The Best Conference in College Football
The football gods couldn't have put together a better script. 12 months ago, Clemson came five points short of winning their first national title since 1981. They blew a 24-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter against Bama, losing 45-40. Deshaun Watson, who finished second place in the Heisman votes, torched Bama for 405 passing yards, 73 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns.
A year later, Clemson and Bama were back in the National Championship with the same narrative: Big bad Alabama is the heavy favorite while Clemson is the hopeful underdog. While the narrative was the same, the results were different.
Watson put together a game-winning drive to give Clemson the 35-31 lead with one second remaining. What makes this drive special is it was against the #1 defense in the country, some would even call this the best defense of the Nick Saban Era. After the game, Dabo told America that his quarterback has been the best player in the country for the last two seasons and it's hard to argue that. In two games against a Saban-coached defense, Watson has thrown for 825 yards, 7 Touchdowns, while completing 64% of his passes.
It's a shame that Watson will end his college career without a Heisman title, especially after a performance like this but Vince Young didn't win one either. Watson had a Young-like moment when he rushed 15 yards up the sideline to set up the Tigers go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. The game ending drive was similar to another great ACC quarterback.
Three years ago, Jameis Winston and Florida State were in a similar situation against Auburn in the National Championship. Auburn's Tre Mason scored a 37-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead with 1:19 remaining. It took only 7 plays for Winston to lead the Seminoles down the field 80-yards, ending the game-winning drive with a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone.
With Winston, Watson, and 2016 Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, the ACC has had some of the best quarterbacks in the country. After Watson's performance, he will be a for sure top-five-pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but also North Carolina's quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is rated by Mel Kiper as the #1 quarterback in the draft.
This past bowl season, the ACC as a conference finished with the best record, going 8-2 vs. other conferences. Against the SEC they were 3-1 while outscoring the teams from down south 118-88. The only hiccup came from Louisville 29-9 loss to LSU.
Skip suggest that the Tigers played lousy and was still able to defeat Nick Saban's team, but what does that say about Nick Saban's team? Bama came out early with violence and aggression on both sides of the ball. Watson and Mike Williams both suffered big hits, Williams even having to leave the game for concussion protocol. Williams and Watson were able to finish the game, despite the punishment, and made the biggest plays during the final drive of the game. Clemson didn't shy away from from the physicality of the Tide, something that the SEC and Bama is known for.
Prior to 2013, the SEC has dominated the college football world. From 2000-2012, the SEC won eight championships, giving them the crown as the best conference in college football. But the tide is turning (no pun intended). Twice in four years an ACC school defeats a SEC school in the national championship. Twice in four years an ACC quarterback drives down the field for a game-winning touchdown against a SEC defense.