If we are to believe the experts, tonight’s national championship game between Clemson and Alabama should be nothing more than a necessary exercise by Alabama before the coronation begins and Bama fans start saying Bear Bryant is the #1 all-time college football coach but Nick Saban is #1A. All the experts are calling this an Alabama win – Gary Danielson of CBS says it will be by a big margin – and largely because the Crimson Tide defense has dominated like few defenses in recent times. Alabama won 12 of its 13 games by at least 13 points (a 19-14 win over Tennessee was the only close one) and only two teams (Ole Miss and Texas A&M) scored more than 20 points. Only Georgia (193) and Tennessee (132) ran for more than 100 yards.
But what happens if the Alabama defense doesn’t come up big? What happens if Deshaun Watson – arguably the best quarterback Alabama has faced all year – has all the answers?
We’ve heard all the reasons why Alabama will win: tough team, big team, fast team, dominated against an SEC schedule, too many pro prospects and on and on and on. But folks were saying that last year and we saw what Ohio State did. Of course, that was against a Big Ten schedule and so on and so forth.
Well, Clemson is a better offensive team than that Ohio State team. The Tigers have gone over the 500-yard mark 10 consecutive games. Watson is poised to become the first QB in college football history with a single season with more than 4,000 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards, more than 30 passing TDs and more than 10 rushing TDs. And he’s not a one-man show.
Now, all the experts might be 100% on the mark that Alabama’s defense is just way too good for any offense out there but what if they aren’t?
What if Clemson turns this into a shootout? Can Alabama win a shootout? And what if Clemson can put points on the board in bunches and its defense makes Alabama one-dimensional? Can Jacob Coker make all the throws and give the Crimson Tide four or five touchdowns?
And maybe a juicier question, if Alabama’s defense rolls snake eyes and Clemson shows it can move the ball, score and actually win the game, what will this do for Kirby Smart’s ongoing efforts to recruit as Georgia’s head coach?
THE FEARLESS FORECAST
Alabama 24, Clemson 14: My heart tells me Clemson is going to win this one but my head is on override, so I’ll go with Bama. I hope my heart wins.
GREAT WEEKEND FOR UF BASKETBALL
Both Florida’s men’s and women’s basketball teams came up big this weekend. The men (10-5, 2-1 SEC) scored a nice bounce back win over LSU at the O-Dome, knocking off the Tigers and super stud freshman Ben Simmons, 68-62. If the Gators had shot 33% from the 3-point line (they were 3-18) and 66.7% from the foul line (they were 17-30), the Gators would have won the game by 18 points. The Florida women (14-2, 2-1 SEC) scored an impressive 85-65 win over Ole Miss in Oxford. What made this win even more impressive is the fact UF has already won more games this season than they did all of 2014-15. The Gators had five players in double figures with Ronnie Williams leading the way with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman phenom Eleanna Christinaki had a career high 11 assists.
BUT WHAT ABOUT NOTRE DAME?
The Big 12 wants to hold a conference championship game. Only problem is the league has only 10 members and current NCAA rules dictate 12 teams for that to happen. The ACC has 14 teams and a conference championship game but it wants to do away with divisions and pick the best two teams to play in the title game, presumably to accommodate a Clemson-FSU or FSU-Miami rematch every year. As it stands right now, the NCAA will hold steady on the 12-team requirement and will shoot down conference autonomy in eliminating divisions for the purpose of picking the best two teams. A strong possibility exists that the Big 12 will be boxed into a corner and have to add two more teams to ensure it has a regular place in the final four.
And, there is that burning issue of Notre Dame. If the Big 12 is basically forced to add two teams – UCF, USF and Memphis are all begging for the chance to join – that would mean all five of the power conferences play the extra game. Would it be fair to allow Notre Dame the opportunity to play for the national championship without having to (a) play a conference schedule and (b) a 13th game?
Of course, if Notre Dame were forced to join a conference, where would it go? The ACC and Big Ten both have 14 members as does the SEC so adding Notre Dame might force the addition of one more to make it 16. The Pac-12 makes no sense because it has 12 teams and doesn’t really have a 14th if ND was added. That leaves the Big 12. It would seem an opportunity awaits both the Big 12 and Notre Dame.
TENNESSEE MAKES A SERIOUS DC HIRE
The swift hire of former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop after the sudden firing of Bob Shoop tells me Butch Jones saw an opportunity and seized upon it. John Jancek was a decent defensive coordinator whose units got better each of the three years he was at Tennessee, but nobody has ever put him in the same category with Shoop, whose Vanderbilt defenses for James Franklin had everything to do with the Commodores getting to a school record three straight bowl games. At Penn State, he’s had to deal with a depleted roster thanks to the scholarship restrictions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal yet both his defensive units were well above average. At Tennessee Shoop inherits a veteran unit that has plenty of depth – eight returning starters and 19 of the 22 on the two-deep.
This is a very serious hire for Jones, who has recruited well and has the Vols posed to be an SEC East contender for at least the next several years. The Vols have improved from 7 to 9 wins the last two years and will certainly be a preseason top 25 team next year that most will predict to win the SEC East.
DOES FOOTBALL GET UGLIER THAN THIS?
Someday when they declare co-poster children for football stupidity, they will go no further than the images of Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pac-Man” Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals. Burfict’s late hit to the head on Antonio Brown was not only stupid but should cost him many thousands of dollars in fines and maybe some games next year too. Totally uncalled for and Brown is lucky he didn’t suffer a broken neck. Pac-Man did what Pac-Man always does – at the last convenient time his dice rolled stupid and he shoved a Pittsburgh assistant coach on the field while Brown was still being tended to by medical staff. The result of their two brain farts was 30 yards in penalties which gave Chris Boswell a chip shot field goal that allowed the Bengals to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in their first round playoff game.
Burfict and Jones are talented players, but Bengals coach Marvin Jones needs to send them packing. It wasn’t just one play and it wasn’t just one game that Burfict showed he was out of control. It was an entire season. And Pac-Man redefines the term “slug of a human being.”
SEC BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS
1. Texas A&M (13-2, 3-0 SEC, #13 RPI): The Aggies have scorers at every position and they play extremely good defense. Top to bottom this is the best team in the SEC and there isn’t a team in the league capable of handling them inside. Their two-headed point guard of Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins (10 assists per game between them) makes the Aggies a very difficult team to defend.
2. Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 SEC, #6 RPI): This isn’t a great Kentucky team and you have to wonder if the Wildcats will make much improvement during the season. And, if Kentucky’s not dominating will John Calipari’s mind start to wander to the NBA? The Brooklyn Nets want him. The Lakers would offer him bazillions.
3. South Carolina (15-0, 3-0 SEC, #28 RPI): The Gamecocks are defying gravity. You keep thinking they should be dropping but they keep on winning, largely because it’s never the same guy who is the difference maker.
4. Ole Miss (12-3, 2-1 SEC, #46 RPI): If you don’t first cut the head off the snake (Stefan Moody, 23.9 points, 4.1 assists per game), you can’t beat Ole Miss.
5. FLORIDA (10-5, 2-1 SEC, #26 RPI): When the Gators play defense like they did against LSU, they are capable of beating anyone in the SEC. When they play defense like they did against Tennessee, they’re capable of losing to anyone. If these guys had hit a couple more 3-balls and a few more free throws along the way they would be close to unbeaten by now.
6. LSU (9-6, 2-1 SEC, #121 RPI): If Craig Victor can stay out of foul trouble and be the inside complement to Ben Simmons (20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists per game) and point guard Tim Quarterman remembers to get the ball to Keith Hornsby behind the 3-point line, then LSU can (and will) beat anyone in the league. Simmons is the best individual talent in the SEC in a long, long time.
7. Georgia (8-5, 1-2 SEC, #65 RPI): The Bulldogs are one quality player from being a really good team. On those nights when they find a fifth player who can contribute they can beat all but maybe one or two teams in the league.
8. Arkansas (8-7, 2-1 SEC, #105 RPI): The Hogs hit 16-24 of their 3-pointers in the win over Mississippi State and 6-14 in the win over Vanderbilt. Defense against these guys begins and ends with the feet on the outside of the 3-point line. If they can’t hit 3s they can’t win. Dusty Hannahs was 8-13 on 3-balls against Mississippi State.
9. Tennessee (8-7, 1-2 SEC #80 RPI): Since the Vols have no size they rely on forcing tempo. If they get opponents in an up and down game, they’ve got a chance as they proved against Florida and a white knuckles loss to Texas A&M. Point guard Kevin Punter (22.8 points, 3.9 assists) is the real deal.
10. Alabama (9-5, 0-2 SEC, #60 RPI): Alabama fired Anthony Grant because the Crimson Tide played defense first, slow and boring basketball. Guess what Avery Johnson has the Tide playing? If you guess defense first, slow and boring basketball you win the stuffed poodle. Bama averages 66 per game, gives up 66.4.
11. Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-3 SEC, #63 RPI): When the season began, there were some misguided experts predicting this would be no worse than an Elite Eight year for the Dores. They’ve lost six of their first eight and they’re 0-3 in the SEC. They have terrific shooters. So why are they losing? No defense.
12. Missouri (8-7, 1-1 SEC, #130 RPI): The Tigers got their first SEC win of the season against Auburn Saturday night. It’s a win that should be savored because there won’t be many more.
13. Auburn (7-7, 1-2 SEC, #79 RPI): Auburn has lost four of its last five games and is going to struggle to win in the SEC unless Bruce Pearl reinserts Cinmeon Bowers into the starting lineup. He is their only consistent inside presence and his performance has suffered since Pearl started bringing him off the bench.
14. Mississippi State (7-7, 0-2 SEC, #187 RPI): The Bulldogs only shot at winning SEC games depends on slowing games down to a crawl. If they can’t do that, then they’ve got little to no shot as Arkansas proved Saturday night.
BRAD STEVENS GETS IT
Some coaches really do get it. Last week Brad Stevens, the head coach of the Boston Celtics, took a game off from his job to spend the day with Andrew Smith, one of his former Butler players who is in the hospital dying with cancer. Stevens, who has always made the relationships with his players, coaches and support staff his priority, scored plenty of points with the Celtics.
Speaking to the Boston Herald, Celtic Evan Turner said, “Guys that played for him are lucky to have a coach like that. It just speaks volumes and I’m blown away by it. I’m lucky to play for him. That says a lot about his character and obviously, it puts him in a higher stature than I already have him.”
Tracy Caulkins is 52 today. She led the Gators to the 1982 NCAA swimming championship, won three Olympic gold medals, set five world records and 63 American records.
Ben Crenshaw is 64 today.
The late Daryl Dawkins would have been 58 today.
Did you catch Quinton Dunbar’s play in the Washington Redskins secondary Sunday? Dunbar had 5 tackles and broke up 2 passes. Not bad for someone playing DB for the first time since high school. Jordan Reed caught 9 passes for 120 yards and a TD for the Redskins.
In case you missed it, North Dakota State won its fifth straight Division IAA championship with a convincing 37-10 win over Jacksonville State over the weekend. Five in a row qualifies you for dynasty status.
With the technology that’s available now, I wonder how long before lasers are put into use on the football field? Instead of relying on the judgment of an official who might be 10-12 yards away, a laser could determine if a ball crossed the line for a first down or touchdown. Remember that field goal Indiana tried in the Pinstripe Bowl that the zebras said was “too high”? Problem solved with a laser. Time to adapt technology to the game to make it better.
If you are both a Gator and Seattle Seahawks fan, then you are giggling a bit today since it was a Georgia grad (Chris Walsh) who missed the game-winning field goal for the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If the NCAA mandates expansion to 12 teams by the Big 12, should Notre Dame be allowed to continue as an independent or required to join a conference that has a championship game?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Jimi Hendrix recorded “Purple Haze” on this day back in 1967 so it’s only appropriate that todays’ music is a compilation of Hendrix’s best songs including “Purple Haze.”