After one month of college football, one thing is crystal clear: Alabama and Clemson are the two best teams in the sport, and on a collision course to meet in a National Championship for the third straight year.
The two previous meetings were thrilling – Alabama held on for a 45-40 win in January 2016; Clemson won 35-31 in the final seconds this past January.
But the argument can be made that a third straight meeting would not be good for college football. Before you attempt to make a comparison to the NBA Finals, which have featured the Warriors and Cavs for three straight years, the sport is completely different: It’s about the players, which everyone knows because they’re among the most popular athletes in sports today. The games feature some of the highest paid athletes in the world, and players with massive endorsement deals and strong brands.
Clemson and Alabama? It’s a regional showdown featuring an all-time great coach (Nick Saban) and a coach who seems destined for greatness (Dabo Swinney). The Tide had nine players taken among the first 79 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft; they just reload with 5-star recruits and steamroll the vastly inferior competition in the suddenly-hurting SEC.
Swinney is threatening to do to the ACC what Saban has done to the SEC: Scare off the good coaches and dominate the competition. In 2016, Clemson won six one-score games during the regular season and was upset by Pittsburgh; after losing its starting QB/WR/RB to the NFL, they’ve already beaten three Top 15 teams after just five games. Two of them have been on the road (Louisville, Virginia Tech) and not close in the 4th quarter.
This is what the start of a dynasty looks like.
Alabama just beat Vanderbilt 59-0 on the road, and then Ole Miss 66-3. They won’t face another ranked team until the Iron Bowl, Thanksgiving week. Their dominance is numbing; there’s no point in watching the Tide. Both Alabama and Clemson are favored by 3+ touchdowns this week.
And if you’re wondering why this may not be good for college football: After 26.7 million people watched the 2016 National Championship game, 26.1 million tuned in for the rematch. For some context: The 2006 Rose Bowl classic between Texas/USC had a viewing audience of 35.6 million.
2010: Alabama vs Texas: 30.8 million
1994: Alabama vs Miami: 30.1 million
2003: Ohio State vs Miami: 29.1 million
2015: Ohio State vs Alabama (semifinal): 28.3 million
2015: Oregon vs Florida State (semifinal): 28.1 million
Dynasties are good for professional sports – the Boston Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers – but what happens in college, when you’ve got total dominance from one region? The schools are separated by five hours and the casual sports fan probably couldn’t find Clemson on a map.