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 AD says 2019 football season has been frustrating but Orange on the right trajectory

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Syracuse football was one of the remarkable turnaround stories during the 2018 season and the Orange have become one of the more remarkable turnaround stories during the 2019 season… only in the opposite direction many assumed coming into the year.

Despite the program backsliding from their first 10 win season in nearly two decades to their current mark of 3-6 though, athletic director John Wildhack told a local radio station that he’s firmly behind the team and head coach Dino Babers no matter how difficult things have been on the field this year.

“This year is frustrating, no question,” Wildhack said, according to Syracuse.com. “I think this program is in a much better place than it was three or four years ago. I give Coach Babers a lot of credit. We’ll continue to work to analyze what we need to do to make the program better, to make it successful. I’m confident we’ll do that.

“I honestly believe, and I deeply believe, that we are on the right trajectory to where we can be consistently good every year. That’s what we want.”

The Orange being consistently good every year is obviously a great goal to have but something the school has struggled to do for many years on the gridiron. There was hope that Babers was the guy to help raise the floor, so to speak, of the program when hired and he put together a remarkable 2018 season that was a great indication of that — leading to a lucrative contract extension last December designed to keep bigger programs from plucking their head coach.

But the followup has not gone as well with the team struggling to protect their quarterback and the defense give up so many points that they fired coordinator Brian Ward, a long time assistant under the head coach, after a loss to Boston College.

Syracuse football is 21-25 overall under Babers but there is hope that this is simply a bump in the road with the bulk of the two-deep at the moment made up of underclassmen and only a handful of seniors in the starting lineup. The Orange will try to keep their bowl possibilities alive on Saturday when they play at Duke in ACC action.

Contradicting Mark Dantonio, Michigan State says QB Brian Lewerke was checked for concussion vs. Illinois

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It’s not often that a school comes out firing to directly contradict their head coach on a subject but we’ve long since passed normal at Michigan State this season.

In the wake of the team’s dreadful collapse against Illinois last week, starting QB Brian Lewerke took a knee to the head from a defender and then subsequently was planted on the turf while trying to make a tackle the next play — after he threw an interception that was eventually turned into a momentum-swinging pick-six. The signal-caller told reporters after the game that he got his bell rung but he still stayed in the game.

While that sequence should have prompted Lewerke to go through the standard concussion protocol, head coach Mark Dantonio said at his Tuesday press conference that neither trainers nor coaches thought about pulling him from the game to do that because the player himself said he was fine despite the hits.

“Just I asked him and he said he’s good, and he motioned that to our trainers, as well, so he just went on with it,” Dantonio said.

That, however, is not exactly what happened and the general disregard seemingly shown over putting Lewerke through proper protocols prompted the university to issue a statement later on Tuesday clarifying the situation.

“The safety of student-athletes at Michigan State University is our No. 1 priority. Decisions on whether a player returns to competition after potentially suffering an injury are made by our medical staff, which does not report to our coaching staff or through the Athletics Department,” Michigan State health care chief medical officer and interim director of athletic medicine Dr. Anthony M. Avellino said in a statement released by the school. “Upon returning to the sideline late in the fourth quarter with under five minutes remaining in the game, Brian Lewerke was given a symptom assessment by our medical staff. After not showing signs of a concussion, he was cleared to play.

“As a precautionary measure, Brian was given further testing the following day, and was once again determined not to have a concussion.”

It’s good to know that the signal-caller didn’t get a concussion on the sequence in question but it was still a little bizarre to hear the head coach of the team imply that standard procedures were skipped simply because Lewerke said he was good. Almost all college football programs have a spotter in the press box to keep an eye on hits that may lead to players going through the protocol in addition to trainers on the sidelines.

It sounds like the Spartans did follow through with doing everything they should have but it does appear as though the head coach was the last to find out about it. It’s understandable that Dantonio might have gotten caught up in the heat of the moment of an epic collapse against the Illini but to not have his story straight three days later is a bit concerning.

At least the head coach knows his job isn’t in jeopardy from the incident (or others) because more than a few others in his position would not get quite the kind of pass that Dantonio gets on such a serious subject in college football nowadays.

Nebraska AD calls for patience amid Cornhuskers struggles, believes Scott Frost needs 3-4 recruiting classes to get things turned around

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When you try to come up with the most disappointing teams in the country for the 2019 season, one program that is bound to find its way onto the list is undoubtedly Nebraska. The Cornhuskers started the year as a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West and were ranked in the top 25 preseason as a result.

Reality has turned into a different animal entirely however, as the team has struggled in nearly every game on the docket and currently need to win two of their last three just to make a bowl game after being upset by Purdue two weeks ago to fall to 4-5. Despite the issues in nearly every phase, NU athletic director Bill Moos is confident that the ship will eventually get righted and preached that things might take a bit longer than the fan base would like.

“We need to be patient and let these programs take their course, especially the most visible ones, because that’s how we’re being judged around the country,” Moos said on KLIN’s Sports Nightly, according to the Omaha World-Herald. “I’m here to tell you, I didn’t come in to Nebraska to finish in 8th and 9th place. We’ve got a project here, we got the right people in the right place, we got good leadership on campus, we have a lot of things going in our favor. And we need to be patient.”

Moos gave a little insight as to just how long that patience might take in also saying that he believes that head coach Scott Frost could need as many as “three to four more” recruiting classes to get the program turned around and back to where it wants to be.

That is… not exactly what the message was when the native son was brought back to Lincoln to restore his alma mater to glory nor was it what Frost himself was saying in the lead up to the 2019 season. The team’s on field play though, suggests they’re behind schedule in this rebuild and so maybe that estimate isn’t too far off — especially with fellow division foes like Minnesota rapidly turning into contenders.

Supporters of the Cornhuskers might not like to hear it but perhaps patience is indeed something that needs to be practiced as Big Red tries to get back in the black in 2019 and beyond.

LSU’s Joe Brady, Ohio State’s Jeff Hafley among nominees for Boyles Award as CFB’s top assistant coach

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The college football awards process is a pretty simple four phase process as you go from watch list season to the actual season to the semifinalist lists to the actual awards being announced in early December. As we approach Week 12 of the 2019 campaign, we’re firmly into the third phase of announcing a narrowing of the field and limiting who can actually take some hardware home after the regular season is finished.

To that end, The Frank & Barbara Broyles Foundation announced on Wednesday the 41-person strong list of nominees for the Broyles Award, which goes to college football’s top assistant coach. As you would expect, there are quite a few big names under consideration as the assistants in question have either helped lead remarkable turnarounds with their specific side of the ball or have helped elevate their team into conference and/or the national title conversation.

Here’s the full list of 41 names and their titles:

ALABAMA – Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator/QB

APPALACHIAN STATE – Ted Roof, Defensive Coordinator

ARKANSAS STATE – Keith Heckendorf, Offensive coordinator/QB

AUBURN – Kevin Steele, Defensive Coordinator

BALL STATE – Joey Lynch, Offensive Coordinator/QB

BAYLOR – Phil Snow, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

BYU – Aaron Roderick, Passing Game Coordinator/QB

CALIFORNIA – Tim DeRuyter, Defensive Coordinator

CENTRAL MICHIGAN – Charlie Frye, Offensive Coordinator/QB

CINCINNATI – Marcus Freeman, Defensive Coordinator

CLEMSON – Jeff Scott, Co-Offensive Coordinator/WR

FLORIDA – Billy Gonzalez, Wide Receivers

GEORGIA – Dan Lanning, Defensive Coordinator/Outside LBs

GEORGIA STATE – Brad Glenn, Offensive Coordinator

INDIANA – Kalen DeBoer, Offensive Coordinator/QB

IOWA – Phil Parker, Defensive Coordinator/DB

IOWA STATE – Tom Manning, Offensive Coordinator/Run Game Coordinator

LOUISVILLE – Dwayne Ledfors, Offensive Line

LOUISIANA – Ron Roberts, Defensive Coordinator

LSU – Joe Brady, Passing Game Coordinator/WR

MEMPHIS – Pete Lembo, Special Teams Coordinator

MICHIGAN – Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator

MINNESOTA – Kirk Ciarrocca, Offensive Coordinator/QB

MISSOURI – Ryan Walters, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

NAVY – Brian Newberry, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

OHIO STATE – Jeff Hafley, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Secondary

OKLAHOMA – Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator/ Safeties

OLE MISS – Mike MacIntyre, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

OREGON – Andy Avalos, Defensive Coordinator

OREGON STATE – Brian Lindgren, Offensive Coordinator/QB

PENN STATE – Brent Pry, Defensive Coordinator/LB

PITTSBURGH – Randy Bates, Defensive Coordinator

SAN JOSÉ STATE – Ryan Gunderson, Quarterbacks/Passing Game Coordinator

SMU – Rhett Lashlee, Offensive Coordinator/QB

TROY – Ryan Pugh, Offensive Coordinator/OL

TULANE – Will Hall, Offensive Coordinator/

UAB – David Reeves, Defensive Coordinator

UCF – Randy Shannon, Defensive Coordinator

UTAH – Morgan Scalley, Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

WESTERN KENTUCKY – Clayton White, Defensive Coordinator/CB

WISCONSIN – Jim Leonhard, Defensive Coordinator

Obviously there’s a ton of well deserving candidates but it might be hard to top LSU’s Brady for the award given how big of a jump the Tigers’ offense has made with his arrival in Baton Rouge. Ohio State’s Hafley and Oklahoma’s Grinch also have made huge strides with their respective teams but even at the Group of Five level there’s a ton of guys who have been terrific this season.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 10th and the award is usually a good sign for whoever takes home the trophy becoming a head coach in the near future. Former Alabama OC Mike Locksley won the Broyles Award last year while past winners have included Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and current Texas coach Tom Herman when he was at Ohio State.