The unprecedented championship rivalry between Clemson and Alabama

CUTrevor 2019-07-24 12:45:55

The uncanny football ties between Clemson and Alabama are numerous and have been well documented. The Tigers' three winningest coaches--Howard, Ford and Swinney--all played at Alabama. So did Charlie Pell and Hootie Ingram, who made the Tiger Paw and Clemson synonymous. What is overlooked by most is that the seeds of this epic four-year playoff war between the Tigers and Tide were planted back in the 2008 opener, when Nick Saban was entering his second year at Alabama and coming off a 7-6 season. Tommy Bowden and the Tigers were a top-10 preseason team, and even the most ardent Alabama fans expected to lose that game in Atlanta. However, freshman Julio Jones and the Tide rolled to a 23-3 lead at halftime and won 34-10. That was one of several disappointing losses in Bowden's tenure, and it was one of the last straws that sealed his fate. Less than two months after watching his team get run off the field by his alma mater, WR Coach Dabo Swinney would take over the Clemson program, and the rest is history. 

Nearly 11 years later, it appears inevitable that we are headed for Clemson vs. Alabama Round V, and it is already a rivalry unlike any the sport has ever seen. There have been 31 true championship games or bowl games in which the winner would be crowned national champion, and in all those games, there has been only one rematch: Clemson vs. Alabama. And they have not met twice but thrice in championship games, with a CFP Semifinal thrown in to make the rivalry even stronger.

One of the two schools has occupied the No.1 spot in the AP Poll for 54 straight weeks, which is the longest stretch for any 2 programs in the history of the poll. The next-closest streak is 48 weeks, by USC and Oklahoma from 2003 to 2005. However, the No.1 spot only changed hands once between those two schools compared to six times between Clemson and Alabama. Fittingly, the two schools also sit atop the recruiting rankings for the 2020 class, with the Tigers currently ranked No.1.

Dabo will also join elite company when the Tigers are ranked No.1 in the AP Poll for a fifth straight season. He will join Saban and Hall of Fame coaches Frank Leahy (Notre Dame), Darrell Royal (Texas) and Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma) as the only coaches to accomplish that feat. Saban has done it 11 times, Leahy 6, Royal and Wilkinson 5. Incidentally, Dabo and Wilkinson are the only two men to have won a national title as both a player and head coach. Dabo is also going for his 9th straight 10-win season. Amazingly, the most consecutive 10-win seasons by any Big Ten school is 7, currently held by Ohio State. So Dabo has won 10 or more games for more consecutive seasons than both Ohio State and Michigan. USC has also never won 10 games for more than 7 straight years. Oklahoma and Nebraska have not done so more than 5 straight, and the most Notre Dame has pulled it off is 3 straight years. Of course, 30 years ago, teams didn't play 13 or 14 games in a season, so it was tougher to win 10 games than it is now, but even if you added a couple games to their schedules, you would see very few programs win double-digit games for as long as Clemson has. Miami did it 8 straight years, so the Tigers have a chance to pass the Canes this season. FSU did it 14 straight, but don't be surprised if Dabo eventually catches Bobby Bowden.

The national media have finally accepted Dabo as the nation's best coach behind Nick Saban, but it's beyond their comprehension that Dabo could one day supplant Saban as the greatest coach of all time. Sure, Saban is still 4 national titles ahead of Dabo, but they seem to be oblivious to the fact that Dabo is 18 years younger than Saban. Dabo has won two of the last three national titles, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if he wins 4-5 more national titles to catch Saban by the time he is done. In Saban's first 11 seasons as a Power Five head coach at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, he was 84-46-1. By comparison, Dabo is 116-30 in his first 11 seasons. Dabo is 2-1 against Saban in National Championship Games, but they have split their 4 meetings in the College Football Playoff. We could see the ultimate rubber match next January in New Orleans, but with the way these two programs have separated from the rest of college football, there could be many more installments of this historic and unprecedented rivalry to come!

Hill Billy 2019-08-01 10:28:11

Incredible! Great story, Trevor. What a historic time we're living in. They'll be talking about this for the next 100 years!

Hill Billy 2019-08-02 12:30:14

It would be cool to beat someone else like uga for a national title, but beating bama for the 3rd time in 4 title games would also be awesome, and people would start asking if Dabo is better than saban.. Maybe we’ll beat uga in the semi and then bama in the championship!