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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football
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If Alabama has become used to being the penciled-in No. 1 team in the country in preseason rankings, the Tide may be in for a rude awakening ahead of 2019.

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That is because the team that handed them a 28-point loss in the national championship game, Clemson, is a unanimous preseason No. 1 team according to ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports, the NCAA and, now, ESPN SEC Network radio personality Paul Finebaum.

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“I think anyone realistic has to say that Nick Saban should be regarded as the No. 1 coach in the country with six national championships. However, I do think debate is pretty healthy about which program is the best right now,” Finebaum said. “You guys know my resume and where I’ve lived, but I don’t think there’s really a tremendous amount of debate that Clemson, right now, has the best program in America.

“It has passed Alabama in terms of appeal, showroom value and upward mobility. A lot of that is because of Saban’s age and a lot of that is because Clemson is a lot more fun to go play at than the University of Alabama.”

However, if people think the head coach of the Crimson Tide is letting any of the preseason talk get to him, they are wrong.

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“I think every year is a new year,” Saban said. “I think we learned a lot from last year and how the season ended, and I think the players have responded really well to it. Clemson has a great program, a good coach and a bunch of good players.I think we have a good program and lots of good players. I think that the key to the drill is trying to develop those players so they can play at a high level and be able to sustain it throughout the season.

"We had a tough road to hoe to get the championship game, and we just didn’t finish like we wanted to. I think there’s a lot of good things that we can learn from that."

Saban's sole focus this season is getting back to the "Alabama factor" that was apparently the reason for his team's 44-16 blowout defeat last season by a "pretty good team."

"The players go out and take responsibility and ownership for doing their job at a high level and a high standard, and everybody puts the team first," Saban said. "That’s the kind of program that we’ve always had. That’s the kind of teams that we’ve always had, and that’s what we try to get the players to buy into and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

“Last year, at the end of the year, I felt like maybe we lost our humility a little bit and didn’t really prepare in practice like we needed to, developed some bad habits and eventually got exposed by a pretty good team.”

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.

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