Tommy Hicks: The best team took the trophy home
If you are an Alabama fan, still feeling the effects of Monday night’s migraine that was the College Football Playoff championship game, you better grab some aspirin. Your headache may last a little longer.
Clemson’s dominating and convincing 44-16 victory over Alabama for the national title proved the Tigers are built for the long haul, just as it has been said about the Crimson Tide. While many prior to the game were ready to place the stamp of dynasty on Alabama’s logo — if indeed they hadn’t already done so — they may want to hold off on that for a bit.
Clemson, at least following Monday night’s game, has the look of a dynasty contender as well. And the Tigers aren’t going away.
A quick glance at the Clemson roster supports this theory:
QB Trevor Lawrence, true freshman
WR Justyn Ross, true freshman
WR Tee Higgins, sophomore
RB Travis Etienne, sophomore
DB A.J. Terrell, sophomore
WR Amari Rodgers, sophomore
S Isaiah Feaster, sophomore
And the list goes on. The Tigers’ talent, especially the playmakers, in Monday night’s game are freshmen and sophomores. No one in Phenix City needs to be convinced of what hometown star Ross can do, and he proved that on a national stage in the CFP semifinal game against Notre Dame and the title game against Alabama. He’s only going to get better.
The same is true of Lawrence, who was terrific against Alabama and has been that way since claiming the starting job earlier in the season. He’s already being touted as a possible first overall pick in the NFL draft when he is available and right now there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case.
As outstanding as Alabama has been over the past few seasons, Clemson has been as good. Monday night, Clemson was the better team, much better; winning the battle of talent, gameplan and execution against a team noted for all those attributes.
Nick Saban has earned all the accolades he has received in recent years for the job he has done at Alabama. And yes, he’s the best of the best at his job and is is easily one of the best of all time as a college head coach. But it should not — heck, it cannot — be overlooked or overemphasized how strong a job Dabo Swinney has done since taking over the Clemson program. Simply put, he has made Clemson a national player, period. That certainly wasn’t the case when he took over and not the first couple of seasons he was in charge. But Clemson, with its facilities, its success, its talent, its coaching staff and its recruiting ability, stands among the top programs in the country. Right now, in this moment, with the glow of Monday night’s performance still shining on the program, it may well be the top college football program in the country.
It seems very likely Clemson will enter the 2019 season picked as the team to beat.
On the heels of a defeat like the one suffered by Alabama it is easy to forget the Crimson Tide has a lot of young talent as well. You can feel bad about the game and its results if you are a fan, but you should not feel bad about much else. Alabama will remain a top contender. Saban will see to that, as he has done almost since the day he arrived in Tuscaloosa. This one leaves a bruise, but the bruise will go away. When that happens, Alabama will still be Alabama, and that means a national contender with plenty of talent, the best head coach in the country and a recruiting strength that is the envy of most every other program in the country.
How Alabama responds to Monday night’s loss will be interesting to watch, and it is a dead solid certainty Saban will use that loss to push his team during the offseason program, spring drills, summer workouts and fall practice. Every day he will remind his players of the feelings that experienced Monday night and he will challenge them to make a return to the playoffs and to the title game. Certainly, the talent to achieve that aim is in place.
In my preseason Top 25 I picked Alabama No. 1 and Clemson No. 2. Of course, so did most everyone else, so that’s no reason to go patting myself on the back. Turns out it was the other way around but the message here is that it was plain to see these were the top two teams in the country, even before the merry-go-round that is a college football season got started. And guess what? They’ll probably be No. 1 and No. 2 to start the 2019 season too. We’ll see if that proves to be right again.
As for the CFP, well, it worked. It placed the best two teams in the title game, which is its purpose. There is no reason to expand the number of teams allowed in; four works just fine. No matter how many are allowed in there will be someone protesting about being left out. The idea is to evaluate the teams and set the stage for the top two teams to play each other at season’s end. That happened, it just didn’t end as a lot of people predicted. But the better team, at least Monday night — certainly the team with the best gameplan for the matchup — took the trophy home.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at