Many anticipated Monday’s rematch of last year’s Alabama-Clemson title game to be an even better game and sure enough it was, with Clemson pulling the shocking upset of the supposedly unbeatable Crimson Tide on a touchdown pass with a mere second left. Even before the game, many writers fantasized about the great things a win would bring for now NFL-bound QB Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers football brand. Some writers used extraordinary prose to anticipate what the win would mean, to the point of one ESPN author saying that, for Watson, it would go “beyond transcendence”.
Such sayings are commonplace in the sometimes over-hyped world of college football, but it actually reveals a very troubling attitude among American sports fans with shrinking attention spans. This author fears that Watson and Clemson, while certainly a deserving champ this year, are not set up for long-term success, while Alabama will be set to roll through college football once more in 2017.
First, to consider just how absurd some of the hype about college football becomes, consider the definition of transcendence. It means “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level”. If transcendence already means going beyond, this would mean going beyond going beyond simply nonsense. Furthermore, it was very revealing what content was on ESPN’s homepage Monday morning. The lead article was top 25 teams of 2017, with Alabama on top (of course) and a depleted Tiger team all the way down at 14. Even more revealing, by Monday night the homepage was full of coverage of the NFL Divisional round. In not even 24 hours the Tigers’ hard-earned accomplishment was already old news. And considering some of the previous histories we’ve seen in the college football championship game era, Clemson and Watson could be completely forgotten in just a few years. The similarities between Texas and Vince Young, Florida State, and Jameis Winston, and Clemson and Watson are eerily striking, and don’t seem to bode well for Watson.
First, consider Vince Young’s tenure at Texas. Young’s dual-threat skills led Texas to two very strong years, capped by a true classic foiling of USC’s threepeat hopes in the Rose Bowl. But the decline of both Young and his school were both steep and swift. Texas has become a revolving door of coaches coming in and out, and Young flopped badly in the NFL. Young even went so far as to spend a six figure sum of money on a birthday party mere weeks before being released by Green Bay. The 2006 Rose Bowl was unquestionably a classic, but the fallout, in the long run, was not too good for Young.
Just a few years later, history repeated itself in Tallahassee. Winston, although a serial troublemaker, was a skilled pigskin slinger and led the ‘Noles to an undefeated run to finish off the BCS era. The final game was a barn-burning last-second win over a “team of destiny” Auburn team there solely due to a fluke kick return. After the next year’s ‘Nole team was embarrassed on the field and on social media against Oregon, Winston left for the NFL, much to the relief of overworked PR spinners on campus. Yet Florida State sank into a forgettable down cycle after his departure, and thus far Winston has amounted to only a fair QB for a mediocre Bucs team. Is Clemson next? Watson led the team to two very strong years, but according to experts, the cupboard looks bare for 2017. With the SEC not as strong as in previous years and Jalen Hurts having a full offseason of development, the intriguing potential of a 15-0 Tide team could make Clemson old news very quickly. And that’s a true shame. Countless hours of blood, sweat and tears went into Clemson’s one shining moment, and this deserves more than 12 hour’s acknowledgment. But in the new America of goldfish-level attention spans, it seems one team climbs the mountaintop and literally in the blink of an eye they’re gone.