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Cam Newton could become third QB with college, Super Bowl title

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A little over five years ago, Auburn — behind Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton — beat Oregon in the BCS Championship. Two weeks from now, Newton will have an opportunity to join a list that currently is only populated by Joe Namath and Joe Montana.

Namath (Alabama, New York Jets) and Montana (Notre Dame, San Francisco 49ers) are the only two quarterbacks in football history to start for a college football champion and win a Super Bowl. Newton would be the third.

Of course, guys like Tom Brady and Ken Stabler were backups at Michigan and Alabama, respectively, and went on to win a Super Bowl (in Brady’s case, Super Bowls) as a pro. Troy Aikman started for part of Oklahoma’s 1985 championship team, but was injured in October and missed the Sooners’ last push to a title. Joe Flacco lost the 2007 FCS Championship to Appalachian State, while Steve Young (BYU) and Peyton Manning (Tennessee) both left college a year before their schools won championships.

College football’s recent quarterback champions don’t lend a ton of hope that anyone will join Namath, Montana and potentially Newton anytime soon. Jameis Winston has the best chance, and A.J. McCarron started for Cincinnati after Andy Dalton got hurt.

But consider the list of quarterbacks to win a college title since 2000: Josh Heupel (now Mizzou’s offensive coordinator), Ken Dorsey (now Newton’s QB coach with the Panthers), Craig Krenzel (now a motivational speaker and founded an insurance company), Matt Mauck (who’s a dentist), Matt Leinart (who’s now a talking head for FOX Sports), Vince Young (who has a steakhouse in Austin and was arrested for DWI on Monday), Chris Leak (who’s a staffer with the Buccaneers), Matt Flynn (who most recently was the Saints’ backup), Tim Tebow (now a talking head for ESPN), Greg McElroy (now a talking head — and an underrated one — for ESPN), Newton, McCarron, Winston, Cardale Jones (who’s turning pro this year) and Jacob Coker (who’s collegiate eligibility is up).

A not-so-surprising Heisman Trophy first in NFC Championship Game

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The NFL’s conference championship weekend is set with another bout between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the AFC and the top two teams in the NFC, Arizona and Carolina, going toe-to-toe for the NFC championship. While there will be plenty of attention given to yet another meeting between Manning and Brady, the NFC Championship Game is making some history with a college football twist. With Cam Newton of the Panthers and Carson Palmer of the Cardinals set to start in the NFC Championship Game, we will see the first NFL postseason meeting between two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

At first glance, that comes across as a surprising factoid to consume, but it should not come across as a major shock. Given the track record of Heisman Trophy winner sin the NFL, we already know the Heisman Trophy is far from a guarantee for sustained NFL success. This is especially true for quarterbacks, although the jury is still out on a number of the more recent Heisman-winning QBs (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota offer some good promise, and who knows if there is still time to save Robert Griffin III, for example). Also keep in mind that for the majority of the history of the Heisman Trophy, running backs were the dominant position before the turn of the 21st century gave way to quarterbacks taking control of the award more often than not.

Take a look through Heisman history and look at the quarterbacks who have won the stiff-arm trophy over the years. Just two quarterbacks won the award in the 1960s, Navy’s Roger Staubach and Notre Dame’s John Huarte. Staubach went on to have a stellar career. Huarte? Not so much. Two quarterbacks won the Heisman in the 1970s, and once again the careers of Jim Plunkett of Stanford and Pat Sullivan of Auburn took drastically different paths. Of the three quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy in the 1980s (Doug Flutie, Andre Ware, Vinny Testaverde), only Miami’s Testaverde proved to have a sustained NFL career, which included a couple of solid runs here and there, but he almost never faced another Heisman-winning QB during his lengthy career.

The 1990s saw four quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. Ty Detmer was essentially a career backup. Gino Torretta‘s run in the NFL was brief. Danny Wuerffel did not fare too much better. And Charlie Ward went on to play in the NBA instead of the NFL. Ward may have been the best NFL QB out of that bunch had he focused on the NFL instead.

Even the quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy since 2000 have been farther from competing for an NFL conference championship more often than not. This weekend, 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer just won his first postseason game as a starting quarterback since blowing out Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl. 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke has an NFC Championship ring, but that came as a backup. 2001 winner Eric Crouch played four years in the NFL with three teams and ended his playing career in the short-lived UFL with the Omaha Nighthawks. 2003 winner Jason White was not even drafted and stepped away due to bad knees. 2004 winner Matt Leinart never lived up to his perceived potential in Arizona and moved on to Houston, Oakland and Buffalo before getting into TV. 2006 winner Troy Smith was a career back-up, for the most part, behind Steve McNair and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Sam Bradford has been plagued by injuries and Robert Griffin III is looking to rejuvenate his career in a new situation in 2016. And I’m even going to spare you the talk about Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel.

One more piece of information to keep in mind was the AFC and NFC Championship Game structure was not utilized until 1970 when the NFL merged with the AFL. For an award that was first handed out in 1935, that cuts out a number of quarterbacks from even having the possibility to play in an NFL conference championship game (Davey O’BrienAngelo Bertelli, Lee Horvath, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung, Terry Baker).

So yes, it is surprising we have not seen a matchup of Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in an NFL postseason game before, but it is not at all shocking given the history of the Heisman Trophy. And no, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady never won the Heisman Trophy either.

Nick Saban strengthens case as college football’s greatest coach

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Put together your Mt. Rushmore of college football coaches and who would be in your top four? For years there would be some clear locks. Paul Bear Bryant would be in there. So would Woody Hayes. Knute Rockne would have his supporters and you could go with either Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno for the fourth and final spot, or perhaps even Bo Schembechler. Over the past 25-30 years though, perhaps no college football coach has been as good as Alabama head coach Nick Saban. If it was not already, it is time to make the case Saban is not only the best coach of the BCS and playoff era, and not just the past era, but perhaps of all time.

Saban won his fifth national championship as a head coach Monday night with Alabama’s 45-40 victory over previously undefeated Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. With five national titles to his name, Saban moves into sole possession of second place on college football’s all-time list for coaches and national titles. He trails only one man, another Alabama icon, Bryant. Bryant won six national titles as a head coach, but Saban is not interested in comparing himself to The Bear and he is far from concerned about how his legacy stands up next to Bryant’s.

Saban will hardly get credit for being an innovative coach in this day and age of football. Saban is much more comfortable sticking to basics as much as possible, which has proven to be beneficial during his run as Alabama’s head coach. Alabama had zero Heisman Trophy winners before Saban’s arrival, and now they have two. Those two also tend to go against the grain of the modern Heisman trend of awarding the top quarterbacks, as both of Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winners have been running backs (Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry). For Saban, success is built in the trenches. As a result, Alabama has put together some of the best offensive and defensive lines during his years at Alabama. Alabama is one of two schools to have multiple Rimington Trophy winners (best center) under Saban. This past season saw Alabama’s offensive line collectively be honored with the first Joe Moore Award, honoring the top offensive line in college football. Had the award existed before 2015, odds are Alabama would have picked one or two up under Saban as well. He has had 10 offensive linemen drafted since 2009 after all.

Although Saban may not be given credit for being an innovative coach, he sure as heck has proven to b a solid adaptive coach. When Auburn’s Cam Newton came out on top of Alabama in 2010 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ripped through Alabama in 2012, it appeared a crack in Saban’s Alabama empire had been exposed. Mobile quarterbacks and up-tempo offense suddenly became Saban’s kryptonite, as the offensive trends in the game had finally found a weak spot in Saban’s dominant physical approach to the game. The wind had supposedly been taken out of the Alabama program. Perhaps Alabama was proving to be vulnerable against certain types of players. Saban stuck to his blueprint and built the program his way. Eventually, this proved Alabama may take a hit along the way, but it would still be built to win big in the end. The years have now gone by and opposing teams have tried to crack Alabama as much as possible, but Saban’s success in building his dynasty has led to each and every one of Saban’s recruiting classes at Alabama leaving the program with at least one national championship ring.

That is a level of sustained success that is practically unheard of in this sport. Only Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is floating in the same waters as Saban right now. Ironically, a year removed from Meyer staking a claim as the best coach in college football today by knocking out Saban en route to a national championship of his own, Saban strikes right back by learning from what occurred in year one of the playoff system. The 2015 season saw Alabama stick to what traditionally works while also taking some chances and experimenting at times with their own up-tempo offense. An early loss to Ole Miss once again opened the door for critics to tear down Saban’s empire, and once again Saban made those critics look foolish in the end.

In the national championship game, Saban pulled out a rare trick. Tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter after just tying Clemson, Saban called for an onside kick. It caught Clemson completely off guard and the Crimson Tide executed it to perfection. It was a rare call from Saban, who typically sticks to the basics and is not known to gamble in such a way with so much riding on the outcome. It paid off though. Alabama scored shortly after recovering the well placed onside kick and took control of a wild fourth quarter from there. It even forced the usually stoic Saban to crack a little smile on the sidelines. When that happens, you know something is cooking.

Saban is a mastermind and a master strategist. His job may be considered easy with all of the talent Alabama brings in on an annual basis, but that is because Saban makes it look so easy.It’s not. It’s really not.

It’s not. It’s really not.

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.

Derrick Henry joins an even more exclusive fraternity with Heisman Trophy win

Kelly Kline/Heisman Trust via AP
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When Alabama running back Derrick Henry was named the winner of the 2015 Heisman Trophy Saturday night in New York City, the Crimson Tide star joined the exclusive fraternity of Heisman Trophy winners. This is often referred to as the most exclusive fraternity in sports, as only one player per year is inducted into the club every season since 1935. But Henry joined an even more exclusive club in college football history with his Heisman Trophy win by becoming the 22nd player to win each of the three major individual awards in college football; the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year.

USC’s O.J. Simpson was the first player to win all three major awards in the same season, doing so in 1968. Simpson actually prevented UCLA’s Gary Beban from being the first triple crown award winner in college football when he was named the inaugural Walter Camp Award winner in 1967. Beban won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award that season. Stanford’s Jim Plunkett became the second player to sweep the three individual honors in 1970, and Penn State’s John Cappelletti swept the awards in 1973.

Henry is the fourth player from the SEC to win all three major awards, joining Georgia’s Herschel Walker, Florida’s Danny Wuerffel and Auburn’s Cam Newton. Henry is also the first running back to pull off the feat since Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne took all three honors in 1999. Ricky Williams of Texas did it the previous season in 1998 as well. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota won all three individual awards last season as well. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron prevented Florida State’s Jameis Winston from winning all three awards by being named the Maxwell Award winner in 2013. Alabama’s last Heisman Trophy winner before Henry, Mark Ingram in 2009, actually prevented Texas quarterback Colt McCoy from pulling off the triple award feat. McCoy won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year awards in that 2009 season.

Players to win Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year in Same Season

  • O.J. Simpson, USC (1968)
  • Jim Plunkett, Stanford (1970)
  • John Cappelletti, Penn State (1973)
  • Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1975)
  • Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh (1976)
  • Charles White, USC (1979)
  • Marcus Allen, USC (1981)
  • Herschel Walker, Georgia (1982)
  • Mike Rozier, Nebraska (1983)
  • Doug Flutie, Boston College (1984)
  • Vinny Testaverde, Miami (1986)
  • Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1988)
  • Desmond Howard, Michigan (1991)
  • Gino Torretta, Miami (1992)
  • Charlie Ward, Florida State (1993)
  • Eddie Georgia, Ohio State (1995)
  • Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1996)
  • Ricky Williams, Texas (1998)
  • Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1999)
  • Cam Newton, Auburn (2010)
  • Marcus Mariota, Oregon (2014)
  • Derrick Henry, Alabama (2015)