Clemson beats Bama by being Bama
TAMPA, Fla. -- Really, a team coached by Dabo Swinney couldn't have won a national championship any other way.The Clemson coach's life story could have been written by Horatio Alger, the guy who invented the classic American success story, if Alger had a drawl and ever said, "Bring your own guts."Swinney, the former walk-on wide receiver, won his first national championship against his alma mater -- the team that denied him a year ago, the monolithic defending national champion Alabama -- with 1 second to play, on a throw to a former walk-on wide receiver.Editor's PicksEight years ago, Clemson's AD took a chance and hired an unknown receivers coach. He stuck with him through some tough times. On Monday, he was rewarded with the school's second national title.It wasn't quite Texas-USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but the Clemson-Alabama rematch is in the conversation for best title game. What other classics rank among history's top 10 championship battles?1 RelatedHunter Renfrow, a sophomore who turned down a scholarship offer from FCS Appalachian State to pay for the chance to play for Swinney, caught the winning 2-yard touchdown pass from the greatest player ever to wear a Clemson uniform.His name is Deshaun Watson, and the combination of his will and his right arm drove the Tigers to overcome two deficits in the final five minutes for a 35-31 victory on Monday night with a second to spare.A year ago, Clemson lost the playoff final to Alabama, 45-40, despite Watson throwing for four touchdowns and gaining 478 yards of total offense. This time, the Tide throttled Watson for most of the first half. Yet he came out of halftime a different guy, and he finished with four touchdowns (one rushing, three passing) and 463 yards of total offense. So the Tide's defense is making progress.Watson gave a performance reminiscent of what Texas quarterback Vince Young did to defending national champion USC in the Rose Bowl 11 years ago. Watson, like Young, finished second in the Heisman Trophy. And Watson, like Young, made the Heisman voters want to petition for a recount after winning a national title.Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and linebacker Ben Boulware celebrate Clemson's first national championship since 1981 after beating Alabama 35-31. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire"I'll say it again," Swinney said. "He didn't lose out on the Heisman. The Heisman lost out on him. They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever."Instead, Watson will be attached forever to the campus he is leaving after only three seasons, albeit with a 32-3 record as a starter and an undergraduate degree. He ended his Clemson career in a way that will be remembered in the part of South Carolina they call the Upstate for as long as Tigers football players rub Howard's Rock.This victory was not the grueling reality of fulfilling expectations, as Alabama might have felt with a win, but the unbridled joy of realizing a dream. Clemson had done it. Clemson had knocked off Alabama, the program Swinney has often described as the template for what he wanted to build in Death Valley. It took him eight seasons."The paw is flying on top of that mountain tonight," Swinney said. "We saw the top of it last year, didn't get quite there. Tonight we took that next step. It was really the only thing we hadn't done in the last eight years, and we got it done."You heard the complaints for the past week, the grumbles about a rematch, the worry that two southern teams, playing for the national championship for the second consecutive year, wouldn't engage the rest of the nation.If executive director Bill Hancock has any sense, he will propose that the College Football Playoff sign Clemson and Alabama to a long-term contract. For the second consecutive year, the Tigers and the Crimson Tide played a championship game for the ages.Clemson won on Monday after spotting Alabama a 14-0 lead. It won without an effective running game (91 yards on 42 carries). It won despite losing the turnover battle, 2-0. That means your national champion, ladies and gentlemen, finished minus-1 in turnover margin.But after a so-so first half, Watson found his rhythm in the second half (23-of-33, 267 yards, and those three scoring passes), leading the Tigers to touchdowns on four of their last seven possessions -- taking a lead until 4:38 remained, losing that lead in only six plays, and then taking it back again.Alabama scored 31 points with one arm tied behind its back -- the right arm of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. He completed 13 of 31 passes for 131 yards, 68 of them on a touchdown pass to the Clemson killer, tight end O.