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Tigers, Tide and oh my: Clemson routs Alabama to secure 2019 National Championship

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Clemson players said all week in the lead up to the 2019 National Championship Game that in order for the them to be the best, they would have to beat the best.

Top ranked and undefeated Alabama, as the defending champion, certainly qualified as that.

The Tigers not only beat the Tide, they beat them down and then some on Monday night, dominating from the opening snap of a 44-16 rout at Levi’s Stadium to secure the program’s third national title and second in three seasons.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence started off a little anxious but eventually looked right at home as the game wore on — and very much like somebody who will be playing in more NFL stadiums in just a few years. He tossed a 62-yard bomb to Tee Higgins to get the team in the red zone in the first quarter and wound up with an impressive 347 yards and a trio of touchdown passes.

While Lawrence looked nothing like a true freshman under center, tailback Travis Etienne also proved to be a great compliment in the backfield. The sophomore had a touchdown reception off a shuffle pass and scored twice on the ground with some terrific bursts of speed while recording 86 yards rushing.

Oh, and wide receiver Justyn Ross was basically a man among boys as a pass catcher with a handful of one-handers on his way to 153 yards and a touchdown. Just down the road from where Jerry Rice made his name, the young wideout (he’s a freshman too…) from Alabama certainly haunted the home state team he nearly signed with coming out of high school.

It was safe to say that last year’s title game hero was nowhere near the same kind of quarterback on the same stage in 2019. Tua Tagovailoa was actually one of the early front-runners for MVP in the contest… for both sides.

After his defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, Clemson corner A.J. Terrell jumped a short pass in the flat and had nobody anywhere close to him as he ran it back 44 yards to delight the orange and purple fans for a pick-six on the seventh play of the game.

The Hawaiian signal-caller bounced back on the next series to toss a beautiful 62-yard bomb right into the waiting hands of Jerry Jeudy but never could get the offense into the end zone enough to make things interesting as things wore on. Tagovailoa finished the up-and-down outing with a respectable 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns (to the Tide) but did throw another interception and was eventually replaced in the fourth quarter by SEC Championship Game star Jalen Hurts.

It’s been rare to see the Crimson Tide get run off the field by anybody since Nick Saban took over and it’s downright galling to see it be done on this stage. It’s not just the worst loss — by several multiples — in the Saban era but also the first time since he arrived in Tuscaloosa that the team has been beaten by more than three scores.

While one can sometimes say it’s just not your night in big games like this, that would be doing a big disservice to the dominance that Clemson displayed form their early pick-six all the way through to the final minutes. Dabo Swinney has not only built an equal to one of college football’s great dynasties but he’s proven that he’s got one too.

The Tigers became the first modern college football team at the FBS level to go 15-0 in the process to cap off the 2018 season. They not only won the national title, they left no doubt about who is atop the mountain now too.

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: