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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.

Status of Southern Miss’ leading receiver still up in the air

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Whether Southern Miss has a very key cog in its passing attack remains, at least for now, very much undecided.

In late January, it was reported that Quez Watkins had been forced to withdraw from Southern Miss and enroll at a junior college in an effort to get his academic house in order. According to Patrick Magee of the Biloxi Sun Herald, there is some positive news on the Watkins front as he writes that the wide receiver “is back on campus and taking classes at USM this summer.”

Magee adds that, “[i]f the redshirt junior hits all his marks in the classroom, he’ll be ready to take the field for the 2019 season.”

That said, the football program is still awaiting official word on Watkins’ status for the 2019 season, word that may not come until, at its outer reaches, sometime in August.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Watkins led the Golden Eagles in receptions (72), receiving yards (889) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Watkins’ nine scores accounted for nearly half of the team’s 19 touchdowns through the air.

BREAKING! Baker Mayfield still not a fan of Texas Longhorn football — or UT QB Sam Ehlinger

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We’ve reached that point of the college football offseason where a former college football player spitting vitriol in the general direction of a former college football rival is a prominent part of the news cycle.

Or, put another way: You can take the player out of college football, but you can’t take the rivalry out of the player.

As a Heisman-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield went 3-0 as the starter under center against OU’s hated rival Texas. Even after his collegiate career culminated with a Heisman Trophy, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft wasn’t averse to throwing up a Horns Down gesture at the Longhorns…

In the here and now, Mayfield is set to enter his first full season as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Also in the here and now, Mayfield is also/still not averse to teaching impressionable and aspiring young football players the proper permutations of a perfectly-executed Horns Down.

Doubling down on that Horns Down lifestyle a week later, Mayfield, during an interview with a Norman radio station Wednesday, scoffed in the general direction of the “Texas is back” sentiment that surfaced following UT’s win over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

“They said that when they beat Notre Dame a couple years ago [in 2016] and they won two or three games after that. I’m sick of that crap,” Mayfield, a Lake Travis High School product, said, before going on to excoriate UT starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a product of Lake Travis rival Westlake who has been a previous target of the Heisman winner’s jabs.

“He couldn’t even beat Lake Travis, so I don’t really care. His opinion on anything winning [doesn’t matter],” Mayfield said of Ehlinger during the interview. “Westlake is a great program, but the two best quarterbacks to come out of there are Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Sam can stay down there in Texas.”

“That will stir the pot. He doesn’t like me and I hope he knows I don’t like him either,” Mayfield added.

For those keeping score at home, the Ehlinger-led Texas Longhorns will face the Mayfield-less Oklahoma Sooners Oct. 12 in the 115th renewal of the Red River Shootout this season.  That next day, Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns will play host to the Seattle Seahawks, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the Horns Down agitator at the State Fair of Texas that weekend.

Probably.

Three-star 2019 Michigan State signee signs MLB contract

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Michigan State has become the latest FBS program to lose a player, albeit not through what’s become the standard portal exit.

In December of last year, Jase Bowen signed on as a member of MSU’s 2019 recruiting class and had intended to play both football and baseball for the Spartans.  Earlier this month, however, Brown was selected with the 334th overall pick (11th round) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Major League Baseball draft.

On his Twitter account Wednesday evening, Bowen, a shortstop in the stick-and-ball sport, indicated that he has signed with the MLB club and will be, at least for now, eschewing a collegiate football career.

“Michigan State will always hold a special place in my heart, but today a childhood dream of mine came true,” Bowen wrote as he shared photos of himself signing his professional baseball contract.

Coming out of high school in Toledo, Bowen, who had been committed to play baseball at Notre Dame before interest in him as a football prospect ratcheted up, was a three-star recruit who was rated as the No. 25 football player at any position in the state of Ohio.  Bowen was the lowest-rated of the three receivers MSU added in the most recent signing cycle.

It should be noted that, should Bowen’s MLB career not play out in the manner in which he hopes, he could always return to the collegiate level and play football, at either MSU or elsewhere.

ACC Network launching Hard Knocks-style show going behind the scenes at Clemson

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While most college football programs operate under a veil of secrecy that rivals the Pentagon, that hasn’t really been the case at Clemson under Dabo Swinney. Maybe more impressive is not just the general vibe of the place but how they’ve maintained that fairly open approach while finding nearly unprecedented success on the field with two of the last three national titles.

Now we’re about to get an even better look at what makes the Tigers tick. As announced on Wednesday by ESPN, the upcoming ACC Network will debut a new four-part series called ‘All In: The Clemson Football Family’ starting on August 25.

“As the new home for ACC sports, ACCN is the right place to show Clemson fans just how hard we are working and give them a front-row seat to what we believe makes our program unique,” said Swinney in a release. “I am excited to share some of the special moments from this offseason with Tiger nation – as we all get ready for another great year of Clemson football.”

The show will take place each night from August 25-28 and serve as a ‘Hard Knocks’ style look at the program as they prepare for their season opener against Georgia Tech on, you guessed it, the ACC Network. There will apparently be looks at the practices leading up to the game, various features on players from the summer, player and coach interviews plus behind the scenes looks at team dinners and more.

If that all sounds like a Clemson informercial, that’s because it is and a good reason why the ACC is joining the conference network party. Such shows are not uncommon nowadays as you can find similar things from Pac-12 Networks to Big Ten Network to even online from various school self-productions. What does make things slightly different is the fact that this will all be done in the lead-up to a pretty big conference game (it’s Geoff Collins’ debut with the Yellow Jackets too) and because it’s the defending champs’ first game of the season.

Tigers fans are bound to tune in either way but it does sound like a pretty cool look at Clemson as they embark on a new chapter in 2019.

Here’s a trailer for the series: