Clemson’s breathless win was the right result at the right time

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, right, answers a question during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff championship game the night before. Looking on at left is coach Dabo Swinney. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Combined ShapeCaption
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, right, answers a question during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff championship game the night before. Looking on at left is coach Dabo Swinney. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

We need to be careful. Sometimes, as Dr. Freud averred, a cigar is just a cigar. After a finish like Monday night’s (actually Tuesday morning’s), the temptation to ascribe Cosmic Meaning is great, when all that might have happened was Clemson having the ball last. That said …

This felt like the right result at the right time.

The right result for Clemson, which we once mocked for playing small on the big stage, even though that stopped happening a while ago. The right result for Dabo Swinney, the former Alabama walk-on who’d never been a coordinator before being kicked upstairs when Tommy Bowden was fired the week of the Georgia Tech game in 2008. The right result for Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson, who leaves school having had his Vince Young Moment.

And the right result for the ACC, long derided by its brawnier Southern brother, but clearly the strongest conference in the land. And if you don’t believe that … well, lend an ear to Dabo.

“All you media folks need to change your stories. This league has never gotten the respect that it deserves … I watch on tape, I watched all the Big Ten film and all that stuff. This is the best conference in college football. It’s the deepest. It’s the most competitive — 11 bowl teams … You look at the head-to-head records against the SEC. It’s just incredible. You don’t want to play a team from this conference. You just don’t. I don’t care. Name one. That’s why we’re ready. That’s why we’re ready to go play Oklahoma two years in a row. That’s why we’re ready to go play Ohio State two out of the last four years. We’re ready, because of what we see week in and week out in this conference.”

For those keeping score, the basketball league has won two of the past four college football championships. The SEC has won one. The ACC was 9-3 in bowl/playoff games this season. The SEC was 6-7. The ACC produced the Heisman Trophy winner and runner-up. Florida State, which beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl, figures to be picked no worse than No. 2 in preseason rankings for 2017.

Back to Dabo, who like his players was bleary-eyed Tuesday morning — “I feel like crap,” defensive MVP Ben Boulware allowed — but still talking to beat the band. In the span of 10 days, his Tigers toppled teams coached by Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, who have eight national championships between them.

Five years ago, we’d have laughed out loud if anyone jammed those three into the same sentence. But here Dabo stands, on the top of what he called his mountain, and he’s not apt to fall off it soon.

Said Watson: “We all know that Clemson is only going to get better. You think this is the best of Clemson, just wait (until) the next five years. It’s going to be even more exciting, more awesome.”

There’s every chance that Alabama, which came within two seconds of a fifth championship in eight years, will win the title at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8, 2018. (Especially since Saban won’t lose precious recruiting time to anything goofy like a championship parade.) Bama under Saban is never going away, but this Bama wasn’t quite ready for Clemson, which sounds strange until you note that the Crimson Tide marched through the SEC without trailing in a fourth quarter.

For as hard as the rest of the SEC keeps chasing Saban, no one is gaining. Indeed, the league as an entity has receded. Who was the conference’s second-best team? Florida, which lost four games by an aggregate 88 points? Auburn, which lost five games? LSU, which fired its coach in September? Didn’t it say something that Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, the freshman quarterback who completed 44.4 percent of his playoff passes, was the SEC’s offensive player of the year?

The ACC had Watson and Lamar Jackson, Dalvin Cook and Mike Williams, James Conner and Mitch Trubisky. The ACC had better offensive players than the SEC, and better offensive coaches — Jimbo, Petrino and Fedora, not to mention the guy at Georgia Tech and the guy at Miami who used to be at Georgia. “I told the guys that this would be no upset,” Dabo said afterward, and it wasn’t. The better team won.

It was the right result, and a sweet one, too. The winning touchdown pass at 0:01 was delivered by Watson, a five-star recruit, and snagged by Hunter Renfrow, a scrawny former walk-on who, Dabo conceded, wouldn’t stick out in a lineup of Clemson managers. “The epitome of our team,” he called it, and it will stand forever as the signature of a champion.