat Texas for the title in 2009. The Tide defeated LSU in 2011. In 2012, Alabama whipped Notre Dame. In 2015, Alabama earned its title with a win over Clemson. In 2017, Georgia was the Crimson Tide’s victim for the title.

Clemson has won the National Championship twice during that period in 2016 and 2018. In both those title games, Alabama was the loser to the Tigers. Those were the first two National Championships for the Tigers since the 1981 team defeated Nebraska 22-15 to win its first one under Hall of Fame coach Danny Ford.

Alabama has 17 National Championship titles of which Nick Saban has five and the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant has six. Head-to-head, the two Alabama coaches have six National Championship titles each as Saban won a title while at LSU.

I like to tell folks I pull for Alabama West and Alabama East. That is because the only times Clemson has won a National Championship a former Alabama player has been its coach. Both Danny Ford and current Clemson coach Dabo Swinney both played football at Alabama. Dabo Swinney played on Alabama’s 1992 undefeated 13-0 Crimson Tide team that defeated Miami for the National Championship in the Sugar Bowl. Danny Ford played on the 1966 undefeated 11-0 Crimson Tide team that defeated Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. Both began their coaching careers as assistant coaches at Alabama. Both came to Clemson to serve as assistants under head coaches who had once been assistant coaches at Alabama. Yes, there is a lot of Crimson and White blood pumping in the veins of those Orange and White – and sometimes Purple – Tigers.

Maybe the ties between the two programs are the reasons for the successes of the two teams at the elite level of college football. It may be the reason the pollsters keep the two programs at the top of their polls or no further than a heartbeat away. Just about every preseason poll in the country has either Clemson or Alabama as the No. 1 team.

The following is how I think the preseason polls should look. And, yes, Clemson and Alabama are No. 1A and No. 1B.

1A. Clemson: The Tigers will go into the season as the huge favorites in the ACC. Will any other ACC team even come close to beating Clemson? It is doubtful that will happen. Clemson is a strong favorite for playing for the National title again this season and could have a player – quarterback Trevor Lawrence – as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Look for the Tigers to go 13-0 and win the ACC title and earn their spot in the playoffs.

1B. Alabama: Every time fans or pundits start doubting Nick Saban’s ability to motivate a team to continue building the Alabama dynasty, he finds a way to get the team back to the top of the college football world. Whenever there are doubts about the Tide’s dynasty ending, Alabama seemingly returns to the top. With QB Tau Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Judy, RB Najee Harris and LB Dylan Moses returning, another Alabama vs. Clemson title game may be in the future. Alabama should finish no worse than 12-1 with another SEC title and a place in the playoffs.

The rest of the Top 10 – in my opinion – will be: No. 3 Oklahoma (12-1 with a conference title and playoff spot); No. 4 Georgia (12-1 with a second place finish to Alabama, but crashing the playoff party after last season’s fiasco of allowing Notre Dame into the party); No. 5 Ohio State (12-1 with a conference title, but no playoff spot, again); No. 6 LSU (11-1 with a close loss to Alabama and an outside shot at a playoff spot); No. 7 Texas (10-2); No. 8 Florida (10-2) no. 9 Michigan (10-2); and No. 10 Auburn (9-3).

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East Alabama.