MMQB: If Dabo Swinney’s history has taught us anything, then yes it can
We have seen the schedule. We have an idea what the projected depth chart might look like for next year. Now we can go ahead and ask this one question.
Can Clemson repeat as national champions?
In the history of the Associated Press Poll, which began in 1936, the defending champion has repeated just 10 times. Since 1980, it has happened just three times.
Nebraska won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, while Southern Cal did it in 2003 and 2004. The last team to win back-to-back national championships was Alabama in 2011 and 2012.
So, can Clemson join this exclusive club?
Dabo Swinney pointed out during the champions press conference following the Tigers’ 44-16 win over Alabama on Jan. 7, that the program has done everything in terms of streaks except win the national title in back-to-back years.
Clemson went 21 years between 10-win seasons, but in 2011 it broke that streak and has recorded eight straight 10-win seasons.
The Tigers went 20 years without an ACC Championship, but in 2011 they snapped that cold spell by beating Virginia Tech, 38-10, in the conference championship game. Now they have won it four other times, including the last four – a first in the ACC for an outright champion.
Clemson had not been to a major bowl game (BCS, New Year’s Six, College Football Playoff) since the 1982 Orange Bowl. They snapped that streak in 2012. Since then, Clemson has played in eight of them, including seven straight CFP games.
In 2015, the Tigers played for the national championship for the first time in 34 years before falling in a heartbreaker to Alabama. The very next year, they returned to the title game and this time beat the Crimson Tide on a last second touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow.
The 2017 CFP National Championship marked Clemson’s first national title in 35 years. Like everything else the Tigers have accomplished under Swinney, it did not take long for them to do it a second time.
Clemson won its second national championship in three years on Jan. 7, with its dominating victory over the Tide. So, if we look at the pattern in which the Tigers have done everything else under Swinney in the last eight seasons, then repeating as national champions is the next thing to accomplish.
It’s not a stretch to believe it can happen, either.
Clemson could return nine starters on offense—still waiting on tight end Garrett Williams’ decision to join the military or not—including quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers.
Granted the defense has to replace six of its front-seven from the 2018 National Champions, including arguably the best defensive line in the history of college football. But there are already four- and five-star standouts ready to line up and replace them without much of a drop off and the secondary returns almost intact.
In other words, with a favorable schedule that will see the Tigers play 10 of their 12 regular season games in the Carolinas, winning a second straight national championship is not out of the question.
Odds are, after beating Alabama the way it did in the national championship, Clemson will enter the 2019 season as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time. The question is can it stay there?
Back-to-back AP National Champions
Minnesota: 1940, 1941
Army: 1944, 1945
Notre Dame: 1946, 1947
Oklahoma: 1955, 1956
Alabama: 1964, 1965
Nebraska: 1970, 1971
Alabama: 1978, 1979
Nebraska: 1994, 1995
USC: 2003, 2004
Alabama: 2011, 2012