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Simmons Says - Orange and White Jealousy

It was impossible to watch Monday's College Football Playoff championship game without being jealous. All I could think was how so many Clemson players ended up wearing the wrong shade of orange.

Led by freshman phenoms Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross, the Tigers derailed the Alabama dynasty with a 44-16 beatdown. The victory gave Clemson the first 15-0 season in college football history, as well as tipped the scales toward the Tigers as the model program. 

Former Tide player Dabo Sweeney is establishing a powerhouse in South Carolina. And toppling the Tide in two of the last three championships only serves as notice to the rest of the country how Clemson may be the best college program in the country.

I've seen a team do this before. They were even wearing orange and white while doing it.

Tennessee had a similar path toward the top of college football in the 1990s. And I couldn't help but feel like if the Vols hadn't been such a dumpster fire over the last decade, maybe I would've been watching my beloved team lift the trophy Monday night.

Sweeney took the reins at Clemson as an interim coach after Terry Bowden was fired in the middle of the 2008 season. Phillip Fulmer also started his leadership of the Vols as an interim coach when Johnny Majors underwent surgery before the 1992 season.

Sweeney was known for his recruiting, one the biggest reasons Clemson decided to make him the official head coach. Fulmer's recruiting was legendary, even earning him a cameo role in "The Blind Side." 

Sweeney was the mastermind behind the "Tiger Walk," where Clemson's players are lead into the stadium through a sea of fans. The "Vol Walk" that goes on two hours before each game at Neyland Stadium ends on a street named Phillip Fulmer Way.

And both Sweeney and Fulmer really made a name for themselves by beating Alabama.

Critics have longed dinged Fulmer for his record against Florida, but he doesn't receive enough credit for owning the Crimson Tide. Alabama owned the "Third Saturday in October" series before Fulmer took over, winning seven straight before the teams tied in 1993 - Fulmer's first time as the head coach.  The Vols won 10 of the next 12 meetings, coinciding with the arrival of Peyton Manning.

On Monday night, I saw the closest thing to a Manning clone shredding the Tide again. And it hurt to watch.

Lawrence grew up a Tennessee fan. He idolizes Manning - it's why he wears No. 16. Reportedly, Lawrence was a heavy lean to attend the University of Tennessee before then coach Butch Jones decided he wanted a better fit for his offense. Apparently the best QB in the country, and arguably the best quarterback prospect since Manning, wasn't good enough for Jones. 

(Side note: If Alabama fans want to blame their coaches for Monday's loss, Jones is an easy target. Sure, he probably didn't have much involvement in the game plan, but he was a big reason why Clemson had so many talented players.)

Another Clemson star from Monday was Tee Higgins - a two-time Mr. Football in Tennessee. The Oak Ridge star grew up 25 miles from Neyland Stadium. He wasn't interested in jumping on the Butch bus.

Twenty years ago, Tennessee won the first BCS championship with Tee Martin at quarterback. On Monday, his son Amari Rodgers caught two passes in the Tiger Blowout. 

Yes, a QB who grew up wanting to be just like the best quarterback in Tennessee history, the son of championship Vol quarterback and a kid who grew up close enough to hear the roar at Neyland Stadium from his bedroom are all Tigers. 

So while many cheer on the Tigers, or revel in the fact Alabama finally took it on the chin, I sat at home in sadness.

Clemson is what Tennessee used to be. And I don't know if the Vols will ever get back to that level again. 

Jeffery Simmons is the sports editor at the Southern Standard.  More Simmons Says columns will be published exclusively on the Standard website in the future.