You’ve all seen that number at some point over the last week, as everyone has prepared for the, seemingly inevitable, 4th installment of the Clemson vs Alabama series that began in the 2015 season’s national championship game.
Alabama and Clemson are 106-4 against everyone but each other in the last 4 years.
Alabama has lost to Ole Miss in 2015, and Auburn in 2017. Clemson lost to Pitt in 2016, and Syracuse in 2017. Alabama has 2 National Championships in that span, Clemson has the other one. Alabama leads the series 2-1.
So is this level of dominance actually impressive, or is the system really just setup for these 2 teams to be able to get back to the playoffs year after year?
For starters, ESPN’s partnership with the College Football Playoff would maybe prefer some new life. Obviously, a big brand like Alabama will always draw viewers, but another brand – maybe Michigan, maybe USC, maybe Texas – would be ideal to rotate in and out more regularly than just Alabama and Clemson.
I mean, we are talking 2 teams from the Southeast, in states with a combined population of less than 10M people. So, ideally, “the system” would rather a Georgia, Ohio St, Florida St, Penn St, Michigan, USC, Texas or Texas A&M, get in rather than these same two teams.
But let’s look at just how impressive they’ve been in that time-span.
Since 2015, Alabama is 27-3 vs ranked opponents, and 14-2 vs Top 10 teams, which includes a loss to Clemson in the 2016 season. Clemson is 18-2 vs Top 25 teams, and 8-2 vs Top 10 teams. Both of those losses are to Alabama. Clemson’s 2 losses were to unranked Syracuse in 2017, and unranked Pitt in 2016.
So, Clemson has had significantly less chances vs ranked teams in the ACC, which makes their jobs a little bit easier, right? Maybe not so much.
How about recruiting. Yes, Alabama has had the most talent of anyone in the country, but it’s still about developing players. Here are the other “most talented” teams in college football in 2018, per average player rankings over the last 4 recruiting classes at 247sports.com.
- Alabama (92.99)
- Ohio St (92.69)
- USC (92.36)
- Florida St
- Notre Dame
Last year, in 2017, Clemson was #7 on that list. In 2016, when they won the national championship, Clemson was 11th.
Clemson is not even the most talented team, on paper, in their own conference, and they have not been any year of this run. That distinction belongs to Florida St. And yet, every single season, since 2015, they’re back in the playoff.
Alabama and Clemson have combined for 10 of the last 11 College Football Playoff victories. That includes wins over 2015 Big 10 Champs Michigan St, 2015 Big 12 Champs Oklahoma, 2016 PAC 12 Champs Washington, 2016 Big 10 non-champ Ohio St, 2017 SEC Champion Georgia, 2018 Big 12 Champ Oklahoma, and 2018 Notre Dame, along with these two teams’ wins over each other.
These two programs have shown, year after year, that developing players is the key to their success. One guy goes down, another one steps up. One guy leaves or graduates, another is there to take his place. That’s coaching.
In history, we’ve never had 4 teams meet in the post-season in 4 straight years in amateur athletics. And with Tua and Lawrence coming back next season, I don’t think this will be the last time we see them in this situation.