Dabo Swinney has had quite a journey. He was born in Alabama, grew up in poverty, had an alcoholic father, walked on at Alabama, and took over a Clemson program in 2008 that had been solid – but not spectacular – for several decades and turned it into one of the premier programs in America.
“It’s one of those stories that we tell our kids – you can do anything you want if you work hard enough – and then we close the door after we kiss them good night and go, ‘Oh, I don’t know. This is a crazy world,’” FOX Sports NFL and college football analyst Charles Davis said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “And he had that opportunity, and he made the most of it. And look, he looks like the mascot in a lot of ways. There’s times he looks like a cheerleader in other ways. But obviously there’s substance there. Otherwise he doesn’t get done what he gets done. Teams don’t follow guys who just jump up and down and clap their hands. Teams follow guys that they believe in, and he’s gotten that done consistently at Clemson.
“So think about the journey,” Davis continued. “And then if you take it one step further and Google his life story, now you’re really getting into some Horatio Alger stuff. It’s pretty impressive what he’s gotten done and never let any roadblocks jump up ahead of him. I admire him in a lot of ways for that – not just his coaching acumen.”
Swinney is 70-13 since 2011 and 28-2 over the last two seasons. On Monday, he led Clemson to its first national championship since 1981. The Tigers beat Alabama, 35-31, with Deshaun Watson stealing the show for the second straight season. After a 478-yard effort in last year’s national championship – a 45-40 Clemson loss – Watson went off for 463 yards and four touchdowns (three pass, one rush), including the game-winner with one second to go.
Watson will enter the NFL Draft and will forgo his final year of eligibility.
“After the title game last year, he couldn’t have been hotter because of the game he played against Alabama,” Davis said. “Then he chose to come back to school – and understandably so – and then we start picking on the flaws on guys. You know how it goes. For me, it’s accuracy with him. I watched him throw this summer in shorts. Obviously that’s not the right sample, but I got to watch him throw, and consistently when he missed, he missed high and away. To me, that’s more mechanics than anything else. I think he’s a kid who will learn pretty quickly. I think he’s a kid who will put the time in. And what I like about him is when it’s a big game, that kid shows up and takes over. Think about the two-year run now: ACC title game, semifinal, final, two years in a row, he was the best player on the field consistently in those ball games against teams such as Oklahoma, Ohio State and Alabama – twice.”
Many scouts consider North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky the top quarterback prospect, but Davis isn’t sold on the Ohio native.
“We got a lot of work to do on Trubisky,” said Davis, who likened Trubisky’s inexperience to that of Mark Sanchez. “He’s the shiny object, he’s the new guy, everyone’s falling in love with him. Let’s pump the brakes a little and let’s wait and see how the evaluation goes because people haven’t dug in on him yet.”
As of now, Davis would have a tough time pulling the trigger on a quarterback with the top pick.
“I like the position players better than I like the quarterbacks, and I would have a hard time saying I’m going to take this guy and go,” Davis said. “I think you’re taking (this year’s quarterbacks) more on (speculation) than you are on absolute performance. If I look at that, that puts Watson at the top of my list because performance-wise, to me, he’s exceeded what the other guys have done. Trubisky’s sample size scares me right now, and DeShone Kizer became the riser, but his team had almost zero success – which was one of the things we were leery about with Goff last year.”