Clarity inevitably does come to college football.
And when it does arrive, it is not wearing any gold gimmicks around its neck. Clarity does not accessorize.
It is unimpressed by dusty claims to greatness or the sentimental pull of a formerly famous/infamous program trying to regain footing on either side of that divide.
All that matters is who has the goods with the clock running, the world watching and a playoff selection committee sitting on high, the world’s most entitled couch potatoes, waiting to be impressed.
All of which suited Clemson far more than Miami Saturday night at the ACC Championship Game.
“It’s in our DNA, baby. We’re built for moments like this,” exclaimed Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, taking the championship podium following the Tigers 38-3 victory over the Hurricanes.
“It was probably our best game of the year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I thought our guys were just awesome.”
On this conference championship Saturday, teams everywhere except Midwest made their strong, irrefutable claims to a place in the upcoming playoffs. Oklahoma by 24 in the Big 12. Georgia by 21 in the SEC.
And then there was Clemson, landlord of the ACC Championship and your defending national champion. The Tigers claimed their third straight ACC title with the grim certainty of the tax man auctioning off a home on the steps of the county courthouse. They inflicted the day’s most decisive beating upon the Hurricanes, who finally made this game after 13 years of trying only to score exactly three more skinny points than in all those other games to which they weren’t invited.
In its most dominant performance yet in this game by Clemson – it has won three others by an average of 11 points – the Tigers loudly proclaimed, “Deshaun who?”
The Clemson quarterback filling the yawning vacancy of the departed Deshaun Watson came out and completed his first 15 passes and ran for his first touchdown before Miami had a chance to catch a deep breath. Kelly Bryant’s completion streak broke Watson’s own 2015 championship game record (13 straight) as well as breaking Miami’s will.
“Kelly’s answered a lot of questions. He’s gone out there every week and there aren’t any more questions,” Swinney said.
Bryant, who finished 23-of-29 passing for 252 yards, one touchdown throwing and one rushing, was the no-brainer MVP of the championship game. He completed passes to 10 different teammates.
He had plenty of help, as the little number on the Miami side of the ledger would attest. This defense – filled with so many more future Falcons linemen – had its shutout until the Hurricanes kicked a sad field goal, standing fourth-and-one on the Clemson 6-yard line with three minutes left in the rout.
Yeah, Clemson’s defense is getting itself in order for the January push, having now allowed a total of 16 points in its last three games.
Miami was playing with one arm behind its back. The Hurricanes No. 2 and 3 receivers – tight end Christopher Herndon and wide receiver Ahmmon Richards – were both out with knee injuries. But, honestly, it mightn’t have mattered much had they enlisted Greg Olsen and Michael Irvin in their primes this evening.
And what, you ask, of the turnover chain, the talisman of Miami’s season of rebirth? The Hurricanes have relied on the turnover both in substance and symbol. They largely got to this game thanks to the kindness and carelessness of strangers.
Miami did get the first turnover of the night on a muffed punt, taking over the ball on the Clemson 37 early in the first quarter. All that came of that was a missed 46-yard field goal by the only Hurricane to make first team All-ACC, Michael Badgley.
There would be a couple other times the Tigers let the ball squirt from their grasp, but neither time did Miami claim it. And at the end it was Clemson that was the master of the mistake, as surely as if it had picked up that gaudy turnover chain at a Charlotte pawn shop.
The Tigers would win the battle of the turnovers, too, 3-1, scoring 14 of its points off Miami miscues.
Clemson undoubtedly will retain its No. 1 ranking in the playoff hierarchy – unless there’s something higher. “We’re ready to go to New Orleans and eat some beignets. Let’s go!” Swinney said to the Clemson faithful after Saturday’s win, referring to Clemson’s likely semifinal destination.
And those looking for weaknesses in Clemson’s hold on the national title – which now includes one Athens-based team – good luck with that.
First, know that the Tigers are quite serious about not resting on the title of defending champion. There will not be stopping to smell the laurels any time between now and the New Year, their coach said.
“We’re the attacking champs. We’re attacking for another one. We’re not defending anything,” Swinney said. “We have a different team (than last year’s). We’re attacking to win another one.”
“We’re kind of hitting our stride and it’s a good time to do it,” Swinney said, underscoring the plain truth of the Bank of America Stadium scoreboard. “The margin of error gets really, really, really small this time of year.” He should know.