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.

Syracuse great Floyd Little diagnosed with cancer

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One of the famed 44s of the Syracuse football program is in the midst of the “toughest fight of his life.”

On a GoFundMe page created by one of his former teammates, Pat Killorin, it’s was revealed that Floyd Little has been diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t divulged what specific cancer Little is battling, but Killorin described it as “a treatable but aggressive form of” the disease.

“No doubt it will be the toughest fight of his life,” Killorin wrote. “Although he has lived a full life admired and enjoyed by many, Floyd doesn’t believe he has yet written, with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the final play of his life.”

Thus far, the fundraising effort has brought in over $15,000 toward the stated goal of $250,000.

Little was a three-time All-American for the Syracuse football team in the mid-sixties.  He’s the only three-time All-American at the running back in Orange history.  During his time at the school, Little ran for 2,750 yards and 35 touchdowns.

In 1983, Little was inducted into the College Football Hal of Fame.  The sixth-overall pick of the 1967 NFL Draft, Little landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 2005, the Syracuse football program retired number 44 to honor Little, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and the other players who wore the number.  A decade later, that number was brought out of retirement.

Little returned to his alma mater in 2011 as the special assistant to then-athletic director Daryl Gross.  The Connecticut native left that position in 2016.

“Floyd Little is a fighter,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “I know he will face this disease with the same courage, dignity and strength with which he met all of life’s challenges. “The entire Syracuse Football family is in his corner.”

Ohio State, Georgia in Final Four for top-rated corner in 2021 recruiting class

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Ohio State already owns the top recruiting class in the next cycle.  The Buckeyes could be set to add to its prospect riches.  Maybe.

On Twitter Sunday, Virginia high schooler Tony Grimes used a video posted on Twitter to reveal his Final Four potential destinations.  And those four potential landing spots?  Georgia, North Carolina and Texas A&M.  And, of course, Ohio State.

That quartet, though, will very likely have to wait a while for a decision.

“So far it is still Dec. 1,” Grimes told 247Sports.com when asked about Decision Day. “I am looking for more of a connection and knowing that there is someone there, that when I get there, I can trust, and someone who is going to develop me. Who is going to develop me more and who is going to put me in a position where I can play, ball out and get developed for the next level?”

Whichever school ultimately signs Grimes, they’ll be getting one of the highest-rated 2021 prospects.

Grimes is a five-star recruit in the next cycle according to the 247Sports.com composite.  He’s the top-rated cornerback in the country.  And in his home state of Virginia, regardless of position.  On that same composite, he’s the No. 7 prospect in the country overall.

Ohio State currently holds the top-rated class in the country.  The Buckeyes currently hold verbals from four five-star 2021 prospects.  The next 11 schools have a combined four such commitments.

As for the other three schools involved in the chase for Grimes?  North Carolina holds the No. 4 class, while Georgia is 12th and Texas A&M is 24th.

Mississippi State transfer who committed to Ole Miss flips to Florida State

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Florida State is the beneficiary of a relatively rare football portal flip.

In mid-May, Jarrian Jones became the fifth Mississippi State football player to enter the NCAA transfer database in seven weeks.  May 23, he became the latest MSU player to find a new home as the defensive back moved to the Ole Miss side of the Egg Bowl rivalry.

Friday morning, however, Jones flipped.  On his personal Twitter account, Jones revealed that he has committed to the Florida State football team.

Jones was a four-star member of the Mississippi State football Class of 2019.  The Mississippi native was the No. 18 safety in the country on the 247Sports.com composite.  He was also the No. 13 prospect regardless of position in his home state.  Only three signees in the class that year for MSU were rated higher than Jones.

As a true freshman, Jones started one of the dozen games in which he played.  In those appearances, he was credited with 12 tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

After sitting out the 2020 season, the defensive back will have three years of eligibility to use starting in 2021.  Barring a waiver for immediate eligibility, of course.

Jones would actually be the second Mississippi State player to transfer into the Florida State football program in less than two months.  In mid-April, Fabien Lovett announced he was transferring to the Seminoles.  While it was reported that the defensive lineman would likely flip to Ole Miss, he confirmed he signed with FSU.

Vanderbilt mourns death of beloved staffer Osia Lewis, 57, after lengthy battle with liver cancer

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Vanderbilt football is mourning the loss of one of its own.

In February of 2017, Vanderbilt announced that football assistant Osia Lewis was battling a form of liver cancer called cholangiocarcinoma.  This weekend, the Commodores have been forced to make the sad announcement that Lewis has lost his three-year-plus battle with the insidious disease.

Lewis was 57 at the time of his death.  He leaves behind a wife and two children.

“We are deeply saddened for the loss of our heart and soul, Osia Lewis,” the Vanderbilt football program wrote on Twitter. “Our thoughts and love are with Osia’s family and friends.

“Rest in paradise.”

In 2016, Lewis joined the Vanderbilt football staff as senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach.  Following his diagnosis, Lewis stepped away from his on-field coaching role but continued his duties as a senior defensive assistant.  He also carried the title special consultant to head coach Derek Mason.

Prior to his time at Vandy, Lewis was the defensive line coach at San Diego State.  He also served a pair of stints as a defensive coordinator, first at New Mexico (2003-07) and then at UTEP _2008-09)

The Tucson native began his coaching career as the special teams coach and linebackers coach at Oregon State.  Lewis then moved on to Illinois as linebackers and defensive line coach from 1997-02.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Lewis’ death.