Coach Dabo Swinney has his program securely perched atop the college football world at the moment. On Monday, this Clemson dynasty has a chance to add even more lore and hardware to its growing resume. The Tigers from upstate South Carolina will face off with the Tigers from LSU for the College Football Playoff Championship. If the cats in orange can extend their current win streak to 30 games, it will give them their third title in the past four seasons. This level of dominance and accomplishment doesn’t happen often.
Clemson Dynasty Faces Defining Moment
With a win next Monday, the Tigers can join the Miami Hurricanes (87-91) and the Alabama Crimson Tide (09-12) as the only programs to win three titles in a five-year span since 1950. This Clemson dynasty has already established a supreme dominance over the ACC, with six of the last nine conference crowns. This program has also been in the last five College Football Playoffs.
The quarterback position has always been looked at as the most important position in football, so it is no surprise that the Tigers have had elite play-makers under center during their run. It started back in 2011 when Tajh Boyd led them to their first ACC title in 20 years. He wasn’t able to get them over the hump on a national level, but his impact can’t be overlooked. Deshaun Watson then took the reins, and he quickly established himself as one of the nation’s best. Watson sparked the beginning of the Clemson Dynasty, leading them to the title in 2016. Kelly Bryant led the Tigers to a semifinal appearance before he transferred out.
Trevor Lawrence has since taken over and is setting himself apart from all others with his performance. The future number one NFL draft pick has not lost as the Clemson starter and is looking to cap off a second straight undefeated championship season. Lawrence was slightly erratic by his own lofty standards early in the season. However, over the last seven games, he has been magnificent. He has 36 touchdowns and 3400 yards with his arm.
Last week against Ohio State he showed those who didn’t yet know that he can be quite dangerous with his legs too. At 6’6”, his long strides just carry him away from chasing defenders. He had 67 of his 107 rushing yards on one long touchdown gallop that seemed to shift all the momentum in Clemson’s favor. The sophomore can do everything on the football field, and always steps up win the moment is biggest.
Lawrence is aided by the fact that the Tigers have one of the deepest groups of talented skill players in recent memory. The explosive and record-breaking Travis Etienne is always a good option to get the ball too out of the backfield. His ability to take it the distance on any touch of the ball helps keep opposing defenses on their heels. He is closing in on 4000 career rushing yards in just three seasons.
Out wide, the Tigers have possibly the best duo of receivers in the country. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are big-play magnets. They also help their quarterback if he does happen to be a bit off with their incredible catch radius. Some teams like to refer to them as 50/50 balls, but with these two the ratio is more like 80/20. They are following in the path that Deandre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins started when Boyd was throwing them the ball. Ross had 12 catches, 301 yards, and three scores in the 2018 College Football Playoff. His numbers are slightly down as a sophomore, but he is still capable of taking over a game. Higgins is tied with the two aforementioned stars in orange for the most receiving touchdowns in school history.
Minister of Defense
This Clemson Dynasty wouldn’t be happening without defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Since his addition to the staff, the Tigers have had one of the top defenses in the country on an annual basis. Despite losing stars to the pros each year, this unit continues to suffocate opponents. The 2019 version of the Tiger defense does not have the same name recognition as last year’s group, but the results have not dropped off. They do have a superstar in Isaiah Simmons, and he makes big play after big play for them. It was fitting that his interception sealed their semifinal victory and sent them to the title game.
Venables’ unit thrives with a lead. The basis of his game plan is simple, all-out attack. Once they have a lead, he really ramps up the pressure, and opponents usually cannot survive. The player development on that side of the ball has also been excellent. His players grow and improve each season, and they are so well connected as a unit. The Tiger’s defense is not just about attacking while ahead, they also thrive with their backs against the wall. Over the past few seasons, no one has a better red-zone defense than Clemson. This was evident in the semifinal, holding Ohio State to field goals on three first-half trips inside the twenty yard line. The ability to hold strong in the red zone saved them that night, but it has been a staple for the past few years.
The Tigers are 60 minutes of football away from a third national title in the past four seasons. Last year they became the nation’s first-ever 15-0 team, and are looking to repeat that remarkable feat. Standing in their way is a 14-0 LSU team with the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. It won’t be easy on Monday night, but achieving greatness never is. The scariest thing for every other program in the country is that the Tigers are not only winning on the field but on the recruiting trail as well. They will once again have one of the nation’s top classes coming in next year. It appears that the Clemson dynasty isn’t going anywhere any time soon.