|Saturday, January 16, 2016 8:01 AM- -|
What do you get when you have a stable coaching staff, outstanding recruiting, a rabid fan base and facilities that rival any others in the country and have a team that is on the front end of a wave of momentum that should last for a while?
Staying power. Four days have passed since Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, and it’s amazing to see how the perception of Clemson has changed since a loss. Well, amazing to some, but to those of us who had to spend time listening to the national media in the days leading up to the game, it’s not so surprising. We rode the media shuttle to the game last Monday – preferring to ride instead of battling the traffic prior to and after the game – and it was interesting to listen to the “national narrative” about the game and the two teams involved.
Four days have passed since Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, and it’s amazing to see how the perception of Clemson has changed since a loss. Well, amazing to some, but to those of us who had to spend time listening to the national media in the days leading up to the game, it’s not so surprising.
We rode the media shuttle to the game last Monday – preferring to ride instead of battling the traffic prior to and after the game – and it was interesting to listen to the “national narrative” about the game and the two teams involved.
The general consensus about the two teams sounded like this:
Alabama – Best coach in the country. More physical than any other team in the country. Faster than any other team in the country. The best defense in the country. The best running back and maybe even player in the country in Derrick Henry. They have staying power because of the coaching staff and the facilities and the recruiting.
Clemson – From the ACC, so not used to playing in big games (I drew stares when I laughed out loud at that one and recounted wins over LSU and Ohio St. and Notre Dame and …well you get it). A funny coach who likes to talk. A decent quarterback. Incapable of hanging with Alabama on either line of scrimmage. The group we rode with all agreed – if Alabama turned it over several times and Clemson had a little luck and some help from the officials, the Crimson Tide would only win by two touchdowns. If none of that happened, the Tide might win by five or more scores.
That all changed, and the talk on the bus ride back to the media hotel centered on Clemson OWNING the line of scrimmage on both sides, special players all over the field and a dynamic quarterback that just might be the best player in the country.
I could have told them that.
The truth is this, however – Clemson might not make the playoff or the national title game next season. It’s hard to have that special kind of season and run the table and get the breaks to go your way. Even when you’re as good as Alabama has been, those trips haven’t been automatic (even though it might seem like it). But these Tigers aren’t going anywhere. Not anytime soon.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has mentioned to us more than once that he wants Clemson to be the kind of team that can consistently be among the Top 15 teams in the nation. This program – as it stands – should be among the Top 10 if not the Top 5 for the foreseeable future.
The coaches are taken care of financially. Unlike former offensive coordinator Chad Morris – whose main goal was to get back to Texas – defensive coordinator Brent Venables is content to coach the defense and leave the stress to Swinney. He isn’t interviewing around the country and lobbying for jobs, and that kind of loyalty means something to the recruits who want to play for him. Four of the offensive coaches – Jeff Scott, Tony Elliott, Brandon Streeter and Danny Pearman – are Clemson graduates and happy coaching at home.
The facilities are already top-notch but the new football operations center, which is already under construction – is a game-changer from a facilities standpoint in the southeast. That facility will be completed just in time for National Signing Day in 2017 and a class that is already shaping up nicely.
Did we mention recruiting? The 2015 team was young, and this year’s recruiting class is already strong on the lines of scrimmage while adding a premier playmaker in Tavien Feaster. A Clemson program that used to celebrate a 4-star commitment and doing cartwheels over a 5-star is now cherry-picking the players they want. That’s what happens when you are ascend into the nation’s elite, and the Tigers are right on that cusp.
The startled media members rode back to the media hotel in shock but there was also an awareness – an awakening of sorts – for a group that saw Clemson go toe-to-toe with an Alabama team that played really well and still had to hold on the win. Clemson is not just good. They’re really good. And they’re getting better.
Sure, the defense has some retooling and Swinney has to find an answer on special teams. Those are a given. But the offense should be the most explosive in the country, and Robbie Caldwell has built a physical offensive line that complements the myriad playmakers at the skill spots.
This team was good last season. But they’ll be good next season. And probably the year after that.
Why? Because this program has the staying power Swinney wanted.