Mike McCombs

5 things to take away from Clemson's epic national championship loss

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, talks to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney after the NCAA college football playoff championship game Monday in Glendale, Ariz. Alabama won 45-40.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, talks to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney after the NCAA college football playoff championship game Monday in Glendale, Ariz. Alabama won 45-40. Associated Press

Alabama’s 45-40 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship on Monday night was one of the more exciting national championship games in recent memory.

Now that the dust has settled, here are five things I took away from the game.

1. Clemson could be back in the title game soon.

It’s no stretch to think Dabo Swinney and the Tigers could hang among the elite for some time.

Of course, it’s never guaranteed. But the Tigers are in a good position to be ranked No. 1 before next season.

The Tigers are likely to return nine starters on their electric offense. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Artavis Scott? All sophomores.

Star receiver Mike Williams will be back from a neck injury for a senior season. Star tight end Jordan Leggett will return for his senior year, as well. The offensive line is young.

The concern is the defense, where stars Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander and Javon Kearse, among others, are all likely to depart for the NFL draft.

But Swinney and staff have strung together several solid recruiting classes with no indication of a dropoff.

And remember: The Tigers played 21 freshmen Monday night. It would have been 22 had receiver Deon Cain not been suspended.

The future is bright.

2. The Tigers’ special teams aren’t special.

If there’s one area in which there was a glaring mismatch Monday, it was special teams.

Forget the blown coverages that turned forgotten Alabama tight end O.J. Howard into the game’s MVP. The biggest plays for the Crimson Tide came on special teams.

First was the perfectly executed onside kick. It’s almost not fair to fault the Tigers. Truth is, it was the perfect call by Nick Saban at the perfect time.

Then, the 95-yard kickoff return by Kenyon Drake for an Alabama touchdown put the Tigers down for good.

That was the fourth kickoff returned for a touchdown this year against Clemson. Factor in that the Tigers have virtually no kick-return game, and it’s clear Clemson’s special teams need some work.

3. Nick Saban — that guy is good.

As good a coach as he is, if you had told me before Monday that Nick Saban was in Bear Bryant territory, I’d have said no way.

But he is. And soon he may rename it Nick Saban Territory.

Saban has four championships in seven years. And five total, counting one at LSU. He’s one away from the Bear, and he has taken a lot less time to get there.

4. The playoff got it right.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that Alabama and Clemson were the two best teams in the county.

And the game we got as a result of the playoff was one that won’t be forgotten soon, even if there was a ratings dip from last season’s Ohio State-Oregon tilt.

Another result of the playoff, at least this year, may be a change in perception of the ACC. While the SEC may be superior from top to bottom, it’s clear the ACC’s team at the top, in this case Clemson, can compete with the likes of Alabama.

5. The Heisman voters got it wrong.

The best college football player in America was on the field last night.

As good as he was, it wasn’t Derrick Henry. It was Deshaun Watson, and it wasn’t even close.

Henry put together an amazing season, rushing for more than 2,000 yards. But as good as he is, his strength is being a workhorse, which is no crime.

Watson is dynamic. He put on a show against the vaunted Alabama defense like no other player has done in recent memory.

He’s the first FBS quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

He touches the ball on every play and led his team to the national championship game as a sophomore.

Monday’s game is the first one ever Watson has started, finshed ... and lost.

And Heisman voters chose him ... third.

At least they get a chance to get it right next year.

But I’m not counting on it.

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