Etienne vs. Alabama

Clemson’s Travis Etienne scores a touchdown during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Clemson is the new Crimson.

All hail Dabo The Conqueror.

The Tigers rolled the Tide on Monday night in one of the best college championship game performances in any sport.

Did they happen to mention on ESPN that quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross are merely freshmen?

The Clemson winning machine — an evolving cast — beat mighty Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game for the second time in three years, this one an astonishing 44-16 victory at Levi’s Stadium.

The Tigers just keep rolling.

Lawrence, Ross, Travis Etienne and Trayvon Mullen were among the many Clemson stars Monday night.

It was Deshaun Watson, Ben Boulware, Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow leading the way two years ago in Tampa.

A California gold strike is why the core group of seniors on defense — Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt, Austin Bryant and Kendall Joseph — didn’t turn pro early.

“We went 15-0, knocked out the champs to do it and beat the best offense I’ve seen," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "This is a special performance, a special year and this is a great legacy for these guys.”

Next year, the cast might feature more contributions from the many young players who took part in Clemson’s second national title game victory over Alabama in three years.

And former Alabama walk-on wide receiver Dabo Swinney, 2-1 against active legend Nick Saban in national title games, takes his place among the top college coaches.


That 15-0 part? The most wins in a major college season.

Saban, owner of the five national titles at Alabama and one at LSU, talked leading up to the game about the heavy lifting that goes with life at the top.

“It’s a bit like climbing a mountain,” Saban said. “Obviously, it gets a little more treacherous when you get to the top. Then every year you have to start over and sometimes when you do it consistently, you become the mountain. Everybody wants to play their best game against us.”

Clemson gets a lot of best shots, too.

More coming; the Tigers became the mountain Monday night.

Lawrence and Ross

What terrific strategy performances from the Clemson coordinators, Venables on defense and Jeff Scott and James Island’s Tony Elliott on offense.

“How ‘bout that ACC, baby?” Elliott shouted on his way from the coaches’ booth to the field as the final seconds were ticking away.

It was a masterpiece of preparation and execution.

“The staff did an unbelievable job of putting variety in the plan and we really sold it to the kids," said Elliott, Clemson's main play-caller. "They liked the plan, it was an aggressive plan and they knew we were going to challenge (Alabama). When they walked on the field, they had all the confidence they were going to walk off victorious.”

Lawrence, so poised and patient, waited for receivers to come open in the face of torment from a typically formidable Alabama pass rush. A 347-yard passing night, three touchdowns, NFL-quality stuff.

Etienne didn’t just have three big touchdown runs; he blasted his way through tackle attempts.

Ross, a 6-4 Alabama native Saban really wanted, was dominant in the Cotton Bowl.

“He is as good as we’ve ever signed,” Swinney said Saturday. “Physically, mentally. And you best believe there’s a lot more coming from that guy.”

Swinney was right: Six catches for 153 yards Monday night.

How about an offensive line that never gets enough credit?

Clemson’s defense, maligned for struggles in wins against SEC foes Texas A&M and South Carolina, was in the right place at so many right times. It had to rattle Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa; he wasn’t pressured while throwing his second interception, but Clemson cornerback Mullen was on the spot for an overthrow of wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Like the mission bell

That’s a 74-19 Clemson scoring edge in playoff wins over Notre Dame and Alabama, by the way.

The degree of difficulty in wrestling a national crown away from Alabama is something like trumping Elvis, Yellowstone National Park and pizza as our national dish.

Saban has won six national titles, five at Alabama and one at LSU.

Put that guy in a position to have to call for a predictable (and failed) fake field goal attempt down 15 points early in the third quarter and you have accomplished something as impressive as the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge itself.

Not far from Levi’s Stadium, the bell at Mission Santa Clara de Asís, a gift from King Carlos IV of Spain, rang again Monday night.

Just as it has every evening since 1798.

Alabama-Clemson feels a lot like clockwork, too.

Saban will be back. He assembles his Alabama teams the way NFL general managers scout players, with specific measurements in mind for each position.

Relentless player development allows many personnel to exceed high expectations.

Swinney is one of Saban’s biggest fans, and the feeling has been mutual since Saban tried to hire Swinney as a wide receivers coach off Tommy Bowden’s Clemson staff soon after coming from the Miami Dolphins to take the Alabama job.

“The biggest thing,” Swinney said Saturday when asked what he admires most about Saban, “is how hard it is to have consistency.”

A bigger thing Monday night was walloping such a head coach and his famed program on the biggest stage in college football.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.