Where does Clemson-Alabama rank among all BCS/CFP title games?
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TAMPA, Fla. — We’re on a real run of riveting sports championships, aren’t we? Villanova’s on a last-second shot at the Final Four. Cleveland’s comeback to beat Golden State in the NBA Finals. There was another one … what was it again?
Oh, yes, the Cubs. And now, a pretty worthy addition: Clemson’s last-ditch drive Monday night to topple mighty Alabama for the national title.
Five takeaways before we bolt the door on the 2016 season:
1. Some are wondering aloud if Clemson’s 35-31 victory — sealed with a touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with one second left to play — was the best finale since college football went to a championship-game format in the 1998 season.
Short answer: No. Texas’ 41-38 upset of USC in a battle of unbeatens 11 years ago was four quarters of magic, and the Vince Young-led drive to end it was an unforgettable one-man show. But Clemson-Alabama is right there with the next-best title game, Ohio State’s overtime upset of Miami to cap the 2002 season.
2. Most seasons, the SEC is generally considered the top conference in the land. In 2016, the Big Ten made a strong claim (from September through November, anyway) for No. 1 consideration. In the end, though, Clemson and the ACC made a massive statement with an overall postseason mark of 9-3. The SEC was 6-7, and the Big Ten 3-7.
“I think all you media folks need to change your stories,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday before hitting the road. “I’ve been in this league a long time, and this league has never gotten the respect that it deserves.”
3. With all the talk of former walk-on Renfrow’s two-touchdown game — and his five touchdowns in four career playoff games — what went largely overlooked was arguably the most important play of his career. Renfrow was the player who raced into the backfield and tackled Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson as he was barreling toward the end zone with an apparent scoop-and-score in the third quarter. If Anderson had gone in, the Tide would’ve led by two touchdowns. It was a game-saving play.
4. Swinney has won postseason games over Urban Meyer (twice), Bob Stoops (twice), Les Miles and now Saban — all in the last five years. On New Year’s Eve against Ohio State, he handed Meyer the worst defeat (31-0) of his career. In dealing Saban his first loss in a national title game, Swinney stared down a coach whose Crimson Tide teams had played 49 games as No. 1 and gone 44-5.
We have to start talking about where Swinney ranks in the pecking order of current coaches. Saban still owns the top spot. I’d put Meyer next because he has raised the bar in a big way at four different schools (and won titles at two of them). After that? Give me Dabo … or maybe Washington’s Chris Petersen … or maybe Stoops. Man, it’s tough to call.
5. Swinney was born and raised in Alabama. He was a walk-on wide receiver at Alabama. He was an assistant coach there for most of a decade. You see where I’m going with this?
No one would be a better successor to Saban, whenever the time comes that Saban chooses to move on. The Nicktator says he plans to be around a good bit longer, but count me among those who suspect there’s a desire gnawing at the man to give the NFL another shot. Doesn’t mean he’ll give in to that desire, but what a story it’ll be if he does.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.