Column: Clemson, Alabama Rivalry Goes Beyond the Field

Over the past few years, there have been two obvious powers in the college football world. We all know who they are, and what the results have been. Both are 55-4 in the past four years. Both have four conference championships in that span; and each have two national championships in that span as well. Oh, with a 2-2 head to head record. There is another major storyline arising from this, however; is Clemson conquering a dynasty and ushering a new era of college football?

I would argue that, specifically, the coaching philosophy of Dabo Swinney is what has caused such a revolution across the game. Swinney and Nick Saban are both definitively great coaches, there’s no doubt. However, the culture offered at the two schools could not be more different. The head football coach at Clemson has a well documented environment of fun and enjoyment, while still making sure to keep a motivated group of young players. Saban, on the other hand, is all business; which is part of the reason his program has been seen as a launchpad to the NFL. With that being said, the following question arises. Is Saban’s no games, business approach causing players like Justyn Ross, the number one ranked wide receiver out of Alabama, to be more attracted to an enthusiastic environment like Clemson?

After Alabama’s loss on January 7th to the Tigers, many Alabama players spoke out saying that Clemson was not all they were made out to be. For example, Quinnen Williams, the star interior Defensive lineman, said “They weren’t hard at all… they were very easy. They capitalized on a lot of mental errors. We made a lot of mental errors. They didn’t come out and do nothing special. We’ve played greater offense[s] than that…”

These words sound arrogant, but it was not just Williams. Star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said, “I don’t think it was anything they were doing that stopped us.”

It seems that Coach Saban drives an attitude of superiority into the minds of his players. That is a philosophy that has consistently worked and has been accurate to this point, saying that we (Alabama) are more talented than everyone else; all we have to do is execute and we we will beat anybody.

This can be contrasted to the way that Clemson players responded to their loss to Alabama the previous year. Quarterback at the time Kelly Bryant spoke of mental errors but acknowledged Alabama, saying “But you have to give credit to Alabama. The mistakes that we made, they capitalized on it. And so it’s a learning experience for us.”

Clelin Ferrell, a Tiger defensive end, said after the game: “As a team, we just feel like we didn’t do a joint effort together to come out with a W. And the scoreboard showed it.”

There is a big difference between the way the two teams respond to losses, and I believe that comes directly from the leadership. Dabo Swinney has set a culture well known around the country as fun; he is also very outgoing about his faith and his goal of creating fine young men. Saban, while obviously not being wrong, takes a very methodical, between the lines route. Both men are leaders, and great at what they do.

But which style is more attractive to the modern recruit? Just ask Justyn Ross, 5 star wide receiver out of Alabama.

“It was really just the culture that they have there, and the family type bond.”

Who doesn’t want to go play at a school where they dance with their coaches after wins, have a slide in their practice facility, and compete at the highest level? With this new style of competition, we may be witnessing a revolution in college football. It could be the beginning of the end of Saban’s reign at the top. The “we’re better” mindset of Alabama may becoming irrelevant because of the recent wave of talent making its way to Clemson, South Carolina. The job Swinney has done at Clemson, taking the Tigers from a mid-tier ACC program to co-top dog in the country with Alabama in just ten years, is truly incredible.

Written by Mitchell Williams, Staff Writer

Photo by Brayden George on Unsplash

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