SANTA Clara, Calif. — Death Valley is no longer confined to Clemson’s campus. It is wherever the Tigers take the field.
Monday night, Silicon Valley served as Death Valley, the site of Clemson’s second coronation in three years, where Nick Saban suffered his worst-ever defeat in Alabama’s 44-16 loss, and again lost to the only coach (Dabo Swinney) to ever best him in a national title game.
Clemson completed the first undefeated season of the playoff era. Its coach is 18 years younger than the Alabama legend. It is the present, and the future, carving its own era-defining run.
“We’re as good of a program as there is out there, but we’re a long way from a dynasty,” Swinney said Tuesday morning. “I think from a dynasty standpoint, Alabama is kind of in a category of their own.”
Saban isn’t hanging up his headset any time soon. The Crimson Tide have still won five titles in the past 10 years. Just a month ago, Alabama was discussed as one of the greatest teams of all time.
Over the past four years, each team has set an FBS record with 55 wins, while splitting four playoff meetings. Next year, each team brings back the two most talented teams in the country, and brings in two of the most impressive recruiting classes.
The battle for supremacy isn’t done. It will stretch another year. Maybe another 10.
Here are the other top storylines to look forward to:
A rivalry renewed
After going head to head in the national championship, Trevor Lawrence and Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa could end up in a season-long tug-of-war for the sport’s greatest individual honor. The quarterbacks of the past two title winners are both potential No. 1 NFL draft picks, and will again lead two of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
Other Heisman contenders include Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, Clemson running back Travis Etienne, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
The next big thing?
Justin Fields didn’t get the opportunity to sparkle, as a true freshman behind Fromm at Georgia, but the dual-threat could become the country’s breakout star at Ohio State — if he is granted immediate eligibility. Fields is a remarkable athlete, who was ranked alongside Lawrence as the best recruit in the nation last year.
A quartet of displaced quarterbacks from playoff teams will likely get the opportunity to restore their reputations at new schools. Jacob Eason, who was replaced by Fromm last season, will lead the Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies, while former Clemson star Kelly Bryant heads to Missouri. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush will be sought after even more.
Every year, the playoff race captivates much of the country, but a system designed to provide more teams an opportunity to win a national championship has produced fatigue beyond the dominance of Alabama and Clemson.
In the first five years of the playoff, 14 of the 20 spots have been occupied by four schools (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State). The Pac-12 has become an afterthought. No Group of Five team has ever been considered. Notre Dame provided a fresh infusion with its appearance this season, but an ever-exclusive, and often controversial, club should only bring more school presidents and athletic directors on board. Every year brings us closer.