TAMPA -- The way Clemson coach Dabo Swinney sees it, the only team standing in the way of back-to-back national titles for Alabama happens to be the only team good enough to prevent it. Yes, two days before Clemson takes on the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff title game, Swinney said no team would have a better shot of knocking off Alabama than the Tigers.
"These are the two best teams, and to be honest with you, I don't think there's another team out there that's capable of beating Alabama. I think we're probably the only team that has a chance," Swinney said on Saturday at the CFP Media Day. "We've got a solid chance. But we've got to go toe to toe. Whoever is (Muhammad) Ali, whoever is (Joe) Frazier, it's two great guys battling it out."
Of course, the Ali-Frazier comparison would need a third Alabama-Clemson installment to really hit home; the heavyweight boxers fought three times, while Clemson is back for just its second shot at UA. But Swinney's larger point is a fair one.
Florida State and USC both won a New Year's Six bowl and could make as good of a post-bowl argument as anyone, but the Seminoles and Trojans lost six games between them, and lest anyone forget, USC absorbed a 52-6 beating against Alabama to open the season. The Trojans improved vastly after turning to freshman QB Sam Darnold, but WR JuJu Smith-Schuster's suggestion that USC could beat the Tide if given another chance was more folly than feasible.
Alabama has won an FBS-high 26 consecutive games, its last loss coming in Week 3 of 2015 against Ole Miss. A win over Clemson would give UA a fifth national title in 10 years under coach Nick Saban.
The dominance with which Clemson and Alabama both won their semifinal games, particularly Clemson in a 31-0 drubbing of Ohio State, certainly testifies to Swinney's belief. And who but the Tigers carry enough offensive firepower to dent the Tide's No. 1-ranked defense? QB Deshaun Watson already has a spectacular performance against Alabama to his credit, albeit in a 45-40 loss, and this time around, he'll have more weapons to throw to. Clemson WRs Mike Williams and Deon Cain were unavailable for last year's title game -- Williams due to injury, Cain due to suspension -- and they'll join a host of other playmakers who surround Watson, from a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Wayne Gallman to a dangerous tight end in Jordan Leggett.
Oklahoma, which beat Auburn, 35-19, in the Sugar Bowl, boasts a bevy of offensive skill talent, led by QB Baker Mayfield, RBs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, and WR Dede Westbrook. But the Sooners defense coughed up 432 yards per game and, despite an 11-2 record, didn't have the resume to crack the playoff field, much less advance, despite winning the Big 12 title.
In other words, Swinney's claim is probably on safe ground.