San Jose, Calif.—Dabo Swinney didn’t get a whole lot of sleep Monday night.
Winning your second national championship in three years—and beating Alabama convincingly (44-16) to do it—kind of makes a guy want to say up and celebrate for a while
But Swinney, who posted his eighth straight season of 10 wins or more at Clemson, remembered exactly what he told his friend Nick Saban when they met after the game.
“He was gracious as he always is,” said Swinney when he met with the media Tuesday. “All I could tell him was ‘see you next year,’ because they are not going anywhere.”
And that is instructive. After watching Alabama dominate the college football landscape for the past 10 years, it was tempting late last night to suggest that Monday night’s CFP national championship game at Levi’s Stadium represented the passing of the torch to college football’s next dynasty.
Swinney would have none of it.
“We are a long way from a dynasty,” said Swinney, who was elevated to the position when Tommy Bowden was fired 10 years ago. “But we are incredibly consistent. You can say that little brother has grown up a bit.”
Two recruiting stories provide a window into how Clemson has put itself into the unprecedented position of winning two of the last three national championships and saying good bye to a senior class that won a school- record 54 games:
**--Depending on who you ask, quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields was the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Both were from Georgia. Lawrence chose Clemson. Fields chose Georgia.
After the fourth game of Clemson’s season, Swinney announced that Lawrence would start the next game against Syracuse. He would replace junior Kelly Bryant, who led the Tigers to an ACC championship and the playoffs in 2017.
Bryant left immediately and eventually landed at Missouri, where he will play this fall as a graduate transfer.
Lawrence took the reins and Monday night, on college football’s biggest stage he completed 20 of 32 for 347 and three touchdowns. Could Bryant have given that kind of performance against Alabama? Doubtful.
Swinney made one of those big, tough decisions that paid off with the national championship.
“A lot of people thought we made the change with this game in mind,” Swinney said earlier in the week. “We just did it because Trevor gave us the best shot to win the next game. I’m serious about that.”
Okay coach, whatever you say. But the reality is that Clemson does not beat Alabama Monday night without Trevor Lawrence.
**--Then there is freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross from Phenix City, Ala. Ross surprised a lot of people by signing with Clemson and on Monday night he was a matchup nightmare for the Crimson Tide defense.
“We had a couple of matchups that concerned me going into the game,” Saban said afterwards, acknowledging that Ross was one of them.
Against Alabama he caught six passes for 153 yards. A couple of acrobatic catches had to be seen to be believed. In the past 10 years under Saban the Crimson Tide has rarely been lost for answers on defense. But Monday night Alabama simply could not cover Clemson’s receivers and could not get enough pressure on Lawrence to make him uncomfortable.
“We just couldn’t get off the field on third down,” said Saban. “But you have to give Clemson a lot of the credit for that. They are very good.”
So Clemson’s future looks very bright. Lawrence and Ross will be sophomores next season. Running back Travis Etienne will be back for his junior season. Yes, Clemson will lose a bunch of pros off the defensive line but “We’ve got some guys ya’ll have never heard of,” said Swinney.
He’ll hold his first meeting with the 2019 team on Friday.
“I can’t wait to get started and see if we can do this again,” said Swinney.
And Saban? At 67 he has proven that he is at his best when getting a team to bounce back and refocus after a disappointing end to a season. Immediately after the game Monday night he reminded his players that “one game does not define who you are.”
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa comes back for his junior season. Running back Damien Harris will be gone but there are plenty to take his place. Only 10 players on the Top 44 are seniors.
So those who complained about Alabama-Clemson part 4 this season had best prepare themselves now. Next January the CFP national championship game will be in New Orleans. And don’t be surprised if its Alabama-Clemson Part 5.