HOOVER — Like many across the country, Marlon Davidson watched last season’s national championship with a sense of astonishment.
For Davidson, Auburn’s senior defensive end, seeing Clemson manhandle Alabama 44-16 — the first-ever 28-point win over a Nick Saban-led Crimson Tide — was akin to seeing Big Foot or the first moon landing.
“I was like, ‘Wow.’ I couldn’t believe it, to be honest, because, I mean, Alabama is Alabama,” Davidson said. “They’re great. I mean, every time Alabama is on the field, I’m pretty sure they think they’re going to win. (And) like, everybody thinks they’re going to win, you know what I mean?”
That wasn’t the case in the championship game when an uncharacteristic pick-six swung momentum in Clemson’s favor early before a 30-point barrage sent the Tide packing.
“That’s what’s crazy about football, the interception happened real early and probably settled (Clemson quarterback) Trevor (Lawrence) down, let him get in a rhythm,” South Carolina senior quarterback Jake Bentley said Wednesday. “But that’s just the way football goes, man, momentum. Clemson got the momentum early and just kind of kept riding it the whole game. But if they play again, who knows?”
With both teams again expected to open the season ranked 1-2, and each facing a favorable schedule that many believe will ultimately lead to a fifth straight College Football Playoff matchup, Alabama’s once-anchored status as the king of college football was once again up for debate last week.
During their Wednesday appearance at SEC Media Days, both Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and junior linebacker Dylan Moses sparked controversy when they credited an overall poor effort in preparation for the lopsided nature of the game.
“It was more so just preparation,” Moses told reporters. “I wouldn't say (Clemson was) a better team because we both have great athletes on both sides of the ball. But it was like we didn't prepare as much for Clemson and they obviously prepared for us. They game-planned better than us.”
Moses suggestion that the Tigers weren’t “better” than the Tide drew a reaction from 400 miles away at ACC Media Days in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We were the better team that day,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said when asked about Moses’ comments. “That’s all that matters. There’s really nothing else to say.”
Swinney’s not wrong. There are not many who watched the game who could argue that fact.
But the distinction Moses appeared to be making had more to do with the Tide’s reputation atop the sport landscape and whether one lopsided game was enough to topple it.
At least according to their SEC peers, not even Clemson’s claim to winning two of the last three championships is enough to overthrow an Alabama dynasty that’s won five national titles in the last 10 seasons.
“Nah, because they’re still Alabama at the end of the day, (and) they’ve been doing this for a long time,” Davidson said Thursday. “I mean, Clemson just started coming around, what, three or four years ago? Alabama’s been doing it for 10 now. It’s different, man. It’s different levels to the game.”
Auburn senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown agreed, and even suggested the Tide’s uncharacteristic lack of its usual mettle that evening was the result of external distractions and influences, a suspicion Saban reinforced Wednesday when he implied a lack of focus coming from the coaching staff.
“It was different. … That’s all I’m saying, you’ve got to bring your A-game no matter who you’re playing against week-in and week-out,” Brown said Thursday. “… I know players on the team and just talking to them (afterwards), they were beat up and stuff. So, there’s so many external factors and internal factors you have no idea how the game went. Not to discredit Clemson or anything, but we don’t know how anything went (behind the scenes).”
For other SEC players watching the game, Alabama’s inability to put up a fight against Clemson was one of the more surprising aspects of the game.
“It was more Alabama not matching (Clemson) because you’re not used to seeing that out of an Alabama team, I guess,” South Carolina senior receiver Bryan Edwards said Wednesday. “… They’re still a good football team, they’re still hard to beat, you know. They’re still Alabama.”