Clemson might just have this College Football Playoff thing figured out.
The No. 2 Tigers trounced No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, turning the first meeting of undefeated teams in a semifinal into a rout and booking their third national championship game appearance in the last four seasons in the process.
After a slow start in the first quarter that gave their opponent just a glimmer of hope, Dabo Swinney’s squad seemed to flip a switch like they have so many times in 2018 to turn on the jets. Leading the charge, as difficult as it was to comprehend for some, was none other than a pair of true freshman. QB Trevor Lawrence showed why he was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this season by throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns while making big throw after big throw down the field. A lot those passes wound up in the hands of fellow freshman Justyn Ross, who was terrific in hauling in six catches for 148 yards and a game-breaking two scores.
Sophomore Tee Higgins added in an acrobatic touchdown reception just before halftime too while tailback Travis Etienne put the final nail in the coffin with a 62 touchdown up the sidelines in the third quarter and finished with 109 yards in the game.
Needless to say, it was not the performance that Irish head coach Brian Kelly envisioned nor will it be one to quiet down the critics of the program after yet another dud on the national stage. While the team showed flashes on both sides of the ball, especially in the first quarter, it just wasn’t enough to contain the dam from breaking open against an opponent that has proven to be one of college football’s truly elite squads this season.
QB Ian Book was pressured on nearly every drop back and threw for 160 yards and an interception, doing most of his work scrambling around and picking up a few first downs with his legs. While the offense had to abandon the run due to the score in the second half, they couldn’t find much success on the ground either way and Dexter Williams was lucky to get 54 yards rushing against a defense that still looked terrific even without star Dexter Lawrence.
By any objective measure the season should still be considered a success in South Bend but the thud of an ending with everybody watching on no doubt stings quite a bit.
The campaign is not over yet for Dabo Swinney and company however. The Tigers are headed back out West to take part in the national championship game at Levi’s Stadium and have their eyes firmly on bringing another CFP title back home with them.
There are precious few programs operating at the level Clemson is at the moment and they’ll have a shot at winning it all against either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma after a dominant display at the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma’s defense was flat-out awful in 2018, as we know. The Sooners were 114th in total defense (453.8 yards per game), 102nd in yards per play (6.13) and 101st in scoring (33.3 points per game). Their ineptitude indirectly handed Kyler Murray the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners’ signal caller had to pull his rabbit out of a hat on a weekly basis throughout the fall, but without Murray’s exploits Oklahoma might’ve been a 7- or 8-win team in 2018.
Murray is gone, so the defense has to improve or Oklahoma will take a significant fall in 2019.
Lincoln Riley has spent the past three weeks reshaping his defensive staff, and on Sunday he finalized his staff and their assignments.
New hire Alex Grinch will coach safeties while coordinating the defense. He spent 2018 as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. (The Buckeyes’ pass efficiency defense slipped from 13th to 42nd in Grinch’s one season on staff, but Riley hired him for his success coordinating Mike Leach‘s defenses at Washington State.)
Assisting Grinch in the secondary will be cornerbacks coach Roy Manning. He spent 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at UCLA but worked with Grinch at Wazzu from 2015-17.
Brian Odom was hired away from Missouri to coach the Sooners’ inside linebackers, where he’ll team with new outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill. Riley’s mentor, McNeill is one of two holdovers from the 2018 staff. He was hired upon Riley’s promotion to head coach as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach but took over the entire defense following Mike Stoops‘ midseason firing.
The only Oklahoma defensive coach to coach the same position from 2018 to ’19 will be defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. The OU graduate has been on staff since 2016, when he returned to Norman as defensive ends coach.
TCU loses its top two sack artists from 2018 to 2019, but some help just arrived.
Shameik Blackshear (above, top) announced on Saturday he will spend his final year of college football in Fort Worth.
The Bluffton, S.C., native played his first three seasons at South Carolina, where collected 34 tackles and one sack. He appeared in all 13 of the Gamecocks’ games in 2018, including two starts.
He’ll have a chance to compete for an immediate starting role following the graduations of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier plus the departure of Michael Collier. Banogu and Collier combined for 14.5 sacks in 2018, more than 40 percent of the Frogs’ 35 total sacks.
Blackshear is the second Power 5 graduate transfer to pick TCU this week. The Frogs also secured the services of former Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton.
UMass signed one of its biggest recruits since joining FBS, four years after he left high school.
Penn State linebacker Jarvis Miller has announced he will leave State College to spend his final season in Amherst.
“After much prayer and consideration with my family I have decided to play my 5th year of eligibility at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Amherst will pursuing my Masters (sic) Degree,” Miller wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account. “To the Penn State fan base you are the best fans anyone could ask for ! It has been the most memorable 4 years of my life.”
A consensus 3-star recruit, Miller was viewed as a top-10 player in the state of Connecticut when he signed with the Nittany Lions out of Suffield.
Miller redshirted in 2015, then played in 33 career games as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He collected 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack while in blue and white.
It appears a bad debut season for Willie Taggart at Florida State is not going to get worse.
After it was reported Wednesday that Seminoles quarterback James Blackman had entered his name into the transfer portal, Warchant reported that no such entry had been made as of the end of the business week.
Of course, entering one’s name into the transfer portal wouldn’t guarantee a transfer, but it’s simply not possible to transfer without putting your name in, so it appears that — as of this writing, at least — Blackman is intent on returning to Tallahassee for his junior season.
Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also dealt with a similar rumor last month. As of now, he remains a Seminole as well.
While playing for the injured Francois, Blackman completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. Francois returned to health and the starting lineup this past season, connecting on 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,731 yards with 15 scores against 12 picks. Blackman went 33-of-51 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception as his backup.
As Francois’ numbers indicated, the Seminoles sputtered offensively in Taggart’s debut campaign. Florida State finished 110th nationally in yards per play, 93rd in passing efficiency and 113th in scoring. However, both signal callers would be wise to stick around. Taggart hired Kendal Briles to run his offense. In 1-season stints at Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles pushed the Owls from 80th to eighth in scoring and the Cougars from 65th to fifth.