SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Clemson Tigers wrapped up their third national title in dominant fashion in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
While many in the media saw the game as a changing of the guard, with the Tigers overtaking the Crimson Tide as college football’s new dynasty, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney does not see it that way.
He believes that he has built a consistent program, but not a dynastic one.
“No, we're a long way from a dynasty; we're a great program,” Swinney said. “We're a great program, there's no doubt about that. We're incredibly consistent in every area of our program. I mean, and that's what I'm more proud of than anything, just the consistency. And one of the things we talked about this week, over the last decade, everything we've done once, we've done multiple times, and it's kind of been a progression.”
That progression took them to a place where they could beat a Nick Saban-coached team by 28 points, his worst loss since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2008. But the journey began for the Tigers back in 2009.
A group of players led by C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford took the Tigers to their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game, which they lost to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. But it was that group of Tigers who paved the way for the success Clemson has experienced in the last eight seasons.
“We won our first division in '09. Well, we've won seven now,” Swinney said. “At that point, we had not won a division; and then we come back in '11 and we won the league. We hadn't won the league since like 1991 (when there was no conference title game). Now we've won it five times. We won 10 games in '11. That was the first time since '90 or '91. Now it's been eight years (with 10 or more wins). We got to a BCS (bowl game) in '11 (Orange Bowl) and '13 (Orange Bowl). I told them they lit up the Empire State Building once (after the Tigers' title in 2017), and now they've done it again (purple and orange on Tuesday night).”
The only thing that the Tigers had not accomplished in the decade was to win a national title — which was remedied on Jan. 9, 2017 at the end of the 2016 season when Deshaun Watson found Hunter Renfrow in the end zone for a one-yard touchdown that won the Tigers their first national championship in 35 years.
Now, after winning their second national title in the last three seasons and owning a 2-1 record over the Crimson Tide in national title games, Swinney still believes his alma mater, Alabama, is in a league of its own.
“So the only thing we hadn't done again was win it all. It's just been kind of a progression for us,” Swinney said. “We’ve just kind of kept our head down over the last decade and gone about our business. We're certainly – I think we're as good a program as there is out there, but we're a long way from a dynasty.
“I think from a dynasty standpoint, Alabama is kind of in a category of their own. I mean Coach Saban may have won five national championships in 10 years, or however long he's been there. It's incredible the run that they've had. But we're just thankful that we got the opportunity to experience this.”
Even with Swinney remaining adamant that it is still Alabama and everybody else, he believes that “little old Clemson” will see the Crimson Tide sooner rather than later — possibly in next year’s national title game.
“It's a lot of fun to compete against the University of Alabama,” Swinney said. “Probably a little bit more now. Little brother has kind of grown up a little bit, and we're a little bit more competitive. Now we've kind of won the rubber match, if you will, in the Nattys.
"It's 2-2 overall, and I told Coach Saban last night, he was very gracious after the game, and I just told him, I said, ‘see you next year,’ because I don't think they're going to go anywhere. They'll be back.”