CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney trails only Nick Saban in national championships among active head coaches.
The head ball coach at Alabama owns seven national championship rings, but Swinney and Clemson have won two of the last five. Clemson and Alabama have met four times in the College Football Playoff era and have split the meetings. These two programs will likely be in the mix again in 2021.
The Tigers have plenty of good things going for them. However, there needs to be a couple of specific boxes checked to allow the team to rise above the rest. Clemson has the ingredients to compete for a national championship in 2021.
One thing the College Football Playoff era has taught us is that teams need to have top-notch talent to win the whole enchilada. Alabama dominates on national signing day and now Clemson is starting to do the same, along with Ohio State and Georgia.
The Tigers will enter the season with 10 former five-star recruits on the roster, per the 247 Sports Composite Rankings. The Tigers also have a handful of high four-star players. Clemson has built a dynamic roster, which will allow the team to compete with the best of the best on the biggest stages.
The days of winning the whole thing with a game-manager at quarterback are over. Take out Alabama’s Jacob Coker and all of the recent title-winning quarterbacks were absolute game-changers — Deshaun Watson, Tua Tagaovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones.
D.J. Uiagalelei has some big shoes to fill, but there is no denying the sophomore’s talent. The young phenom should be one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football. Uiagalelei can be a difference-maker from under center and that’s what teams need to bring home the crown.
Matchup nightmare at wide receiver
Similar to the star quarterbacks, offenses need receivers that can dominate in one-on-one matchups. DeVonta Smith did this last year for Alabama. Both Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson were monsters for LSU. Tagovailoa was throwing to Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Calvin Ridley, and Henry Ruggs III in Bama’s comeback over Georgia to claim the 2017 national title.
Clemson has one of those guys this season.
Justyn Ross cooked Alabama in the 2018 national championship to a tune of six receptions for 153 yards, to go along with a 74-yard touchdown. The 6-foot-4 receiver has a chance to set some program records this season and will need to be one of the best wideouts in the country if Clemson is to bring home the hardware.
Now everyone is just waiting to hear the final word from the medical professionals.
When playing the top teams in college football, games are turning into shootouts. However, experience on defense can eliminate potential busts that opposing offenses can take advantage of. Clemson will have that this fall.
Super seniors James Skalski and Nolan Turner return to provide leadership. Cornerbacks Andrew Booth Jr., Mario Goodrich, Sheridan Jones, Fred Davis II and Malcolm Greene are all a year older. Four five-stars on the defensive line — Bryan Bresee, K.J. Henry, Myles Murphy, and Xavier Thomas — have all played major snaps.
Everything is there for Brent Venables to have one of the best defenses in the country again after a step back in 2020.
To win a national championship, teams have to first earn an invitation to the College Football Playoff. This has been routine for Clemson as the Tigers have reached the playoff six straight seasons. The schedule in 2021 gives the program another great chance to get there again.
The opener against Georgia will be a monster matchup, but even a loss does not take Clemson out of the running. No one in the ACC feels close to Clemson, and running the table certainly seems like an achievable goal. Going undefeated is possible with a season-opening win over the Bulldogs.
Clemson will be expected to make the playoff for the seventh time in 2021.