The #1 Clemson Tigers find themselves once again facing doubters as they prepare to face the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide for the College Football National Championship Monday Night in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers have been #1 in the playoff polls since the original ranking came out prior to week 10, yet ever since then the Tigers have faced questions.
While Clemson was Vegas’s favorite that week against the Florida State Seminoles in Death Valley, many media doubted them prior to the 23-13 win. The Tigers have been constantly placed on “upset alert” by many media members for multiple games this season, and Clemson prevailed and got the win. Going into the ACC Championship against North Carolina, the Tigers once again saw media members pick against them or call for a close game, but once again the Tigers got the win.
Going into the Orange Bowl, a College Football Playoff Semifinal against the #4 seeded Oklahoma Sooners (who the Tigers defeated the previous season in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6), the Tigers were seen as an underdog. Fox Sports writer Clay Travis said for sure that Oklahoma would “hang 50” on Clemson’s defense. After a few mistakes let Oklahoma head to halftime with a 17-16 lead, Clemson played lights out in the second half to walk away with a 37-17 victory over the Sooners and a date in Arizona for the national championship.
Clemson has one previous national championship, which came when the 1981 Tigers went 12-0, ending their title season by defeating the #4 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1982. At the time, the Tigers were led by a young coach who graduated from Alabama (Danny Ford) and a quarterback out of Georgia (Homer Jordan from Athens). Today, Clemson is led by 46 year old Dabo Swinney (also an Alabama alum) and sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson (from Gainesville, GA). The overlaps do not end there, though. The driving distance from Clemson Memorial Stadium to Glendale Arizona happens to be 1,981 miles. After Clemson won the 1981 championship, wide receiver Perry Tuttle was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on January 11. The date of the Tigers’ game with Alabama? January 11.
An yet despite the Tigers historic run to 14-0, Clemson still sits as a 6.5 point underdog for Monday Night. Alabama would be seeking the program’s 16th national title, and the 4th since 2009. Alabama also has 2015 Heisman Winner Derrick Henry. Watson finished 3rd in the Heisman polls.
Yet, even with all of the doubt, Clemson continues to enjoy the run and seems positive going into the game. Clemson has set a record for most wins in school history with 14, and can become the first 15-0 team in college history with a win Monday night. The Tigers will be relying not only on Watson, but on sophomore running back Wayne Gallman, sophomore wide receiver Artavis Scott, RS Sophomore Mackensie Alexander, Junior linebacker Ben Boulware, and many other stars.
The big question for Clemson will be if Junior DE Shaq Lawson can play or not, and if he plays, how effective he will be. Lawson suffered a knee injury early on a sack during the Orange Bowl. He stated that he was “most likely” going to play and felt “60% confident”. Defensive coordinator Bren Venebles said that he felt “80% confident” that Lawson will play. Lawson was replaced by freshman Austin Bryant in the Orange Bowl who did a great job filling in for the All American.