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.

Jim Delany releases statement on passing of Foltz, Sadler

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26:  Commissioner of The Big Ten Conference Jim Delany speaks at The Big Ten Network Kick Off Party at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 26, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Wink Public Relations)
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Big Ten media days begin today — nominally a time of celebration, optimism and free food in the conference.

This year’s gathering will take on the direct opposite feel, at least at the start, as the conference continues to reel from the tragic passing of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler.

Ahead of the event’s official opening, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany released this statement:

“We join the Nebraska and Michigan State communities in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families, teammates, coaches, administrators and friends who have been impacted by the tragic loss of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler. While we are deeply saddened by their untimely loss, we also recognize the impact they had and the success they achieved as students, athletes, citizens and representatives of their respective communities and institutions. On behalf of the Big Ten, we greatly appreciate the enduring contributions made by these two young men, and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time.”

Sadler concluded his Big Ten career in 2014 and was set to begin at Stanford Law School this fall. Foltz was still an active Husker.

Nebraska will skip this week’s festivities as it recovers from the beloved Foltz’s passing.

Iowa State suspends CB Nigel Tribune after OWI arrest

FORT WORTH, TX - DECEMBER 06:  Wide receiver Josh Doctson #9 of the TCU Horned Frogs runs with the football after a reception past defensive back Nigel Tribune #34 of the Iowa State Cyclones during the second quarter of the Big 12 college football game at Amon G. Carter Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Iowa State senior cornerback Nigel Tribune was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested for OWI Sunday, according to the Des Moines Register.

Tribune, a former second-team All-Big 12 player, was pulled over in Ames just before 3 a.m. Sunday. From the Register’s story:

According to police, Tribune had watery and bloodshot eyes and smelled of alcohol. He performed and failed field sobriety tests. A preliminary breath test showed a result of over .08 — the legal limit.

“We are aware of the charges filed against Nigel and we are in the process of gathering more information,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Sunday in a statement. “Nigel has been suspended indefinitely from the football team under the student-athlete code of conduct policy.”

Tribune, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., had 37 tackles and seven pass break-ups in 2015.

 

ACC media poll has Clemson repeating as conference champions

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 7: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers pumps up fans prior to the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
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DeShaun Watson is back from last year’s College Football Playoff runner-up, and with that, there was little debate in the ACC media poll about who will repeat as conference champions in 2016.

Clemson, with 144 votes, was picked to repeat as ACC champions in the conference’s annual media poll. Florida State (39), North Carolina (seven) and Louisville (one) also received votes.

Watson, the Tigers’ junior quarterback, was picked to be the ACC Player of the Year with 164 votes. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (18), North Carolina running back Elijah Hood (four), Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya (two), Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (two) and Duke cornerback/returner DeVon Edwards (one) also received player of the year votes.

Here’s how the voting broke down by division, with first-place votes in parentheses:

Atlantic                    
1. Clemson (148) – 1,293
2. Florida State (42) – 1,176
3. Louisville (1) – 961
4. NC State – 704
5. Boston College – 441
6. Syracuse – 426
7. Wake Forest – 347
Coastal                
1. North Carolina (121) – 1,238
2. Miami (50) – 1,108
3. Pitt (14) – 859
4. Virginia Tech (3) – 697
5. Duke (2) – 597
6. Georgia Tech (1) – 588
7. Virginia – 261

Convicted of federal drug charge, former Arkansas RB Cedric Cobbs says he is dealing with CTE

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Former Arkansas running back Cedric Cobbs plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and other narcotics in a United States District Court on Thursday, but was granted a no-prison sentenced because Cobbs told the judge he is undergoing treatment for brain disease.

He was sentenced to three years of probation contingent upon continuing treatment for drugs and mental health counseling.

According to Eric Bolin of Arkansas News, Cobbs is a patient at The Crosby Center, an Escondido, Calif., treatment center that claims to be “recognized as one of the nation’s foremost sports treatment centers for helping athletes reclaim their lives.” Bolin writes Cobbs is battling CTE, which Boston University says may only be diagnosed posthumously.

Cobbs accumulated 3,018 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns as an Arkansas running back from 1999-03. He left school as the Hogs’ third-leading rusher and helped the club reach the 2002 SEC championship game. Cobbs won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and played for the Denver Broncos.

In addition to his 2014 indictment, Cobbs was arrested last July on a charge of first-degree promoting prostitution, where police found two meth pipes, meth and prescription pills in his car. Cobbs was also arrested in 2013 for prescription fraud and evading arrest. He was sentenced to probation for misdemeanor fleeing and drug fraud.

Substance abuse is a known symptom of CTE.