Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows the score with Alabama.
The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 44-16 in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the 2-1 advantage in championship games and 2-2 series in the College Football Playoff.
Swinney had a message for Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward.
“Coach Saban last night, he was very gracious after the game, and I just told him, I said, ‘See you next year,'” Swinney said at Tuesday’s CFP news conference. “Because I don’t think they’re going to go anywhere. They’ll be back.”
That would be yet another chance to settle the score, which leads to our question: Can anything prevent Alabama-Clemson V next year? Next season’s championship game is on Jan. 13, 2020 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Will the Tigers and Crimson Tide reconvene for yet another matchup? Here are five things that could prevent that from happening:
Tigers’ new-look D
The Tigers’ offense will be loaded next season with Trevor Lawrence, who lit up Alabama for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the championship game. Star running back Travis Etienne also returns, and the high-flying duo of Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins will give Clemson arguably its best offense yet under Swinney. That’s saying something. The defense, however, faces a major overhaul. Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant graduated. Dexter Lawrence, Tre Lamar and Trayvon Mullen all declared for the NFL Draft, and Clelin Ferrell could be next.
That’s not an indictment for the Tigers — Wilkins, Bryant and Ferrell all chose to stay in school last year. Still, there are major holes to defense, and perhaps that leads to some inconsistency on that side of the ball early in the season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has a challenge on that side of the ball, and if anybody can make it work, it’s him.
Or, the Tigers could do what the Crimson Tide this season. That is, just try to make it a shootout the other team can’t win. Still, that has side effects. …
Bama’s OC shuffle
The Crimson Tide averaged 45.6 points per game this season under offensive co-offensive coordinators Mike Locksley and Josh Gattis (reportedly), who both are leaving for Maryland as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively. Alabama had some questionable play-calling in the loss to Tigers on Monday, but Locksley had a tremendous impact on Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa. Now, Tagovailoa will be working with his third different offensive coordinator in three years. It’s Alabama’s fourth in four years. Lane Kiffin feels like ages ago.
The defense allowed 18.1 points per game, but was shredded by Lawrence in the championship, and that puts a little heat on second-year coordinator Tosh Lupoi to tighten up what was inexperienced secondary this season. Sure, these are first-world problems given the talent the Crimson Tide have, but you saw what happened when both sides flop at the wrong time.
If that were to happen in the regular season, then the reaction would be much-more severe among the fan base.
Two regular-season losses
A two-loss team has never made the Playoff. Could Alabama or Clemson really lose two games in the regular season? It’s tough to envision either team losing more than once at home considering both schools are 34-1 at home in the College Football Playoff era.
That Tigers’ defense will be tested in the first two week at home against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, and Florida State and North Carolina are at Death Valley, too. The toughest road games are at N.C. State and South Carolina, but the Tigers have won seven in a row against the Wolfpack and six in a row against the Gamecocks.
You could argue the strength of schedule, but the defending national champs could probably afford one slip-up in the regular season.
Alabama has been given that benefit of the doubt before, and that was after a loss at Auburn. The Crimson Tide travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium this year, a place where Saban is 3-3. That is probably the best bet for a regular-season loss because of the Iron Bowl factor.
The Tide also travel to South Carolina and Texas A&M and face the usual SEC West hurdles. Alabama faces several teams listed in Sporting News’ pre-preseason top 25, including No. 7 LSU, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 16 Auburn. That doesn’t include a potential matchup with No. 3 Georgia or No. 9 Florida in the SEC championship game.
Still, Alabama hasn’t lost more than one regular-season game since 2010, and chances are both teams finish at least 11-1. Maybe three other schools finish undefeated and force the Playoff committee’s hand at that point, but don’t count on it.
Buckeyes and Bulldogs
Ohio State and Georgia are two teams with enough blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball to compete for a national championship.
Ohio State finished No. 3 in the AP Poll despite missing the Playoff, and first-year coach Ryan Day has an intriguing quarterback battle that could feature Justin Fields, Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin. Still, the Buckeyes are back-to-back Big Ten champions and will be heavily favored to do it again.
Georgia had Alabama on the ropes each of the last two seasons, and despite heavy NFL Draft defections, Jake Fromm’s return and Kirby Smart’s stockpiled five-star talent has the Bulldogs looking good again. After Alabama and Clemson, these are the next two best bets to win a national championship. They are the best in the SEC, even if Florida, LSU, Texas A&M or Mississippi State and Auburn will compete.
Anybody else? Oregon has been to a championship game, but that was way back in 2014 with a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Washington have been there, but they are a combined 0-5 in the Playoff and have lost by an average of 15 points per game. We’ll talk more about Texas, Michigan or Penn State if they get there.
That covers the 16 best teams in our pre-preseason top 25. We can’t say anybody else even fathoming beating Alabama or Clemson in a championship game situation. Which leads to our last point.
Another semifinal matchup
Perhaps Alabama and Clemson meet in the CFP semifinal, like they did at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in 2017. That would require a 1-4 or 2-3 matchup, which is entirely possible.
As the Crimson Tide proved that season, they can still make the Playoff and win it all, even if they don’t win the SEC. That was the only season in which Alabama entered the Playoff without the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Clemson, meanwhile, has been either No. 1 or No. 2 each of the last four years.
If there’s any statistical oddity, then it’s that the No. 1 seed has not won the College Football Playoff yet. But Alabama and Clemson will start the 2019 season in the top two spots. That much is for sure. So it’s on the rest of the FBS to prevent Alabama-Clemson V from happening.
Otherwise, Swinney will see Saban next year.