If Robert Nkemdiche had committed to Alabama, we wouldn't be talking about him ending up at Clemson anyway. But the other way around? Yes, that's been a popular topic.
We heard of a shocking Clemson win, then immediately pictured Dabo Swinney shivering as Nick Saban comes to claim what's his, which is totally unfair. Swinney's also an ace recruiter who's beloved by young players, and an incredible teenage athlete with towering goals called Clemson "family" and said he "loves it." He decided committing to Clemson in June is the best choice for him, and that's great.
But whether the instant starter decides the same on Signing Day is far from settled, and Saban and Les Miles and Mark Richt will have eight months worth of friendly suggestions to make to Nkemdiche in that regard. For Swinney to win the tangible, on-field privilege of coaching the consensus top recruit, he'll have to do something Clemson is not known for doing. He'll have to finish even stronger than he's started.
(Do you remember Clemson actually scored in the Orange Bowl before West Virginia did? Starting strong has never been the issue.)
Nkemdiche's commitment alone will reap benefits for Clemson, which does make this more meaningful than any first quarter touchdown. February commitments from No. 1 recruits Jadeveon Clowney and Dorial Green-Beckham boosted South Carolina and Missouri recruiting, and would've done so whether those players went on to make impacts or not. The Tigers are now legit contenders for anybody they want, so a real victory has already been won.
It's just that Signing Day is so, so far away, and we've got a foreboding idea about Clemson stuck in our minds based on stuff that's even more important than recruiting.
Going by everything except football results, the commitment shouldn't feel like a surprise. From Nkemdiche's typical list of five-to-seven final schools, Clemson's the second nearest to his hometown east of Atlanta. Swinney is a frighteningly charismatic spindle of a man who landed five Signing Day 2011 commits, including two five-stars, to finish with a top-10 class. C.J. Spiller and Da'Quan Bowers were top-10 recruits who became consensus All-Americans. Swinney and Nkemdiche's high school coach were once roommates. He'll get to play next to two Grayson teammates, who also committed to Clemson. South Carolina's pickup of Clowney last year showed Palmetto State schools can acquire the biggest of talents. Clemson's football culture is routinely described as SEC-esque, boasting the 19th-biggest stadium in the country.
Oh, and they wear purple shirts sometimes and orange pants sometimes. Recruits love purple shirts and orange pants.
But that's stuff recruits see.
All we see is Clemson regularly raising wins-and-losses expectations only to dash them. Clobbering Virginia Tech twice just to look unworthy of a Sun Bowl bid, let alone a shot at the Mountaineers. In 2010, taking the eventual national champs to overtime only to finish with a losing record. Entering 2008 ranked No. 9, but finishing with six losses. Going from top-10 to unranked in the space of two weeks in 2006. Reaching 8-0 and finishing 9-3 in 2000.
This could go on forever. We've been conditioned not to trust Clemson when it's at its best. The Solid Verbal coined the term "Clemsoning" to describe the phenomenon, but it's been with us for the longest time.
Football results aren't really relevant here, but that's what we think when we think Clemson. Don't blame me.
Think how much less shocked everyone would've been about Nkemdiche if the Tigers had actually followed through with a couple top-five finishes and BCS wins in the past decade, even though it would be the same program with the same skinny, yelly coach. We expect Alabama to clench its recruits like a string of severed ears and discard the spare parts because that's also how Saban coaches football. Same cross-narration thing with Clemson.
When Clemson lands a tentative victory in the second quarter of the recruiting year, we can't help but prepare for exciting developments in the third and fourth.
This story remains on full Clemsoning alert. Tigers fans will justifiably burn through their mobile data limits every time Nkemdiche visits another school (unless Swinney's done the doubly amazing and gotten the blue-chipper to agree to the same unique stipulation as any two-star Clemson commit). Some (like me!) will talk about what this means for Alabama and Georgia -- even though the story is Nkemdiche himself and Clemson, Clemson, Clemson, Clemson.
For Nkemdiche, the path is straightforward. He can alter our perception of Clemson football by doing nothing between now and February. Swinney can actually pull off two major coups here, first by earning the top recruit's commitment, and then by hanging onto it. That's the beauty of getting your first-ever consensus No. 1 commitment in June.
And if the Tigers can close this one out, that's when the actual high expectations arrive.
For more Tigers football, visit Clemson blog Shakin' The Southland.
While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: