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Swinney architect of title run

Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney reacts during the second quarter against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game at Raymond James Stadium on Monday night. Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports

TAMPA, Fla. — The message was scrawled on the piece of paper and the words — while seeming somewhat outrageous at the time — would turn out to be prophetic.

"CU in Tampa next year," Dabo Swinney recalled writing.

The note, inscribed on a gift certificate to a local restaurant, was Swinney's way of jabbing his good friend Nick Saban, who had won their bet on the outcome of last January's national championship matchup between their two teams. Clemson fell 45-40 to Alabama.

Ten months later, Swinney and the Tigers lived up to his promise. The teams faced off at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, with No. 2 Clemson securing a wild 35-31 win.

Swinney and his players fought back tears as they celebrated upsetting the No. 1 Crimson Tide.

It was the first time in the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff era the same teams played a title game rematch.

And while it's not unusual for Alabama to reach the top of the college football mountain, it was unique for Clemson. Before last season, the Tigers had most recently played for a title in 1981.

Credit former Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony for correctly predicting the Tigers' rise when he said, "Clemson is coming" after signing his national letter of intent to play for Swinney in 2011.

Since that declaration, Clemson entered the title game having won 68 games, second behind only Alabama (75) and just ahead of Ohio State and Florida State at 67.

There's no doubt the Michelangelo of this football renaissance.

"The guy right there in the middle," Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said while pointing toward Swinney. "With the organization he's put together. The recruiting that he's done and dedication these guys had after last January.

"... It's a testament to the hard work of each one of those players."

The players never doubted Swinney would lead them to success.

"I knew that this program was going to be special," Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson said. "That was one of the reasons why I committed. I felt the energy, I bought into what Coach Swinney was saying and what he thought the future was going to bring to this program and I wanted to be a part of it."

While Clemson may not share Alabama's rich tradition, the school is doing everything in its power to provide Swinney and his staff the resources they need to compete every year with the Crimson Tide.

It includes building a new football complex, which includes a theater, barbershop, putt-putt course and slide. That's right, a slide to allow players to go from one level to another.

"That's really what I see our job is as athletic administrator," Radakovich said of his role helping the Tigers succeed. "You've got to give your coaches and their student-athletes the opportunity to be the best that they can be. Whether it's to go out and raise a little bit more money, change a facility, that's what our job is."

Watson, who was named the game's offensive MVP after completing 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns while adding 43 yards and another score on the ground, closed out his final season with the Tigers and he isn't alone. A slew of his teammates also are leaving for the NFL, including running back Wayne Gallman, receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, tight end Jordan Leggett, center Jay Guillermo and linebacker Ben Boulware.

Does this exodus spell a setback for Clemson? Not according to Watson.

"It's going to be top-notch," he said of the future of the program. "Not just now but for five years from now. It's going to be better than what it is now. It's growing each and every year, and I can see, I can feel it, Coach Swinney can see it and feel it and the fans can, too."

Clemson No. 1 in final poll

Clemson rose two spots and leapfrogged Alabama in the final AP Top 25 poll after the Tigers pulled off a thrilling 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff championship on Monday night.

Alabama (14-1) fell to second after its last-second loss on Deshaun Watson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow, which gave Clemson (14-1) it first national championship victory since 1981.

USC (10-3) jumped six spots to No. 3 after its 52-49 shootout victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl last Monday. The Nittany Lions (11-3) dropped two spots to No. 7.

Washington (12-2) remains No. 4 following its 24-7 Peach Bowl loss to Alabama in a CFP semifinal. Ohio State (11-2) fell four spots to No. 6 after its 31-0 semifinal loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma (11-2) jumped two spots to No. 5 after a 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Florida State (10-3), Wisconsin (11-3) and Michigan 10-3) rounded out the top 10.

Western Michigan (13-1) was the highest-ranked school from a non-Power 5 conference at No. 15 following its 24-16 defeat to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.

Bama RB injured

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough sustained a broken bone in his lower right leg during the second half Monday night, ESPN reports.

Scarbrough was injured on a rushing attempt with 2:19 remaining in the third quarter as he was dragged down from behind. He walked to the sideline under his own power, but was later spotted limping to the locker room.

Before departing, Scarbrough was relied upon heavily as the Crimson Tide's primary offensive weapon. He totaled a game-high 93 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Peppers to turn pro

Michigan all-purpose star Jabrill Peppers is declaring for the NFL draft, a decision he shared with Sports Illustrated.

Peppers, who had two years of college eligibility remaining, projects as a safety at the NFL level after playing outside linebacker this season. He also is a stellar kickoff and punt returner who occasionally lined up on offense for the Wolverines.

Peppers finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting this season. He is rated as the No. 13 overall prospect despite evaluators not having enough film on him at either safety or linebacker.