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.

Second-half dominance powers No. 10 A&M past No. 17 Arkansas, 45-24

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs for a touchdown against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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No. 10 Texas A&M grabbed a late touchdown run from quarterback Trevor Knight in the first half and shut down No. 17 Arkansas in the second half of a 45-24 victory in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies shut down the Razorbacks in the second half and scored 28 points on offense to improve to 4-0 and head into October thinking about making a run at the SEC West title (and potentially for real this time).

With the game tied at 17-17, Arkansas put together a draining 89-yard drive on 19 plays, but it was the Texas A&M defense that held strong down by the goal line. Just as they had done twice in the first half, Texas A&M prevented Arkansas from punching the football across the goal line, this time with a fourth-down stand. Two plays later, Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight unloaded a deep ball to Josh Reynolds racing down the right sideline. The ball was placed perfectly for Reynolds and he let his speed take care of the rest on a 92-yard touchdown drive. It was quite the momentum swing and the Aggies did not look back.

Texas A&M scored a touchdown after forcing Arkansas to punt on the ensuing possession and took advantage of a short field from the 15-yard line after an Arkansas fumble. Trayveon Williams did the honors on the first touchdown with a 33-yard scamper and Christian Kirk got his hands on a pass from Knight after the Razorbacks’ fumble.

Four games into the season and there appears to be enough evidence to suggest this Texas A&M defense has improved, and that helps make Texas A&M a formidable player in the SEC West moving forward. Is it ready to take down Alabama? Probably not, but the Aggies have the look of the second-best team in the SEC behind the defending national champions. Arkansas still has the potential to play spoiler with anyone on their schedule though, including Alabama.

Knight was a machine for the Aggies, ending his night with 225 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, a game-high 157 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Arkansas quarterback passed for 371 yards and two scores, but took a beating all night.

Texas A&M is 4-0 for the third straight season under Kevin Sumlin. The last time Texas A&M went 4-0 in three straight seasons was 1939-1941. It is also the third straight undefeated September for Texas A&M, which was last achieved from 1997 through 1999. The hot seat talk has been nowhere to be heard in College Station this season.

Arkansas gets a likely breather next week when they return home to host Alcorn State. A home game against Alabama looms after that. Texas A&M will stay in SEC play next week when they head to South Carolina. The Gamecocks are coming off a 17-10 loss at Kentucky.

Seth Russell’s 4 TD night vs. Oklahoma State helps No. 16 Baylor remain undefeated

WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Seth Russell #17 of the Baylor Bears looks for an open receiver against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter at McLane Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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In a game that was delayed over an hour by weather, featured a bizarre coaching decision and over 1,000 yards of combined offense, No. 16 Baylor (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) managed to pull away and remain one of two remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12 with a 35-24 victory at home over Oklahoma State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12). West Virgina is also undefeated after beating BYU earlier in the day.

Baylor quarterback Seth Russell passed for 387 yards and four touchdowns in the win, and he also led the ground attack with 65 rushing yards on 10 carries. Ishmael Zamora, in his first game back from a three-game suspension for beating his dog, caught eight of the passes from Russell for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Platt also hauled in a 100-yard day with a pair of touchdowns.

While the winning formula for Baylor typically revolves around the offense, Oklahoma State coughed the ball up four times, although they did pick up 30 first downs and run 100 plays of offense as well. It was far from pretty for Baylor, with seven penalties and giving up 28 first downs, but the Bears will take it and enjoy the undefeated start to the season regardless.

Baylor head coach Jim Grobe did make one puzzling coaching decision late in the third quarter when he kept the offense on the field to try to pick up a first down on fourth and one from Baylor’s 24-yard line. You read that correctly. They went for it from the Baylor 24-yard line, with a lead mind you, in the third quarter. Oklahoma State stuffed the play for no gain and the offense was unable to capitalize. That may have cost Oklahoma State, and it bailed Grobe out for an absolute bonehead coaching decision.

But the defensive stop was just the start. Oklahoma State’s defense could not hold Baylor down and the Bears put together a 99-yard touchdown drive, with Seth Russell finding Chris Platt from 15 yards out on third and goal. It served as the knockout blow from the Bears offense, who had four touchdown drives of at least 73 yards on the night.

Baylor will be on the road next week for more Big 12 competition. The Bears hit the road to take on Iowa State for an early kickoff next Saturday. Oklahoma State will be home next week for a meeting with the Texas Longhorns. Texas will be coming off a bye week after losing on the road at Cal last weekend.

With seven more, Lamar Jackson has more TDs than all but ONE FBS team

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) awaits the snap during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Huntington, W. Va., Saturday Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Walter Scriptunas II)
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With the final games of the first month of the 2016 season being quickly put to bed, we can officially hand the September Heisman Trophy to Lamar Jackson.  In an utter and absolute landslide.

The Louisville quarterback’s ridiculous, video game-like month has officially come to an end, with Jackson accounting for seven touchdowns in a 59-28 win over Marshall in Huntington.  The true sophomore threw for five touchdowns and ran for another two in a performance that did nothing but show how remarkably easy the game is for Jackson right now even as he “struggled” early on.

With this showing, Jackson has now accounted for 25 touchdowns on the season — 13 passing, 12 rushing.

Remarkably, Jackson now has more touchdowns individually than all but one team — aside from his own — playing at the FBS level.  That one team?  Michigan, with 28.  USF, with 25 as a team that played this week, is tied with Jackson as an individual.

I guess you could technically add an asterisk to the “one team” theme as Texas Tech (25), Ohio State (23) and Miami (21) were all on byes this weekend.  And I’m also going under the assumption that Washington (19 entering Week 4) won’t get beyond 25, even as they are currently tied 14-14 with Arizona at halftime.

Still, the numbers Jackson is putting up are historic and epic, and that was even before he added Nos. 6 and 7.

I have no clue how Jackson will close out the season, but I do know that, at the moment, there’s the Cardinals’ signal-caller and then there’s everybody else when it comes to the 2016 Heisman race.  Just as it was exactly a week ago.

Thrilling comeback gives No. 7 Stanford a wild win over UCLA

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Francis Owusu #6 of the Stanford Cardinal fumbles after a hit from Tahaan Goodman #21 and Adarius Pickett #6 of the UCLA Bruins during the second quarter at Rose Bowl on September 24, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Death. Taxes. Stanford over UCLA.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw ran his record to a perfect 7-0 against the Bruins in thrilling fashion on Saturday night thanks to a 22-13 comeback victory at the Rose Bowl.

Trailing 13-9 with just two minutes left in the game, the Cardinal marched 70 yards in 101 seconds to take an improbable lead after failing to score a touchdown until their final drive.

Quarterback Ryan Burns was behind most of the yardage on what would be the game-winning drive, going 5-of-8 to finish off the Bruins by lofting a perfectly thrown fade into the hands of 6-foot-3 receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside near the corner of the end zone. Burns finished with just 137 yards through the air on the night and tossed an interception in a middling performance but came up clutch for the first moment of his career.

Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey had an unusually effective but quiet night a few months after setting a few records at the same venue in January. He had a healthy 5.3 yards per carry for the game and led the team with  165 all-purpose yards but only had one play over 10 yards all night.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen on the other hand, was the offense for the Bruins considering they could only muster 2.3 yards a carry on the ground. The sophomore signal-caller finished with 248 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t quite pull off the win over the one team that has become a bit of a nemesis to Jim Mora and company in Westwood.

Perhaps fittingly — as if to almost twist the knife into another excruciating loss to their Bay Area rivals — Rosen was sacked on the final play of the game and fumbled, which was then returned by linebacker Joey Alfieri for a touchdown that was of plenty of interest to certain folks up the highway in Las Vegas.

The improbable victory for Stanford keeps alive their College Football Playoff hopes for another week and sets up a huge showdown next Friday at Washington in what looks like the Pac-12 game of the year.