I mention all of this to give you some context; yesterday contained a fairly respectable crop of "WAIT, THAT HAPPENED?!?!" sports moments. It's important to me that you know what I'm stacking everything up against before I say this: the absolute most stupefying, jaw-dropping-ly absurd occurrence yesterday was what Clemson did to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. This game should have been a compelling, deeply enjoyable matchup between two very different teams, almost diametrically opposed, even. Clemson was one of the most experienced teams across the board this season, and hyper-dynamic on both sides of the ball. By contrast, OSU (J.T. Barrett aside) were one of the nation's youngest squads and made the playoff by doing typical B1G things: crushing you slowly and with great precision on defense and mostly chewing you up 3 yards at a time on offense. The 2016 Buckeyes averaged 39.5 points a game and only gave up 12.75. Sure, some of that was padded-out totals against inferior competition, but OSU also triumphed over a really good Wisconsin squad and beat the brakes off of both Oklahoma and Nebraska. Their only loss was an exceedingly fluky game against eventual B1G champs Penn State who are headed to what should be a really fun Rose Bowl against USC. Oh yeah, and they won The Game thanks to The Spot. (Michigan fans are STILL Zapruder-ing that thing, btw.)
Point is, even in what was supposed to be a too-young-too-soon-kinda-rebuilding year, Urban Meyer's team was really damn good. Sooooooo, about yesterday: Clemson 31, OSU 0. Zero. Donut hole. Nada. They ain't score one damn point, y'all. This was the most vicious hammering Urban Meyer has ever taken as a head coach, the first shutout of his career, and one of the worst beatings of Ohio State's entire 126-year existence as a football program.
And Clemson did that while playing ... eh, they played pretty well offensively, but they weren't perfect. Deshaun Watson threw 2 picks and only averaged 7.2 YPA. No individual Tigers runner or receiver cracked 100 yards on the day, and outside of some nice Andy Teasdall punts, the special teams didn't get much of anything cooking, either. Which tells you exactly how brutal and fast and mean and suffocating Clemson's defense was yesterday, because the team-stat disparities are hilarious:
Clemson: 24 1st downs, 470 total yards, 35:51 time of possession.
OSU: 9 1st downs, 215 total yards, 24:09 time of possession.
That's a wholesale demolition against the second-best college coach of his generation. Problem for Clemson is, now they have to face the best.
It looked like Washington might make things interesting for about half a quarter in the Georgia Dome yesterday, but then Bama and The Process shut that mess down with their usual mundane finality. Watching the Saban-era Tide, and particularly this year's iteration, is watching a riding mower cut through weeds. It's doing the thing it was built for, and it will leave a perfectly manicured yard in its wake, but it's not a particularly compelling viewing experience. The problem with a Tide that just keeps Rolling, facelessly sweeping through valley after valley, is that nothing seems to really slow it down or cause it to change course.
Last year, Clemson came as close as any team to doing something about it.
The 2016 National Championship game was one of the most incredible things I've watched in a lifetime of college football. The Tigers gave Bama all it wanted and then some. Watson was electric, the defense was ferocious, and perhaps most incredibly, Clemson forced the implacable, unwavering Saban machine to play the game THEIR way. Alabama had to run a decent chunk of their offense doing the spread-tempo stuff Nick Saban abhors just to keep up. Hell, they even pulled out an onside kick, which is the sort of trickery usually reserved for lesser, mortal teams who are not coached by diminutive sociopaths and whose two-deep is not stocked like a damn bomb shelter of four- and five-star talent. The fourth quarter was basically one extended montage of jaw-dropping excellence from both teams. It ended 45-40 Bama, but it was obvious they were happy to get off the field and away from the jet-engine turbine Dabo Swinney hath wrought in Death Valley.
Next Monday, we get Round 2. Clemson is a year older and more experienced and probably about as angry and excited for this rematch as it is possible for a team to be. They won't have a chip on their shoulder so much as a Costco-sized crate of Doritos. Bama is, well, Bama.
The Tigers brought a B-to-B+ game into University of Phoenix Stadium and absolutely wiped the floor with the Buckeyes. They'll need an A-game performance in Tampa, but if they show up with it, we're going to get a game every bit as amazing as last year's. Take us out, Bart Scott: