Happy Monday, everyone. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the MRI on Christian Miller’s hamstring was good news, as it sounds like a grade one strain that may be able to heal well enough by Monday. The topic du jour is the dominance of Alabama and Clemson, who after the title game will be a combined 4-4 vs. one another and 106-4 against everyone else over the past four seasons.
The drumbeat has begun from fans and from people who matter within the sport to expand the playoff to eight teams, but doubling the field probably wouldn’t have changed the final matchup in this particular season.
It feels as if this season was always headed toward an Alabama-Clemson showdown, and the fact that the inevitable happened may have sucked the joy out of the season for a large chunk of the country. College football is supposed to surprise us. It’s supposed to subvert our preseason expectations. It’s not supposed to go according to the script.
But this time, it did.
Of the receivers, Lawrence said in Texas on Saturday, “Those guys are unbelievable,” and, “They made a lot of plays, just throw it in an area, and they’ll come down with it.” Of the offense, he said, “You have guys all around you that are just great players and take that load off you.”
That’s on a team with the No. 1 yards-per-play defense in the country (4.05), with that horrifying line. It’s all too much to process. It figures to be some night in Santa Clara.
Meanwhile, Clemson’s quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, has not faced a defense remotely similar to Alabama’s — unless you count going against his own team’s starters in practice. Further, the Tigers’ blowout semifinal victory masked a weaker second half, in which the offense scored just 7 points and went 3 for 8 on third downs.
In other words, the Clemson-Alabama national championship game should be close. Just like the two before it. And the one that may follow this one in the next year or two.
CAN ALABAMA NEUTRALIZE CLEMSON’S PASS RUSH?
If it seemed like Clemson was in Notre Dame’s backfield every time Irish snapped the ball, it’s because the Tigers were. Even without defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, Clemson routinely pushed around a good offensive line, collecting six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Notre Dame’s running game, which was thought to be a key in at least slowing down the constant pressure, never got started either, running for 88 yards on 35 carries. Getting to the quarterback will be key in Santa Clara: Alabama’s line allowed only 13 sacks all year; Clemson’s gave up just 17.
No team in America is as complete as Alabama’s, but Clemson is by far the closest. They have some talent deficiencies on the interior of the offensive line and in the secondary, but outstanding skill talent on offense and the deepest and most talented front four in the nation has made up for it to date. Notre Dame was able to turn them into a boom-or-bust outfit on offense, but Lawrence and his receivers won some 50/50 balls. Alabama’s DBs have the length and athleticism to bother those, but how many of them will the Tigers get?
On the other side, Alabama has done a decent job running the ball against this front the past two seasons, and now have the threat of an explosive passing game. Believe it or not, Alabama appears to have the better kicker too, and the punting seems to be even. There are very few decided advantages in this one, but the couple that exist look to favor the Tide. As you can see above, most writers are celebrating the greatness of these two juggernauts, one of which will become the first 15-0 team in modern college football history.
Then, of course, you have half-wit Dan Wolken.
Every year now, college football fans and administrators have to ask themselves: Would they rather the selection process be about evaluating seasons or personnel? Georgia has better players than Notre Dame. But by no measurement did two-loss Georgia handle its schedule as well as the undefeated Fighting Irish.
When those two things don’t line up, you get mismatches. And boy have we had a lot of them. Will the cycle even out someday? Or has the romance and intrigue about what a real playoff would look like given way to permanent drudgery? If that’s the case, change is needed ASAP. Such a beautiful sport can’t be allowed to become a bore.
In case you missed it, Dan proposed a solution to the “problem” that Alabama and Clemson are better than everybody right now: more scholarship reductions, this time to 75, ostensibly so that fewer blue chips can be stockpiled on a single roster. Let’s do a little math, Dan. Every year a couple hundred players are drafted into the NFL, and every one of those guys will always have a scholarship somewhere. All your proposal would accomplish is taking away financial aid from 1,280 student athletes across the country who use their just-good-enough football talents to get an education, many of whom would have a tough time paying for school without football. Why does Dan hate young people?
Anyhoo, let’s move on to a real college football writer, Tony Barnhart, who blessed us with a rare piece in front of the paywall.
But if the sophomore, who won the CFP national championship game over Georgia would a touchdown dagger last January in overtime, was feeling any lingering effects on the ankle, he surely did not show it.
Tagovailoa came out on fire and directed touchdown drives of 75, 55, 61, and 48 yards on Alabama’s first four possessions. The Alabama defense, sufficiently challenged to prove that their quarterback--and not Oklahoma’s--should have won the Heisman Trophy, held the nation’s highest-scoring team (49.7 ppg) without a point on its first three possessions. No defense had shut down Oklahoma like that all season. But then again, Oklahoma had not seen a defense like Alabama’s while playing a Big 12 schedule.
No they hadn’t, and Clemson really hasn’t either. Notre Dame ranks higher than Alabama in Defensive S&P+, but when you look at the peripherals, they have been polar opposites. The Irish have been pedestrian in success rate but one of the very best in the country at limiting big plays. Alabama is #1 by a fair margin in success rate defense but has given up quite a few big plays. In short, Notre Dame has played a lot of bend-don’t-break while Saban is going to challenge his guy to be better than your guy and force you to beat him over the top. The old dog has shown the willingness to adapt to the modern game in many ways, but you’ll have to pry physical press coverage from his cold, dead hands.
Mine too, if we’re being honest.
There will be plenty of Alabama in the NFL playoffs.
Baltimore clinches the AFC North. Regardless of outcome of tonight's game (which will decide final playoff spot), all playoff teams will have Alabama representation this year.— Alabama Pro Updates (@BamaProUpdates) December 31, 2018
Baker Mayfield was the victim of Mosley’s clinching pick.
Last, Mark Richt abruptly retired as Miami’s head football coach, and was replaced by Manny Diaz, who had just accepted the Temple job a few weeks ago.
“This evening, head football coach Manny Diaz called to inform me that he has accepted the head coaching position back at the University of Miami,” Kraft said. “We are disappointed in his decision, but wish him well as he returns home.
”We have already launched a national search for a new head football coach and I am confident that we will bring yet another outstanding head coach to North Broad Street. Our student-athletes deserve excellence and stability and we are searching for the coach who can deliver on both. We are moving forward the only way we know how: Temple tough.”
Alabama fans cringe a bit any time a job opens, and Josh Gattis reportedly threw his hat in the ring for the Temple gig before they settled on Diaz. It seems that the administration is looking for a defensive minded coach though, so perhaps we can dodge this one.
That’s about it for today. Happy New Year!