Tigers Are the Premier Program in College Football

Zach Lentz

Have the No. 1 Clemson Tigers finally surpassed the Alabama Crimson Tide as the premier program in all of college football?

While that question may be deemed as fighting words for many in the south, for ESPN "College GameDay" host Rece Davis, the Tigers have already established themselves as the new kings of college football.

"You could make the argument that Clemson is taking over the sport, as the premier dynasty,” Davis said.

Clemson’s rise to dominance in the college football world has not occurred overnight — it has been a road that began, for Davis’ co-star, Kirk Herbstreit in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Clemson upset the No. 8 LSU Tigers, 25-24, on a last-second field goal by Chandler Catanzaro. It was that game for Herbstreit that signaled that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was on the verge of building, not just a great team, but a great program that would last.

"I've had a front-row seat to watch this and be behind the scenes with Dabo and his team, and watch them go from being on the outside to now being in that upper tier,” Herbstreit said. “I think they have to be right there. Not just the last two years, but really this goes back to I think it was LSU they beat in a bowl game. From that point on, just go back and look at the names of the schools that they have beaten and the conferences in which they play in.

“How can you not put Clemson among the elite? I still think they are gaining momentum. I still don't think that people quite get how long they've been around, but whether they win or lose this game, for me, they're already at that top tier in the country."

Clemson’s recent success has been particularly pronounced in the midst of Clemson’s five-year streak of College Football Playoff appearances since 2015. Clemson leads Alabama for the most wins in the country in that span, while the teams have split two national championships in that time frame.

Clemson’s 69 wins during the 2015-19 seasons represented the most in a five-year period in the AP Poll era (since 1936).

Clemson has a 111-16 record since starting its current stretch of 10-win seasons in 2011. Only Alabama (114-12) has more wins since 2011. The Tigers also have the second-highest winning percentage (. 881) in that time frame. However for some, in the national media, it is still hard to envision the run the Tigers have been on.

“Think about when we walked out of that national championship in Tampa and we were looking at that team and celebration and you think about some of those players that walked off that field and you'll never see them in a Clemson uniform again — led by Deshaun (Watson),” Herbstreit said. “To their credit, the thing that is remarkable is that they didn't lose their edge. Sometimes when you climb the mountain, you finally get there and its human nature that you lose a little bit — they didn't at all.