There are times when the parallel seems rather obvious to someone who knows. Tommy Bowden has watched Clemson’s rise from the perspective of the coach who was asked to leave – and then things took off – and so that can’t be easy. But he also sees what Dabo Swinney has done in a decade.
And yeah, it feels more than a little like what Bowden saw unfold a couple of decades earlier at Florida State.
“Clemson’s rise to prominence,” he says, “is very similar.”
There are important differences, of course. Bowden’s father Bobby Bowden built Florida State gradually over a course of years, and then suddenly burst into dominance in the 1990s. Clemson had won a national championship in 1981, while Swinney inherited a pretty nice situation (when Tommy Bowden was asked to leave). But in both cases, a program won its way into an exclusive tier, and then remained there.
“He made it better,” says Bowden of Swinney. “They’ve just gone hog wild, and success builds success.”
As Clemson faces Alabama for the College Football Playoff national championship Monday for the third time in four seasons – and the fourth year in a row in the playoff – let’s pause for a moment to consider how unlikely it is, how unique to find the Tigers occupying the same rare air as the Tide.
There’s maybe an eyelash’s difference between Alabama and Clemson, which is why they essentially went wire-to-wire as Nos. 1 and 2 in everybody’s polls.
“The two best teams are here,” Swinney says, and he’s correct.
But this is not a one-off. It’s also clearly the two best programs in college football. When Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams recently referred to Clemson as “a dynasty,” he was wrong; there’s room only for one at a time, and that’s Alabama. But he was not far off.
In the last four seasons, Alabama is 55-3, making its fourth playoff appearance, with two national championships. Clemson is 54-4, making its fourth playoff appearance, with one national championship.