What about next year?

QB star Wat­son leaves Clem­son, Swin­ney in po­si­tion to pull re­peat

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By MARK LONG AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — Stand­ing on col­lege foot­ball’s big­gest stage and hoist­ing its top prize, Clem­son coach Dabo Swin­ney and dy­namic quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son shared the ul­ti­mate hug and a few pri­vate words.

A for­mi­da­ble pair­ing. An im­prob­a­ble cham­pi­onship. An ideal end­ing.

Swin­ney and Wat­son’s fi­nale to­gether, a 35-31 up­set vic­tory against Alabama in the na­tional ti­tle game Mon­day night, might just be a launch­ing point for the Tigers (14-1).

“You think this is the best of Clem­son? Just wait the next five years,” Wat­son said Tues­day. “It’s go­ing to be even more ex­cit­ing, more awe­some.”

The Tigers claimed their first na­tional cham­pi­onship since 1981, end­ing a 35-year drought thanks to huge plays from Wat­son, his re­ceiv­ing corps and a de­fense de­ter­mined to avenge last year’s oh-so-close loss to the Crim­son Tide in the ti­tle game.

Al­though most ex­pect Clem­son to need a year or two to reload — the Tigers are los­ing a hand­ful of of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive stars — Swin­ney be­lieves his team will get an­other ti­tle shot in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, cer­tainly not an­other three-decade wait.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the best is yet to come for us,” Swin­ney said. “I mean, we’re go­ing to con­tinue to im­prove, con­tinue to get bet­ter. Win­ning na­tional cham­pi­onships are hard. I mean, it’s very, very dif­fi­cult to do. It’s been 35 years at Clem­son. … It won’t be 35 years be­fore Clem­son will do this again.

“God will­ing, I’ll be a part of it. But this pro­gram is built to last.”

It’s cer­tainly be­ing built to com­pete with any­one in the coun­try.

Swin­ney has five-star quar­ter­back Hunter John­son, from Browns­burg, In­di­ana, on the way to re­place Wat­son, who grad­u­ated in three years and is leav­ing early for the NFL draft. And Clem­son an­nu­ally has one of the top three re­cruit­ing classes in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence, right on the heels of Florida State as well as peren­nial pow­ers Alabama, Ohio State, Ok­la­homa and Michi­gan.

Equally promis­ing, the Tigers are get­ting ready to open a $55 mil­lion foot­ball com­plex that will be at­tached to the team’s in­door prac­tice fa­cil­ity. The com­plex will

have all the usual ameni­ties, like a weight room, a din­ing hall, meet­ing rooms and of­fices, but it also boasts a play­ers’ lounge that fea­tures ta­ble ten­nis, pool ta­bles, minia­ture golf, a golf sim­u­la­tor, laser tag, a bowl­ing al­ley, sand vol­ley­ball courts and a 24-seat high-def­i­ni­tion the­ater.

Oh, and an in­door slide con­nect­ing one floor to the next.

“Yeah, it’s crazy, man,” Swin­ney said.

Swin­ney clearly has Clem­son rolling af­ter con­sec­u­tive trips to the ti­tle game.

“We think that we have a great pro­gram to sell and we’re very proud of that,” he said. “The best is yet to come for us. This is not the end-all. It’s a great mo­ment, and it’s some­thing that we needed to get done. But you know, Thurs­day I’m go­ing to have a team meet­ing with the 2017 team, and there will be a new group of se­niors sit­ting in the front row, new chal­lenges, new jour­ney, kind of lay out the vi­sion a lit­tle bit for next year.

“We’ll cel­e­brate this week­end, this cham­pi­onship with our ban­quet and the pa­rade and all that stuff, and then we’ll start over.”

He’ll have to start over with­out Wat­son, the team’s do-what­ever-it-takes leader, and sev­eral other key starters.

Wat­son com­pleted 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three touch­downs in the ti­tle game. He also ran for a score, help­ing make the se­quel an even bet­ter show than the orig­i­nal. He was just as good last year, al­though his ef­forts weren’t enough in a 45-40 loss to the Tide in Ari­zona.

“He’s the best player that’s ever come through there, so it meant a lot,” Swin­ney said, adding that Wat­son went 32-3 as a starter. “He set the stan­dard. I mean, high stan­dard. Grad­u­ated in three years, honor-roll stu­dent, rep­re­sented the pro­gram in an in­cred­i­ble way, un­be­liev­able lead­er­ship, so easy to coach.”

“He’s an in­cred­i­ble win­ner, and we’re not sit­ting here with­out De­shaun Wat­son. This is what he came to do.”

Run­ning back Wayne Gall­man and re­ceivers Mike Wil­liams and Ar­tavis Scott will join Wat­son in the NFL. Throw in tight end Jor­dan Leggett and cen­ter Jay Guillermo, and the Tigers will have to re­place a big chunk of their high-scor­ing of­fense.

They will have nearly as many losses on the other side of the ball, with cor­ner­back Cor­drea Tanker­s­ley, safety Jadar John­son, line­backer Ben Boul­ware and de­fen­sive end Car­los Watkins all gone.

“What’s next?” Swin­ney said. “For us it’ll be, like I said, en­joy­ing this mo­ment, but get­ting ex­cited about com­ing back and see­ing if we can charge back up the moun­tain next year.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Clem­son quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son, right, an­swers a ques­tion dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Tues­day. Look­ing on at left is coach Dabo Swin­ney.

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