There has been talk of the quarterbacks, the offensive and defensive fronts. Where did the advantage come from in Monday night’s national championship game? Fact is there was no particular area where Clemson had an advantage. The Tigers were better everywhere. How about 30-3 the final three quarters, and a 44-16 final that could have been worse. It was a dominating win for Clemson, and one that made Alabama look normal.
People like to think their teams are different. Our team never quits. We never shy away from adversity. We’re better coached. We have great character and discipline and all that stuff. Then comes a game like Monday, and it’s for all the marbles, but in the fourth quarter the Crimson Tide called it off. They were a soundly beaten team. And they acted normal. Sometimes when you seldom face adversity you feel like your attributes are greater than all others. What’s greater is your talent, and when a night like Monday rolls around, you find out that Alabama’s team is human just like all the rest, and when adversity strikes, and victory is no longer attainable, the effort tends to fade away.
Not kicking the Tide around. People are people, athletes are athletes and when adversity strikes, we all usually act the same. But Alabama’s defense was not up to par. For those that said this might be the best Bama team ever, they were terribly wrong. That defense struggled against Oklahoma. It struggled against Georgia. It got rolled over by Clemson. When you play a schedule that was basically void of challenges and you score lots of points, sometimes things aren’t as they seem. I think that was apparent Monday night for Alabama. However, the Tide isn’t going anywhere. Nick Saban hasn’t forgotten how to coach. Alabama will be back and with a purpose. But it must shore up that defense.
And what about Clemson. First of all the Tigers are no longer chasing the Tide. Clemson sits on top of the mountain. That should have been evident when you assess the four consecutive playoff meetings between the two teams. There will be no Heisman quarterback at Alabama. Give that trophy to the kid at Clemson and get it out of the way. Clemson looked quicker, had better depth defensively, played more physical, just plain better, made more plays, were obviously confident. Did Alabama panic a bit? Maybe, but when as a coach you realize what the deal is on the field, you do things differently, like go on fourth and one from your own 35 in the second quarter, and try a fake field goal that had zero chance of working. Saban knew early he was taking a test his team might not be good enough to pass and it wasn’t.
But I have never agreed with that “Second Place is the First Loser” stuff. Alabama won the SEC, advanced to the title game, and finished 14-1. The Tide does not need to apologize for their season. I understand the goal. The Tide didn’t reach it, but their goal is a bit more lofty than most of the rest. In a couple years they will look back at 14-1 and it won’t seem so bad. The Tide is a victim of the “Elephant,” and they were the elephant. Clemson just put up the greatest season in college football history, a 15-0 national champion. Nothing else needs to be said. Dabo Swinney and his program does not rank behind anybody.
I also enjoyed the aftermath. First I enjoyed the character and discipline displayed on the field. No disrespectful stuff following a touchdown or big play. Nobody waived stupid things like chains in the air. When it was over Swinney was exactly the coach and man you would have hoped he would be, and he gave credit to all the right places. So were the Clemson and Alabama players. There was respect. Clemson was thrilled, but its players were humble and appreciative. There was no “how great I am baloney.” The Tigers were humble in victory. The Tide gave credit to its opponent in defeat. It was the way it should be, and the way you always wish it was.
Make no mistake. Clemson is in the driver’s seat. The Tigers also likely have the easiest road back to the playoff unless something shocking happens. Clemson does not look like or play like a team that’s a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and I do not mean to take a cheap shot. It’s just the truth. Who’s going to challenge? Florida State is presently in a shambles. Miami is floating around somewhere in the atmosphere. Georgia Tech is going to the spread and will be out of the picture for at least two years, Carolina is and has been for some time a huge disappointment. NC-State was supposed to be a factor. It was not. Can Virginia Tech take on Clemson? How about Duke? Syracuse might be the second best team in the conference again next season, and I predict UVa will be one of the better teams in the ACC. So who’s going to put the whammy on Clemson? Nobody.
Alabama had a soft schedule this year, but it will not next year. It will be much harder for the Tide to get back to the playoff than Clemson. I predict they will, but Bama will have to pay a higher price to get there. Who else is out there? Ohio State maybe. Can Oklahoma find another quarterback to make another run? Notre Dame maybe? How about Georgia? Maybe Army! That Long Gray Line impressed me as much as anybody in its bowl, except Clemson. Army loses four senior starters, that’s all. I find that interesting. Just think what a blessing it would be for all of sport for Army to win it all.
And the rest of the story:
No need to bother with all the names of the bowls, but these were the ones of the most magnitude, or at least made some sort of statement. This was futility. Wake Forest playing Memphis. Tigers going for game winning field goal. Lineup, make it, but Wake called timeout just in time. Confusion for some reason on Memphis sideline. Trying to get ready to kick the field goal a second time, Wake out of timeouts, no matter, Memphis gets called for delay of game. Five yard penalty. The kick went through a second time and still didn’t count. So now teams line up a third time, nobody has a timeout, but Memphis right tackle moves. Another five yard penalty. Finally the ball gets snapped, Memphis misses on the fourth effort. Wake wins. You can’t make that up. I thought it was funny. Memphis probably didn’t.
Army scores 70 on Houston. A complete bulldozing. Army ran for over 500 yards, absolutely did not try to run up the score, Houston was helpless. After the game Major Applewhite was fired by Houston. What was never said is the simple fact that Army is a lot better than Houston. In fact, Army was better than at least two thirds of the teams that played in bowl games. But Dana Holgorson is now the new Houston coach, and Neal Brown from Troy is the new coach at West Virginia. Who’s better off? We’ll know in a couple years.
I thought Georgia Tech would want to send retiring coach Paul Johnson out on a winning note, but the Jackets got hammered by an improving Minnesota team. TCU and Cal played in a game where there were nine pass interceptions. I do not remember who won, but it doesn’t matter. Boston Collage played Boise St. in Texas and it appeared the Eagles were going to be dominant, but in December in Frisco, Texas there was a lightning storm and for the first time in modern history a bowl game was called “no contest.” Just think about the people from those two teams that made trips to Texas from Massachusetts and Idaho, what it cost, and nothing happened. Somehow it seems it could have been a better ending.
For the second year in a row Wisconsin blasted Miami, 35-3. Mark Richt has since retired. He didn’t look like he had a lot of energy, certainly not enough to deal with Miami. Manny Diaz is the new coach, he’s a defensive guy. He fired all the offensive coaches that scored six points total against the Badgers in the two bowl games. We’ll see. Iowa State and Washington State played an outstanding game. The Wazzu was a very fortunate winner. The Cyclones an unfortunate loser, but a very good game. WVU lost to Syracuse in a game it should have won, but something you see too often in bowls now, the outcome was determined by who didn’t play as opposed to who did. WVU was without seven starters, including the quarterback, two of top three receivers, its best offensive lineman, but you get the picture. Maybe Holgorson needed to get out.
Michigan and Jim Harbaugh once again fell on hard times down the stretch. In the final game of the regular season rival Ohio State embarrassed the Wolverines, and in a bowl Florida too control in the second half. Michigan could not make plays. Mississippi State had the misfortune of playing Iowa in a bowl. The Hawkeyes are always a tough out, and their level of play may not go up, but never comes down. Iowa is almost always ready to play.
Urban Meyer went out in style as Ohio State defeated Washington solidly in Rose Bowl. Penn State has an excellent opportunity to defeat Kentucky, but apparently Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin had a brain cramp. With the goal line staring his team in the face, Franklin kicked a field goal with under four minutes left to play to cut the deficit to one. After kicking off to Kentucky, PSU never saw the ball again. Texas just may have given us a glimpse of the future. Georgia was mad it didn’t make the Final Four Playoff even with two losses. Well, they finished with three. The Longhorns flat kicked the Bulldogs up and down the field all day in the Sugar Bowl. No, Georgia who finishes with three losses, did not deserve a final four bid, and they proved it by getting physically dominated by Texas.
Locally, not such a good finish for Virginia Tech. It scheduled a 12th game against Marshall to a get 6th win so they could keep a bowl streak alive. It worked, but then lost to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl because when it mattered most, the Hokies just couldn’t stop the Bearcat running game. Might need a new lunch bucket. It all ended up in the first losing season in 25 years. But the Hokies are young, had injuries, defections, and such. Tech will be a better football team in 2019. The schedule is also favorable. The Hokies just picked up a game with Rhode Island. They will open with Furman, Rhode Island, and Old Dominion. Not exactly murder’s row.
And how about those Cavaliers of Virginia. Matched up against one of those terrible SEC teams, the Wahoos dominated South Carolina in every way. Winning 28-0, UVa won the line of scrimmage, had better quarterback and skill position play, and better defense. South Carolina put over 600 yards of offense on Clemson during the season. They couldn’t put up 300 vs. the Cavaliers. There will also be 17 starters back in Charlottesville next season. Even after an unexplainable collapse at Tech, things are definitely looking up in Charlottesville. Bronco Mendenhall deserves a lot of credit for what he has done, and promises to do with that program.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot