I have been asked countless times this off-season if Clemson can win the national championship. My answer is always a resounding, “Yes!”
Why am I so confident? Well, I have seen this dance before.
In 1992, Florida State went 11-1 and finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press Top 25. Its only loss was a three-point defeat to Miami.
At the time, the 1992 Seminoles were considered one of the best teams Bobby Bowden had ever assembled. But they lacked that killer instinct as they often let opponents, far less talented, to hang around or give the appearance they have a chance to win.
Does that sound familiar to anyone?
The following season, the Seminoles returned just about everyone from the previous year, including a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback who seemingly could do it all. That quarterback’s name was Charlie Ward, arguably the greatest player in the history of Florida State football.
Ward had weapons such as Sean Jackson at running back, Tamarick Vanover and Kez McCorvey at wide receiver and an All-ACC center in Clay Shiver to anchor a young, but very talented, offensive line.
On defense, a talented linebacker by the name of Derrick Brooks led an FSU defense that was a fast and as talented as anyone in the country.
With all those stars coming back from a team the year before that challenged for a national championship, the Seminoles were just about everyone’s pick to win the national championship in 1993.
Florida State did not disappoint. Ward and company averaged 41.2 points per game that season, while Brooks and the defense gave up just 9.9 points. The Seminoles average margin of victory in 1993 was 35.3 points, including a 57-point win against then No. 17 Clemson, an 18-point victory against then No. 3 Miami, a 26-point win against then No. 15 Virginia and a 12-point victory against then No. 7 Florida.
FSU ultimately won its first national championship by beating No. 1 Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl.
Though the 2016 season has not started, I see a lot of parallels from that 1993 FSU team and this 2016 Clemson team. Like the Seminoles were 23 years ago, this year’s Tigers are out to prove they are the best team in college football after feeling they were the best team the year before.
Like Ward, they have a dynamic quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who set the college football world on fire the previous season with only a glimpse of what he really can do.
Like that Florida State team learned, this year’s Clemson team will not allow average to bad teams to hang around. They will put teams away when they have the chance and they will keep their foot pressed down on their throats.
Swinney has said all during the off-season that this team is focused like no other he has been around.
So teams like Troy, S.C. State, Boston College, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina, there will be no moral victories or last second touchdowns that make the outcome closer than what it really was. You will be beat before halftime and the second half will not be much better.
As for Auburn, Georgia Tech and Pitt, you have enough talent to keep things interesting, but in the end the Tigers’ talent will overtake you, too. Louisville will be a challenge, like it has been the previous two years, but the Cardinals are not where Clemson and Florida State are just yet and the Tigers’ depth will prevail.
Not surprisingly, it all comes down to one game, and not surprisingly, it comes against Florida State. Like Clemson, the Seminoles are loaded with talent and it can be argued they are perhaps even more talented than the Tigers. But Clemson has an ace up its sleeve in Watson and in a game like this the best player in the country makes all the difference in the world.
So, for a second straight year, I see the Tigers going undefeated in the regular season at 12-0. Yes, they will win the ACC Championship Game against whoever they face and they will make it back to the national championship game, too.
However, this time Clemson will end the season with no regrets. It will prove to everyone, but most importantly to itself that it is the best team in college football.