Getty Images

From 2008 season opener to national title dramatics, Alabama and Clemson were made for national title stage

9 Comments

Alabama and Clemson will meet in the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night in Santa Clara in what will be the fourth straight meeting in the postseason between the ACC and SEC champions and the third in the last four seasons to determine the national champion. For two programs who met just 13 times from 1904 through 1975, the Tigers and Crimson Tide have developed one of the most unique rivalries in the sport, and what is happening between Alabama and Clemson may be unprecedented. It has become college football’s equivalent to Lakers-Celtics in that these two programs are each individually so dominant but they have done so at a time when there is an equal force waiting to line up on the other side of the field at the end of the year to determine who is truly No. 1.

It is somewhat fitting that the rise of both of these programs can be traced back to the 2008 season when these two schools squared off in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Nick Saban was in his second season coaching the Crimson Tide after going a mediocre 7-6 in his first season at Alabama after leaving the Miami Dolphins. His Tide started the year No. 24 in the AP Top 25 but figured to have a stuff challenge on their hands with No. 9 Clemson, who started the season with Tommy Bowden at the helm. Little did anyone truly expect at the time, but this one game should have been a preview of things to come. Alabama jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter in Atlanta with a pair of field goals and a short touchdown run by John Parker Wilson. Alabama extended their lead to 23-3 as the game reached halftime and Clemson’s C.J. Spiller opened the second half with a 96-yard touchdown to provide a much-needed spark for Clemson. But Alabama shut the Tigers down from there and tacked on a Julio Jones touchdown and went on to win 34-10.

ATLANTA – AUGUST 30: Quarterback John Parker Wilson #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide scrambles and avoids a tackle attempt by cornerback Chris Chancellor #38 of the Clemson Tigers at the Georgia Dome on August 30, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. Alabama defeated Clemson 34-10. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Alabama would win their next 11 games to finish off an undefeated regular season that included a 41-30 victory at No. 3 Georgia and a 27-21 win at No. 15 LSU. But the Tide lost a No. 1 vs. No. 2 SEC title game against Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators, coached by none other than Urban Meyer, and Alabama was taken down in the Sugar Bowl by Utah. While Alabama was doing that, Clemson made a notable change at head coach in the middle of the season with Bowden giving way to assistant coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney may not have held on to the role if not for a regular season victory against rival South Carolina, but it is a good thing he did.

Over the course of the next six seasons, Saban had continued to keep Alabama as a national title contender, winning three BCS National Championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Swinney was slowly but surely building his own juggernaut, although the return of Florida State as a national power under Jimbo Fisher was standing in the way of the ultimate prize. But all of that changed beginning in 2015. Clemson started the season No. 12 in the AP Top 25 and methodically moved their way up the ranking. But in mid-November, Clemson took over the top ranking in the AP poll and never looked back en route to their first College Football Playoff. There was just one final hurdle that Deshaun Watson and company just could not clear.

It was Alabama.

Jan. 11, 2016: No. 2 Alabama 45, No. 1 Clemson 40

The second College Football Playoff National Championship Game was one for the ages. Alabama was the battle-tested national title contending program that had been for years, but Clemson was looking to prove they finally belonged on the big stage after years of working to get here. And although Clemson came up on the short end of the final score, they proved they were not a fluke that was about to go away.

The seeds of the first playoff battle between Alabama and Clemson were supposed to be led by defense, but this was an offensive showcase from the start. A 50-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry offered an early suggestion that maybe Clemson wasn’t ready for this moment, but Hunter Renfrow caught two touchdown passes from Deshaun Watson before the end of the first quarter to put that idea to rest. Clemson was there to take care of business. Tied at 14-14 at halftime, a wild game was about to burst wide open. O.J. Howard hauled in a 53-yard pass from Jake Coker early in the third quarter but Clemson struck back to take a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter, much to the joy of then Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

GLENDALE, AZ – JANUARY 11: O.J. Howard #88 of the Alabama Crimson Tide catches a pass to run 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Alabama took the lead once again with a long pass to Howard, this time a 51-yard play with 9:45 to play. Clemson made it a four-point game with a field goal but Kenyan Drake responded with a 95-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff to make it 38-27 midway through the fourth quarter. The Tigers cut the lead to five points with another Watson touchdown pass with 4:40 to play, but Alabama’s offense would not yield with another touchdown run by Henry with 1:07 to play for a 45-33 lead. Watson added one more late touchdown pass to finish off an otherwise brilliant performance for Clemson with 405 passing yards and four touchdowns and 73 rushing yards against the Tide, but the loss would merely serve as motivation for unfinished business as Alabama celebrated their first national championship in the young playoff era. The win was a bit of unfinished business for Alabama too as they were upset in the semifinal the previous season by eventual national champion Ohio State.

Jan. 9, 2017: No. 2 Clemson 35, No. 1 Alabama 31

The 2016 season was given a landscape that looked like it would be a season-long journey to get to the rematch between Alabama and Clemson. The Tide were given a preseason No. 1 ranking in the AP top 25 and the Tide never relinquished that ranking all year. Clemson, despite being the defending national champions and having Watson back at quarterback, started the year at No. 2 and floated within the top five all season long and headed to the playoff ranked No. 3 in the AP poll. Both teams easily took care of their semifinal opponents in the College Football Playoff, with Clemson blanking Ohio State 31-0 and Alabama dispatching of Washington 24-7 to set the stage for the rare college football national championship game rematch. Once again, we were in for a show.

Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on the strength of a second touchdown run by running back Bo Scarbrough, but a touchdown run by Watson provided a much-needed spark for Clemson midway through the second quarter against a stingy Alabama defensive presence. With Alabama leading the Tigers 17-7 midway through the third quarter, Watson connected with Renfrow to bring Clemson to within three points. But later in the third quarter, a long pass play to Howard would bring up some horrible flashbacks to a season ago. A 68-yard pass to Howard from Jalen Hurts gave Alabama a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter. But Clemson would not give in. The Tigers cut into the lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Watson to Mike Williams and nearly 10 minutes later, Clemson had their first lead of the game when Wayne Gallman scored a short touchdown run. Down for the first time all game, Hurts responded and gave Alabama the lead with his own 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 to play.

Too much time.

Clemson executed a two-minute drive to perfection and capped the drive and the game with a Watson touchdown pass to Renfrow from two yards out with one second to play. A field goal would have tied the game, but Watson delivered the long-awaited national championship to Clemson in arguably as dramatic fashion as Vince Young did for Texas against USC in the Rose Bowl. For the second year in a row, Alabama-Clemson delivered the dramatics with flair, this one more enticing than the previous.

Jan. 1, 2018: No. 4 Alabama 24, No. 1 Clemson 6

The third meeting in the playoff era between Alabama and Clemson was not at all close to living up to the high bar the previous two meetings had set. For starters, the third meeting took place in the semifinal round instead of the national championship. Watson had moved on to the NFL, with Kelly Bryant stepping in as the new starter for the Tigers. Clemson was still incredibly good, but Bryant was no magician like Watson. Alabama had suffered just one loss all season long, the regular season finale against Auburn that knocked Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game picture and left Alabama hoping the selection committee would allow them an opportunity to wiggle into the playoff. They did, placing Alabama as the fourth seed, unfortunately for Clemson.

Just as Ohio State had done to them in the first year of the playoff, Alabama used the four-seed to take advantage of their playoff opportunity by dominating Clemson defensively. The Tigers managed just six points in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, both by way of field goals in the second and third quarters. Alabama took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and that was all they needed. There would be no magical fourth quarter for the ages and the highlight reels this time. Neither team scored a point in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the previous two meetings led to the coaching staffs of both programs to tighten things up in the fourth quarter. Or, perhaps, Clemson just did not have the same firepower on offense they needed to make a game of it this time.

Alabama would go on to top SEC champion Georgia in overtime in the national championship game in Atlanta the following week, with Tua Tagovailoa coming to the rescue after a rough showing by Hurts. Tagovailoa would keep the job for the 2018 season as Alabama once again has strung together a No. 1 ranking from the start of the season to the national title game. Clemson, who started the season No. 2 and made their own quarterback change with the departure of Bryant and the rise of freshman Trevor Lawrence, now has the offense that may be needed.

Will this year’s fourth consecutive meeting between Alabama and Clemson go down in the memory banks of college football fans as an all-time classic like the 2017 meeting? We’ll have to wait until Monday to find out.

Zach Giella, suspended for PEDs, no longer on Clemson roster

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In late May, it was confirmed that Zach Giella would miss the entire 2019 regular season (at least). Nearly three weeks later, the offensive lineman’s time in the ACC’s version of Death Valley has come to an end.

According to The State newspaper, a Clemson official confirmed over the weekend that Giella is no longer a member of the Tigers’ football team. The development came not long after Giella’s name was quietly removed from the football team’s roster.

Along with All-American Dexter Lawrence and tight end Braden Galloway, Giella (pictured, No. 77) was suspended ahead of the 2018 College Football Playoff after testing positive in mid-December for Ostarine, a banned substance used to help increase muscle mass and strength.  A second sample was tested as well and, much to the chagrin of a mind-boggled Lawrencethe suspension was upheld and the trio missed the semifinal win over Notre Dame as well as the championship game win over Alabama.

The appeals process continued to drag on over the next few months before the NCAA declined to lift the suspension.  While it was initially thought that Giella and Galloway could return for the 2019 postseason, that notion was subsequently refuted.

Galloway, who will be a true sophomore this season, is still listed on the Tigers’ online roster.

Ex-Notre Dame RB Deon McIntosh’s next stop is at Wazzu

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After a brief stop on a lower rung on the college football ladder, Deon McIntosh is back in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Speaking to 247Sports.com, McIntosh confirmed late last week that he has officially joined the Washington State football program and will play for the Cougars this fall. McIntosh spent the 2018 campaign at East Mississippi Community College — better known as Last Chance U — and earned second-team All-American honors at the junior college level.

For what it’s worth, Wazzu has not yet confirmed McIntosh’s addition to the roster.

McIntosh was a three-star member of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 48 running back in the country. After redshirting as a true freshman, McIntosh ran for 368 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries, with the yardage and scores third on the Fighting Irish in 2017.

Following the 2017 regular season, McIntosh was one of four Notre Dame players suspended for the team’s Citrus Bowl matchup with LSU for violating unspecified team rules. Nearly three weeks after McIntosh’s suspension was announced, it was confirmed that the back had been dismissed from the Fighting Irish football program.

The last time the Georgia Bulldogs won the national championship…

Photo by University of Georgia/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
5 Comments

It’s been a long time since the Georgia Bulldogs have won a national championship, but Kirby Smart has the program on a level where one can be expected any year now in Athens. Georgia’s biggest problems over the years may have been having really good teams that were blocked by some truly great teams standing in the way. The closest Georgia has come tow inning a national championship since their last title in 1980 was two seasons ago when the Bulldogs were unable to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime to SEC foe Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Vince Dooley had been coaching the Bulldogs since 1964, and Georgia certainly had some great seasons to that point under his leadership. But things finally fell into place for Georgia in 1980 when Georgia opened the season ranked No. 16 in the AP poll and turned in the first undefeated season for the program since 1946. One of the reasons for Georgia’s success was the play of freshman running back Herschel Walker, who took no time at all to introduce himself to the college football world with authority. In the season opener against Tennessee, Walker powered his way through Bill Bates in an iconic moment.

Georgia’s undefeated run included victories over No. 14 South Carolina and No. 20 Florida, back-to-back shutouts of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and a regular season finale victory over rival Georgia Tech to setup a showdown with No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. No. 2 Florida State was going to play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, while No. 3 Pitt lined up against No. 18 South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. No. 5 Michigan was sent to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champion. All the top-ranked Bulldogs had to do was beta the Irish and the polls would fall in their favor, although the Sooners clipping the Seminoles by a point certainly helped cement the case for the national title.

Here’s a snapshot of what was going on in 1980 when Georgia ruled the college football landscape.

Last National Title Season: 1980: 39 years and counting)

Who was President?

Although Jimmy Carter was in office when Georgia was running through their schedule, the Democratic incumbent was defeated by Ronald Reagan in a landslide of epic proportions in November. It would be Reagan who welcomed the Bulldogs to the White Hosue to be honored as national champions.

In 1980, current President Donald J. Trump identified as a Democrat and was married to his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková.

What was on TV?

It was the end of an era on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with the final episodes for the Not Ready for Primetime Players, but that would lead to the introduction of Eddie Murphy in the new cast later in the year. David Letterman also made his debut as host of “The David Letterman Show,” a morning show that did not pan out very well. Surely this would be the end of Letterman’s television career…

The first episode of “The Young and the Restless” aired on CBS, and the season finale of “Dallas” aired leaving many to wonder who shot J.R.

Respected news anchor Walter Cronkite also announced his retirement. 1980 also saw the launch of cable networks CNN, Cinemax, and BET. Also on cable networks, a network called ESPN aired the NFL Draft for the first time in television history.

What movies were hot?

One of the biggest reveals in cinematic history occurred in 1980 when James Earl Jones delivered one of his most iconic lines to a young Mark Hamil. Yes, Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke’s father, as we all learned in The Empire Strikes Back. Not surprisingly, the sequel to the original Star Wars led the way at the box office in 1980. Hopefully, it wasn’t spoiled for some of you standing in line to see the movie for yourself for the first time.

If thrillers were your thing, then The Shining had you covered with Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles to date. Other popular movies in 1980 included 9 to 5, Stir Crazy, and Airplane!. A sequel to Smokey and the Bandit was released to less fanfare, and The Blues Brothers became a cult favorite for some.

Hollywood paid their respects to the passing of Alfred Hitchcock, who passed away in April. Robert De Niro took home the Oscar for Best actor for his role in Raging Bull.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Nobody, of course. Not only didn’t the video game franchise exist at the time, but the company that developed the game (Electronic Arts) wasn’t founded for another two years. The polygons needed for a quality video game were still not available anyway. At the time, Pac-Man was just becoming a national icon following his first arcade game in May, while other games taking over the arcade scene included Missile Command and the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were making its way into homes before the video game market would crash in a few short years.

What else happened in 1980?

“Do you believe in miracles?” Al Michaels, who currently calls the action for Sunday Night Football on NBC, delivered his signature call as the United States men’s hockey team was seconds away from upsetting the Soviet Union’s hockey team in the Olympics.

The Philadelphia Phillies won their first World Series title by topping the Kansas City Royals in six games. The Phillies had taken out the Houston Astros in one of the best NLCS to this day. It wasn’t all great for the Philadelphia sports scene in 1980, however. The 76ers were taken out by the Los Angeles Lakers as rookie point guard Magic Johnson took over the series in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Islanders also defeated the Flyers with an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Eagles would go on to lose to John Madden and his Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl at the end of the 1980 season.

Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Conference champions in college football included UNC (ACC), Oklahoma (Big 8), Michigan (Big Ten), Washington (Pac-10), Baylor (Southwest Conference), and BYU (WAC). George Rogers of South Carolina won the Heisman Trophy. BYU’s Jim McMahon led the nation in pass completions and passing yards and touchdowns. USC’s Marcus Allen led the nation in rushing attempts.

Current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was five years old. Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive backs coach for Ohio State.

Will this be the year for Georgia?

Smart has certainly invigorated the Bulldogs to thinking like a national championship contender once again. While Georgia had been one of the more consistently good programs for years under Mark Richt, they just could not get over the hump and a string of better national title contenders just happened to be playing at the same time during the BCS glory days of the SEC and into the College Football Playoff. But Smart has raised the bar for Georgia, and it would not be shocking to see Georgia making consistent pushes for playoff consideration and getting a shot at a long-awaited national title very soon.

Report: Vanderbilt lands Florida transfer in Malik Langham

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Leave a comment

Former Florida defensive end Malik Langham has found his new college football home, and it resides in the SEC. Langham is heading to Vanderbilt, according to a report from 247 Sports earlier today.

Vanderbilt has not officially announced the addition of Langham at this time, and there is no direct confirmation offered by Langham on his social media profiles. However, Vanderbilt was one of the school s Langham originally evaluated during his recruiting process out of high school and the Commodores remained a potential landing spot for his latest transfer recruitment as well.

Langham was a four-star member of Florida’s Class of 2018, which was the first recruiting class signed by current Gators head coach Dan Mullen. The Huntsville, Alabama native committed to Florida just days after taking an official visit Auburn as his recruiting process came down the final stretch in the Class of 2018. Alabama had previously been considered a favorite to land his recruitment in the weeks leading up to signing day in 2018.  With plenty of offers to consider, Langham also made an official visit to Notre Dame in addition to unofficial visits to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Louisville, Ole Miss and more.

Langham appeared in two games for Florida in 2018, in which he recorded one assist on a tackle as a backup option for the Gators. Under the NCAA’s revised redshirt rules implemented last fall, Langham is able to preserve a year of eligibility because he did not appear in more than four games last season. That will give Langham four years to still play, although he will have to sacrifice one year of eligibility for the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules.