National Championship Is Final Hurdle For Dabo Swinney

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney will have a rematch with Nick Saban and Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. The Tigers head coach has a chance to win his first national title.

After their dominating shutout victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, what’s the next step for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers?

Winning a national championship.

The Tigers will get a rematch with Alabama for the College Football Playoff national title next Monday night in Tampa following their 31-0 throttling of the Buckeyes at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday evening. It was the first shutout loss of Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer’s career, which has spanned 194 games.

After the game, some Tiger players used words like “revenge” and “redemption” when describing their next and final step of their 2016 season. Nick Saban’s Alabama team outlasted Clemson in last year’s title game, 45-40, and not a single Tiger that returned this year has forgotten about it. That loss has been a source of motivation spanning from last offseason to throughout the fall, which is perhaps a reason for the Tigers’ loss to Pitt as well as a few other close calls this year. Maybe too much focus was set on Alabama. Nonetheless, Swinney’s squad is one of two teams left with a chance for a national championship.

The Tigers will get their a chance to slay the dragon. And that Crimson Tide team is quite the monster.

Behind the punishing and lethal runs from Bo Scarbrough, who had 180 rushing yards against Washington, and a filthy defense that constantly forced the Huskies into several three-and-outs, the Crimson Tide beat Chris Petersen’s squad in the Peach Bowl to advance to another title game. Saban and Co. are looking to win their second consecutive national title and fifth in eight years.

Meanwhile, Swinney is trying to win his very first national championship. And he has the team to do so.

While No. 1 Alabama heads into the matchup as the favorite, the Tigers are coming off of a dominant performance over a squad that is led by someone widely considered the second-best head coach in the entire country—just behind Saban. Ohio State had the nation’s ninth-ranked rushing offense, but Clemson’s defensive line lived in the Ohio State backfield all night. Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson continued his late-season resurgence by recording 316 total yards and three scores, and the Tigers displayed a passion and hunger that has been evident since the loss to Pitt. It’s a team that appears national championship-ready.

“[Alabama’s] the best team in the country, but it’s time for a new sheriff in town,” Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley said after the game on Saturday night. “We were close [last year]—one or two plays away. We just got to go finish this time.”

The Tigers have certainly been doing a great job of finishing lately, and it’s a credit to Swinney and his staff for re-focusing the team after some spurts of sloppy play throughout the year. Following the loss to Pitt, when it was critical time in the College Football Playoff race, the Tigers started to look their best. And the win over the Buckeyes was the most impressive performance yet.

While Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts does not have to win this game on his own, he will need to complete more than seven passes for 57 yards, which is what he did against Washington. Can he stretch the Tigers’ defense through the air? This isn’t an elite Alabama offensive line, while Clemson fields straight-up nasty defensive linemen. It can’t just be about Scarbrough. Not against this Tigers ‘D.’

Saban stands out from the rest among the current crop of head coaches. Meyer is certainly in the conversation, but only Saban has been able to build a dynasty in the modern era where national championships are considered fait accompli. A win over Alabama next Monday night would put Swinney above some of the other notable head coaches who are mentioned when discussing the sport’s best, such as Chris Petersen and Mark Dantonio.

Swinney was raised in the state of Alabama, walked-on and played wide receiver at the University of Alabama, and was an assistant coach for the Crimson Tide. With an 88-28 mark at Clemson, he very well could be the next head coach at Alabama whenever Saban decides to step down. But to be in the conversation with the Sabans and Meyers, Swinney needs a natty.

Next Monday night, he’ll have his best chance yet.

MORE: Alabama vs. Clemson Prediction, College Football Playoff National Championship Preview