When last we left Dabo’s fellas, Clemson was playing to the final breath against Alabama, losing a national championship game by five points due largely to some Crimson Tide trickeration.
Here we are nearly eight months later, and what really has changed?
Alabama is the preseason No. 1.
Clemson is No. 2.
The rematch already has been penciled in, although first there is the obligation to play out a season.
Last time I looked Clemson hasn’t relocated in the interim and many of its most visible players still are of the Georgia born. Thus are the Tigers once more proxy representatives for their southern neighbor in the championship chase. Go ahead and claim a piece, why not?
Rosters everywhere are salted by Georgia players, but it is Clemson currently putting them to the best use. From last year’s freshman All American tackle Mitch Hyatt (Suwanee) to 1,500-yard rusher Wayne Gallman (Loganville). From junior cornerback Ryan Carter (Grayson) to tight end Milan Richard (Savannah). The front end of the Clemson depth chart is a Georgia travelogue.
Oh, and one more. There’s the matter of the quarterback from Gainesville, the one who is all the Heisman talk before the first game, the one most capable of loosening Alabama’s almost paternal grip on the crystal football.
The Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban has said it’s Clemson, not his own team, that should be the preseason No. 1 all due to the Tigers Deshaun Watson. Considering that Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama, and added 73 more yards on the ground, it wasn’t all just coachspeak. Further, Saban anointed Watson the best collegiate player since Cam Newton.
“I think Coach Saban is trying to kiss up for that (championship game) onside kick,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joked during the ACC Football Kickoff. He also at one time suggested that Saban talking about someone else’s talent was like Bill Gates talking about another man’s wealth.
Nevertheless, just up I-85 plays one of the most dynamic quarterbacks around (and one that Georgia tried to flip late in the recruiting process). And, really, no matter from where you hail, it would be difficult not to be a Watson fan. Dare you to try.
A junior, Watson enters this season just 5 ½ credit hours short of his degree. “That’s insane,” Swinney said. “That’s the type of focus and drive he has; that’s how he grinds.”
Watson accepts the comparison to Newton and the Heisman build-up with equal ease. It’s cool to be called Cam 3.0, but, he added during the ACC Kickoff, “I have to earn it and create my own brand.”
And just how, exactly, would he define the Watson brand? “Good guy on the field, respect the game, understand that football has been there longer than he has and can be taken away any second, any minute. And being a great person off the field, helping in the community being a student athlete and doing things the right way,” he said.
Of the Heisman hoopla, Watson said: “I embrace it because I feel like I’m one of the best in the country. Every athlete should feel that way. If you don’t feel that way then you’re cheating yourself. God put me in this position for a reason. This is what I worked for so I embrace it.”
“Deshaun Watson makes me a lot better coach,” Swinney said.
The quarterback and his grateful coach begin their quest Saturday night at another neighboring venue, the loveliest village on the plains, Auburn. Time remains for those not otherwise committed to join the Watson fan club.