No matter what happened Monday night in Santa Clara, we knew the Clemson Tigers were going to be a top national title contender in 2019. But after the Tigers dismantled Alabama in the most impressive championship game performance of the short lifespan of the College Football Playoff with true freshmen leading the charge at quarterback and wide receiver, we may have just had a glimpse of just how strong the Tigers are going to be again next fall.
We have not been strangers to seeing young players step into the championship spotlight during the College Football Playoff, of course. It was just last year when Tua Tagovailoa stepped onto the scene to save Alabama’s national title hopes against Georgia as a freshman, with the Bulldogs also being led by a young quarterback in Jake Fromm. But the display of aerial brilliance exhibited by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross was something for the ages.
Lawrence showed he was not afraid of the big moment against the best team he has faced all season by throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the biggest game of his life. Ross was undeterred too with six receptions for 153 yards with a handful of plays that will be added to his preseason Biletnikoff Award campaign for the 2019 season. And these were just freshmen who a year ago were in high school. On Monday night, they were responsible for shredding apart an Alabama defense that had been cracking in their pass defense in the postseason. Lawrence and Ross were just there to break things wide open against the Tide.
Sophomore slumps? Don’t count on it from these two players. Clemson has this dynamic duo for at least two more seasons, barring any unforeseen changes to the eligibility rules and possible changes on the landscape with the NFL or other outside influencers. For now, Dabo Swinney has a quarterback and a wide receiver and you know the rest of the roster is going to be loaded as well. Winning his first national championship two years ago was the crowning achievement of Swinney’s career, but winning his second puts Swinney in even more elite company as a two-time championship-winning head coach. To be able to win both of his national championships against the undisputed king of college football in the BCS and playoff era, Alabama’s Nick Saban, makes Swinney’s case as one of the best today even stronger.
Ohio State’s victory over Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game was impressive. The previous two battles between Alabama and Clemson were instant classics, as was last year’s Alabama victory over Georgia. But what Clemson did to the team that had been No. 1 all season long on a stage Alabama usually delivers was single-handedly the most impressive championship game performance in the playoff era. It should not be a suggestion that Alabama is on the decline, because that is simply not true. It is, however, another example to suggest just how strong a program Swinney has molded.
Not too many coaches get the best of Saban in the postseason, especially when a championship is on the line. With Lawrence and Ross, it may not be a surprise to see Swinney get another chance to take down the Tide.