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

33 Comments

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.

Old Dominion announces remodel, expansion plans for S.B. Ballard Stadium

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Old Dominion is making sure the first word in the school’s name is not the first thing you think of when you are playing against the Monarchs, joining a long list of their FBS peers with some significant upgrades for their home venue over the coming years. In plans approved this week by the university, ODU released renderings and an updated timeline on a $65 million remodel of S.B. Ballard Stadium that is set to begin as soon as this summer.

“We are excited to begin Phase 1 reconstruction,” said Greg DuBois, the school’s vice president for administration and finance. “Fan comfort and high-quality amenities are the primary focus of this phase. The project will help us create the type of game-day experience fans want and will set us up for future expansions.”

The stadium, some 81-years-old, will undergo a nearly complete teardown over the next two years in order to transform the place most know as Foreman Field. Both the east and west stands will be demolished and rebuilt, complete with new seating and a new press box. There will naturally be more restrooms and concession stands as part of the plan that includes plenty more bells and whistles for the Conference USA program. Seating is expected to grow beyond 21,000 or so capacity the current venue seats.

While construction will get started in the coming months, the bulk of activity will take place after the 2018 campaign is wrapped up at home and before kickoff of the opener in 2019. The Virginian-Pilot reports that funding will not utilize state funds but that the school is requesting that the legislature approve an added $10 million to the cost structure as a result of rising prices beyond the original $55 million forecasted.

2018 will be just the 10th season for the Monarchs (and fifth in FBS) since the football program was reinstated and it goes without saying that the new digs will be some of the nicest in CUSA when all is said and done. Few programs have been able to successfully navigate the transition as well as ODU has and it seems an updated stadium in the near future is the reward for head coach Bobby Wilder and others in Norfolk.

Boise State reportedly looking at replacing blue turf in 2019

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Boise State is exploring replacing their famous blue turf… with yet more blue turf.

Perhaps one of college football’s most recognized landmarks thanks to its quirky color, the school is looking at a fresh set of FieldTurf for Albertsons Stadium in a move that may come as soon as the 2018 campaign wraps up.

“We’re talking about it,” Athletic Director Curt Apsey told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “It’s getting to that point to where we’re going to have to make a change. It will remain blue if anyone asks.

“It’s a lifespan more than anything. I’m going to assume that the weather here in Boise does not help the life of it. That’s a guess on my part, but when you start getting into that eight, 10, 12-year range, in the past that’s when we’ve usually made the change.”

The current stadium field was installed back in 2010 and it has gone through various replacements over the years since the very first blue turf was put in place back in 1986. The report from the Press-Tribune and Apsey’s comments certainly make this seem like it’s a done deal but at a reported cost of nearly $1 million for the new surface, it would not be a quick or cheap fix for the school.

Broncos fans can rest easy knowing that the team’s signature color will be sticking around at the very least, even if the actual field itself gets a bit of an upgrade sometime next year.

Report: Ole Miss receives Committee on Infractions’ response to school appeal

Getty Images
1 Comment

There’s been so much back-and-forth between Ole Miss, Michigan and former quarterback Shea Patterson that you’d be forgiven thinking that the Rebels’ actual NCAA case itself was all over as far as the school was concerned. That certainly isn’t accurate of course and one of the final steps for the program to learn their fate could be set for release in the next few hours or days.

Per Jackson Clarion-Ledger Ole Miss beat writer Antonio Morales, Ole Miss has received a response on their appeal from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions and will soon publish a response after lawyers have had a chance to work through it.

The Rebels had appealed to have their 2018 postseason ban overturned and restrictions on official visits lifted, among other things. The school does have 14 days to respond to the decision but appeals in general are rarely successful and the extra bit of arguing tends to be nothing but extra billable hours for lawyers working on the case.

Depending on the outcome, that should just about wrap things up in Oxford after the school was found to have lacked institutional control in the football program after numerous violations under former head coach Hugh Freeze. Ole Miss remains involved in the waiver appeal of former players like Patterson but this could very well be a closing of the books on a rather turbulent few years of back-and-forth with the NCAA.

Oklahoma State adding gigantic new video board to Boone Pickens Stadium

Getty Images
1 Comment

While most folks are resigned to getting a new flat screen during the holidays or right around the Super Bowl, Oklahoma State is making their purchase this summer and upgrading the Cowboys’ viewing experience significantly at Boone Pickens Stadium as a result.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the school confirmed that the team’s already remodeled home is getting an upgraded Jumbotron that is the eighth-biggest video board at a college football stadium in the country. In addition to packing in the pixels in a full-high definition display, the new board is set to measure in at 56 feet tall by 110 feet wide and will be mounted just above the east end zone on the outside of the OSU Athletics Center that abuts the field.

“This board not only modernizes the game day experience in Boone Pickens Stadium, but it also brings Oklahoma State to the forefront in this area,” said Athletic Director Mike Holder. “We have taken input from fans and I believe that adding a premium board like this is a game-changer for all of us who attend.

Installation will begin in July and should be finalized by well ahead of fall camp with a target of August 1st for completion. Veteran manufacturer Daktronics will build the board while a local Oklahoma City firm will design the supports. The program notes that this screen will be especially bright compared to other installations by several factors in order to account for the glare of the sun hitting the board.

The entire setup will check in at just a tad bit smaller than rival Texas ‘Godzillatron’ at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium but will otherwise be one of the largest in the Big 12. Given how quickly the Cowboys tend to put up points in Mike Gundy’s offense, chances are it will get a nice workout when games start to roll around this fall in Stillwater as well.