It was dreary day in Charlotte on Dec. 31, 2010. I vividly remember walking out of Bank of America Stadium that afternoon as South Florida fans rejoiced a 31-26 Meineke Car Care Bowl victory over Clemson.
The loss handed Dabo Swinney and his Tigers, who finished 6-7 that year, the first losing season since 1998. While it stung at the time, it marked a very significant time of the program that has climbed to top tanks of college football’s elite after that forgettable afternoon in the Queen City.
Since that day, Clemson has become a household name winning two ACC titles while going 69-13 overall with program-defining wins over LSU, UGA, Ohio State and Oklahoma (twice) and Auburn (three times). In the process, Swinney has record victories over some of the biggest names in the college football including Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jimbo Fisher and Steve Spurrier.
Back in the CFP National Championship game for the second year after falling short 45-40 last season, Clemson is eager to return to the ultimate spotlight and finish the job this time around. CU hopes to bring home the first title since 1981.
Last year’s game with Alabama was an instant classic and it’d be a safe bet to say this one will likely be another memorabele one for college football fans. In all honesty, the Tigers shocked most of the country last season and nearly did the unthinkable but a few mental errors and along with the disadvantage of the playing against arguably the greatest coach in college football history was just a hair too much for the orange and white.
This time around, I think Clemson is better prepared both mentally and physically for the dogfight that will take place in Tampa Jan 9. They’ve grown accustomed to the spotlight and surrounding hype and feel more like they “belong” this season.
For the second straight year, both teams handled business without much drama in their respective semifinals game to set up one of the biggest championship game rematches that I can ever remember in my lifetime.
Clemson has unfinished business and while the Tigers continue to be a force on the recruiting trail, who knows when the next time they will be this close to a title again. It’s time for the guy who hails from Pelham, Ala. to finally take a seat at the throne of college football’s highest platform.
Swinney—who attended Alabama as a walk-on—has had to earn his stripes from the earliest of days. He’s virtually always been the underdog but has gone from a no-name wide receivers coach to one the best, most desirable head coaches in the country. He will be searching for his 88th win Monday night. 88 is special to Swinney as it was his number at Alabama and I’m sure he’d like nothing more than to take down his alma mater for his first national championship for that special win.
After that “horrible, terrible, no good-very bad day” on Dec. 31, CU has taken the necessary steps to reach the ultimate prize. Swinney told the media in his post-game press conference after last year’s title game “It won’t be 34 years before we it make it back here again, I can promise you that,” and he has upheld his promise just one year later.
Will the stars finally align for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers? We’ll find out Monday night.
Christopher Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org