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.

South Alabama announces home-and-home with Ole Miss

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Thanks to Ole Miss, we have some football scheduling news you don’t normally see.  An SEC school agreeing to a straight home-and-home with a Group of Five program.

South Alabama Monday confirmed that it has reached an agreement on a home-and-home series with Ole Miss in football.  The Jaguars will travel to Oxford Sept. 2, 2028.  The Rebels will make the five-hour trek to Mobile Sept. 1 of the following season.

The 2029 game will mark the first time an SEC school travels to the Sun Belt Conference program since Mississippi State in 2014.  That was actually the first and only time since USA became an FBS member.

South Alabama and Ole Miss have met once in football. That came back in 2017, with the Rebels claiming a 47-27 win in Oxford.

“We are very excited to sign this home-and-home contract with Ole Miss,” USA head coach Steve Campbell said in a statement. “They have a proud program and tradition, it will be great to have them play in Hancock Whitney Stadium; hopefully they will be the first of many Power Five schools to make that trip to play here in Mobile. Mississippi has been very good for us as far as recruiting, we have brought in a lot of talented student-athletes from the state, I know it will be exciting for those future recruits to play Ole Miss.”

USA’s new stadium, incidentally, is set to open this coming season.  That site will also serve as the new home of the Senior Bowl.

In its history, USA has played six games against SEC schools.  They are 1-5 in those games.  The lone win?  Against Mississippi State in 2016.

Outside of Ole Miss, USA has five future games against members of the SEC.  Those are:

  • Florida (2020)
  • Tennessee (2021)
  • LSU (2024)
  • Auburn (2025)
  • Kentucky (2026).

Northwestern officially adds Indiana transfer QB Peyton Ramsey… and a punter from Kent State

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The quarterback room for Northwestern football has officially received a much-needed infusion of talent.  And experience.

In late January, Peyton Ramsey entered the NCAA transfer database.  Two months later, the erstwhile Indiana quarterback committed to the Northwestern football program.

Monday, Northwestern formally confirmed Ramsey’s addition to its football roster.  Also, former Kent State punter Derek Adams was added as well.

Both players come to the Wildcats as graduate transfers.

“We are thrilled to welcome Peyton and Derek to our football family,” said Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald in a statement. “The graduate education opportunities at Northwestern are unparalleled, as is the opportunity to compete at the highest level of college football. We look forward to welcoming them properly when we all return to Evanston to prepare for the 2020 season.”

Of the 32 games in which he played for the Hoosiers, Ramsey started 23 of those.

During his time in Bloomington, Ramsey completed 66.5% of his career pass attempts for 6,581 yards, 42 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.  The Cincinnati native also ran for 832 yards and another 14 touchdowns. This past season, he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after finishing second in the conference in completion percentage (68%), fourth in yards per attempt (8.2) and fifth in passer rating (147.7).

This past season, Northwestern was 126th (out of 130 FBS schools) in passing yards per game (117), 124th in completion percentage (50%) and dead last in passer rating (84.5). NU’s six touchdown passes in 12 games?  129th in the country.

“I would like to thank everyone at Indiana University for allowing me to live out my dream of playing college football,” said Ramsey. “I would especially like to thank my teammates that pushed me, encouraged me, and trusted me. Sometimes the road to realizing your dreams can take you in a different direction than you expected. I am grateful to Coach Fitz and his entire staff for this opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.”

Adams, meanwhile, was a three-year starter for the Golden Flashes.  He averaged 42 yards per punt in that span.  Last season, the average was at 43.1.

Twice, Adams earned All-MAC honors.

“It has been one heck of a journey so far,” said Adams. “I am beyond grateful to Coach Fitz, Coach Genyk and the entire Northwestern Football program for providing an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Second Mississippi State player reportedly set to flip Egg Bowl sides, transfer to Ole Miss

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Fabien Lovett spent the first portion of the Egg Bowl rivalry on the Mississippi State side.  Now, he’s headed to the other.  Reportedly.

Lovett was one of a handful of individuals offended by a Mike Leach tweet earlier this offseason.  The MSU defensive lineman subsequently became the first of five Bulldogs to enter the NCAA transfer database in the past two months or so.  A couple of weeks later, Lovett tweeted that he would be transferring to Florida State.

Monday, however, it was reported that Lovett Will Likely become the latest MSU player to find a new home as the lineman has flipped to the Ole Miss side of the Egg Bowl rivalry. Whispers have been growing of later the Lovett could be headed to Oxford.

Thus far, none of the schools involved or the player have confirmed anything.

If it comes to fruition, Lovett would be the second MSU player in less than a week to switch Egg Bowl sides.  Friday, defensive back Jarrian Jones announced that he is committed to Ole Miss.

It’s thought that Lovett would have to sit out the 2020 season if he moves to another FBS program. However, he is expected to file an appeal for an immediate eligibility waiver. It’s believed that he will use the Leach tweet as the basis for his appeal.

Lovett was a three-star 2018 signee. He was rated as the No. 7 player regardless of position in the state of Mississippi.

The past two seasons, Lovett appeared in 15 games. 13 of those appearances came in 2019. A year ago, the defensive end was credited with 19 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and a sack.

Because he appeared in four or fewer games in 2018, Lovett was able to take a redshirt for that season. Depending on how the waiver appeal turns out, Lovett would have either three years of eligibility starting in 2020 or two starting in 2021.

For those keeping score at home?  Leach’s Bulldogs and Lane Kiffin‘s Rebels will next meet Nov. 26.  In Oxford.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including Steve Spurrier predicting Tim Tebow will ‘do super’ in the NFL

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on May 27, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Report: Bru McCoy re-transferring from Texas back to USC
THE SYNOPSIS: The five-star 2019 prospect signed with USC.  Then transferred to TexasThen moved back to the Trojans.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000
THE SYNOPSIS: LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL…

2017

THE HEADLINE: WATCH: FCS player paralyzed in 2015 game vs. Georgia walks
THE SYNOPSIS: Southern’s Devon Gales is such an inspirational story.

2016

THE HEADLINE: Art Briles’ daughter calls firing ‘outrageous’ and ‘disgusting’ in Facebook post
THE SYNOPSIS: Oddly enough, outrageous and disgusting described the scandal that cost her father his job at Baylor.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Amidst controversy, Dabo Swinney cancels planned appearance
THE SYNOPSIS: The Clemson coach was caught up in an LGBT kerfuffle.

2014

THE HEADLINE: Bill Hancock says CFB Playoff not expanding past four teams
THE SYNOPSIS: Six years later, momentum is building for expansion.

2012

THE HEADLINE: Michigan commit burns Buckeyes recruiting literature
THE SYNOPSIS: The Greatest Rivalry In All Of Sports knows no offseason.

2009

THE HEADLINE: Spurrier On Tebow & The NFL: ‘He’ll Do Super’
THE SYNOPSIS: Was the Ol’ Ball Coach correct?  Let’s go to the Tale of the Statistical Tape:

GAMES: 35
ATTEMPTS: 361
COMPLETIONS: 173
COMPLETION PERCENTAGE: 47.9
PASSING YARDS: 2,422
PASSING TOUCHDOWNS: 17
INTERCEPTIONS: 9
YARDS PER ATTEMPT: 6.7
PASSER RATING: 75.3