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The Essence of Unpredictability

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Clemson’s dismantling of Alabama is exactly why this is the most exciting sport on earth

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s no blueprint on how to eviscerate a Nick Saban team.

If you’d gathered all the predictions, analyses, advanced metric projections, betting lines, breakdowns, previews, and various and sundry advance pieces leading up to last night’s game and dumped them all into Levi’s Stadium, they’d probably fill it out quite a bit more nicely than the actual crowd. But you’d be hard pressed to find anything in there about Clemson beating Alabama by four touchdowns.

What Clemson did was shocking: they knocked Alabama onto their heels right away (which some teams have been able to do before), then they never faltered after that (no one has done this before). A true freshman carved up a Nick Saban defense, and he did it with a devastating efficiency and grace. There were long bombs, and power runs at the goal line. They got touchdowns in the red zone and only settled for three once.

And this game was Brent Venables’ swan song. He dialed up pressures from everywhere and did not back down when Alabama burned them a few times early. Clemson’s front seven took over the game. Alabama got their yards on the ground, but they did not get their points. They also did something no one has really done before: made Nick Saban panic and get drastically off-script and out of character.

There was a collective and primal joy in watching the sport’s most dominant dynasty in history get ground into bonemeal in a national title game, especially for those of us who have to endure the debilitating and crushing wrath of Saban on a yearly basis. It was joyous on the surface, and also reassuring deep down, knowing that Alabama is still fallible. And it was delightful watching them choke on their own medicine.

So if you predicted that Clemson would annihilate Alabama by 28 points and hold them to two touchdowns, that’s great, congratulations, you should consider a second career in clairvoyance. If you’re like the rest of us and expected another dull, smothering, disheartening destruction of a hopeful challenger to the Tide machine, well, relish it. It doesn’t come along often, and it’s going to fuel Nick Saban’s obsessive nature for the next eight months.

Alabama plays Duke on August 31st in Atlanta. Godspeed, you poor Devils.