The Clemson Tigers had a host of firsts in 2015, set or broke several records, and did even more than most fans could have asked. To begin 2016, the Tigers mostly stuffed Alabama’s Heisman winning running back Derrick Henry, put up 550 yards of offense on one of the best defenses in recent memory, and quarterback Deshaun Watson set a new record for passing yards in a national championship game while leading Clemson to 40 points.
Dabo Swinney’s team did not win the national championship, but they silenced doubters across the nation with their performance. Clemson, who was supposed to be dominated by Alabama’s big, bad front 7, moved the ball well and executed their game plan. The Tigers defensive line, which was overshadowed by what was described as Nick Saban’s best defensive line ever, outperformed the Tide. Clemson, however, could not pick up the win.
Kevin Dodd, the oft-forgotten defensive end that plays opposite Shaq Lawson, played like a madman with five tackles for loss and three sacks. Clemson, playing without Mackensie Alexander much of the night, only gave up 11 receptions for 127 yards to Alabama’s talented receiving corps. Calvin Ridley only managed 14 yards on six catches. But Clemson fell short.
The narrative all year was about Clemson’s inevitable fall from grace, about how they could not be the best team in football when there was still Alabama and Oklahoma and all the other storied programs out there. And yet, as the season came to a close, the Tigers proved to all that they belong.
Dabo Swinney knows how close his team came to being on top of the world.
“Championship football is a game of a few plays, and that’s really what this one came down to, just a few plays. Give them credit for that. I want to congratulate Alabama.”
And yet, these Tigers know that they’re time is just beginning.
Clemson had only five seniors starting this year, and while many “experts” claimed there was a depth issue, the Tigers proved against Oklahoma and Alabama that depth wasn’t nearly the issue everyone thought it was when Shaq Lawson and Mackensie Alexander both spent significant time on the sidelines. While the Tigers will certainly lose a few players to the draft, there is a wealth of talent returning and a stellar class of freshmen coming in.
Clemson stood up Monday night and let the world know they will be here for the foreseeable future. The program Dabo Swinney has built is great and made to last. And Clemson fans are already planning their trips to next year’s College Football Playoffs with the belief that their Tigers will be All In.
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.