Clemson vs Alabama Part V? The Plot Thickens

Clemson football and Alabama are once again the top teams in the polls and may meet again in the College Football Playoffs to settle a few scores.

Clemson and Alabama are once again the top teams in the preseason College Football Coaches Poll but inverted from last season. Last week, the poll was released and Clemson is No. 1 and Alabama, No. 2.

For Alabama, Clemson getting the top spot is added fuel to a fire that is still aflame since their 44-16 National Championship loss to the Tigers. That loss and 28-point deficit were motivating enough, but add in their mind, a slight by the AP, and the summer steam from helmets in Tuscaloosa will linger until January.

But there’s more. In an interview with ESPN writer Chris Low, Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney addressed the narrative floating around that Alabama, from the SEC, was tired when they faced the Tigers from a weak ACC.

“I keep hearing that Alabama was worn down by this gauntlet they went through,” said Swinney. “I’m like, ‘What game did they get challenged in?’ And the response is, they played in the SEC. Well, we played Alabama, Texas A&M and South Carolina, three SEC teams, and one of our toughest games was Syracuse. Our quarterback got hurt in that game, and we found a way to win.” He concluded. “That team[Clemson] last year was a dominant team, and it’s just fascinating to me to see all the stuff out there.”

During the interview, Dabo was also complimentary of Alabama and the SEC but like Clemson fans, he was a little irritated with hearing the circulating reasons(excuses) why Alabama lost instead of how his kids outworked, outplayed and bested the “best team ever.”

A fifth matchup between the teams may abhor some college football fans who have fatigue with the rivalry, but Game V is shaping up to be contemptuous and it’s only August.

At this point, Alabama is probably just angry about anything related to the Clemson program, and Clemson is tired of hearing excuses from a few SEC apologists, as a way to discredit their win.

Revenge is in the air again

At SEC Football Media Kickoff, SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said Clemson football didn’t know how to act after winning national titles, and called Clemson offensive lineman John Simpson’s comments “stupid” after Simpson said Notre Dame was a tougher opponent than Alabama.

Simpson was responding to Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses saying Georgia was the toughest opponent he personally faced in 2018.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence took exception to Finebaum’s comments about his teammate and simply tweeted. “Unprofessional.”

In a recent interview with The JOX Roundtable, a Birmingham based radio show, Finebaum defended his comments, and even took things a step further by predicting the outcome of a potential Clemson vs Alabama(Game V) 2019 matchup.

“I think every Alabama fan listening knows if Alabama and Clemson met or meet again in January, Alabama is going to win the game. There is no doubt in my mind. And I don’t think there’s any doubt in their mind,” he said emphatically. “They have been down this road before. They are the best revenge team in college football history.”

Best revenge team in college football history? That’s debatable.

After a Deshaun Watson led offense compiled 550 total yards in Game I of the rivalry, the Alabama defense, lauded as the “best ever” by media analysts, wanted a rematch despite winning 45-40.

“It’s a rematch for us too, not just for them, and revenge for us too, because we didn’t play a real good game last year,” Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick told The Island Packet before Game II. “We kind of want to show them how we really play, because they caught us on a bad day.”

Well, they, apparently caught them on another bad day and fell just 39 yards shy of 550. Alabama couldn’t stop the Clemson offense again and gave up 511 yards in the dramatic 35-31 loss.

Before the Sugar Bowl matchup(Game III), Alabama, not a conference champion, was privately fuming over Dabo voting for Ohio State, a conference champion, to be included in the 2017 College Football Playoffs. They were also annoyed with Clemson dancing in the locker room, a postgame routine after each win, and the commemoration of the win with a tombstone(a tradition).

After beating the Tigers 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama safety Tony Brown didn’t hold anything back in his postgame interview with AL.com. In fact, he was chatty, braggart and got some things off his chest.

……..How they handled the win last year. We needed that. It was all ammunition. That tombstone…..I love Dabo for all the ammunition he gave this team, man. He gave this team a lot of ammunition to come play this game and ready to dominate every play. They[Clemson] told us we weren’t ready. They told us we weren’t worthy of a top-four team…..I mean, look, that’s what happens when you talk trash to us. That’s what happens. We’re going to show you……We don’t make a fool of ourselves after the game, after like a win. We’re used to it. I was very excited, as far as dancing, dancing in the locker room and making a fool of yourself. We don’t do that here. We win with grace.

While Brown questioned the Tigers, in his opinion,over exuberance in celebrating the 2016 championship, Finebaum has an issue with how the fans and players are reacting to success and his comments.

“One thing we do in the SEC since we have so many championships………We have fun. Unlike some fanbases who are humorless, cheerless and incredibly paranoid. All we were doing was just having fun back and forth and Trevor’s upset, Josh Simpson, the offensive-whatever he is, Clemson got upset,” Finebaum also said to The Jox Roundtable. He continued. “They’re sheltered and kept in a bubble.”

How gracious of Brown and professional of Finebaum? Brown over a win and Finebaum, a Tennessee alum, apparently over Alabama’s loss, and John, not Josh, Simpson and Lawrence’s comments.

After the Sugar Bowl defeat, Dabo in his postgame interview peacefully said “we will see them[Alabama] again.” He also got the perfect insurance policy when Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, three-fourths of The Power Rangers, later decided to return to Clemson to avenge the 24-6 loss. They did avenge the loss and held the high scoring Alabama offense to zero second half and 16 total points.

The three-time national champs-two coming against The Crimson Tide-celebrated with a dance and another plot to “The Graveyard”, again in Alabama’s honor. It was business as usual for Clemson, winning and having fun.

The Clemson players were likely motivated by Brown’s words, but never acknowledged it in the preseason or pre-game conversations.

Even post-game interviews wrapped up without reference to Brown or Alabama negatively, although the Tigers dominated the SEC champs. It was the most dominant performance in the four-game rivalry to date, and Saban’s worst loss of his career.

Before the 2018 rematch, Alabama never publicly lamented over the tombstone like Oklahoma over a 40-6 Russell Athletic Bowl(2014) and Ohio State, a 40-35 Orange Bowl(2015) stone, so Clemson had no prior knowledge of their disdain for the tradition.

In a rematch, the Tigers can assume it will be used as a motivating factor, as they will use Finebaum’s words to motivate them.

The “best revenge team in college football history?” History doesn’t support it. In reality, the rivalry history is in favor of Clemson. The champs are 2 for 2 in revenge games versus Alabama and 3 for 3 in unveiling another tombstone for teams expressing resentment for a recent plot.

Next: The Legitimate CFB Playoff Contenders in 2019

In a Game V, Alabama will find themselves down a road they have been before, facing a possible failed attempt at revenge and gaining a visual haunting reminder of the loss in “The Graveyard.”

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