The Alabama Crimson Tide played the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row earlier this January. You bored yet? Nope. This is the GREATEST rivalry of all time in college football. In the first edition of this four year streak in 2016, Alabama won an all time classic 45-40. In the second edition, Clemson won arguably the best college football game ever by a margin of 35-31. Then, last year, Alabama beat them handily in the semi-final before winning the championship. Fast forward to this year: 2019. Clemson and Alabama both won convincingly in their semi-final clashes before setting up Alabama Clemson IV. With a win, Clemson would equal Alabama with two national titles in the past four years and cement their legacy as a dynasty, while Alabama could claim complete and sole dominance in college football with a victory. They both entered with undefeated records and a chance to become the first 15-0 team since the 1800’s.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California would play host. On only the third play of the game, Clemson picked off star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa and returned it for a touchdown. This would prove to be the theme of the game: an Alabama mistake followed by Clemson’s opportunistic perfection. However, Alabama responded impressively and scored on an explosive 62 yard touchdown reception moments later. Just a few minutes into the second quarter, the two elite squads had already combined for 37 points. However, another Tagovailoa interception allowed Clemson to capitalize again and the tigers from South Carolina formed a 31-16 lead going into the half. The second half saw much of the same. Clemson’s defensive execution combined with Alabama’s red zone inefficiency and blown coverages on third down defense allowed Clemson to outscore their counterparts in red 13-0 in the second half. All in all, Clemson cruised to a 44-16 win in a lopsided upset.
So what does this mean for Clemson and Alabama? Well, to put it simply, Clemson is no longer the 1A to Alabama’s 1. Perhaps, now, more than ever, it would be more appropriate to call Alabama the 1A to Clemson’s 1. The point is, the Crimson Tide is no longer the singular face of college football. We will also see ripple effects in recruiting, which has a direct correlation to on field success. While Alabama has all but secured the number one recruiting class for 2019, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson staff will now be able to pluck more of the best recruits in the country from the grasp of Nick Saban and Alabama in future years. Furthermore, for the second straight year, Saban will need to overhaul his coaching staff. Not only did offensive coordinator Mike Locksley leave to become the head coach at Maryland, as expected, but offensive line coach, Brent Key, left for the same position at Georgia Tech. Then, co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Josh Gattis also left to become the offensive coordinator at Michigan. Moreover, Dan Enos, the current quarterbacks coach and Locksley’s probable replacement, chose to become the offensive coordinator at Miami. It was not as if all these coaches departed for major upgrades like head coaching jobs. Each left Tuscaloosa for–at best–a slightly more influential role. Wow, as I was writing this, the defensive coordinator announced he was departing, too. Well, there you go. When was the last time we heard of coaching turmoil at Clemson? We haven’t. They all stay because Clemson football is a family, it’s a way of life, it’s fun. The Nick Saban Alabama teams have become a business with both the players and coaches treating it as a job. No wonder we are witnessing a potential changing of the guard.
Clemson demolished what was seen as potentially the best college football team ever by a scoreline of 44-16. Alabama, a team that had won every regular season game by at least 20 points, got bulldozed by 28 points themselves.
As Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says, “How ‘bout them tigers?”
And how about a fifth chapter to this story?
See you in the 2020 College Football Playoff.