The Locker Room
By Dan Callahan
It’s time to clear off the remaining stuff from the past college football season because recruiting is coming down the stretch and the focus becomes the next football season. Here are just a few leftover items from the national championship game you may or may not be aware of.
1- Before Clemson defeated Alabama for the title last week, Alabama coach Nick Saban was 97-0 with a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter. A stunning record, however, now he’s 97-1. That makes Clemson’s stirring fourth quarter even more impressive.
2- Until this year, there had never been a national championship rematch before. Alabama won last year and finished, 14-1. Clemson won this year and finished 14-1. Let’s call it even. The next one will be the tiebreaker.
3- Starting at 8:19 and ending at 12:27. The title game lasted 4 hours and 8 minutes, 23 minutes longer than the previous two. There are two major reasons for that. The game was on ESPN and they sold every possible minute of advertising air space they could. The network, owned by Disney, is losing money big time. This was an opportunity to sell the most expensive air time possible other than the Super Bowl. It’s called making hay while the sun shines. Also, the replays, many of which I did not think were even necessary, and they take so long when after watching a single replay on the screen makes the right call obvious to most viewers. There were slightly over 22 minutes devoted to replays. In some ways, the replay has helped the game, but often, too often, it has hurt the game. But remember one thing. The officials are not the ones that asked for instant replay, something that has ended up being not very instant at all.
But as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, his program is now on top of the mountain. It was a chase to get there, but what did it take? It takes a lot, more than most realize. Say you are a Virginia Tech or Virginia fan. What are you facing to keep up with Clemson, to recruit at the Tigers’ level, to have the necessary depth in your program to compete at the very highest level, and the last national title game was at the highest level in this opinion.
This is how it happened for Clemson and Swinney. First, his school is in a part of the country where he can concentrate his recruiting primarily in four states and get most of the players he needs, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and when he sees somebody real special in Virginia, he can come get him too, the Clemson program is building notoriety, and now it is even more of recruiting factory.
Clemson has a staff of tireless recruiters. Since 2009 the Tigers’ recruiting classes have averaged ranking 14.8 in the nation, but that number is rising with each passing year, and you’ll see more of that later down in this column. Swinney got the Clemson administration to devote more resources ($$$) to recruiting, and he wanted even more resources, material resources.
And what has happened? Clemson is getting ready to open a $55-million football complex at the end of the month. Not a sports complex. A football complex with some unusual player amenities, like a weight room, a dining hall, meeting rooms and offices, all just for football. Then toss in a players’ lounge that features pool tables, miniature golf, a golf simulator, laser tag, a bowling alley, sand volleyball courts, and a 24-seat high-definition theater. There’s also a giant indoor slide connecting one floor to the next just for fun. “It’s crazy man,” says Swinney. That’s right, the rich get richer, and so goes the chase for the top. How much money you got?
Coaching and stuff:
On the high school front former Pulaski County coach Todd Jones will take over the Essex job next season, and the Christiansburg coaching position went to a Glenvar assistant……….The College Football Playoff Committee continues to make good decisions. One of the three new members will be former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, an excellent decision. Some question the committee’s choices, and usually that’s because of personal likes and dislikes, but I think the committee has done an excellent job over the three years of the playoffs, and I expect that to continue……Want a sneak peek? The first week of the football season next fall has Alabama playing Florida State, Michigan playing Florida, Georgia Tech facing Tennessee, and the Hokies and West Virginia battling in the Redskins’ house. Best thing that’s happened there in a long time. See, you’re already getting excited……and how about this, former Fort Chiswell Pioneer Coleman Thomas, presently playing center for Tennessee was named to the all-bowl team in the offensive line.
Programs are coming down the home stretch. Crucial recruiting decisions are going to be made in the next few days. National signing day is February 1. Tech currently ranks 6th in the ACC, FSU leads the way followed by Clemson, Miami, and Carolina. UVa is 9th. The Hokies are 35th nationally, UVa 48, and for local Mountaineer fans, WVU is 41. All three of them very much want to improve those rankings.
We’ll look at the national picture next week, but who’s who and who ain’t will not change very much in the world of college football. The best coaches seem to get to coach the best players. The teams that win the most also seem to have the best players. Funny how that works.
Where are the best players going so far? We’ll just look at the highest ranking, the five star players, the cream of the crop. Alabama presently has seven 5-star players committed and don’t bet against that going up another one or two, Ohio State has six, FSU 3, Clemson 3, Michigan, LSU, and Georgia two, and Texas A&M, Penn State, Iowa, and Oklahoma all have one. Five star recruits do not determine the overall quality of an entire class, but it’s a danged good place to start.
Back to Clemson’s recruiting. The Tigers are only ranked 12th in the nation presently, but that’s only because they have gotten just 13 commitments. Most people are well above 20 by now and the usual finishing number is around 25. Programs can only have 85 scholarships total in a program, but these days a bunch of them no longer stick around to earn the sheepskins, so often there are openings other than just the graduating seniors.
But here’s the bad news if you are other ACC programs. Clemson just won the national title, but can’t sign a full load of recruits because its program is so young and most of its players return, including almost its entire defense. Sure, what about the quarterback and a couple of those great receivers. First, Clemson has excellent speed receivers in the program, and what happens without DeShawn Watson at QB? Clemson will sign the number one rated quarterback in the nation in just a few days, one of its three, 5-star recruits, and just in case he is not what he appears to be, the Tigers already have a commitment from the 2018 class top rated 5-star QB in the land. And so goes the chase for the top.