With the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers reconvening in the title game, the 2017 College Football National Championship made history as the first rematch since the single-game decider format began in 1992. Nick Saban’s Alabama had gotten the better of Dabo Swinney’s Tigers team the year before, but who emerged as the winner of the 2017 College Football National Championship?
College Football National Championship 2017 Winner
After their defeat in the title game the previous year, Clemson gained revenge on Alabama to be crowned the 2017 national champions. The Tigers pulled off a remarkable 35-31 victory in dramatic style in front of 74,512 awe-struck fans in Raymond James Stadium. A last-second touchdown to give Clemson their first national title since 1981 made a cult figure out of now-Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow.
Clemson’s win over Alabama in the 2017 College Football National Championship ensured that the No. 1 team in the nation following the regular season had failed to land a national title since the inception of the College Football Playoff format. The Tigers had been the No. 1 team the previous year and fell to the second-ranked Crimson Tide, while fourth-ranked Ohio State had emerged victorious in the inaugural CFP four-team format.
Clemson Wins the 2017 College Football National Championship With a Team of Blossoming Superstars
When you’re in the moment, it’s difficult to appreciate just how special a team is. It isn’t until you look back at the Clemson team that won the 2017 championship, that you realize just how talented the entire roster was.
Sometimes it was masked by skin of the teeth, hard-fought, close calls that should have been easier wins, given the talent at Swinney’s disposal. But, there’s no doubting the depth of talent.
Quarterback DeShaun Watson led the team on many game-winning drives in those close games and became a first-round pick of the Houston Texans in the 2017 NFL Draft after throwing for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns. The Clemson QB swept all the major quarterback awards following the 2016 season, although the Heisman Trophy eluded him after an exhilarating campaign from Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Eleven of Watson’s touchdown passes made their way to Mike Williams, who was picked five spots ahead of Watson after snagging 1,361 yards in his final season with the Tigers. Meanwhile, running back Wayne Gallman logged over 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns for the second consecutive season before heading to the NFL.
Six of the Clemson team members that won the 2017 College Football National Championship were drafted months later. However, the truly impressive feat was how many second-year and true freshman players returned to help deliver another title just two years later.
The Tigers were flush with defensive talent, with Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, and Trayvon Mullen all playing their part during both the 2016 and 2018 campaigns.
Clemson started the 2016 college football season as the second-ranked team in both the AP and Coaches polls. Remarkably, they never ascended into the top spot until after they won the 2017 CFB National Championship.
There were bumps in the road along the way, falling as low as fifth in the AP Poll after struggling to overcome Auburn and Troy in one-score games. A narrow overtime win over North Carolina State, coupled with close calls against Florida State and Louisville in ACC play, also threatened to derail the Tigers’ national standing despite thumping wins over South Carolina State (59-0), Boston College (56-10), and Syracuse (54-0).
However, no game was as damaging to Clemson’s bid to win the 2017 national championship as their clash with unranked Pittsburgh on a mid-November afternoon in Memorial Stadium. In a shootout between Watson and Panthers’ QB Nathan Peterman, the Clemson QB threw for 580 yards while the Pittsburgh passer threw a career-high five touchdowns.
Often the architect of a game-winning drive, Watson could only watch from the sideline as Peterman drove the Pittsburgh offense down the field in the final minute of the game. Down two points, the Panthers QB led his team to field-goal range, and Pitt’s all-time kick-scoring leader nailed a 48-yard field goal to give his team a famous 43-42 win.
The defeat was the first to an unranked team in 46 games and left the Tigers teetering on the edge of the College Football Playoff rankings. Dropping to fourth in the CFP and Coaches Poll, the AP Top 25 saw them fall to the fifth-placed ranking they’d inhabited following the sluggish start to the season. Could they miss out on a place in the playoff?
Any doubts about Clemson’s potential positioning in the college football postseason were obliterated with a commanding performance against Wake Forest (35-13) and a walkover win in the Palmetto Bowl rivalry game with South Carolina (56-7).
Although their ACC Championship Game with Virginia Tech came down to one score, the Tigers held a comfortable 35-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter and sealed a spot in the College Football Playoff with a Cordrea Tankersley interception as the Hokies tried to tie it up.
Evidence of their claim to being one of the top teams in the nation came against the No. 3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson recorded their third defensive shutout of the season, with Ferrell named the Defensive MVP of the game. Meanwhile, Watson had more than double the passing yards of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in a 31-0 win where both quarterbacks threw two interceptions.
With Alabama defeating Washington in the Peach Bowl, the stage was set for a title rematch in the 2017 College Football National Championship Game.
The Crimson Tide rolled out to a 14-0 lead with two touchdowns from running back Bo Scarbrough. Although Watson’s eight-yard run reduced the deficit to seven points at the half, Alabama outscored the Tigers in the third quarter, taking a 24-14 lead into the final quarter. A touchdown pass to Williams and a Gallman rushing score early in the fourth gave Clemson their first lead of the night and set the scene for a frenetic finale.
Alabama regained the lead with just over two minutes remaining when quarterback Jalen Hurts escaped pressure up the middle, and evaded multiple tackle attempts to score on a 30-yard touchdown run.
As he’d proven multiple times in his career, two minutes was more than enough for Watson. Following a pass interference penalty that spotted the ball at the Alabama 2-yard line, the Clemson QB hit Renfrow for the national championship-winning touchdown. The rest…is history.