The undefeated Clemson Tigers entered the College Football Playoff as the underdog, the Cinderella who didn’t belong at the dance. Despite having a arguably the most complete team, it was Oklahoma who was the hottest team in the nation.
It was Baker Mayfield that should have been in New York for the Heisman presentation, not Deshuan Watson. It was Samaje Perine who was the quality running back expected to wear down an over matched defense, not Wayne Gallman.
Clemson even looked over matched in the first half, managing only 13 points in four trips to the red zone. At the end of the first half, the Tigers trailed 17-16 and it the experts expected much the same in the second half. The experts, it turns out, were either blind or simply had not been paying attention.
In the second half, Clemson took control of the Orange Bowl and outscored Oklahoma 21-0 on the way to a 37-17 rout of the Sooners. Deshaun Watson recovered from a rocky first half in which he completed only 9 of 23 passes. Watson missed on only one second half pass and would finish 16-31-1 with 187 passing yards, but on this night it was his legs that set him apart. Watson would rush for 145 yards.
As big as Watson was in the second half, he was not the difference in the game the so-called experts claim. It was the “Wayne Train,” as Wayne Gallman is called, that made the biggest difference. Gallman only got seven touches in the first half, but his 111 second half yards were just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Tiger offense.
And that vaunted Oklahoma offense? The Sooners went 3-and-out three times in the second half. All-American quarterback Baker Mayfield threw two critical interceptions in the second half. The all conference running back Samaje Perine finished with 58 rushing yards and the Sooners mustered only two yards per carry.
This is what Clemson has done all season, though. They have toppled team records, ignored precedent, and achieved many team firsts. Now, they have the opportunity to achieve a college football first. The Tigers could be the first FBS team to ever finish a season 15-0. But that means embracing the underdog role one last time and overcoming impossible odds yet again.
Alabama is one of the most storied institutions in college football history, and Nick Saban’s dynasty is without question one of the most impressive feats in all of sports. The Crimson Tide have won 97 games since 2008, an average of just over 12 games per season, including four national championships.
While Dabo Swinney’s record at Clemson is well short with 75 wins in that same time, his senior class is now 46-7 with two Orange Bowl wins, a trip to a national championship, and Swinney himself is now 9-4 against top 10 teams, 13-4 over the last five years against the top 20 winningest programs in college football, and over the last four seasons he has picked up wins against at least four coaches with national championships (Jimbo Fisher, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, and Bob Stoops).
So what does all this mean? Well, to be frank it means nothing more than the two best teams in college football will meet for the national championship. This game will feature two top 10 defenses, a high powered Clemson offense, and the relentless Heisman winning Derrick Henry.
The build up will be epic, the match will be larger-than-life, the ending could be history.
The College Football National Championship will be televised from Glendale, Arizona on Monday, Jan. 11.
James Inabinet is the Customer Service Representative for The Herald Independent and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.