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.

With felony sexual assault of a minor charges dismissed, suspended LSU lineman Ed Ingram reinstated

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An off-field odyssey that’s lasted more than a baker’s dozen months has led Ed Ingram back into the good graces of the LSU football program.

Friday, it was confirmed that two felony counts of aggravated sexual assault of a minor that Ingram had been facing in Dallas have been dismissed.  Not long after, the Tigers confirmed that Ingram has been reinstated to the football team.

“Our whole team and our LSU family welcomes Ed Ingram back,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement. “He is an outstanding football player, an integral part of our football team, and family and we are excited to have him back with us.”

In early August of 2018, it was confirmed that Ingram had been indefinitely suspended for violating unspecified team rules.  It was subsequently confirmed that, prior to the suspension, Ingram had been arrested on felony sexual assault charges involving a minor in connection to incidents that occurred prior to the offensive lineman signing with the Tigers in 2017.

No details of the events that led up to the arrest and subsequent charges — or the reasons behind the charges being dismissed — have been released publicly.

Ingram was a four-star member of LSU’s 2017 recruiting class, rated as the No. 13 offensive guard in the country.  He started 12 games at right guard as a true freshman.

While Ingram has been reinstated, he won’t play for LSU this weekend.

LOOK: Georgia grocery store removes Irish Spring soap from shelves ahead of Notre Dame-UGA

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Even for a non-conference matchup, the South has hilariously shown once again that it takes its college football very seriously.

No. 7 Notre Dame has traveled to Athens to take on No. 3 Georgia in the most high-profile matchup in Week 4 of the 2019 season.  The two bluebloods aren’t exactly rivals — they’ve faced each other twice, the most recent in 2017 (one-point UGA win in South Bend) and the first coming in the Sugar Bowl following the 1980 regular season.

The lack of history between the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish, though, didn’t stop one grocery store in the vicinity of the UGA campus from hating on this week’s enemy as it removed its entire supply of Irish Spring soap from its shelves in the week leading up to the Top 25 matchup.

College football, y’all!

In the days leading up to tonight’s primetime affair, the sportsbooks really liked UGA as the Bulldogs were listed as anywhere from a 14- to 15-point favorite; as of this posting, the Bulldogs are listed as a 14.5 favorite according to the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.

Three current FBS players, all Aussie kickers/punters, are age 30 or over

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While it seems like the quarterback position in college football is trending younger and younger these days, kicking specialists at a couple of schools are trending in the opposite direction.

Seniors Wade Lees and Dane Roy are punters at UCLA and Houston, respectively.  Junior James Stefanou (pictured), meanwhile, is a kicker at Colorado.

All three were born in Australia, with Stefanou and Lees hailing from Melbourne while Roy is from Bunyip, about 50 miles southeast of the state of Victoria’s capital.  All three came to the United States after training at ProKick Australia, and all three are also married.

What else do they have in common?  They’re all significantly older than your average students.  They’re also much older than your average medical school students as each individual in the kicking trio is at least 30 years old, as captured Thursday night by our own Bryan Fischer.

Lees, who transferred to UCLA from Maryland this offseason, and Roy are in their final seasons of eligibility, but Stefanou has another year he can use.  With an April 15th birthday, Stefanou will be 33 years old when the 2020 season kicks off.

Despite that “advanced” age, Stefanou won’t be the oldest player ever at the FBS level as that honor belongs to Tim Frisby, who walked on at South Carolina in 2004 at the age of 39 and played for both Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.  In 2005, at the age of 40, Frisby, a former U.S. Army Ranger who had served in the first Gulf War as well as Kosovo, caught one pass for nine yards.

In 2016, Joe Thomas Sr. became the oldest player ever at the Div. 1 level when he suited up for FCS South Carolina State.

In 2011, 61-year-old Alan Moore kicked an extra point in an NAIA game to become the oldest player in the history of college football at any level.  Four years before that, 59-year-old Mike Flynt suited up and played for Div. III Sul Ross State.

USC takes charge in Pac-12 South after upset of No. 10 Utah

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Late Friday night saw the first upset of the weekend in college football. No. 10 Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) was upset on the road by USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12), 30-23, despite the Trojans playing with a third-string quarterback and the Pac-12 officials throwing enough flags to fill five loads of laundry. The win by USC moves the Trojans into a comfortable spot in the Pac-12 South before even getting to October.

USC lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis on the second play of the game. After Slovis left to be evaluated for a possible head injury, third-string quarterback Matt Fink stepped in to lead the offense. All Fink did was lead USC to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and then make some big passes in the second half to keep the Trojans in front of Utah. Fink ended his night off the bench with 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. Michael Pittman Jr. was on the receiving end of 10 of those receptions for a massive 232 receiving yards. The highlight of the night was a 77-yard touchdown pass that saw Pittman come down with a jump ball and then push aside a would-be tackler on his way to the endzone.

A win is a win, fo course, and USC will take them any way they can. On Friday night in the Coliseum, they had to overcome an onslaught of bad penalties. USC was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. Utah had their share of laundry too with 16 penalties called for 120 yards. Both teams were guilty of personal foul penalties as the game was certainly chippy at times. But some of the penalties were questionable at best. Neither coach will walk away from this game feeling great about the discipline or the officiating, as there was plenty of blame to go around in this one.

Utah had their chances to come away with the win, but an inability to defend deep jump ball passes by Fink killed them too often. The Utes ran for 247 yards as a team but managed just one touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Huntley put his team on the back for much of the night with 210 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, but it was not enough as defenders were able to get to him and bring him under pressure.

In the end, it was just USC’s night, and it was one Clay Helton really needed. For now, USC can live in the moment and not have to worry about distractions about the future of Helton. USC is already 2-0 in conference play with wins against Stanford and Utah. The road is not going to get any easier, with a road game at Washington coming up next week, followed by a trip to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. But USC ha splayed themselves into a favorable spot in the Pac-12 by being 2-0 and owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Utah. That gives USC a margin for error in conference play, and they look to be the best team within the Pac-12 South the rest of the season.

While we should be wise not to pencil USC into the Pac-12 championship game just yet (remember, third-string QB and they still have Washington and Oregon to play in a difficult crossover division rotation), but there have been some true signs of promise for the Trojans early on this season. And bouncing back from a hard-fought loss at BYU last week to knock off No. 10 Utah is quite a turnaround for USC.

As USC hits the road to challenge Washington next week, Utah will look to rebound at home in Salt Lake City against Washington State. As of the conclusion of the USC-Utah game, the Washington State Cougars were one of three undefeated teams in the Pac-12 left standing (Cal, Arizona State).