There were two things that really stood out in the 2017 National Championship Game last night in Tampa. First, Alabama may have had the most talented college football team in the country, but Clemson had the best team. The Tigers also had the best player. Deshaun Watson proved last year's championship game performance was no fluke as he practically equaled the numbers he put up against the Crimson Tide in last year's 45-40 Alabama win.
Clemson ran 99 plays in last night's 35-31 victory. Ninety-nine times the Tigers snapped the ball to Deshaun Watson, and those ninety-nine snaps eventually wore down the heralded Alabama defense. Clemson scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, including the final touchdown with just a second remaining against a tired, frustrated 'Bama defense. Watson connected on a two-yard TD pass to Hunter Renfrow for the game winner, sending the Tigers to their first national title since 1981.
Before the game began, Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney told his team, "We're gonna win this game. I don't know how but we're going to win. We're going to win because we love each other."
For the better part of the last two seasons, Swinney has been one of the best at post-game quotes, but this one really hit home. We all know his story; rising out of poverty to attend the University of Alabama, walking on to the team and eventually earning a scholarship and winning the 1992 national championship under Gene Stallings. He became an assistant coach in Tuscaloosa on Coach Mike Dubose's staff, but got out of coaching when Dubose was fired, He stayed out of football until Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden offered him a job and, when Bowden was let go, Swinney was named the team's interim coach. That interim tag was lifted as he became the Tigers head coach nine years ago.
Dabo Swinney got his first college head coaching position without ever serving as an offensive or defensive coordinator, which is a really rare occurrence. He surrounded himself with perhaps the best coaching staff in college football, and Clemson pays them very well. They really earned their money with the win over Alabama.
The Clemson win also kept Alabama Coach Nick Saban from tying legendary 'Bama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most national titles with six. Saban won the 2003 title at LSU and has won four at Alabama in his nine years as head coach. Alabama and Clemson are both 28-2 over the last two seasons and, with the way these two teams recruit, another Alabama-Clemson match up in the near future wouldn't be out of the question.
So, when Nick Saban decides he's had enough and retires it appears that Dabo Swinney is the heir apparent in Tuscaloosa. Not that anything is set in stone, but Alabama supporters have already hinted that Swinney is who they want. When the time comes to make that decision, Swinney will have a really tough time deciding. He could return to his alma mater and his home. Or he could stay at the place that gave him his first head coaching opportunity......a place that he obviously loves very much. Since love is how Clemson rolls, I wouldn't be surprised if Dabo stays right where he is.
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Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for 30 years. He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century. In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have five grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, Mattingly, DellaMae, and CoraLee.