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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
A week after Clemson 's upset victory over Alabama, in one of the most exciting games in college championship football history, we are left with competing theories.
Clemson's victory proves any team is capable of winning the national championship.
Clemson's victory proves some teams are capable of winning a national championship.
That second theory is correct. It's no contest.
There are a surprisingly limited number of teams capable of winning a national championship. Always have been. Always will be.
There were 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the 2016 season. Realistically, only schools from the Power Five conferences - ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC - have a chance to be among the four finalists in the College Football Playoffs.
In each of those conferences, several teams consistently play at a national championship level.
Fans can make the case that if the 8-4, 7-5, 6-6, 5-7 team they support really gets things rolling, it is as capable as Clemson of toppling an Alabama, Auburn or Ohio State when those teams are at the height of their power.
There is no substantive evidence of that. Most FBS teams, even Power Five members, can't be considered national powers on a regular basis.
More teams than not struggle just to be competitive. There is substantive evidence of that.
Most teams, even among the Power Five, are happy to play in a bowl game. That satisfies the fans, justifies coaching salaries and keeps the heat off athletics directors and college presidents.
Occasionally, Texas A&M can have an exceptional season and surge to the top four in the CFP rankings, as can Kansas State, Baylor, Oregon, maybe Miami, UCLA, Mississippi State, Colorado, Louisville or Virginia Tech.
Maintaining that level of excellence is difficult. It requires massive amounts of money for coaches' salaries, coaches' bowl bonuses, infrastructure such as practice facilities, recruiting, offering full cost of attendance and "fueling stations," which essentially are food courts for athletes, among other things.
Alabama pays its strength and conditioning coach $525,000 and, according to figures published by USA Today, had a budget of $5.3 million for its assistant football coaches. That wasn't even No. 1 in the country, if you can imagine Alabama football not being No. 1 in any category.
According to USA Today's figures, LSU spent $5.7 million on its assistants. Clemson even outspent Alabama by $70,000 in that category. No doubt the Alabama faithful will demand those affronts be rectified before the 2017 season. Thrift is not considered a virtue at the top levels of college football.
This makes coaching at the top level a high-risk, high-reward business.
LSU fired its coach, Les Miles, during the 2016 season. And it's tempting to say Miles, with a 114-34 record with the Tigers, two national championship game appearances and one national championship in his 11¼ years at LSU, got a raw deal.
However, when a college/athletics department pays you $4.3 million per year and is forking over another $5.7 million for assistant coaches, results comparable to that financial commitment are expected. Miles was 8-5, 9-3 and 2-2 in his final 2¼ seasons at LSU.
That doesn't cut it.
For a college coach, negotiating a favorable contract with millions guaranteed and a lucrative buyout is as important as bringing in a five-star prospect at quarterback.
Once you've had a lakefront home or a mountain retreat, it's hard to go back to living as a mere assistant coach, or an assistant professor, with one house and no complimentary cars.
College football is cyclical. One day, Alabama will be replaced by a team such as Auburn, LSU, Florida State or Iowa. Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Michigan - hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh isn't going to win a national championship with the Wolverines - or one of only a handful of others will supplant Clemson.
Don't expect to see Wake Forest, Northwestern, Iowa State or Indiana among the final four of college football. The sport isn't structured that way.
College football is the embodiment of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" - all teams are equal, but some are more equal than others.
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