By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
If Clemson is going to break through and unseat Alabama as the defending national champion, it will require near perfection and more than a little luck to do it.
Most everyone south of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi concede another championship to Nick Saban.
While many folks in the upper Midwest begrudgingly favor Ohio State and those from the prairie to the coast prefer Oregon, it’s hard to make a case against Alabama at least being in the final BCS Championship game.
Nobody recruits better. Maybe as well, but not better. Alabama’s 2013 class was ranked No. 1 by two of the leading purveyors of recruiting minutiae, top 5 by the others.
With a stable of great recruiters, several with Clemson pedigrees, Saban reloads quicker than Tony Montana (no relation to Joe) with less blood spilled.
To an outsider it’s always been a curious relationship, Alabama and Clemson, a little like Ohio State and Michigan but much deeper. Howard, Ford, Bowden and Swinney – the architects of virtually everything good that’s Clemson football – are tied directly to Alabama. The game’s very existence at Clemson can be traced directly to a former player from another Alabama school. And as every Tiger worth his weight in orange face paint recalls, right before becoming Clemson coach in 1900, John Heisman’s fourth gig as a head coach was at the same school.
Burton Burns, Chris Rumph and Billy Napier – all recent Clemson assistants – are stud recruiters. And Saban brought back Kevin Steele, another blue chip magnet, as director of player personnel. Don’t be surprised to see Steele on the sidelines and on the road next year once Kirby Smart lands his first big job.
Around here the fear is that if Saban becomes bored with winning at Alabama, and Clemson continues to close the gap, the job would be Swinney’s by default. He almost joined Saban until Tommy Bowden intervened. The next year he had Bowden’s job.
During a recent conversation with Bowden, I asked him about this Clemson team. He’s a Swinney fan – after all, he recommended him for the job – and really likes Chad Morris’ offense, run without restrictor plates. Bowden said he sees another productive season ahead with a third-year starting quarterback and plenty of talent at the other offensive skill positions. Pivotal, we all know, will be further improvement by a defense that made quantum strides last season under Brent Venables.
Bowden seems to be of the same mind we all are when he looks at the schedule. The bookend games stand between an excellent season and a great one. They may require as near perfection as possible.
All things being equal – that means remaining relatively healthy and no bonehead decisions – the others shouldn’t require perfection.
Clemson ought to start the season ranked no lower than 11 or 12 in the media poll, possibly top 10 by the first BCS rankings.
The climb won’t be easy, but Alabama and Clemson next January would have plenty of story lines. And sitting here on another rainy day in July, days before the unofficial start of the season, sunny Southern California sounds like a plan.