THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; JANUARY 8, 2019
UNTHINKABLE: CLEMSON 44, ALABAMA 16
1. Bear Bryant’s record of six national championships at one school is safe for another year because Dabo Swinney and his Clemson coaching staff completely undressed Nick Saban and his Alabama staff with the whole world watching. This was supposed to be Saban’s sixth national title at Alabama, which would have tied Bryant, and it would have been Saban’s seventh overall (he had one at LSU in 2003) but instead of a coronation to declare Saban as the greatest of all time, we got a beatdown of absolute epic proportions. Nearly every expert admitted that Clemson had a chance to win, but no one expected the Tigers to beat a Saban-coached team by 28 points. That’s the worst loss ever for Saban since he began coaching at Alabama in 2007.
2. Okay, how many of you ever thought you’d see a day when a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team would get manhandled on both sides of the line of scrimmage? Alabama spent the first 14 games of the season winning the battles on the line of scrimmage but Monday night Clemson’s athletes were better and they dominated their Crimson Tide counterparts. As good as Trevor Lawrence and those Clemson skill players are, this is still a game of blocking and tackling. Clemson blocked better and tackled better from start to finish. Alabama’s offensive line couldn’t get the job done in the red zone and their inability to at least slow down the Clemson pass rush had a lot to do with Tua Tagovailoa making uncharacteristic mistakes. Over on the other side, Trevor Lawrence sometimes seemed as if he had all day long to throw the ball because Alabama’s vaunted D-line couldn’t get much in the way of penetration.
3. Now you see why Dabo Swinney benched Kelly Bryant in favor of Trevor Lawrence? Lawrence makes throws routinely that Bryant only makes in his dreams. There is no way Clemson would have gone unbeaten and won a national championship with Bryant as the QB. Lawrence has an arm that’s as good as any you will see in the NFL and he’s only a 19-year-old freshman who will get better. He’s the reason Clemson will start 2019 and probably 2020 as the odds-on favorite to win the national championship. As for Bryant, he’s at Missouri now where in no time folks will be asking how they went from a cannon of an arm in Drew Lock to this?
4. If you’re into numbers, then the stats tell you why Clemson is the national champion. Clemson came into Monday night’s national championship game ranked #2 nationally in total defense (274.6 yards per game), #1 in scoring defense (12.9 points allowed per game), #1 in sacks (52), #3 in total offense (530.4 yards per game) and #4 in scoring offense (44.3 points per game).
5. Brent Venables is the best defensive coordinator in the country and worth every penny of the $2 million (plus retention bonuses) Clemson pays him. Clemson’s defense had Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa dazed and confused most of the evening. Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley threw everything in his playbook at Clemson, but Venables had answers. When you see Alabama having a Kirby Smart moment (see the unpunt against Bama in the SEC Championship Game), it tells you that Brent Venables was living rent-free in the heads of everyone on the Alabama sideline and up in the coaching booth. That fake field goal attempt, which quite naturally failed, was a sign of sheer desperation on the part of Alabama. Did you ever think you’d see Alabama resorting to desperate measures?
6. Alabama’s offense was so good all year that we really didn’t notice that the defense wasn’t nearly as good as it has been in years past, especially in the secondary. This was a night when Alabama’s defense needed to take charge of the game but Clemson converted 10 of 15 third downs and averaged 10.8 per pass attempt. Alabama’s defense is going to take some major hits with most of its D-line either graduating or going early to the NFL.
7. Saban has lost twice in eight national championship game appearances, both times to Dabo and Clemson. In both the losses to Clemson, there were distractions with the offensive coordinator. In 2016, Lane Kiffin had taken the Florida Atlantic job prior to the playoffs. That year, Saban dismissed Kiffin after the semifinal win over Washington only to see Steve Sarkisian come up empty against Clemson. This year, Mike Locksley took the Maryland job and was away from Tuscaloosa much of the month of December while putting together his Maryland early signing period recruiting class. Locksley got the win over Oklahoma in the semifinal but didn’t deliver in the national championship game.
8. If you’re one to lay down a bet, put your money on Saban making wholesale changes in his coaching staff. Locksley has taken the Maryland job and offensive line coach Brent Key is expected to take a job on the staff at Georgia Tech, which is his alma mater but it wouldn’t be surprising if Saban sends at least three or four other coaches packing.
9. Georgia, in particular, will be motivated and enthused by what happened to Alabama. For three quarters in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia dominated Alabama on both sides of the football. After seeing the way Clemson manhandled Alabama on both lines of scrimmage, Kirby Smart and his staff have to be thinking there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Georgia and Alabama heading into 2019. Memo to Kirby and to Georgia: Nick Saban just got his butt handed to him on a platter by Clemson in front of a television audience of millions. Don’t expect that to happen again. If anything, expect Saban to re-evaluate the entire Alabama program top to bottom and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure an embarrassing loss like that never happens again.
10. What Saban has done at Alabama in 12 years is remarkable but if you just go by what’s happened the last four years, you’d have to say that Dabo Swinney is every bit Saban’s equal and that Clemson’s program is as good as, if not better, than Alabama’s. Since 2015, Dabo has won the same number of national championships as Saban (two) and he’s had Clemson in the playoff four times, three times in the national championship game against Alabama. Both teams are 55-4 over the last four years.
THE UCF GO FUND ME CAMPAIGN: $769 RAISED SO FAR
The folks at KnightNews.com have come up with this ingenious idea to use GoFundMe to raise $5,000 so they can expose the insecurity of the Southeastern Conference. They are convinced that when it comes to UCF, the SEC is feeling quite insecure, insecure enough that the best college football league in the country is conspiring to keep the likes of UCF out of the College Football Playoff.
Seriously, folks. I don’t have to make this up.
I’m guessing even the UCF faithful are laughing out loud, too. As of 12:30 Tuesday morning, 38 people had donated a whopping $769. Yep, there’s a lot of enthusiasm in Orlando to uncover the nasty SEC conspiracy that’s keeping UCF out of the playoff.
Here is some unsolicited but very good advice for UCF. Stick a sock in it. Instead of groaning and moaning that the big boys won’t invite you to their party, shut up and try going the route Bobby Bowden took in 1976 when every athletic director in the country had FSU on speed dial for a homecoming opponent. Bowden knew the only way FSU would ever win the respect of the rest of the country was to take the Seminoles on the road. Bowden and the Seminoles were willing to play anyone, anywhere, anytime and the result was FSU (a) earned a lot of big paychecks, (b) beat some big name teams on the road and (c) got the FSU program to the point that they had a choice of conferences – the SEC or the ACC. So, UCF, be willing to overcome the perception you play a pansy schedule by going on the road, if necessary, to play the top teams in the country. Win some of those games, earn some respect, and then maybe the playoff committee will think you’re worthy of a spot in a future final four.
Unlike what Bowden did by putting FSU in position to have a choice in going to either the SEC or ACC, there is not a chance in hell that UCF can earn an invitation to join either the SEC or the ACC and it has nothing to do with conspiracies. More than just football, it’s a question of what would the Knights bring to the table to conferences that regularly compete for national championships in multiple sports? The answer is very, very little. If the Big 12 were to elect to expand, UCF and South Florida could offer the 10-team league a huge TV market in the nation’s third most populous state and a chance to expand the recruiting footprint outside the state of Texas. But to get invited to the Big 12, both UCF and South Florida need to not only show they are capable of competing week in and week out with Big 12 football competition but improve the rest of their athletic programs to make them competitive and that’s a problem. In 2018, South Florida finished #85 in the Learfield Director’s Cup standings while UCF finished #86. Florida finished #3 while the worst team in the SEC, Vanderbilt, finished #55.
THREE THINGS I WILL NOT DO
1. Until Dr. Pepper abandons those ridiculously stupid “Fansville” commercials and brings back Larry Culpepper, I will not drink another Dr. Pepper.
2. After all these years of my intelligence being insulted by Flo, there is no circumstance in which I would buy Progressive Insurance.
3. I never thought I would long for the days of the “Caveman” commercials but years of The Gecko will do that for you.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Gator Chandler Parsons, who has bee plagued by knee problems the last three years, won’t finish the season with the Memphis Grizzlies, who will try to work out a trade to another team. Parsons has $38 million in guaranteed money through the 2019-20 season coming from the Grizzlies whether he plays or not … Ryan Days caught everyone by surprise with his first big decision as Ohio State’s head coach. First, he pink slipped defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and next stuck a dagger in the heart of the school up north when he hired Greg Mattison to become the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator along with former San Francisco 49ers assistant Jeff Hafley. Mattison spent the last eight seasons at Michigan, the last four under Jim Harbaugh. Mattison and Days first became acquainted when Mattison was Florida’s co-defensive coordinator (2005-07) and Days was a graduate assistant working for UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen … Not that anyone should be surprised by this, but Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins is leaving for the NFL Draft. You also shouldn’t be surprised if former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields is declared eligible for the 2019 season by the NCAA … Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure as Southern Cal’s offensive coordinator could be short lived. He’s interviewed for the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals and is slated to interview for the head job with the New York Jets … Former Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley, who started six games for the Razorbacks over the last two seasons, will transfer to Southeastern Louisiana where he will be eligible immediately … Duke remained #1 in the Associated Press college basketball poll, but unbeaten Virginia has moved into the #1 spot in the Coaches poll. Tennessee (#3 in both polls) is the highest ranked team from the Southeastern Conference … Okay, so it took a double doink off the goal posts for the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the Chicago Bears, but Nick Foles was still the winning quarterback in that game so he’s 4-0 in the playoffs since last year. The Eagles play the Saints in New Orleans Sunday. The Saints are 8-point favorites but would you bet against Foles and the Eagles given Foles’ history the last two years in the playoffs?