College football 2019: Can anyone beat Alabama and Clemson?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pose with the trophy at a news conference for the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 6 in Santa Clara.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, left, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
(Chris Carlson)

J. Brady McCollough examines the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. The first installment looks at Alabama and Clemson’s dominance.

Alabama and Clemson have played each other in three of the last four College Football Playoff national championship games. It has been four years since a team other than the Crimson Tide or Tigers won the sport’s ultimate prize, when Ohio State won the inaugural CFP title, and Urban Meyer is no longer in Columbus to signal a threat.

The sport belongs to Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney until proven otherwise, and it would be borderline crazy at this point to pick another team to end their stranglehold, which produced a couple of classic title bouts in 2016 and 2017 but has taken away much of the intrigue that was expected to build with the introduction of the long-awaited four-team playoff system.

Unless, of course, you are the type that loves the idea of two dynasties clashing year in and year out. If so, then this season should be a thrill.

Alabama and Clemson both return Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, respectively, plus loaded depth charts at wide receiver and running back. Both teams are going to score a ridiculous amount of points, and both seem to never experience a decline defensively no matter how many players move on to the NFL.


But, let’s remember: It wasn’t long ago that “Clemsoning” was a verb that meant consistently finding ways to lose on the big stage. Swinney, once a little-known wide receivers coach for the Tigers who turned the interim head coach tag into a place among the great program builders, is the only thing standing between Saban and dominance the sport has never seen.

After an up-and-down freshman season, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson wants to deliver a breakout performance for himself and the Bruins.

So, if Clemson can do it, anybody can do it, right? Unfortunately, that may be too hopeful. The Tigers happen to play in a down Atlantic Coast Conference that has allowed them to plow through the competition. That has helped their rise, but Clemson has proven time and time again it is worthy of its inclusion in the playoff by pummeling Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame and, in last year’s championship game, Alabama.

Clemson is here to stay and once again has a soft schedule compared to other contenders for the title. The Crimson Tide will have the usual Southeastern Conference gantlet, but also the juice that comes from a championship game defeat.

Georgia is the most likely choice for a spoiler. Kirby Smart’s program has nearly beaten Alabama in consecutive years, falling just short in the 2017 national championship game and the 2018 SEC championship game.

The Bulldogs bring back seasoned quarterback Jake Fromm, a stable of talented running backs and what some consider the nation’s best defense.

Ohio State may be a year away, breaking in a new coach in former offensive coordinator Ryan Day and tantalizing Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields.

Oklahoma will feature another explosive Lincoln Riley offense led by Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts, but there’s still no defense in sight.

Dormant big-name programs like Michigan and Texas are popular picks to crash the CFP, but they have much to prove to be viewed as candidates to upstage Clemson and Alabama.