Happy Monday, everyone. Game week has finally arrived, and the previews are starting to roll in. The game is set for 2 p.m. CT on Saturday, with Joe Tessitore and Todd Blackledge doing the commentary on ESPN. We have plenty for you to read this morning:
Alabama and Washington will, of course, practice for the playoff game like usual. But the next five days will also be filled with off-the-field activities for the players and coaching staffs to enjoy while in the capital city of Georgia, including visits to local children’s hospitals, team challenges and a joint trip to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first sermon.
But events and an extended time off can sometimes harm a team instead of help it. Luckily for the Tide, its veterans are familiar with what the playoff entails and know the most important things have been to stay in shape, eat right and get the right amount of rest, according to tight end O.J. Howard. Has that knowledge helped Alabama during its prep?
“I would say it’s been going great,” Howard said. “We’re going out, we’re practicing fast … Everybody’s trying to get back to football mode. We’re back there now.
This is an advantage that can’t be overstated. Alabama’s seniors have been through the absurdity twice already and have experience on the biggest stage. This should pay dividends as it did last season.
This might be Saban's best Alabama team, and he's already won four national titles with the Tide. The decision to start freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has made the offense a chimera that can beat defenses as an up-tempo spread or as a pro-style bulldozer. And while the 2011 defense had better numbers than this one, it played in a more boring football world. That '11 defense resembled Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. The T-800 could blow up anything that moved in a predictable pattern, but it might have struggled with a jet sweep run-pass option. This year's D seems more like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. The T-1000 could liquefy itself and re-form in whatever shape the task required. Linebacker Tim Williams coming off one edge and defensive end Jonathan Allen coming off the other might be the football version of morphing one's arms into swords.
This is easily the fastest defense Saban has ever fielded, and that speed will be needed against a Washington offense that lacks size but has burners all over the place.
Washington is first nationally with 33 takeaways -- 19 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
The Huskies are also 11th in the nation in total defense, 19th in rush defense, 21stin pass defense and tied for 19th in sacks per game.
Washington held Colorado to 163 yards of total offense in the Pac-12 title game after limiting one of the nation's top scoring offenses, Washington State, 23 points below its season scoring average.
The Huskies have held six of their last seven opponents to less than 400 yards of total offense.
The Huskies have made a living off of turnovers, which is something of a concern given Jalen’s propensity for turning it over in the last half of the season. Hopefully bowl practice has offered an opportunity to tighten up.
"We lost two really, really critical players (on defense) - Eddie Jackson is the signal caller in the secondary, Shaun Dion Hamilton was the signal caller in the front seven," Saban said. "Other people are going to have to pick up what those guys provided in terms of leadership and making other players feel really comfortable in their ability to communicate."
Evans, one of the top-ranked Tide's most heralded recruits three years ago, quickly allowed a touchdown pass after relieving Hamilton against Florida but also made a pivotal goal line stop in the third quarter that coach Nick Saban called "the turning point in the game."
He had his best performance last season with two sacks in the national championship game against Clemson.
"I'm embracing this moment a lot," Evans said. "Whenever I get out on the field anytime — regardless if it's the championship game or not, man — I try to do my best. Just with this game upcoming, I'm going to try to do the same thing I've been doing."
Rashaan will be one of the most watched players in the semifinals as he looks to fill in for Hamilton. He has always had the tools, and it will be exciting to see how he steps up.
The biggest reason Bama will win: The Crimson Tide are the best team in the country. That doesn’t guarantee anything in a playoff — just ask the 2007 New England Patriots or 2016 Golden State Warriors — but it certainly helps.
Alabama has the best defense in the CFP (No. 2 overall, per Def. S&P+), and despite rolling in with a freshman quarterback (Jalen Hurts), the Tide rank 16th in Off. S&P+ as well.
In the rare occasion that you can move the ball on the Bama defense, the offense picks up the slack. In its two roughest games, Bama gave up 73 combined points against Ole Miss and Arkansas, with partial help from return touchdowns; in turn, the Crimson Tide scored 97 (also with help from returns).
As usual, great stuff from Bill C.
On the surface, No. 4 Washington squaring off with No. 1 Alabama on Dec. 31 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) feels like a collision of unconnected programs and regions with almost nothing in common. In fact, the four-game series between the two programs -- which has been dominated by the Crimson Tide -- is rife with meaning, most notably from their initial meeting in the 1926 Rose Bowl.
"The most significant event in Southern football history," historian Andrew Doyle said in "Roses of Crimson," a documentary about the game.
It's a view seconded by former Birmingham News sportswriter Clyde Bolton: "The 1926 Rose Bowl was without a doubt the most important game before or since in Southern football history."
Interesting historical about the game that inspired the “remember the Rose Bowl” line in “Yea, Alabama!” Old friend C.J. Schexnayder has a more detailed account of the game here.
10. Dieter's strange stat line: Former big-play Bowling Green receiver Gehrig Dieter came to Alabama to make a difference and win a championship. Although it hasn't been nearly as noticeable as others, Dieter has nevertheless had a significant impact this season, and his efforts were rewarded with an interesting stat line Nov. 19 against Chattanooga. Following an early negative-1 yard reception, Dieter pulled down a pair of 1-yard touchdown catches in the 31-3 victory to finish with three receptions for two touchdown and only a single yard.
Hard to think you’ll ever see that one matched.
The most compelling game this year, Michigan-Ohio State, was riveting largely because everybody understood: The winner would almost surely make the playoff, and the loser almost surely would not. That game wouldn’t have meant nearly as much if the teams were merely angling for seeding.
The biggest matchups of the final weekend, Washington-Colorado and Clemson-Virginia Tech, were tense because they were elimination games. Washington had to win, perhaps big, and the Huskies did just that. Clemson had to beat Virginia Tech, and the Tigers (barely) did just that.
Amen, amen, and amen.
We took the 247Sports Calculator and added all the offered, uncommitted prospects with a majority of Crystal Ball predictions to each school to come up with a Crystal Ball forecast of what the team rankings top 25 might look like on Signing Day.
If Alabama and Ohio State land all the prospects they currently predicted to, the Tide would finish with approximately 319 team rankings points based on current 247Sports Composite player rankings, and the Buckeyes would finish just a half-point behind. Georgia would finish 10 points back with 308.52.
With two mammoth recruiting classes shaping up — and two coaches in Saban and Meyer at the height of their recruiting powers, this is a fight that won't end on National Signing Day. Particularly in the all important recruiting battleground of Florida. After all, the Sunshine State is home to 44 of the the nation's top 300 prospects in 2018. The battle for Florida is only just heating up.
Alabama and Ohio State are neck-and-neck for this year’s recruiting title. Odds are that you’ll be seeing these two in the playoffs most years for the forseeable future.
Fletcher will become the second long snapper in Alabama history to be awarded a full scholarship out of high school. The first, Cole Mazza, who will graduate this year, was also the No. 1-rated snapper when Coach Nick Saban offered him an Alabama scholarship in 2012.
Put another way: Alabama’s focus on the littlest details of the game even stretches to the point that, in addition to craving the highest-rated recruits at quarterback, linebacker and running back, Saban has to have the best at a position that might be on the field for only seven or eight plays a game.
Saban has the luxury of using a scholarship on a long snapper because the machine is built and humming. The man leaves nothing to chance.
Lastly, to help you pass the time:
It wouldn’t be fair to compare this schedule onslaught to a day with just one bowl between .500 teams, since anyone can weather a single unappealing game. But I’ve gone back to 2000* to try and find a three-bowl day made up of nothing but seven-win teams. Nope. It’s not even worth mentioning any days that came close. Almost every day of bowls has at least one team that’s won a significant number of games. Even last year’s Cure Bowl, which still has a case for the lowliest bowl ever, was on a day with four nine-win teams playing.
Will anyone other than the players’ mothers watch Maryland vs. Boston College this afternoon?
That’s about it for today. Have a great week.