Roll aside, Alabama? Clemson, Swinney one win from becoming undisputed kings of college football
The power of Nick Saban’s commitment to excellence — to his famously unwavering “process” — has at least met a match in Dabo Swinney’s relentless optimism and immense personality.
Alabama and Clemson: You probably don’t need anyone to tell you they’re the top two programs in college football.
Sorry, it’s pronounced PRO-GRUMS. All Southern-like.
Everything about the college game — the sounds and sights, the coaching giants and media celebrities, even (and especially) the pervasiveness of religion — is Southern-ized to the max these days.
That goes, too, for the occasional interloper that makes it all the way to the national-title game. Last time the Crimson Tide won it all, in the capper to the 2017 season, they knocked off Georgia. On Monday in New Orleans, the defending champion Tigers will tangle with LSU.
Like it or not, college football is the South’s world. The rest of the country is just living in it.
Most of all, though, it’s Alabama’s and Clemson’s world. Or is it Clemson’s and Alabama’s?
No one looms larger in the sport than Tide coach Nick Saban, who in 2009 began a run of five titles in nine seasons. But has Tigers coach Dabo Swinney caught — or even surpassed — Saban in terms of performance and reputation? Against LSU, Clemson will seek its second consecutive title, a third in four years and its 30th victory in a row.
The power of Saban’s commitment to excellence — to his famously unwavering ‘‘process’’ — has at least met a match in Swinney’s relentless optimism and immense personality.
‘‘I think we’ve got a chance to be a better team next year, I really do,’’ Swinney said. ‘‘This is kind of the end of a great decade — and we would certainly love to end it up as national champs — but we’re excited about the roaring [2020s], too.’’
LSU has the No. 1 ranking and is a deserving favorite to win what essentially will be a home game at the Superdome. Coach Ed Orgeron’s squad appears to be even stronger than the Les Miles-coached team of 2007 or the Saban-coached team of 2003 that brought championship glory to Baton Rouge.
But if Clemson pulls off an upset — which would shock no one — it simply will be time to anoint these Tigers and their coach as the new kings of college football.
It’ll be Clemson No. 1 and Alabama No. 2. It’ll be Swinney No. 1 and Saban No. 2. All those ‘‘Roll Tide’’-ers out there will have to deal with it.
Swinney was asked last week about dynasties.
‘‘Personally, I think about coach [Bear] Bryant,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t help but think about coach Bryant; I grew up in Alabama. And then what coach Saban has done. I guess the definition is just doing something over and over and over, with an unbelievable success.’’
Clemson has a chance to be one of the great dynasties. Consider that 80 of the 120 players in the program this season are freshmen and sophomores.
Some have compared Alabama and Clemson in football to Duke and Kentucky in basketball, but it doesn’t really fit. After Kentucky cut down the nets in 2012, coach John Calipari aimed for an even higher level of dominance by recruiting some of the greatest classes in history. Rather than let that stand, though, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski began to out-recruit Calipari. No one would dispute Duke is a notch higher than Kentucky in the national pecking order. (One could argue for Villanova, too, which has won two of the last four titles.)
What Swinney and Clemson have accomplished has had more staying power.
Just imagine, though, how things potentially could tip back in Alabama’s favor. It might be because Swinney, who’s only 50, eventually replaces Saban in Tuscaloosa. And why would Swinney do a thing like that? Because Alabama is the alma mater of the former walk-on receiver, who won a title with the Tide as a player in 1992.
Wouldn’t it be something if Swinney, a native of Birmingham, were to switch shirts and caps and take his act back home? Talk about the chance to become a legend.
For now, he’s still orange to the core.
‘‘We’re going to do everything we can to [beat LSU] on the scoreboard,’’ Swinney said. ‘‘We know that matters. But, no matter what, we’re not defined by that. This has been unbelievable.’’