Alabama-Clemson III is on the horizon.
That inevitability is starting to feel more real after the Tigers’ dominant road win over Louisville on Saturday night. That gave the defending national champions a second standout victory just three weeks into the 2017 season and positioned them as one of the premier teams in the country yet again despite key personnel losses from 2016.
In his first road start since replacing two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback, Kelly Bryant outplayed last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson, and showed he is quite capable of keeping this offense proficient and efficient. Bryant, just scratching the surface of how good he can be in the offense co-run by Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, didn’t even play a crisp game, yet often made things look easy against Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals.
But it was the defense that once again told the tale in a big spot on the national stage.
Once again, coordinator Brent Venables – who may have surpassed Tom Herman and Lincoln Riley as the most important assistant hire in the last decade – had a defensive game plan that thwarted Louisville’s prolific attack. Most of Jackson’s production came when the game was out of hand. Once again, a quarterback looked flustered and dejected against the Tigers, just as Jarrett Stidham and J.T. Barrett did for Auburn and Ohio State, respectively, in recent poor performances against a Venables-coordinated defense.
It’s becoming apparent with each standout victory that Clemson has evolved into the ACC’s version of Alabama.
Swinney, the former Alabama walk-on receiver and assistant, certainly has a long way to go to ascend into Nick Saban territory. After all, the Crimson Tide coach has five national championships and was a second away from claiming his sixth before Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow to break the hearts of Alabama fans in January. But Swinney has been able to put together a cohesive staff and develop a program that simply reloads and wins year after year — exactly what Saban has been doing in Tuscaloosa. Doubt Alabama and Clemson each season at your own risk because it’s more likely than not that both schools are going to be in the national title mix. Not many other programs can make such a claim. Swinney has developed a unique culture, one that is filled with high-star recruits but one that isn’t for everyone, either. But no matter who is brought in to buy in, winning seems to follow.
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