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Tough Test For The Tigers

Posted at 4:38 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-11 17:39:46-05

Las Vegas says Alabama is a about a touchdown favorite for tonight’s College Football Playoff Championship game against Clemson, evidence of the Crimson Tide’s dominance over the last half of the season to reach Glendale, Arizona.

So you might think all the pressure is on Alabama as the favorite, right?

Wrong.

The pressure in this game is squarely on Clemson.

The Tigers are having a once in a generation season. The only unbeaten team in the country can become Clemson’s second national championship team and become the first team to win 15 games in a season since the University of Chicago did it in 1899.

That’s pressure.

Think about it. Alabama’s won so many national titles there’s debate about just how many of them should count (the school claims 15, the NCAA says 13).

There’s no such debate in Death Valley. Clemson has won it all once, thanks to Danny Ford and Co. back in 1981.

This is a chance for Dabo Swinney, Deshaun Watson and the Tigers of 2015 to leave their own legacy and a gold trophy in the school’s soon-to-be built football facility.

With a win tonight in the dessert, Clemson players will never have to buy another cold beer at the Esso Club again. There will be celebrations and homecomings and reunions.

But the prize is also the pressure for the Tigers.

Alabama won national titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The Crimson Tide reached the College Football Playoff last year and will be back again soon.

It’s been 34 years for Clemson. A drought more than a decade older than any player dressed in orange tonight.

And as good as Swinney’s program has become (five straight 10-win seasons), history says there’s no guarantee the Tigers will be back on this stage soon.

History also provides examples of just how difficult the finish to these “legacy” seasons can be.

Just last season we watched Oregon and Heisman winning Quarterback Marcus Mariota reach the cusp of college football immortality only to be steamrolled by an Ohio State program accustomed to the championship stage.

John Calipari’s star-studded Kentucky basketball team stood two games away from the first perfect season in college basketball in 39 years last spring, only to be upset by a plucky bunch of Wisconsin Badgers in the Final Four.

Like Oregon, Clemson is a rising program seeking validation. And like Kentucky, the Tigers are playing in the rarified air of perfection.

Dabo Swinney’s right. Clemson has earned the right to play for the national championship.

But to borrow one of Swinney’s favorite acronyms, the Tigers better be ready to B.Y.O.G. (Bring Your Own Guts) tonight.

It needs the gutsiest performance of the year.

Because Alabama will just be playing a game that happens to be for another national championship. Clemson is playing for its legacy.