Teams may be the same for Alabama-Clemson IV but the names — and preparation — are a lot different in 2019

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — There have been variations over the years or in different parts of the country but most folks are familiar with the old adage of once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend. 

If that’s the case though, what exactly might that make Monday’s national title game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson? It’s not just the programs’ third meeting in the final game of the season the past four years but also their fourth consecutive postseason meeting.

In short, the same… yet different.

“I think this sort of has become a little bit like someone you play in your league because we have played several years in a row now,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “I’m sure they know a little more about us, we know a little more about them. I think that players still look at each game as a new challenge, and certainly I think that’s going to be important, because they’re a really good team that you’re playing against, which is what you should expect in a game like this.”

Saban understands each game being a unique challenge more than most involved. It’s not just new faces as players graduate or depart for the NFL, it’s quite a bit of staff turnover as well. This may be Alabama’s fourth meeting with Clemson but the Crimson Tide have done so with a different offensive coordinator/play-caller each time. 

Lane Kiffin in 2016 gave way to a brief turn by Steve Sarkisian in 2017. Brian Daboll was one-and-done in 2018 and turned things over to Mike Locksley this season, who will also be leaving after the game to take over as head coach at Maryland. 

While the turnover isn’t quite as significant on the defensive side, it’s still there. Though this is firmly Saban’s defense, the team will have gone from Kirby Smart to Jeremy Pruitt to the combination of Tosh Lupoi and Pete Golding — to say nothing of all the other assistants who have shuffled in and out of Tuscaloosa. 

“We do know what to expect but they have new coaches every year,” said receiver Hunter Renfrow, a hero in the 2017 title game and one 30 Tigers players who will have played in all four editions. “They can prepare for us a little better because we have continuity in our staff. I can go look at notes and it’s new guys but the same elite level.”

No kidding. 

Daron Payne played a huge role in last year’s Sugar Bowl in holding down Clemson’s offense. This year he’s simply been replaced in the lineup by Quinnen Williams, a unanimous All-American who won the Outland Trophy and will likely follow Payne as a top 15 draft pick in the spring. Minkah Fitzpatrick starred in the secondary during the first three meetings and has given way to the stellar play of Deionte Thompson, going from top star recruit to another without missing a step. 

“I would say they just have a bigger stable of running backs. It’s the running backs and it’s the wide receivers, man,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said of the biggest difference on offense he’s noticed in Alabama over the years. “(Damien Harris) and Bo (Scarborough) last year got most of the carries but now they have three running backs that could go anywhere in the country and start and have a great career. The receiving core, it’s ridiculous to see the type of receivers they have and the tight ends, too. I really feel like they are a very complete offense. They can affect you in any level of their offense.”

Calvin Ridley was Bama’s big-play threat in the passing game before going on to become a first-round pick last spring but the team has actually gotten better in the passing game, including developing Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy this season and a host of others. Five Tide wideouts have over 600 yards and at least six touchdowns receiving coming into the title game and six different players have scored rushing. 

Then there’s the difference-maker at quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who was in high school during the first two meetings and sat on the bench for Round 3 in the Sugar Bowl. The Heisman Trophy runner-up has helped the Tide’s offense shatter several school records and is No. 2 in a number of statistical categories nationally behind the team, Oklahoma, they just beat in the Orange Bowl. The sophomore already has an incredible track record in the national title game and is looking for that to continue against Clemson.

“We’re very familiar with Alabama, same bat channel, different bat day, I guess,” remarked Dabo Swinney. “You just turn the page, whatever year. They’re great on defense. You can pick little things here or there. They’re built in the trenches. The biggest difference for them this year is just the explosiveness on offense. This is by far the best version of them we’ve seen offensively. I mean, it’s unbelievable.

“And we’re a lot alike, dynamic quarterbacks, explosive skill, explosive run game, built through the run game in the play action and those type of things.”

The head coach is spot on with that assessment. 

Tailback Travis Etienne has been phenomenal in helping take the Tigers ground game to the next level and is playing behind a veteran offensive line that has done a great job opening holes you could drive a truck through. While Renfrow is a mainstay at receiver, the Deon Cain’s and Ray-Ray McCloud’s of recent years have been replaced (and then some) by explosive playmakers like Amari Rodgers, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. 

It’s also the deepest group Clemson has taken to the championship game, adding a top recruiting class full of several five-stars to a roster that returned 61 players with experience coming into 2018. 

“I don’t think we were intimated by them (in the first meeting), we were more intimated by the moment,” added Renfrow. “It was new to everyone and we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, kinda nervous. Now, we know what to expect, what it takes.”

They also have their own difference maker under center in Trevor Lawrence, a freshman who is no longer a freshman and inserted into the starting lineup in September specifically to make the big throws on this stage. He sliced up a stout Notre Dame secondary in the Cotton Bowl and is just the second player ever to top 300 yards and three touchdowns in a College Football Playoff game (the other being some fella named Deshaun Watson). 

So while some may roll their eyes and claim fatigue in seeing Alabama and Clemson jerseys trot out onto the field for a fourth time, this year’s go-around is very much has a different flavor even if there’s plenty of similarities to past editions. 

Perhaps the lone thing that everybody agrees on coming into the 2019 National Championship Game is that both 14-0 squads are truly the best of the best and a fitting conclusion to a season where two elite teams rose above the rest. 

“Everybody says that they’re tired of watching us play. But year in, year out we proved that we’re the best two teams, and we play tough,” said Alabama’s Harris. “We take care of our business in the regular season. That’s why we keep meeting here.”

And so it will be — again — in Santa Clara with an undefeated season and the national championship on the line.

Kliff Kingsbury admitted to doing something at Texas Tech a number of coaches in college football probably do

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Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, now the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, recently admitted to using fake social media accounts as a way to monitor what his players were doing in social media. The NFL world is reacting to the story now as Kingsbury prepares for his first season as an NFL head coach, with Pro Football Talk‘s Mike Florio noting Kingsbury will likely be asked about his social media conduct when he addresses the media for the first time since the story broke in the Arizona Republic at training camp.

The question college football people are probably wondering is “so what?”

The act of using fake social media profiles to keep tabs on others can be a risky move. Not only can it come off as deceiving because, well, it is, but improper use of fake social media accounts can lead to more trouble than it is worth sometimes. But was Kingsbury doing anything he should not have been doing with regard to his players at Texas Tech?

More and more often, college football coaches and staff members are stressing the importance of players keep their noses clean when it comes to social media habits. The problem is there are some difficult ways to constantly monitor and act on any player’s personal account, which is why going under the radar with a fake account seems to make sense. If a player is more likely to respond or react to another online profile they think is not their coach, they may be more open to expressing themselves more naturally. And that may be exactly the point for Kingsbury or any other coach who chooses to check in on players through a fake account.

We may never know for sure, but there could potentially be hundreds of college football or athletics staffers who are tasked with chatting with players through a fake account. And if anything fishy or questionable comes up, the staff can act on it accordingly as they best see fit. Coaches and staff members are there not only to win games but also pave a solid path for their players for life beyond the football field. In today’s world, having a good sense of how to appropriately handle social media can never be stressed enough.

Every coach and staff has a different way to handle social media, of course. Some programs force players to log out of their social media accounts during the season. Others don’t set any limits on social media screen time. There may not be a perfect solution, but with players getting more chances to express themselves directly, it is increasingly more important to have staffers logged in and tuned in to what is going on in the world of social media to ensure their program and university, and the player, will not cross any lines that don’t need to be crossed.

In light of this Kingsbury story, I fully expect one of the many anonymous coaches polls at conference media days to ask whether or not they or another staff member monitor players with fake accounts. And I’d wager a hefty sum the majority of them would confirm it.

Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech last season. He then was named offensive coordinator at USC and eventually left the Trojans to become the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

The last time the Washington Huskies won the national championship…

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The top playoff contender from the Pac-12 in recent seasons has been Washington. The Huskies have risen to the top of the conference under head coach Chris Petersen with two Pac-12 titles and one appearance in the College Football Playoff, but the quest to win the school’s first national championship in football since earning a split title in 1991 continues as we approach the 2019 season.

Washington took home the coaches poll’s top spot for the 1991 season after polishing off a 12-0 record with a victory over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The run to the split national championship was the first for head coach Don James, who won multiple coaching awards for the success of the 1991 season to pave his path to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Huskies also featured All-Americans Steve Emtman (who also won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy), Mario Bailey, Dave Hoffman and Lincoln Kennedy. Washington’s defense remains one of the best college football has seen in the modern era.

Expectations were high for Washington in 1991 after coming off a 10-2 season the year before. Washington solidified their hype as a national title contender with a second-half rally on the road against No. 9 Nebraska and three straight blowouts before a big road win at No. 7 California in mid-October. Aside from a defensive battle on the road against USC in November, there was little standing in the way of Washington and a national championship claim. Even Big Ten champion Michigan was little match for the Huskies, who took the Rose Bowl with a 34-14 victory.

Washington fans continue to dream of seeing their Huskies experience similar feats as the program looks to defend their Pac-12 crown this fall. Let’s take a snapshot of the last time Washington won the national title, nearly three decades ago.

Last National Title Season: 1991 (28 years and counting)

Who was President?

George H. Bush was in the second half of his presidency when Washington was winning it all in 1991. The elder Bush was in the White House when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Dan Quayle was still a year away from making his “Murphy Brown” speech, and we didn’t know he was unaware how “potato” is spelled.

In related news, current President Donald Trump filed for the first of his six bankruptcy cases in 1991 with the Trump Taj Mahal.

What was on TV?

The top-rated TV programs of 1991 included NBC’s “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Wings.” Other shows people were tuning into at the time included “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” and newcomer “Home Improvement.”

Perhaps one of the more notable developments in television in 1991 was the return of Seinfeld to NBC. After five initial trial episodes from 1989 through 1990, Seinfeld became a mainstay in the NBC lineup beginning in 1991 with a 12-episode order.

What movies were hot?

There were some true masterpieces released at the box office in 1991, including the animated Disney adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But nobody could overtake Arnold Schwarzenegger with the blockbuster release of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” It may be the movie that really first alerted us to the dangers of technology thinking for itself and the term “liquid metal.”

How many more Terminator movies to come before Washington wins it all again?

We should also note that we were first introduced to the legendary Rufio in 1991 as well.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Nobody, because it didn’t exist yet.

Washington’s last national title claim was staked two years before the introduction of “Bill Walsh College Football,” which eventually evolved to be the “NCAA Football” franchise of games from EA Sports. Even the long-running Madden NFL franchise was still very early in its beginnings in 1991, with the release of John Madden Football II on the PC and John Madden Football ’92 on the SEGA Genesis.

There was, however, “All-American College Football,” a DOS college football simulator.

A blue hedgehog also became the mascot for the SEGA Genesis in 1991. Sonic the Hedgehog got a jump on the competition but Nintendo released the Super NES just before the 1991 college football season started, with Super Mario World included.

What else happened in 1991?

One of the greatest World Series came to a wild ending with the Minnesota Twins topping the Atlanta Braves with a 1-0 victory in Game 7. The Twins won Games 6 and 7 at home in extra innings to capture their most recent World Series championship.

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls topped Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1991, bringing an end to the Showtime Lakers era and ushering in the Jordan Reign in the NBA. The summer after Washington’s national championship run would see Jordan and Johnson team up at the Olympics as members of the United States’s Dream Team.

At the end of the 1991 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills lost their second straight Super Bowl with a loss to the Washington Redskins (also the most recent title won by that Washington).

Washington defeated him in the Rose Bowl, but Michigan’s Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy in the 1991 season.

The 1991 season was also the first season the Big East sponsored football, although official standings would begin a year later. Inaugural conference members included Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia. Nebraska won the Big Eight. Texas A&M won the Southwest Conference. The Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.

A lot has changed in college football since 1991, although Clemson did win the ACC!

As for current head coach Petersen, he was a wide receivers coach at UC Davis. Alabama head coach Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (coached by Bill Belichick!), and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was suiting up to play wide receiver for Alabama.

Washington remains the Pac-12’s most recent College Football Playoff team

There have been just two teams from the Pac-12 to reach the College Football Playoff. Oregon reached the national championship game in the inaugural season of the playoff format, but only Washington has been able to manage a single invitation to the playoff since. The Huskies were overpowered by Alabama in the Peach Bowl in 2016, with the Crimson Tide later being defeated by Clemson in the national championship game. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has struggled to get its champion into the playoff at the end of the year largely due to the conference beating itself up at the worst possible times.

Washington’s bid for a possible playoff spot last year were given a hard speed bump right out of the gates with a neutral site loss to Auburn. Although the Huskies went on to win the Pac-12, a trip to the Rose Bowl was all that was ever in the cards for the Huskies, who were taken down by Big Ten champion Ohio State last January. Coming into the 2019 season, Washington figures to face some stiff competition once again from within the division as Oregon is being viewed as a team on the rise and the Huskies have some roster turnover in place.

Ex-Texas Tech RB Da’Leon Ward announces transfer to FCS program

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Former Texas Tech running back Da’Leon Ward is about to jump out of the transfer portal, ready to suit up for a brand new program. Ward announced on Twitter this week he is committed to Stephen F. Austin University, allowing him to stay in the state of Texas and remain eligible for the upcoming college football season.

Last season with Texas Tech, Ward was the second-leading rusher on the team with 341 yards and three touchdowns. Ward was out of the mix for the bulk of the spring practices under new Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells, although the reasoning behind that was never explained. ward was charged with a felony theft charge, although that case was dismissed.

Ward has two years of eligibility remaining, which he will begin using again this fall with his new program. Ward announced his decision to enter the transfer portal earlier this month.

Sadly, the Mike Leach home assistant device is not real

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Just as there is a seemingly endless supply of streaming services and battle royale-style video games, the home assistant device market continues to be flooded with options tailored for your preferences. Amazon has Alexa. Google has Google Home. Apple has a device. Now, Washington State has the Mike Leach Mini.

In a new season ticket promo, Washington State head coach Mike Leach is the inspiration for a fictional (yes, unfortunately, this is NOT a real device) home device that will answer any and all questions asked of it. “They say it knows everything, just like the real Mike Leach.”

If you have ever had a mystery question of life, the artificial intelligence version of the Cougars’ head coach delivers the charm expected of Leach with a dose of awe and blunt honesty.

Imagine getting to use a Mike Leach device to add items to your shopping lists, check the weather, check your email, or anything else that falls into your daily routine? I’m sure a digital Leach would offer a unique and introspective take on your daily chores and reminders.

It really would be the perfect addition to anyone’s home, or at least it would be if Washington State ever decides to make such a device available to the masses. Hey, Washington State. I would add this to my desk in the office. Just saying.