As we all know, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers just romped over Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, defeating the favored Tide by a score of 44-16. With the victory, Clemson has now tied the score at 2-2 versus Alabama in the last four seasons and have clearly established themselves as a modern college football dynasty.
However, now the question must be asked: Where does this Tigers team rank amongst the all-time best in the history of the sport? After all, they are the first team to go 15-0 since the Penn Quakers in 1897, a time in which the forward pass had yet to be implemented into the game.
Ignoring the accolades and final results, this Clemson squad clearly stacks up very well to any team in the history of college football in terms of talent, and that is due to the foundation in which it was built upon. During the 2017 season, Clemson followed up their 2016 national championship run with a 12-1 regular season record and earned the #1 overall seed in that year’s College Football Playoff. Led by Kelly Bryant that season, the Tigers clearly showed the world that there was more to this team than simply the electrifying play of Deshaun Watson, who had departed for the NFL that offseason. Unfortunately, Clemson would go on to be pummeled in their annual playoff matchup against Alabama by a score of 24-6.
This disappointing result lit a fire under Clemson, as an overwhelming number of players who were eligible for the draft and were likely to have been first- or second-round picks decided to return to Clemson in order to pursue another championship. This shocking turn of events was shown by the fact that a team as talented as the Tigers only had three players get selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, the highest of which was a third-round selection and the other two being sixth-round selections. Ten of Clemson’s 13 All-ACC selections returned to the team for the 2018 season and that was supplemented with the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the nation, giving the Tigers a strong chance to make a run at a another title.
Despite this, Clemson came into the 2018 season ranked as the number-two team in the nation, behind a defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide team that many pundits were claiming to be one of the best teams of all time. Heisman front-runner Tua Tagovailoa would carry the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record, and the Tide and the Tigers would remain 1-2 for the entire 2018 campaign. Both programs dominated on a relatively equal level; however, many analysts questioned Clemson’s strength of schedule, as the ACC was exceptionally weak compared to years past. Many also questioned whether Trevor Lawrence, a true freshman quarterback who forced the aforementioned Bryant to leave the program, could perform on the big stage.
Regardless, the Tigers still improved from the previous season. Clemson would go onto have an astonishing 18 All-ACC selections in 2018 and also have six players take home an individual award. Although Clemson would start the season off relatively slow due to the quarterback controversy surrounding Lawrence and Bryant, the Tigers would begin to play the best football in the country once Trevor Lawrence was handed the reigns full time, winning their last ten games by an average of 38.1 points.
As stated earlier, Clemson’s dominance was falsely attributed to the weakness of the ACC, as the Tigers were able to continue their dominance in the College Football Playoff. In a matchup against 12-0 Notre Dame, a team that was considered to have played arguably the toughest schedule in the country, Clemson throttled them 30-3, as if they were a lower tier ACC school. The Tigers were then set for their seemingly annual meeting with Alabama in the CFP Final. The Crimson Tide came into the game with a 14-0 record and likely would have been considered by many to be the greatest team of all time had they been able to get a victory. However, the Tigers had other plans and now it’s their turn in the limelight as they proved themselves to be the most dominant team in the history of college football, cruising to their third championship in school history by a score of 44-16.