Clemson, SC – Clemson won their second national title in three years in such a manner that the Tigers are now the premier program in college football – dethroning the reigning dynasty in a historic 44-16 blowout. Taking in the magnitude of any major sports moment takes time to soak in and reflect, especially a definitive changing of the guard that we witnessed last night. Here are some assorted reflections that may not flow ‘neatly’ in a game article.
- Clemson can’t pull the underdog card (ROY bus) anymore.
When Coach Swinney explained the ROY bus in an analogy from his time at Alabama, it made sense. While he probably knew and most people knew that Clemson was not in the ROY bus, it’s a true reflection on how far the program has come, as well as a tool to keep his players from losing sight of the goal. Historically, Clemson is on the ROY bus – a smaller public school nestled in the woods of upcountry South Carolina. In football, in the 21stcentury? The Tigers are “the bus”, and everybody else is on the ROY bus. It will be interesting to see if Swinney can use an underdog card at some point in the future, and if so how he uses it. Just chalk it up to a motivational tactic, because for the foreseeable future Clemson is on top.
- Don’t take this for granted.
Clemson is the elite program of college football, the program is built for sustained success, and most importantly a culture of stability and family envelopes the program – so what’s to say this doesn’t happen again? Make no mistake – Clemson probably has multiple championships in its future, and future generations will look back at this team (as well as 2010s Alabama) as a great dynasty in the vein of 1990s Nebraska and other examples. But seemingly powerhouse dynasties can end abruptly. 2005 USC and Texas were similarly positioned as the two contenders in college football – and they played in possibly the best football game of all time (2006 Rose Bowl). The two programs never reached that level again, and history is replete with such examples. Scout the team and players, not the logo or program. People assumed that Alabama would win because of their past success, but nothing is earned.
- Three quarterbacks were the reason Clemson won a game this year.
Trevor Lawrence is the quarterback of the Tigers for good reason – more on that later. However, Clemson wouldn’t have won a championship with Trevor Lawrence alone. Kelly Bryant ignited the offense to a victory in hostile conditions at Texas A&M before being replaced as the starter and transferring. While some of his comments upon leaving were misguided, his performance in the Texas A&M game was instrumental in the 2018 season – and he is still a good quarterback (not NFL caliber though). When Kelly Bryant transferred, the football team experienced its first instance of turmoil in the season. Trevor Lawrence was injured and knocked out of the game against Syracuse, and Chase Brice led the Tigers to victory. The Tigers relied on the defense and running game, but he made a crucial fourth down throw that saved the Tigers season under pressure and was prepared to win the game. A side note: balance isn’t about a run to pass ratio or anything like that – its about being able to win with what the defense gives you and how you need to win at the moment. The Tigers won with the run in the Syracuse game and the pass in the national championship. Coach Swinney kept saying “Don’t forget about Chase Brice” – and it wasn’t just coach speak. The four-star recruit won the Georgia 7A state championship at Grayson HS while drawing comparisons to Brett Favre as an excellent quarterback in his own right.
- Trevor Lawrence is that incredible.
Football is a team game, but winning without a good quarterback is near impossible. Having a generational quarterback is a true privilege that takes football teams to new heights. The following statement should not be translated as a ‘shot’ at Deshaun Watson. He is an incredible quarterback (one of the world’s best at the moment), but his skill set is more replicable than Trevor Lawrence’s. People said that there would never be another player like Deshaun Watson, but the truth is there is likely another player for a long time like Trevor Lawrence. On one hand, examples of freshman stars whom fall back to earth run replete such as Christian Hackenberg. There are no guarantees, but Trevor doesn’t give off the vibe of a freshman who doesn’t continue to progress. He would be the number one overall pick this year if he was allowed to come out, and even if he didn’t progress. The list of players that come to mind when comparing Trevor Lawrence either in terms of skillset or overall greatness are slim – and they are All Pro type of players. It’s no wonder that four quarterbacks transferred out – and no knock on them. Zerrick Cooper is playing great at Jacksonville State, Hunter Johnson will play well at Northwestern, and Kelly Bryant will play well at Missouri. The job of media is to normally pump the brakes on the hype train, but there is no honest and rational way to do so.
- Continuity and Depth Matter
This is obvious on its face – but let’s use the 2018 Tigers as an example. Clemson has lost a handful of coaches throughout the past few years – Chad Morris for a college HC job, Dan Brooks to retirement, and Marion Hobby for an NFL position coaching job. Alabama has lost around twenty. While Alabama is a great program and has success with numerous coaches, continuity is valuable for building a program year after year, and players appreciate it as well. When Clemson develops depth early in the season and isn’t blowing teams away, championship season is when the benefits are reaped. Clemson was in the unique situation of having the best team in the ACC, and their backups probably being the second best team in the ACC (say, the fourth at worst). That is rare and will probably never happen again, but the lesson is the same. Playing numerous players keeps the team healthy and develops talent for future years. Speaking of depth, that is made possible in large part by players wanting to stay. Wilkins, Ferrell, and Bryant would not have been first round picks last year – but many players with second round grades or lower leave and its usually a mistake. They wanted to stay because they had unfinished business – and Ferrell might stay another year, who knows? Two lesser known examples are Trevion Thompson and Adam Choice. Both were on the bench behind younger players, but they chose to stay and played well when called upon. Trevion Thompson had several impressive catches this year (including last night), and Choice was an excellent closer-power back. Albert Huggins stayed, and he earned himself major cash with his two game run filling in for Dexter Lawrence. The list runs on, but the lesson is the same.