Finally, after all of the build-up, the big day has arrived. Tonight at 7:30 CST, the Alabama Crimson Tide will take the field for the last time this season with hopes of hoisting the National Championship trophy at the expense of the undefeated Clemson Tigers. Needless to say, plenty of folks weighed in over the weekend:
Though Hank said Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson looked "sensational" in the CFP semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma, he expects Saban to come up with a defense that will limit the signal caller's effectiveness. "That defense of Alabama's is like a pro defense -- they're big, they're huge, they're physical, and I think they can overwhelm Clemson just about to cover that number," he continued. Hank also believes Tide quarterback Jake Coker will diversify Alabama's offense enough to take pressure off running back Derrick Henry. His prediction? The Crimson Tide cover the number and win -- 31-17.
This is how I see the game playing out as well. For months, I've stuck by the belief that the Alabama defensive front seven is the single most dominant unit in the nation, and that the team would go as far as A'Shawn Robinson and company could take them. It doesn't matter what type of offense you run, what type of quarterback you have, how good your offensive skill players happen to be if you can't block up front. Alabama has been able to shut down every run game it has seen and apply excellent pressure on every passer it has seen without committing extra personnel to the cause. Clemson's offensive line is middle-of-the-pack on Alabama's schedule in terms of talent. There is no reason to expect them to fare any better than LSU, UGA, Arkansas, or Michigan State did.
"There’s a very good chance that I’m going to play. Hopefully it’s a high percentage." Fellow defensive end Kevin Dodd said the Tigers will be ready either way. "Shaq, he may be out there, I really don’t know," Dodd said. "That guy, he’s a competitor. He’s going to give us all he’s got, but if he can’t go, we’ve got some guys who can play. "I’m going to step up regardless. This is the biggest stage in college football. This is the national championship. That’s what I have to do. That’s what I’m going to do, whether Shaq goes or not."
It's a shame that the talented Shaq Lawson went down early in the Oklahoma game and comes into his last college football game injured. At one point last week he was saying that he "definitely" would play, and is pretty clearly backing off of that here. If he does play, it's hard to figure that he will be as effective as usual.
Howard's Rock is spoken of in hushed tones, but its origin story oughta demystify it for you. In the 1960s, a useless chunk of flint was discovered in the California desert and unceremoniously bequeathed to then-Clemson coach Frank Howard, who presumably said "Thanks?" before promptly affording it the kind of pomp and circumstance it deserved -- reportedly using it as a doorstop for years. Somehow, against all odds, that self-same rock is now encased in a display that sits at the top of a hill in Memorial Stadium and occupies a vaunted place in Tiger tradition. Players rub it and believe it has mystical powers. That's borderline NSFW. And also ridiculous.
All kinds of good shade in here. Worth a read.
"We heard Oklahoma was the most complete team in the country," safety Jayron Kearse said after the Tigers stomped the No. 4 Sooners in the Capital One Orange Bowl, the CFP semifinal. "That’s crazy. We had a top-25 offense and defense." Sure, Clemson’s spread offense is suitably designed to minimize Alabama’s strength up front. And yes, the Tigers’ pass rush is exceptional, and their secondary could prove a nightmare for Jake Coker. And no, Alabama hasn’t faced a quarterback like Deshaun Watson all season. None of that takes away from Clemson’s status as the decided underdog, and that’s just the way the Tigers like it. "It just adds that extra excitement," offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "But these guys are internally motivated. We wouldn’t be in this position if they weren’t."
Mackensie Alexander, Clemson's top cornerback, believes Alabama's favored status is based more on what the Crimson Tide has historically done than what it'll do against the Tigers in Arizona. The outspoken star told a group of reporters, "You guys know we've got a better team." "We are 14-0, and we were underdogs last week, it's all a brand thing," Alexander said. "Everyone cares about the brand, the Alabama brand. I understand it's a lot of fans, and they've done it for a long time, but this is a new year, and it's our time."
"It would be great for us to beat them," Alabama's Williams said. "They're a team with a lot of prestige. They have a history, too. They didn't just start school yesterday. They have a long history of championships and winning seasons. It would be great to add to our list." There's also the memory of ending last season prematurely as the No. 1 seed falling to No. 4 Ohio State. "We don't care if they're Clemson or Michigan State," Williams said. "We play everybody hard, 110 percent effort because we have to finish. We have to finish. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our leadership. And we owe it to the whole state of Alabama."
Clemson is happy to play the underdog, Clemson players are complaining about Alabama being the favorite, and Alabama wants to play the underdog. Everybody just shut up and kick it off already.
"They're gouging people," Clemson fan Deborah Nelson said Saturday as she watched the Tigers at media day. "It's sad that they would do this." Fans who booked right after the semifinals could find a few decent fares, but those quickly dried up.
As of Saturday afternoon, the cheapest flight from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport to Phoenix — leaving Sunday, returning Tuesday — was nearly $1,300. Getting from Birmingham, Alabama, to Sky Harbor Airport started at $1,400.
Timing had something to do with it.
Airlines charge higher prices to travelers who book tickets less than 21 days in advance and even more for those within a week of travel. The thinking is that people who book flights that close really need to go and they — or more often their company — are going to pay the premium. Alabama and Clemson fans didn't know their teams were headed to Phoenix until after the New Year's Eve games, so they either had to buy early and hope their team made it to the title game or wait and pay the higher fare.
This is an unintended consequence of the playoff. Hard to find decent airfare to a championship game destination with ten days' notice.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney declared, "We ain't no underdog!" after his team's surprisingly easy victory over favored Oklahoma. But Brown, now an analyst for ESPN, which will broadcast Monday's game, is certain that his '05 Longhorns were aided by being overlooked. "We told our guys to brag on SC; don't talk until after you win the game," Brown recalled. "So at the press conference, our running back Selvin Young was asked if he was tired about hearing the Trojans. He said: 'I've been watching the Cartoon channel.' Vince Young said: 'I've been watching MTV.' Both of them were lying, obviously. Our team never got the credit, and that gave us a real edge."
Nothing to see here, just old Mack Brown whittling wood and reminiscing about that one time he won a national championship. He is right about one thing though: if Clemson wins, it will likely be the result of Deshaun Watson having a game similar to the one Vince Young had to take down the Trojans.
A stalemate isn't a hopeless result. Clemson, however, is hoping for more. Its offensive linemen believe the Tide run defense won't be a shock to its collective systems. More than a few noted their own highly rated defense is pretty salty, too. Said true freshman tackle Mitch Hyatt, "I've gone against just as good and maybe even better in practice." Well, it's not like that's going to make Robinson & Co. any grumpier.
Sounds good. Please try and run against this front.
The Tigers are the only team from a Power Five conference to be ranked in the top-38 in both total offense and total defense. "Their overall athleticism is just so impressive," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley told reporters in Florida leading up to last week's game. "Like every defense, they make some mistakes here and there, but they're so athletic that they cover them up. They take a lot of chances ... and they've got the athletes to cover down when they do make a mistake. They're good everywhere. There's not a lot of weaknesses."
Clemson's defense is stout and will certainly present a challenge. Lane Kiffin had his best night on New Year's Eve; another stellar game plan will be required.
Harrison has been the primary dime back since that point, except against Charleston Southern and Auburn in late November. Aside from those two games, Smith has primarily been the backup dime back while also competing on a weekly basis with Tony Brown to be the backup nickel back. "It's been a humbling experience as well as a learning experience, just sitting back and understanding that my time will come, that it just hasn't come yet," Smith said following the Tide's 38-0 Playoff semifinal win over Michigan State last week. "I just have to sit back and just practice hard and give my teammates the look that they need to succeed as a team, and that's the bigger goal right now."
Maurice Smith was a heralded recruit out of Sugar Land, TX who never has quite panned out. By all accounts he has maintained a great attitude as five-star freshmen have passed him up.
"It's almost like a mixture of the three guys, with Nick Marshall as a perimeter runner. Deshaun runs well on the perimeter. Johnny Manziel was a great athlete, create things in space. So does Deshaun Watson. This guy runs more power run game like you would say Cam Newton does. "Obviously he's not the same stature as Cam, but he runs some of the similar plays that Auburn ran with him. So the mixture of those three guys. He takes a little bit from each one because he can pass the ball. I watched this kid in high school. He is a phenomenal player. But more than that, he has the 'it' factor. They believe in him. That's pretty important at that position."
"It's tough to manage both," Smart said, "but I take pride in giving the same amount of time that I've always given to the Alabama players of game-planning, adjusting. ... As far as the commitment to the players, that hasn't dropped any. If anything, I'm trying to make sure they know I'm giving them everything I've got every day. Lot of energy out there."
Kirby clearly knows the Saban media playbook, lavishing praise on Deshaun Watson and the Clemson offense. The story at the second link about Saban providing him a secretary for his UGA business is interesting.
During Saturday's media day, Kiffin shared some insight on what happened the night/early morning of his firing at USC and the differences between coaching under Carroll and Saban. Kiffin wanted to set the record straight on his firing at USC. He was asked if he was fired on the tarmac at a private Los Angeles airport.
"I was a good 20 yards off the tarmac," Kiffin joked.
Kanell promises it's not an act. "I like to be right," he said. "I picked Alabama over Michigan State because I thought that was one of the easiest picks of the year. I want to be right more times than not." He takes considerable heat from other fan bases like Ohio State. Florida State fans are still ribbing him for picking Oregon to beat the Seminoles in last year's Rose Bowl. "But Alabama's probably the most vocal by far," he said. "It means more to them, which is great. It's a great thing."
Danny Kanell is both a troll and a homer.
However, they come with onerous restrictions and no promise of an education. The 2013 Penn study found that black male student athletes graduated at lower rates than other black men at 72 percent of institutions with big-time football and basketball programs — and lower than other undergraduates overall at 97 percent of them. At many schools, football and basketball players are forced into contrived majors in which they have no interest.
When you watch the game on Monday (or any college football game), think about all that money going to the coaches, administrators, conference commissioners, and staff, while the players get nothing. The universities participating in this lucrative enterprise should be ashamed: they are making millions off the backs of unpaid athletes, while hiding behind the pretense that they are providing the athletes a fair return in the form of a college education. As I’ve written before, this is nonsense. Universities have been corrupted by the lure of cash, and they seem to have forgotten that they are in the business of educating students, not providing sports entertainment.
Shortly after arriving at Alabama in 2007, Nick Saban created a new cottage industry: football support staff. These people can help football programs in many different ways, depending on certain NCAA restrictions, such as recruiting, analyzing film, mentoring players, managing video, handling travel operations and building players' strength and speed... In its 2013-14 NCAA financial report, Alabama reported spending $2.7 million on football support staff. (That's the most recent year of NCAA financial data currently available.) The school spent $837,000 on a much smaller support staff in 2005-06, the final full year under former coach Mike Shula. By Saban's first full year in 2007-08, salaries for the support staff soared to $1.9 million.
They're trying to kick off the offseason arguments early!
That should just about do it. In about 16 hours we will know for sure if Alabama is the national champion for the fourth time in seven seasons. Hope for the best, indeed.