As the confetti fell Monday night in the college football outpost of Santa Clara, California, we finally had our answer as to whether the 2018 Alabama Crimson Tide is the greatest team in college football history.
Alabama is not the greatest team of all time. Alabama is not the best team of 2018. Alabama may not even be atop the sport during this era.
Is it possible to have simultaneous dynasties? If so, that’s what we have now in college football. Certainly nobody stands above Clemson anymore.
Over the last four seasons, Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to 55 wins and four losses. In successive seasons the Tigers have won 14, 14, 12 and 15 games. They have won two national championships, four Atlantic Coast Conference championships and posted a 5-2 record in the playoffs. That postseason mark includes a 5-0 slate against everybody not named Alabama while going 2-2 against the Tide.
Alabama has an identical 55 wins and four losses over that span. They have won two national championships and three Southeastern Conference titles. The Tide has won 14, 14, 13 and 14 games. In the playoffs, the Tide is 6-2, including 4-0 against everybody not named Clemson while going 2-2 against the Tigers.
Examine either of the two paragraphs above without the context of the other and you’d be convinced we were witnessing a single team dominating the sport. But both Clemson and Alabama now share the highest level of the sport.
The difference between Alabama and Clemson during their combined run over the rest of college football is this: Alabama never broke the will of Clemson. Alabama never made Clemson concede that they couldn’t compete with the other heavyweight across the ring. Clemson did exactly that Monday night. The Tigers also were clearly better coached on offense, defense and special teams.
Alabama moved the ball effectively all night, but the Tigers had all the answers with third-down conversions on offense, red-zone stops on defense and a special teams performance that was superior to the shaky effort by the Tide.
The Tigers steamrolled Notre Dame 30-3 in the semifinals, leading many fans and pundits to wonder if the Irish belonged in the playoffs. They followed up that 27-point win with a 28-point thumping of the Tide in the championship game.
“We’re 15-0,” said superstar defensive lineman Christian Wilkins. “And we beat the best team ever.”
If that distinction belongs to any current team it’s Clemson.
The best thing for fans of both of these teams is that they aren’t going anywhere as they elevate each other.
Alabama against Clemson has been the most anticipated game of the college football season for four years running, including last year when the Alabama-Georgia game turned out to be the better matchup.
Either Alabama or Clemson has been No. 1 in the last 54 college football polls.
Before this current run, no two teams had ever faced off four straight times in the postseason. The previous record was three, held by USC and Ohio State, who played in the Rose Bowl from 1972-74.
Here’s the thing that the rest of college football doesn’t want to hear: Round 5 is probably going to happen next season. Yes, on any given day, Georgia or Ohio State — or maybe LSU or Oklahoma — will be able to challenge or even beat the Tide or the Tigers. But those days are going to be the exception for the foreseeable future.
Think about this reality that has to have the rest of college football worried. Tua Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Waddle in 2018 was just the opening act. All five of those players will be back for Alabama, in addition to the stout players on the line and the playmakers Nick Saban has always produced on defense.
The same can be said for Trevor Lawrence to Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers and all the talent around them.
You think Monday night was the last time we’re going to see Tagovailoa and Lawrence battling? I mean before they both move on to the NFL. Of course you don’t think that. Nobody does.
College football fans can either embrace this all-time great matchup or lament that nobody else has been able to keep up with the dynasties that Nick Saban and now Dabo Swinney have established.
Swinney offered the first salvo of 2019 before he even left the field Monday night.
“On Friday we’re going to have another team meeting,” Swinney said, “and we’re going to get locked in on next year — a new journey.”
Alabama will be doing the same. Does the rest of college football have a chance to prevent Round 5 a year from now in the national championship game?
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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