Nick Saban closes in on the Bear as ‘Bama bests Clemson in title game for the ages

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A week ago was the 10th anniversary of the epic 2006 BCS championship game between Texas and USC.  While the second College Football Playoff title game couldn’t quite match that level of iconic history, it did its damnedest in trying to get there.

In a back-and-forth affair that featured a plethora of long-range scores instead of the expected body shots — and the normally-reserved Nick Saban channeling his heretofore unknown inner riverboat gambler for good measure — No. 2 Alabama used a wild fourth quarter surge fueled in large part by special teams to drop top-ranked and undefeated Clemson 45-40.  With the win, Saban has now won five national championship — four with the Tide — one behind ‘Bama coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most in FBS history.

And, in the end, this one was unlike any of the previous four in that it was both literally and figuratively “special.”

The Tide entered the fourth quarter down 24-21; seven and a half minutes later, the Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of 38-27 score.  The keys to the lightning-quick half-quarter turnaround were a pair of special teams plays.  With 10:34 remaining and coming off a field goal that tied the score at 24, Saban called for an onside pooch kick that was recovered by UA; two plays later, Jake Coker hit O.J. Howard on a 51-yard touchdown pass, the tight end’s second busted-coverage score of the game after not catching a touchdown pass of any kind since 2013 (watch that play here).

The ensuing possession for Clemson ended with a field goal that cut the lead to 31-27.  That four-point deficit lasted all of 16 seconds as Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff 95 yards to push the lead back out to 38-27.

A Deshaun Watson touchdown pass, his third of the game, with 4:40 remaining trimmed the deficit to five at 38-33 — the same score, incidentally, by which Texas trailed USC with four minutes remaining in that epic Rose Bowl.  Howard, of all people, helped ensure there would be no Vince Young-like fairytale ending for Watson and the Tigers as the tight end rumbled 63 yards on a second-and-12 screen pass to set the Tide up at the Clemson 14 with just under four minutes left on the clock.

Five plays and and nearly three minutes later, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry put the final nail in Clemson’s comeback coffin, bulling into the end zone from a yard out with just over a minute remaining.  Henry’s third touchdown of the game pushed the lead back out to 45-33 and essentially ended the SEC’s mini title drought at two straight seasons.

Watson did connect on his fourth touchdown pass with :12 left, but Clemson was unable to recover the onside kick to officially end the instant classic.

Howard was the unlikely offensive star of the contest, outshining even the reigning Heisman winner.  Coming into the game with just 394 yards receiving, the immensely-talented junior totaled 208 yards on his five receptions.  Henry, who broke Shaun Alexander‘s school rushing record in the third quarter, would finish with a game-high 158 yards rushing, and became the first Heisman winner to win a national championship in the same season since Florida State’s Jameis Winston pulled off that trick in 2013.

Henry also became just the fifth running back to pull that off, joining Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2009), Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett (1976), Army’s Doc Blanchard (1945) and Minnesota’s Bruce Smith (1941).  Henry’s teammate, quarterback Jake Coker, also made some history as the Florida State transfer become what we believe is just the third player to win two national championships at two different schools — Cam Newton won titles at Florida (2008) and Auburn (2010), while J.T. White won two at Ohio State (1942) and Michigan (1947).

Watson, a Heisman finalist himself, threw for 371 yards and ran for another 73 in a losing effort.  He also became the first quarterback in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

Clemson, which was looking for its first national championship since 1981, had entered this title game having won an FBS-best 51 straight games when leading entering the fourth quarter.  The Tigers had also been looking for its first win over the Tide since October of 1905, a stretch of 40,255 days.

Instead, it was Alabama that claimed its fourth national championship in the last seven years, an unprecedented feat in this day and age.  One final note: Saban and Urban Meyer-coached teams now own seven of the last 10 titles.

In any discussion of the best current coaches in the game,it begins and ends with those two titans.  And, based on how both teams are constructed, a head-to-head title matchup at some point down the road is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Reports: Cal expected to add Marques Tuiasosopo as QB coach

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 27:  Interim Head Coach Marques Tuiasosopo of the Washington Huskies looks on while his team warms up during pre-game warm ups prior to playing the BYU Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on December 27, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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It looks as though Marques Tuiasosopo is heading back to the Pac-12, again. The former Rose Bowl MVP and Washington quarterback has reportedly been added to the coaching staff at Cal under new head coach Justin Wilcox. The news was first reported by Bruin Sports Online and later followed up by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports, via Twitter.

Tuiasosopo is no stranger to coaching in the Pac-12. After spending 12 seasons in the NFL, Tuiasosopo returned to his alma mater to take on a role as assistant strength coach for the Washington Huskies in 2009. After two years in that role, he joined the UCLA coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 2011 and took on a role as tight ends coach in 2012 under Jim Mora. The following year, in 2013, Tuiasosopo returned to Washington to be the quarterback coach to work for Steve Sarkisian. After Sarkisian accepted a head coaching offer from USC later that year, Tuiasosopo was named interim head coach for a bowl game, but he would follow Sarkisian to USC in 2014 to be the tight ends coach and was given the title of associate head coach. After two seasons with the Trojans, Tuiasosopo worked his way back across town to rejoin Mora at UCLA as a passing game coordinator and quarterback coach last season.

Cal will be Tuiasosopo’s fourth different Pac-12 school in his coaching background, and he will be a valuable asset to Wilcox’s staff given his knowledge and familiarity of the Pac-12 recruiting scene and work with previous quarterbacks like Josh Rosen and Cody Kessler.

Arkansas DE Tevin Beanum retires, LB Khalia Hackett to transfer

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Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema announced a pair of departures from the Razorback program for 2017. Defensive end Tevin Beanum has chosen to step away from football and linebacker Khalia Hackett has decided to transfer to a new school to continue playing football.

Bielema did not confirm the details for why Beanum has stepped away from the sport but did suggest the now former defensive end may qualify for an NCAA hardship waiver. If so, then Beanum can remain on scholarship at Arkansas and continue his education without being concerned about expenses.

Beanum missed summer camp at Arkansas for undisclosed reasons before returning to the team for the 2016 season. Beanum started seven of 12 games for the Razorbacks. In February 2015, Beanum was arrested for suspicion of DWI, which led to Bielema going so far as to take his car keys away.

It is currently unknown where Hackett will move next, but Bielema says he will provide assistance in finding a new football home for the linebacker.

“We had a conversation yesterday,” Bielema said. “He’s moved on. I’ll try to help him find a position or team of interest.”

Hackett is the second Arkansas player to decide to transfer out of Arkansas this offseason. Running back Duwop Mitchell previously made his decision to transfer in December as a graduate transfer. Mitchell announced, via Twitter, he will be transferring to Rutgers, where he will be eligible to play right away.

Texas Tech parts ways with offensive line coach Lee Hays

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kliff Kingsbury has parted ways with one longtime member of his coaching staff and said goodbye to another recent addition at the same time.

Texas Tech announced on Saturday afternoon that Lee Hays would not be returning to the staff in 2017, having previously served as the team’s offensive line coach the past four seasons. In addition, the program confirmed the departure of DeShaun Foster as running backs coach after just one year on the job.

“We appreciate all that Coach Foster and Coach Hays have done for our football program,” Kingsbury said in a release. “We wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”

The reason for Foster’s departure was made clear earlier in the day when it was announced he was taking the same position at his alma mater UCLA.

While many expected a new look to come to Kingsbury’s staff after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2016, the fact that the first two changes occurred on the offensive side of the ball is pretty notable for a team that struggled to stop just about anybody on the defensive end. Hays notably has been around the program since 2013 when the head coach returned to Lubbock and is the more surprising name not coming back to the staff for next year.

UCLA’s Jim Mora hires two more coaches, including former Bruins RB DeShaun Foster

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  Head Coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the first half of a game against the Oregon State Beavers  at The Rose Bowl on November 12, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Mora’s offensive overhaul appears to be complete.

UCLA announced a pair of hires on Saturday to the team’s coaching staff, starting with Hank Fraley as the Bruins’ new offensive line coach and the return of former tailback DeShaun Foster as the new running backs coach.

“DeShaun is a Bruin through and through, which makes this such an exciting addition to our staff,” said Mora in a statement. “On top of being a tremendous alum, consummate professional, trusted voice and valued mentor, he is an exceptional football coach whose pedigree and knowledge of the game command respect.  We’re thrilled to welcome Deshaun back home where he belongs.”

Foster spent last season in the same position at Texas Tech but was in Westwood from 2013-2015 serving a variety of roles with the program. He is a familiar face to many in the powder blues, ranking third on the school’s all-time rushing list. He also had a lengthy stint in the NFL, most notable with the Carolina Panthers.

Fraley also has plenty of NFL experience, having spent 11 years in the league as a player before joining the coaching ranks. He recently served three seasons as the Minnesota Vikings assistant offensive line coach.

The duo replace Kennedy Polamalu and Adrian Klemm, both of whom were dismissed in the past month. They’ll join new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch at UCLA, who was recently brought on board himself.