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Alabama advances to another title rematch vs. Clemson with Orange Bowl defeat of Oklahoma

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No. 1 Alabama began its run to a second straight national championship and its sixth of the Nick Saban era exactly where it left off from last year’s title game — with a long throw from Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith, the same players who threw and caught the astonishing rainbow to beat Georgia last January. Damien Harris hammered in a 1-yard touchdown run six plays later, and the Crimson Tide was officially off to the races.

Alabama’s Heisman runner-up returned to the ultra-efficient form that made him the favorite for most of the season, while Quinnen Williams and company harassed Heisman winner Kyler Murray unlike anything he has ever seen, allowing the Crimson Tide to race to a 28-0 lead just 17 minutes into Saturday night’s Capital One Orange Bowl.

Murray and company eventually got their sea legs under them, but by then it was too little, too late. With a 45-34 victory over the No. 4 Sooners, Alabama advanced to yet another national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif.

The Tide will once again meet Clemson, a 30-3 winner over Notre Dame earlier today, for the fourth straight season, and the third time in the College Football Playoff National Championship. It will be Alabama’s seventh national championship appearance in the past 10 seasons.

Alabama scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, a string of offensive perfection that saw the Tide rack up 239 yards on 25 plays. Tagovailoa pushed Alabama up 14-0 with a 10-yard dime to Henry Ruggs III, but the emblematic score came on a 27-yard toss to Josh Jacobs on a play that was designed as a dump off but became a thundering shrine to Alabama’s physical dominance over its crimson counterpart when the Tide running back collided with Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes at the goal line, forcing him to be helped off the field.

Tagovailoa finished the game 24-of-27 (all three incompletions were officially scored as drops) for 318 yards and four touchdowns, while Jacobs totaled 158 yards and a touchdown on 19 touches.

Meanwhile, Murray saw a level of pressure on his first two drop backs that he has never seen before in his life. After a 3-yard keeper to open the game, he was sacked by Anfernee Jennings on second down, then sacked again by Christian Miller on third down.

Oklahoma’s first three possessions ended in punts; by that point, Alabama held a 21-0 lead on the score board and a 191-0 edge in total yards.

Murray and company joined the game after that. A 4-play, 75-yard touchdown drive put the Sooners on the board at the 11:48 mark of the second quarter, and Oklahoma finished the game with an Oklahoma-like 471 yards of total offense, the most gained by an Alabama opponent this season.

Murray finished the game 19-of-37 passing for 308 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 17 times for 109 yards and another score, showcasing a mettle that this season has not asked him to show while at the same time never really pulling Oklahoma back in the game. After beginning the game by falling in a 28-point hole, OU pulled back within 11 at three different points but could get no closer.

After a 49-yard Murray pass to Charleston Rambo at the 3:03 mark of the third quarter pulled Oklahoma within 31-20, Alabama went 75 yards in nine plays and just under five minutes to go to inch back ahead at 38-20. When Murray hit CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard score to pull his team within 38-27 at the 8:31 mark of the fourth quarter, Alabama went 46 yards in five plays, pushing its lead to 45-27 on a 13-yard strike from Tua to Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy at the 6:08 mark of the fourth quarter.

And when Murray scampered in for an 8-yard touchdown run at the 4:23 mark, Alabama successfully ran out the remaining 263 seconds to advance to yet another national championship game.

Florida State names James Blackman starting QB over Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook

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In this case, the transfer pastures weren’t any greener for a signal-caller — two, actually — who moved on from his first college football home.

Alex Hornibrook left Wisconsin this offseason and ultimately landed at Florida State as a graduate transfer.  Jordan Travis took his leave of Louisville earlier this year and ended up transferring to FSU; Travis was ultimately granted an immediate-eligibility waiver.

With those twin under-center developments, Willie Taggart and the Seminoles navigated a three-headed quarterback competition during the spring and on into summer camp: Hornibrook, Travis and one-time starter James Blackman.  Sunday night, FSU announced that Blackman is its QB1 heading into the opener against Boise State this coming Saturday night.

The naming of Blackman as the starter continues what’s been a roller coaster ride for the redshirt sophomore.

Blackman, who himself placed his name into the transfer portal earlier this year before undergoing a change of heart, started most of the 2017 season due to an injury to starter Deondre Francois, who regained the job in 2018 only to be dismissed from the football program in February of this year.

Blackman was a three-star member of FSU’s 2017 recruiting class. After Francois went down with what turned out to be a season-ending injury in the opener that year, Blackman started the remaining 12 games as a true freshman.  Francois returned as the starter for the vast majority of the 2018 season, missing one game in early November because of a concussion.  Blackman started the lone game Francois didn’t, throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to NC State.

In that initial season in 2017, Blackman completed almost 60 percent of his 297 passes for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  He was able to take a redshirt for this past season despite playing in four games.

Hornibrook, who battled concussion issues the latter half of the 2018 season but was cleared for winter workouts in January, spent the past three seasons as the Badgers’ starting quarterback.  In games in which Hornibrook started during that span, Wisconsin went 26-6.

In 35 career games played with the Badgers, Hornibrook passed for 5,438 yards, 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

This coming season is Hornibrook’s final year of eligibility.

Travis, whose older brother played baseball at FSU a few years ago, was a three-star member of the Cardinals’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 25 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  As a true freshman this past season, Jackson completed four-of-nine passes for 71 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Because he played in four or fewer games this past year, he took a redshirt for the 2018 season.

Calamity averted: Washington State flag’s College GameDay streak reaches 225 straight

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Courtesy of some expected common sense, a potential national nightmare was averted earlier this weekend.

Along with Lee Corso, one of the constants you can count on seeing when you turn on ESPN‘s College GameDay Saturday mornings during the football season is the Washington State flag flying somewhere in the crowd, regardless of from where the show originates.  Ol’ Crimson first appeared around the GameDay set in Austin on Oct. 4, 2003, and has made it to every show since, a streak of 224 straight appearances.

Unfortunately, there was some serious concern earlier this month that the streak wouldn’t make it to 225.

ESPN announced Aug. 13 that College GameDay would set up camp and televise its popular pregame show from Walt Disney World ahead of the Week 0 Florida-Miami matchup at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium Aug. 24.  In a cruel and potentially streak-ending twist, the Magic Kingdom’s rules prohibit, among other things, flags from being flown on the Walt Disney World Resort Property.

All was right with the world in the end, though, as Ol’ Crimson was indeed front and center ahead of what would turn out to be a Gators win over the Hurricanes as, not surprisingly, Disney bent its rules regarding not only flags but signs as well.

From the Spokesman-Review:

Hey, look at this,” ESPN’s Rece Davis said as the flag was shown. “Look who made it into the Magic Kingdom.”

“The streak’s alive,” Kirk Herbstreit said.

“I want to point out, too, the streak is legit and authentic,” Davis added. “Now, we’ll cooperate with our friends, but Washington State has to do its part and they have.”

Herbstreit chimed in: “They’ve made big efforts throughout this streak and they made another one today.”

“Congrats to the Cougs,” ESPN’s Desmond Howard said.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick doesn’t sense momentum for CFB Playoff expansion

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We’re at the dawn of a new season in college football but for a lot of folks, the upcoming campaign is a lot more about the ending than the beginning. We’re talking of course about the thing that dominates the debate in the sport for much of the fall: the College Football Playoff.

Though it seems like we’re stuck at four teams in the postseason event for the foreseeable future, expansion of the playoff is a topic that seems like a never ending well. Most want it, but few in power seem to be pushing for it.

That point was reiterated this week by Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The leader of a program who made last year’s edition of the final four and one of the more powerful people in college athletics recently told the South Bend Tribune that he doesn’t see a move to six or eight teams in the event anytime soon.

I don’t want to speculate on that. I don’t sense a lot of momentum,” Swarbrick said. “But again, this is a group of individuals who cares about college football and think about it all the time. And so that’s all you want, a process where people are always talking about how to make the game better. But I don’t sense any particular momentum for change right now.”

If anybody would have some insight into the thought process regarding expansion, it’s bound to be Swarbrick — who sits on the CFP Management Committee and has his school president on the overarching CFP Board of Managers.

Perhaps something will change by 2025 when the postseason contract comes up with ESPN but until then, get used to four teams.

Missouri AD Jim Sterk is even more mad about NCAA penalties after Mississippi State case

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At some point in the distant future, Missouri fans, coaches, players and administrators will forget about the sanctions that the NCAA handed out to their football program.

That day is not today however.

Hot on the heels of Friday’s decision by the NCAA to slap the wrist of Mississippi State over a somewhat similar academic fraud case, Tigers AD Jim Sterk is telling anybody who will listen just how wronged his school was in the wake of what happened at his SEC rival.

“We believe that the penalties imposed in the recently decided and factually similar case (at Mississippi State) further illustrate that the penalties imposed on Mizzou were excessive and inconsistent with previous case precedent,” Sterk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We have never wavered from our stance or the merits of our appeal and remain hopeful it will be successful.”

The Tigers are hopeful that an appeal will be decided in the fairly near future and, obviously, that it will be a favorable ruling.

There are a handful of differences between Mizzou’s and the Bulldogs’ cases and enough to make comparing them apples to oranges despite being under the broad umbrella of academic fraud. We’ll see what ultimately ends up happening but something says that short of a complete reversal, Tigers fans and others sporting the gold and black won’t be happy with the NCAA for a long, long time.