Steve Helber/Associated Press
Sustained greatness in sports can go underappreciated for a simple reason: For many fans, it seems boring.
During the last two years, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers reigned over the college football world. The programs alternated undefeated regular seasons, with the one-loss team eventually earning the upper hand in the national championship.
Five weeks into the 2017 campaign, they’re at it again. If you believe a title-game trilogy is becoming inevitable, you won’t find an argument here.
However, it’s tempting to view repetitive results as stale outcomes. Can’t anyone else be as good as these guys? Or at least pull off an upset at the perfect time? ESPN’s Anthony McFarland doesn’t think so:
College football has turned into the NBA. Barring injury Clemson vs Alabama is inevitable. They both are a cut above everyone else
After all, head coach Nick Saban and Alabama have celebrated four national championships since 2009 and appeared in the College Football Playoff during each of the last three seasons. Clemson is riding a six-year streak of 10-plus victories, a span unmatched by every team except the Tide, who are on a nine-season run.
And through September, the schools are performing like the class of the Football Bowl Subdivision. For the third straight year.
Alabama shut down a formidable Florida State squad and torched Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Saban’s crew has scored 231 points in five games while allowing just 43—and 20 of those happened in the fourth quarter of blowouts.
Clemson, meanwhile, made college football history thanks to victories over No. 13 Auburn, No. 14 Louisville and No. 12 Virginia Tech, per Clemson Sports Talk:
Clemson Sports Talk@ClemsonSports
Clemson becomes the first team in the history of college football to beat three top 15 teams in September.
The Tigers held each of those opponents to their lowest scoring output of the season.
In addition to a high level of on-field success, the programs recruit, coach and develop players as well as any teams we’ve seen. Alabama has sent 41 players to the NFL since 2013, while 29 Clemson players have been drafted in that period.
This is on the verge of a legendary stretch in college football. Alabama and Clemson are close to slugging it out like this sport’s version of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
Perhaps that sounds overdramatic. Some of you may even think you need to realign your eyeballs.
Consider this, though: Like in every sport, dynasties have come and gone in college football. Miami, Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, Texas and Florida, for example, have each risen to prominence and fallen—sometimes twice—since the turn of the century. That applies to the past, too.
But those runs rarely overlapped each other for a substantial period and—this is critical—included regular, decisive meetings between two schools on the biggest stage. Rather, the “dynasty” title transitioned from one team to another and, if we were lucky, had scattered matchups featuring the programs.
A third straight championship clash, as Alabama and Clemson are working toward this season, would be unprecedented.
For that to happen, yes, both sides must navigate the remainder of the campaign, and that’s no guarantee. Alabama still has the Iron Bowl vs. Auburn to end the regular season and the possible SEC title game. Clemson has no ranked opponents left but still has to negotiate the ACC slate. College football has a funny way of rendering historical themes irrelevant. Put simply, there’s a whole lot of time left for something to go wrong.
Right now, though, that possibility gets unlikelier by the week. Alabama and Clemson may add another enthralling chapter to what is already a hugely impressive, entertaining story.
That might not be your desired result. Perhaps you’re tired of the monotony and are hoping for an Ohio State or Oklahoma or some other team to give the national championship a new feel.
But what if that doesn’t happen, and Saban vs. Dabo Swinney gets a Part III? That’s the type of “where were you” moment in fandom. Thirty years from now, you’d reminisce about that special era when two dynasties owned the sport—and battled each other to decide who was best.
It cannot get better than that.