Getty Images

No. 3 Clemson storms back to beat No. 2 Ohio State and setup Tigers vs. Tigers in the national title game

75 Comments

This year’s edition of the College Football Playoff was widely viewed as a four team tournament consisting of just three teams capable of hoisting the golden cylinder representing the national championship.

That was confirmed just minutes into the first of the two semifinals on Saturday night as No. 1 LSU blasted No. 4 Oklahoma in a lopsided Peach Bowl. In the second though, No. 2 Ohio State’s meeting with No. 3 Clemson was more or less seen as a clash between two equally elite and evenly matched teams — one a reigning champion who lived up to their billing by turning into a buzzsaw down the stretch and the other labeled several times by the CFP Selection Committee as the most complete team in the country.

Thankfully for those watching on, the two heavyweights squared off in a Fiesta Bowl that more than lived up the hype as one of the most anticipated semifinals of the playoff era. And just like those nostalgia-inducing prize fights from decades ago, the end result of a bloody epic that featured devastating jabs, incredible counterpunches and enough momentum swings to result in a Disney movie. Only one could emerge victorious however and to the delight of thousands of orange-clad fans in attendance at State Farm Stadium late in the desert night, it was the Tigers who were eventually able to hold their hands high in the air to celebrate a 29-23 result that sets up another epic showdown next month.

Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence was phenomenal once again on the biggest stage the sport has to offer. While he was last seen in the Playoff slicing and dicing Alabama’s secondary with his arm, this time around he used his legs to even better acclaim. The sophomore threw for 259 yards and a pair of scores (plus a final two-point conversion into the back of the end zone) but moonlighted as a silky smooth dual-threat with few peers in running for a team-high 107 yards. His best run came in the closing minutes of the first half as he dropped a few Allen Iverson-esque crossovers and zagged 67 yards past the OSU defense.

Tailback Travis Etienne may have taken a back seat on offense to the youngster he normally lines up behind but still was a threat to house it on every touch he had, running for 36 and a score while also finding paydirt twice as a receiver (three catches, 98 yards). The pair were the focal point offensively as they had been all year but had to carry a bit more of the load given that the team’s normally prolific receiving corps was either hurt or limited.

The biggest turning point of the game for Clemson came late in the second quarter. After appearing to stop Lawrence on a third down blitz, Buckeyes corner Shawn Wade was flagged for a controversial targeting penalty after review and ejected. The Tigers immediately picked on his backup, who drew a pass interference flag to further extend a drive that was capped off by the ACC champs’ first points of the game on a short Etienne run. That led to an eventual 21-point outburst to take the lead and jump start the eventual victory celebrations.

Ohio State still had their chances to take this one home however and fought tooth and nail to pull it out. Running back J.K. Dobbins set a new single-season school rushing record in the first half (passing Eddie George) on his way to a 174 yard, one TD night despite picking up an ankle injury down the stretch. He combined with Blake Haubeil’s opening drive 21 yard field goal to end the Big Ten’s 1,811 day stretch without scoring a point in the College Football Playoff as the conference champions announced this would be no repeat of the 2016 version of the game by jumping out to a 16-0 lead.

Mistakes, however, prevented the Buckeyes from taking full advantage of the early margin. In addition to the key penalties, the failure to capitalize on drives in the red zone will certainly haunt Ryan Day (who lost his first game as head coach). QB Justin Fields threw for a normally impressive 320 yards and a touchdown but the highly touted transfer will likely only remember two critical mistakes as he doubled his interception total coming in (one) with two picks — the last of which was right to Nolan Turner in the end zone to seal the result and end what had been a dream season in Columbus.

While those pieces will have to be picked up as the team returns home proud of this run but disappointed in the final result, Dabo Swinney’s crew can briefly celebrate their 29th consecutive win and turn their attention to fully defending their crown against another set of Tigers. Top seed LSU will have the advantage of both playing what amounts to a bye game on Saturday against the Sooners as well as enjoy the short trip down the highway to New Orleans for the final game of the season. While last year’s title tilt between a pair of 15-0 programs was expected to be a rare occurrence, it will happen again as the calendar turns to 2020 and the battle of teams based in Death Valley will kick off.

Such a championship game will have a high bar to clear given what transpired in the College Football Playoff game immediately proceeding it but it certainly will try as the most impressive team the sport has seen this season faces off against a potential dynastic standard barer.

In interview with Howard Stern, Tom Brady talks about almost transferring from Michigan to Cal

Howard Stern Tom Brady
Getty Images
1 Comment

While a lot of the attention surrounding his Howard Stern interview focused on his relationship with the current POTUS, there was a college football angle to all of the Tom Brady talk.

Coming out of high school in California, Brady chose a scholarship offer from Michigan over one from Cal. His first season at U-M, Brady sat behind Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese and Jason Carr, the son of head coach Lloyd Carr and took a redshirt. His second season, with Carr out of eligibility, Brady was still behind Dreisbach and Griese.

In his book “Belichick and Brady,” Michael Holley explained that Brady very nearly transferred from Michigan to Cal because of his positioning on the depth chart. During the course of his SiriusXM interview with the King of All Media Wednesday, Brady acknowledged the transfer talk.

The guy who was playing above me, Scott Dreisbach, he was very much their guy,” Brady told Stern during the show. “I thought we had got off to kind of a good start, he had got off to a good start in his career, and I was looking up at all these guys on the depth chart that were ahead of me, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get a chance here.’ I remember talking to the people at Cal, because that was my second choice, to go to Berkeley, and I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should go there, because I’ll get more of an opportunity to play.’

“I went in and talked to Lloyd Carr. I said, ‘I don’t really think I’m going to get my chance here. I think I should leave,’ and he said, ‘Tom, I want you to stay, and I believe in you, and I think you could be a good player, but you’ve got to start worrying about the things you can control.’ When he said that he wanted me there, I went to bed that night, I woke up the next day, and I figured, you know what, if I’m going to be — and I still feel this way today — in a team sport, you’ve got to sacrifice what you want individually for what’s best for the team. So if you’re not the best guy, it’s a disservice for the team if you’re forced to somehow play. My feeling was, if I’m going to be the best, I’ve got to beat out the best, and if the best competition’s at Michigan, I’ve got to beat those guys out if I’m going to play. I ended up committing to be the best.

Obviously, Brady opted to remain with the Wolverines. He served as Griese’s backup in 1997, then beat out Dreisbach for the starting job the following season. After two years as U-M’s started, Brady was infamously selected 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Suffice to say, Brady did fairly well for himself during his 20 seasons in New England.

Minnesota projecting potential $75 million loss due to COVID-19

Minnesota football
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The worst case for Minnesota when it comes to COVID-19 is a hefty bottom line hit.

The school’s board of regents met on Tuesday and detailed some of the initial modeling they are projecting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking just of the athletic department, that could result in nearly $75 million in lost revenue alone for the Gophers.

The Athletic’s Eric Vegoe detailed one of the slides from the meeting, which shows an overall $200 million hit to the university at large in a worst case — or “severe” — scenario:

Obviously the severe scenario that shows COVID-19 lasting into the fall is projecting a serious loss of revenue as the result of no (or reduced) college football. The sport makes up the vast majority of Minnesota’s revenues and has untold impact on other items such as donations as well.

USA Today’s database of athletic department revenues show the Gophers had nearly $125 million in revenue through the 2017-18 school year. While that figure has undoubtedly climbed higher as Big Ten media rights distributions have escalated, the number provided to the regents is still a huge chunk of that amount.

Even the moderate estimate of things lasting through the summer could result in a 20% shave on the department’s income.

It goes without saying that finances across the board in every industry will be impacted by the global pandemic but slides like the one above are a good reminder that even in the tiny world of football or college athletics, the cuts will probably have to run quite deep. And if a school like Minnesota is potentially forced to cut back, just imagine what other Group of Five programs will have to go through.

At some point college football will return to our lives but the ramifications of this current battle against the coronavirus figure will certainly have a far-reaching impact well beyond the gridiron. Sadly, no amount of ‘Rowing the Boat’ will be able to change that fact.

Bay Area official does not expect sports to return “until at least Thanksgiving”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

So much of the intersection of the coronavirus and college football has centered on when the game might return this fall.

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy wants players back as soon as May. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is confident that Death Valley will be packed come September. Virginia Tech’s athletic director has floated moving the calendar back just to get a full slate in.

In short, nobody knows.

That unknown has weighed heavily on most as they are asked to discuss the topic in recent days. What is left unsaid however, is that no coach or administrator will truly be in charge of determining the date CFB returns. That will be left to health officials at the local level.

One such official broached that topic this week. Speaking to the Santa Clara County (in the California Bay Area) Board of Supervisors, Dr. Jeffrey Smith believes sports in general may be looking more toward winter than fall whenever it returns.

Per the Los Angeles Times:

Smith on Tuesday told that county’s Board of Supervisors that he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do.”

Santa Clara County is home to both Stanford and San Jose State. It’s also located in the region of the United States that was at the forefront of shutting down as a response to COVID-19 last month.

If those in charge don’t see a return to the football field until turkey time, those optimistic projections of getting the season done on time can probably be thrown to the wind.

Let’s hope that won’t turn out to be the case and the world can get a medical miracle it desperately needs. But until that happens, it’s probably best to be more pessimistic when it comes to the 2020 season than optimistic.

Survey of ADs shows momentum for expanded College Football Playoff

Getty Images
2 Comments

At some point normalcy will return to college football. When that will be is anybody’s guess but it will come at some point.

When it does, much of the focus in the sport will return to matters like… College Football Playoff expansion. Yes, everybody’s favorite subject isn’t being forgot even if the attention is elsewhere nowadays due to the coronavirus.

Stadium recently conducted a wide-ranging survey of FBS athletic directors and one of the big questions asked was not surprisingly about the future of the CFP. To nobody’s surprise, the move toward eight or more teams in the annual postseason tournament is gathering plenty of momentum.

Per Brett McMurphy:

A whopping 88 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) athletic directors want an expanded College Football Playoff when the current playoff contract ends after the 2025 regular season, according to a survey conducted by Stadium.

Of those athletic directors who favor an expanded playoff, 72 percent believe eight teams should qualify. Also, 66 percent of the ADs said the highest-ranked non-Power Five team should receive an automatic bid to an expanded playoff.

Since its inception as a four team event, the idea of expansion for the College Football Playoff has been a pretty constant talking point. Some have made their feelings known publicly at all levels.

“More and more fans are only concerned with the playoffs,” a Power Five AD told Stadium. “That’s sad, but true, so we should expand the playoffs when possible. Even if that impacts the bowl system. We have to figure out a way.”

So mostly it’s been a question of when and not if. The focus on the latter has typically centered around the expiration of the CFP television contract with ESPN after the 2025-26 season. Executive director Bill Hancock has remarked a few times that there is no “look-in” with the deal to formally renegotiate the contract. Still, there would need to be some groundwork laid and a decision made well before 2025 in order to make the necessary changes to things like semifinal dates and stadium sites.

Given the potential revenue shortfalls due to the on-going COVID-19 situation, perhaps things will be accelerated over the course of the summer but we’re entering a window where the talk about moving to eight teams or beyond is going to start turning into some action.

It sounds as though the ADs are on board with formally expanding the chase for the national championship and this latest survey only confirms as much.