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.

UNLV goes Ivy in replacing RBs coach poached by North Carolina

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Members of UNLV Rebels marching band perform in the stands during UNLV's game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 69-66 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Raided by the ACC, UNLV has officially turned its eyes to the Ivy League for its coaching replacement.

Travis Burkett, the football program has announced, has been hired the Rebels’ running backs coach.  Burkett will replace DeAndre Smith, who left last week for a job at North Carolina.

Smith had been with Tony Sanchez‘s program for just three months or so, coming to Las Vegas by way of Purdue.

The past 10 seasons, Burkett served as an assistant at Cornell.  Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant at Bucknell.

This will be Burkett’s first job at any capacity at the FBS level.  His new employer added the following in announcing his addition:

At UNLV, Burkett inherits a rushing attack that stood 15th in the nation last fall with 241.5 yards per game, which ranked fourth in program history and was the most since 1979. All three of the team’s top rushers return in 2017.

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”