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Watch Grid: A time to keep and a time to throw away
"One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing."
Sup. Since I’ve been sharing the College Football Watch Grid for free each week over the last few years, some people have kindly asked how they can tip. Here’s the answer:
My debut novel is on its way, with orders hopefully available during football season. I’ll share much more ASAP, but for now, that math is: I send you 15+ weekend guides, and you order a ~$15 book that’d be worth it even if I hadn’t. (Those of you pledging money to this Substack: That’s a lovely gesture, but I won’t touch that cash. Book or bust!)
To be extra certain you don’t miss it, sign up for updates from Shutdown Fullbooks, the internet’s only publisher. (It’ll also be available via Amazon, your local book shop, and wherever else.)
For the millionth time, let’s look back on that moment in 2012 when a three-time national champion named Nick Saban pondered the sport’s up-tempo revolution and asked, “Is this what we want football to be?”
Once he received an answer in the affirmative, he discarded the thing he’d always wanted football to be (14-0 sleeper holds) so he could master the thing football was becoming (52-49 ladder matches). His commitment was begrudging, but total.
“I don’t like it,” he said in 2020, on the subject of fielding arguably the best offense-first team in college football history.
Saban wants to win more than he wants to win Saban’s way. And that’s why he’s a seven-time national champion.
He applied the same logic as the Transfer Portal Era arose. In 2019, Saban wished someone would find a way to limit transactional mayhem, yet his imports have since included five draftees, including two of the 2020s’ five highest-drafted transfers (WR Jameson Williams and RB Jahmyr Gibbs, both No. 12 picks).
"He's telling you the truth about this not being a good thing," former associate director of player personnel Tyler Siskey said. "But he's got the rules and he's going to follow them."
Now compare that curmudgeonly adaptability to the steadfastness of the coach who, for a time, looked like the one destined to dethrone Saban’s dynasty.
Dabo Swinney’s reluctance to bring in transfers has been a constant Clemson topic since at least 2021.
"My transfer portal is right there in that locker room,” he said in 2022, “because if I'm constantly going out every year and adding guys from the transfer portal, I'm telling all those guys in that locker room that I don't believe in them, that I don't think they can play. We're also not doing our job as coaches and recruiters if we're bringing in a bunch of transfers."
And now his Tigers have lost four of seven games for the first time since 2011, given Duke its first top-10 win in 34 years, and fallen to a token No. 25 ranking in the AP Poll.
“There were 363 FBS wide receivers who transferred this offseason and 108 who landed with Power 5 programs,” wrote Nicole Auerbach. “Even adding one might have made a big difference for Clemson on Monday night,” when the Tigers threw for 209 yards against a passing defense that’d ranked 84th the year prior.
For the first time in a long time, Dabo’s favorite claim — that nobody believes in lil ol’ Clemson — is correct. Let’s see what that motivational gimmick is worth against Florida State, powered by Michigan State transfer WR Keon Coleman and Albany transfer DE Jared Verse, or Notre Dame, led by Wake Forest transfer QB Sam Hartman. It’s not easy to make Notre Dame look more with-the-times than you, but life finds a way.
“Is Deion Sanders the Anti-Dabo?” wrote one Clemson message boarder on December 8, 2022, four days after Colorado’s risky hire. Debate ensued: “Deion is a self-dramatizing blowhard !!!***” vs. “A coach like Deion Sanders can and will thrive in this system of limited restrictions. Either we get in it with him or suffer the consequences,” with a side discourse as well: “Like Dabo, he's outspoken about his Christian faith” vs. “His BS story of finding Christ in 1997 didn't stop him from being a horrible person.”
Just as Dabo will always be linked to Saban, thanks to their four College Football Playoff meetings, he’ll also be linked to Deion, perhaps the Power 5’s other most publicly religious coach (which is saying a whole lot).
That means Dabo’s predicament is this: The two peers he most calls to mind happen to be the two strongest at his biggest weakness.
Why die on that hill when you could simply … run down it?
This week I’m watching: To see whether the Pac-12 can remain undefeated against normal conferences. I want nothing more than for it to come down to Auburn-Cal, the most insane pairing imaginable.
Once again, that link is Shutdown Fullbooks. The novel’s about the same thing as this newsletter, plus it includes some football references!
The Shutdown Fullcast is back in season mode (until we decide to ignore the season), including our Saturday late-night edition.
If you haven’t read it yet: Joe Garcia’s “Listening to Taylor Swift in Prison.”
Song of the week (at least among non-Taco Bell-commercial songs): “Water Wings” by Birds in Row.