Why Clemson/Alabama is Already in the Making Again

If we can be honest with ourselves, the past week in college sports was dominated by off-the-field headlines that even the sunniest of "amateur" sports puritans had to be dismayed by. While the subsequent investigations and prosecutions to come in the most recent college basketball scandal have the strong potential to change college sports irrevocably in the coming weeks, months, and years, there's no evidence that they'll impact the current football season yet.

That's good, because it's been a pretty enjoyable first month of play so far this fall.

Each major conference feels like it has at least a few good teams, and the competitiveness in most conference contests is such that top 15 teams can't really sleep walk their way to three-touchdown wins. Teams that haven't been elite for several years like Georgia, Washington State and Miami appear to be strong. Outside of the Power Five, South Florida, UCF, and San Diego State look like the class of the field for the New Year's Six bowl spot.

But the top of the polls tells a very, very familiar tale from the past couple seasons. Alabama at 1, Clemson at 2. I don't think it's two early to ask if a third-straight title game between the two is on the cards.

This should be an absurd question. Five full Saturdays of 14 have been played so far. The vast majority of the 130 FBS teams have played one or two conference games, and not a single team is bowl-eligible yet. And even if the Tide and Tigers won every game through the beginning of December by 20, they would have to navigate a pressure-filled semifinal on New Year's Day, likely each against a conference champion.

But after this month, and especially this past Saturday, the last two national championship winners feel as far ahead of the pack as they have at any time in the past three seasons.

Clemson had the much tougher test this past weekend, playing at Virginia Tech. As is the case for every team playing the Tigers, it was clear very early on that the Hokies would struggle to score.

When the Hokies finally got on the board late in the second quarter with a field goal, it appeared like there could be some opportunity for Virginia Tech to make it a game, only being down 7 despite being dominated through most of the first half.

Then, playmaker Deon Cain made two big grabs on the subsequent drive, and Clemson scored a touchdown late in the second, making it 17-3. Clemson scored the first touchdown of the second half midway through the third, and the contest was beyond over.

Past Clemson teams, even occasionally in the past two years, would have let Virginia Tech creep back into the game late in the first half. On the road against a top-15 team, Clemson showed killer instinct Saturday by quickly scoring late in the opening half.

That win for the Tigers was their third against a ranked team in September alone. It was also very possibly Clemson's toughest remaining game before the playoff, depending on if Florida State improves from its near 0-3 start and what team wins the Coastal Division in the ACC.

Then there's 'Bama, who beat two SEC opponents by a combined score of 125-3 in a seven-day span.

Yes, the two games were Vanderbilt and an Ole Miss team in one-year limbo, but we're still talking about SEC teams, not FCS schedule-fillers. And even with all of Nick Saban's blowout wins over the years where the Crimson Tide dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for all 60 minutes, the Ole Miss win represented the most points ever scored by a Nick Saban Alabama team.

There's not much you can really analyze about the Alabama-Ole Miss game, because it would be like delving into the competition between a hammer and a nail.

But when looking ahead for Alabama for the next six weeks or so, there's a wonderful juicy irony in all the years of Alabama (and other SEC fans) screaming out, "They ain't played nobody!" about Pac-12 and ACC teams when Alabama very possibly will have not played any truly good teams before Thanksgiving.

It's certainly not all 'Bama's fault that Florida State could be headed for a 4- or 5-loss season after its national championship hopes were likely dashed the first night of the season when Deondre Francois was lost against the Tide, but that win is no longer is the poker chip it could have been.

For the rest of October, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Tennessee have shown that they'll probably have nothing for the Alabama talent juggernaut. Deeper into the season, Mississippi State is up to 7 or 8 wins-and-beat-nobody-good tricks, and LSU is a punchline thanks to Ed Orgeron.

Alabama probably won't take on a legitimately good team until traveling to Auburn Nov. 25 for the Iron Bowl. Auburn was locked down by the rampant Clemson defense in Week 2, but has looked extremely strong since. Presumably, that Iron Bowl and a possible SEC title game against Georgia are the Tide's only shots from here on out for 'Bama to register a win against the level of competition it might find in the playoff.

I do think the SEC is better than it was last year, but mainly because of the presence of Auburn and Georgia as 10-win (or better) teams. If that doesn't pan out, and there's a lot of season left, it could be another season miles atop the SEC perch for Jalen Hurts, Damien Harris, and the rest of the Tide.

Much like the NBA, there's now two teams in college football we expect to be standing for the ultimate prize at the beginning of the year. If you're expecting a different result, you might be waiting awhile.

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