SANTA CLARA, Ca.—College football got what it needed Monday night at Levi’s Stadium: a stiff boot put directly and firmly to the defending champion’s backside.
Come on, most of America, wasn’t that a kick in the pants?
The world also didn’t end by hosting the title game in Silicon Valley and more than 70,000 people showed up.
While Clemson’s 44-16 drubbing of Alabama may have stopped one dynasty as it kicked off another, the result was an overall net-positive for the anti-SEC dynasty deniers.
It was an up-with-people moment for a sport begging somebody to stand up to Alabama and the Southeastern Conference (which finished 6-6 in post-season play).
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney had, many times this season, sheepishly described the state of college football as Alabama and a bunch of ROYs (Rest of Y’alls).
Dabo was, obviously, toying with us.
"This team was special from Day One," Swinney said.
Clemson, with its freshman star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, supplants (if only temporarily) Alabama and its star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench to win last year’s title game.
Clemson, not Alabama, becomes next year’s preseason No.1 and the team to beat in 2019.
Alabama isn't finished but it is diminished. And this is not a bad thing; it's a healthy cleansing for a sport tilting too far toward one town and one conference.
“I don’t think one game, necessarily, defines who you are,” Saban said after the loss.
Saban did not relinquish, in one night, his mantle as college football’s greatest coach. But he does now face some serious questions after the worst loss of his Alabama career.
“We had some issues,” he said of Monday’s debacle.
Saban, for one night, lost his magic touch. He did not adjust at halftime the way he did last year. He played checkers instead of chess and this alone should give other coaches hope.
In the 2015 title game against Clemson, Saban gambled and won with an onside kick that was successful because it was so out of his character.
Monday night, he presided over a fake field goal attempt that everyone saw coming.
“It didn’t work, so it was a bad call,” Saban said.
It's nice to know Saban is not perfect.
Last year, down to Georgia at the half, he rolled up his big-boy pants and replaced Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa.
It paid off huge with an overtime victory.
Monday night, down at the half, Saban stuck with Tagovailoa (how could he not?) and fell further into a hole from which there was no escape.
“We couldn’t get off the field,” he said.
Saban now has to figure out where he goes next.
Years ago, he railed against the “up tempo” rage that was taking over college football. He said it was dangerous to the sport but eventually joined forces with the coalition.
But at what cost?
This year’s offense, everyone said, was his best. Yet, his defense is clearly suffering from the weight.
The hardest job in America is defensive coordinator for an offense that scores too fast.
Saban’s vaunted reputation as a defensive genius has been wounded. The Crimson Tide has allowed 44, 35 and 28 points in its last three games. Opposing quarterbacks are routinely throwing for 300 yards.
Lawrence diced Saban defense for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Last week, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray passed for 300 yards and ran for 100.
These things are not supposed to happen to Nick Saban defenses.
Does he want to keep playing this exciting brand of offense, with a truly dynamic quarterback?
Or, does he pull in the reigns a bit next year and try to win more games by the score of 24-7.
Or is it too late to change? Alabama scored 50 or more points seven times this season. Except for Monday night, the offense has been thrill-a-minute.
But here’s the thing: Clemson is now the new world order and the Tigers aren’t slowing down.
Trevor Lawrence is a true freshman about to become a true sophomore.
Saban, shockingly, got its butt kicked and had to say afterward, “you have to learn how to lose.”
Oh happy day.
But fear Clemson, for what these Tigers might become.
"They're going to dominate life," Swinney said.