That word – dynasty – only gets thrown around so often.
And recent college football history, it’s been reserved almost exclusively for Alabama. Sure, there’s been flashes of other schools, some standout seasons from Florida State or Oregon, but they haven’t had that staying power.
Meanwhile, since Nick Saban took over as coach of the Crimson Tide in 2007, Alabama has won four national championships and played for a fifth. That is staying power.
But for as dominant as Alabama has been, it finally found an opponent to consistently bump heads with: Clemson. Or, rather, that opponent has found them. Clemson and Alabama have split the past two national championship games, and there’s a chance both make it to the final again this season.
The ESPN College GameDay crew, including host Rece Davis and analyst Kirk Herbstreit, have been there to watch that ascension, and according to them, it might be time to toss that ‘D’ word over to another school.
“You could make the argument that Clemson’s taking over the sport as the premier dynasty,” Davis said Friday, the day before No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami face off in the ACC Championship Game. “Alabama has been longer, but if they (Clemson) can win, they'll have won their third straight ACC Championship, gone to the playoff for the third straight year, have a chance to go back-to-back national championships if they were to win.”
Herbstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback, pointed to Clemson’s 2012 bowl win over Louisiana State as a turning point for the program.
“From that point on, just go back and look at the names of the schools they have beaten and the conferences in which they play in,” Herbstreit said. “How can you not put Clemson among the elite?”
If you do just that, you get his point.
The list of schools (and star players) Clemson has beaten since that 25-24 victory over LSU represents the best college football has had to offer the past five seasons. Georgia in 2013, plus Notre Dame and Oklahoma in 2015 are good starters.
And then last season alone? In the regular season, Clemson beat No. 3 Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, then No. 12 Florida State and its all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook. In the College Football Playoff, they blanked No. 2 Ohio State 31-0 (with a defense stocked with future NFL players) and then won the national title at the last second... against, ironically, Alabama.
So, yeah, the Tigers have beaten just about every elite team of the past five years. Which seems to make them, well, the elite among the elite.
“Sometimes we overdo this conference supremacy talk, because really what you're talking about, there are elite teams in several conferences,” Davis said, “but there's some depth here, and Clemson has been the standard bearer for the last several years in terms of facilities and excellence in recruiting and pay scale and you name it.”
All of which is to say that, yes, even though it plays in the ACC, not historically a top football conference, Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney have proven they belong in the upper echelon of college football. They’re not perfect, and no team is (Alabama lost to Auburn last week and won’t play for an SEC Championship now), but they’re about as close as you get in the sport.
Some people might cringe when they hear of anyone but Alabama as a college football dynasty, but it’s impossible to deny what Clemson has done, what the GameDay crew have so clearly noticed. And there’s still room to grow. Swinney is only 47 and the contract extension he signed in August will keep him at the school through the 2024 season.
“I still think they’re gaining momentum,” Herbstreit said. “I’ve kind of had a front row seat to watch this and be behind the scenes with Dabo and this team and watch them go from kind of the outside to being nowin that upper tier.
“Whether they win or lose this game, for me, they’re already at that top tier in the country.”