Following a classic College Football Playoff national championship game that saw Clemson edge Alabama 35-31, the Tigers topped the season-ending Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
As seen in the final rankings of the campaign courtesy of the AP, Clemson beat out Alabama for the top spot after one of the most tightly contested title games in history:
|25||San Diego State||11-3|
Clemson fell just short in the same situation last year, but superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson rose to the occasion against the nation's top defense. Despite the loss, the Crimson Tide had a great season in their own right and were the best team in college football until the final second of the campaign.
Although the Tigers appeared to be down and out on a number of occasions in the national title game, their resilience was on full display. They overcame multiple deficits and finished with a touchdown pass from Watson to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow with just one second remaining in the game.
Clemson trailed by as many as 14 points Monday, and its comeback was one of the greatest of all time with a championship on the line, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Only one other team rallied from a bigger deficit than Clemson to win a national title game (FSU trailed Auburn by 18, 2014 BCS title game) pic.twitter.com/RtefxP7dPE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2017
Watson had the game of his life with 420 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in the Clemson victory.
While Watson fell short of winning the Heisman Trophy, which went to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had no doubt about his place in the college football hierarchy after the game, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
Dabo on #Clemson great Deshaun Watson: "He didn't lose out on the Heisman. The Heisman lost out on him..This was his Heisman tonight."— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 10, 2017
As great as Watson was, he benefited from the best offensive supporting cast in the nation.
Renfrow, Jordan Leggett, Mike Williams, Deon Cain and Wayne Gallman all made big plays throughout the contest, and they proved too much for a defense that appeared impenetrable for most of the season.
The Clemson defense also did just enough to disrupt freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, which showed that the Tigers were not a one-dimensional team.
Clemson is back atop the college football world after 35 years, and there is no question that it earned the distinction in an all-time great title game.
If not for a superhuman effort from Watson and the Clemson offense, Alabama would have hoisted its second consecutive CFP National Championship trophy Monday night.
Even as Watson played Heisman-caliber football, 'Bama appeared on the brink of victory on several different occasions.
The Tide took the lead with about two minutes remaining on a 30-yard touchdown run by Hurts, but their defense was unable to get one final stop after a season of dominance on that side of the ball.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson's comeback in the fourth quarter was something that had never before happened in the Nick Saban era:
This is the first time in 10 seasons under Nick Saban that Alabama lost when entering fourth quarter with a double-digit lead (were 97-0).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2017
The fact that Alabama nearly went wire to wire as the No. 1 team is a remarkable feat considering how many changes it experienced from 2015 to 2016.
As pointed out by Charlie Potter of 247sports, the Tide lost many of their key players who contributed to last year's championship:
Thought before sleep: Alabama lost a Heisman RB, QB, C, 7 starters on D and was 0:01 away from winning it all w/ a frosh QB. What a season.— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) January 10, 2017
While much of the focus is on the top two after Monday's incredible game, USC finished the season by capturing the No. 3 spot on the strength of a nine-game winning streak, which included a 52-49 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
Pac-12 champion Washington remained at No. 4 after its CFP semifinal loss to Alabama, while Ohio State dropped from No. 3 to No. 6, as it was shut out 31-0 by Clemson in the other semi.
Oklahoma rounded out the Top Five thanks to a 35-19 win against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and a 10-game winning streak to end the season.
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