Move over Alabama, Clemson is the new standard-bearer in college football

Move over Alabama, Clemson is the new standard-bearer in college football
Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud (21) pushes away from Miami’s Sheldrick Redwine (22) during the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Bob Leverone/AP)

CHARLOTTE — Concentrate, for the moment, on what can’t be disputed, not after this 38-3 pasting Clemson laid on Miami on Saturday night. What we know about the College Football Playoff: Clemson has to be the favorite.

Consider that status going forward, a month from now, and then think back to the past three seasons. Who does it better than the Tigers? Alabama? Yeah, well, maybe, but we don’t yet know if they’re in the dance. In personnel and preparation and execution and, now, downright swagger, we give you Clemson — defending national champions who don’t consider themselves that at all.

“We’re the attacking champs,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’re attacking for another one.”

[CBS’s Gary Danielson believes Alabama should make College Football Playoff regardless of SEC championship]

Cover your eyes, then, because Clemson doesn’t just have a team to win it this year. It has an operation set up to contend for years and years. The team that won the Tigers’ second national title had its quarterback (Deshaun Watson) and top receiver (Mike Williams) taken among the first dozen picks in the NFL draft, and Swinney spent most of the offseason fending off more questions about who was gone than who was here.

“Everything coming into the spring was ‘Oh, man, you won a national championship, how do you stay focused?’ ” Swinney said early Sunday morning. “It was just like we had checked the box and we were just going to stop working at Clemson. Like, what else? We’re just going to go lay on the beach or something.”

If the Tigers are laying on the beach, they’re finding players there. Think about what they have, what with Kelly Bryant capably stepping in for Watson — he completed 23 of 29 passes against Miami — and a ridiculous number of NFL-worthy defenders. Of the 61 players Clemson listed on its depth chart before the game, five are in their final year of eligibility. Now, players like defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins could easily leave early.


“It shows they’re the class of our league,” Miami Coach Mark Richt said. “They’re the measuring stick.”

Watch out, now, before they’re exactly that — the class, the measuring stick — but for all of college football.

As Sunday dawns, we don’t know whether Alabama will wriggle into the College Football Playoff despite having played for absolutely nothing on Saturday. If the Crimson Tide is granted a berth over two-loss Ohio State, so be it. That’s a debate, but it’s for a paragraph and a page somewhere else.

What we had right here in front of us at Bank of America Stadium is…