CHARLOTTE — Nick Saban has been playing nice this summer, and Dabo Swinney doesn’t want to hear it.
Months after Alabama defeated Clemson in the national title game, Saban has been giving Swinney’s Tigers some grand compliments. For example: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the best college player since Cam Newton, and Clemson deserves the No. 1 preseason ranking over Alabama.
“I think Coach Saban’s just trying to kiss up for that onside kick,” Swinney said with a smile at the ACC Kickoff on Friday. “He’s just trying to be nice.”
That surprise onside kick might’ve saved Saban and Alabama from a loss on a night when Watson — 478 total yards and four touchdowns — was putting forth an all-time performance.
“It’s on my mind,” Watson said. “It’s a chip we can have on our schedules. At the same time, we’ve just gotta move forward. We can’t live in the past. Living in the past, you’re gonna be holding yourself back.”
Echoed Swinney: “We finished with some regrets. We want to finish with no regrets. Even had we won the game, for us, we’re going to start over.”
Watson is expected by most pundits to compete for or win the Heisman Trophy after finishing as runner-up last season. He called Saban’s comments “cool,” and said the Crimson Tide coach is “great” and “respectful.”
As Saban said, the junior is the primary reason why Swinney’s Tigers are considered elite in 2016.
“It’s nice of him to throw out some compliments, especially about a guy like Deshaun,” Swinney said. “And our program. I think he has great respect for our program. I know he does. He also knows — like I do — that all this stuff is really meaningless. There’s been a lot of preseason teams picked to win it all, and when it’s all said and done, they don’t deliver the trophy.”
Swinney tossed a compliment back at Alabama, calling the Tide’s on-field performance the most consistent in college football (next to Clemson).
Whether the teams meet again in January or not, they are the clear favorites to make it back to nation’s biggest stage.
“We’re the target this year,” Watson said. “Everyone’s gonna circle the Clemson game. We’ve gotta move forward and prepare each week like it’s the national championship.”