Since 2008, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been the premier team in college football as they’ve claimed four national championships while steamrolling over the competition in the process. After the Tide went 6-6 in their first year under head football coach Nick Saban in 2007, they’ve managed to go 112-13 since then while only producing one three-loss campaign. Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama which is not easy to do in this day with parity, but they are the team that college football fans love to hate.
And what has set Alabama apart from the other football programs is that they shine the best in the big games which included going 4-0 in national championship games heading into the 2016 college football season. The Tide won the national championship last year and after entering this past season ranked as the top team in the land, they were looking to become the first squad since the USC Trojans to go wire-to-wire in order to repeat as national champions.
Alabama was able to accept the challenge as they mowed down the competition in the Southeastern Conference and when the regular season was over, they were the only undefeated team in the nation. The Tide would easily defeat the Florida Gators 54-16 in the SEC Championship Game which sent them to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year. And after the Crimson Tide made short work of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl, it was back to the title game for them.
The team that had the indubious pleasure of watching Alabama claim the championship trophy last January were the Clemson Tigers. In nine years under head football coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has become a national power which has seen them win three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships and defeat national recognized teams such as the Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers. During the 2015 college football season Clemson was the feel good story as they were the underdog for the majority of their games. And even in defeat to Alabama, they held their own as they lost 45-40.
But whereas the close loss to Alabama might have broken the spirits of some teams, Clemson used it as fuel to their fire as led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson and senior linebacker Ben Boulware, they took all of the body blows that they could absorb during the regular season which included getting by the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference 19-13 on the road to start the campaign. And when Atlantic Coast Conference play began, Clemson was pushed to the limit by teams such as the Louisville Cardinals, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and Florida State Seminoles. Clemson did slip up once during the season as they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers 43-42 on November 12. But after the loss to Pittsburgh, Clemson would rebound to win their remaining games which included defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game which sent them back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year.
And just like the previous season, the Tigers would head to the College Football Playoff as heavy underdogs. Clemson would meet the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl who were looking to win their second national title in the last three years. But for the second time in the last four seasons, Clemson got the best of Ohio State in a bowl game. However this time was in dominating fashion as the Buckeyes were taken behind the woodshed 31-0 which paved the way for Clemson to have a rematch with the Tide after they easily dispatched of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl 24-7.
The scene was changing from last year’s battle between these two teams which took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. And having the game in Tampa provided more of a buzz for both of these schools which are located in the Southeast; especially for Clemson who had more fans in attendance for Monday night’s championship tilt.
As always there was plenty of anticipation and excitement leading up to the kickoff as one thing was for sure was that the Tigers would not be afraid of intimidated of Alabama when they met them. But when Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after a pair of pulverizing touchdown runs from sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough, it appeared to be a familiar tune as the Crimson Tide were ready beat the brakes off of another opponent.
But we forgot to measure the heart of Clemson as they clawed back into the game. And even after the Tigers were trailing 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, they had Alabama right where they wanted them.
Swinney never wavered from his offensive game plan which called for the Tigers to go uptempo. Clemson wasn’t making substitutions which meant that neither could Alabama as the top-ranked defense in the land was beginning to run out of gas.
Clemson ran 99 plays on offense as they possessed the football for nearly 35 minutes of game time. And when the fourth quarter rolled around, Watson channeled his inner Vince Young as he baffled the Alabama defense, while seeing his stock rise for the 2017 National Football League Draft in the process.
The Tide didn’t have an answer for Watson who led Clemson on three, fourth quarter touchdown drives, and when Scarbrough suffered a broken leg in the second half, he took the Alabama offense to the sideline with him as well.
With just six seconds left in regulation and Clemson traling 31-28 with the football at the Alabama two-yard line, Swinney had a choice as he could get conservative by going for the game-tying field goal, or throwing caution to the wind and becoming a legend in the Palmetto State. Swinney opted to win the game as a field goal would have killed all of Clemson’s momentum heading into overtime. And with just one second left, Watson found sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone to give the Tigers their first national championship since 1981. But as much as Clemson’s victory over Alabama will be celebrated throughout the State of South Carolina from now until the cows come home, their victory was huge for the overall landscape of college football.
The Tide have been the team over the last decade and although that they have suffered losses against other marquee programs such as Oklahoma and Ohio State, they’ve never lost in the national championship game; especially when they were presented with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Along with Saban’s time as the head football coach at LSU, he was 5-0 in title games before Monday night as he always knew how to push the right buttons. But Saban was done in by a head coach in Swinney that not only had seen his act, but also had the personnel in which he could slay the dragon.
College football may be seeking parity for its game, but in the three years of the College Football Playoff, Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have all made multiple trips to the field of four with each program claiming the trophy once, while the top seed entering the tournament has never claimed the title which is good for the game.
But as Alabama left Raymond James Stadium on Monday night watching purple and orange confetti rain down, they’ll once again be set for another title push as Saban continues to recruit and develop talent that will be playing in the National Football League in the very near future. However on Monday when Clemson won the title, they won it not only for themselves, but for all of those people who were told they weren’t good enough to accomplish a goal.