The Campus Read Option: Championship Deja Vu

The twitterfication of society truly bothers me, because within today’s landscape, it’s all about lazy, microwaveable narratives, especially in sports. And nothing is more frustrating than the guy who says, “Nick Saban wins all the time because he has the best players.”

I’m not sure if many fans have any idea of how remarkable an accomplishment Saban’s run at Alabama has been. In the last 80 years, no FBS team has won five national championships in eight years. The Miami Hurricanes dominated in the ’80s, Notre Dame did the same in the ’40s, as did Oklahoma in the ’50s and Nebraska in the ’90s. 

But no one, ever in the poll era, has accomplished what Nick Saban has a chance to do if Alabama beats Clemson in tonight’s College Football National Championship Game. None of the college gridiron legends like Frank Leahy, Bud Wilkerson, Bobby Bowdon, Bear Bryant, Barry Switzer, Tom Osborne, Pete Carroll or anyone else that you want to throw out there.

We’ve never seen anything quite like this Crimson Tide juggernaut, so I hope people are appreciating it. And despite the hemming and hawing about who did and who didn’t get a playoff spot this year, we are delightfully left with the absolute two best teams in the country knuckling up for a rematch to decide this year’s national champion. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Both teams have exceptional defenses and they both average close to 500 yards and 40 points per game. The stakes are high on both sides. Alabama is gunning for its fifth championship under Saban, who also owns another from his days in Baton Rouge with LSU. If he wins his sixth title tonight, he’ll be tied with the man who is considered the Gold Standard in the poll era, former Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

A Clemson victory for head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad would deliver the program’s first national title since Central Line was Walking into Sunshine back in 1981.  

With Lane Kiffin’s departure as the primary signal caller a week ago, new Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and how he’ll call the game adds some mystery and intrigue. How he chooses to attack Clemson’s stout, athletic and powerful defensive front while utilizing the superfluous talents of true freshman QB Jalen Hurts, running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard will be worth dissecting throughout the contest. 

As good as the Crimson Tide offense is, their defense, which surrendered only 15 touchdowns in 14 games while scoring 11 of their own, is what pumps fear through the heart of opposing coaches. Their defensive linemen and linebackers have accumulated 48.5 sacks and 93.5 tackles for loss this year, led by the otherworldy Jonathan Allen, who has 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss by himself. Ask LSU’s super-duper-stud RB Leonard Fournette about trying to run on Saban’s defense. He would have had better luck trying to make love to Mother Theresa.

But as they proved in last year’s incredible national championship game, Clemson just might have the Kryptonite that negates Alabama’s strength: quarterback Deshaun Watson. Last year, he passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns, while running for another in the title game. Bama will shut down Clemson’s talented running back Wayne Gallman, because that’s what they do. But Watson’s legs and arm, once he breaks contain and starts dancing outside the pocket, are what will determine the outcome. If he gets busier than a horny rabbit, Clemson pulls off the upset.

Alabama doesn’t normally give up big plays. But they did last year to Clemson, and one of Watson’s specialties is completing passes for long gains. Mike Williams and Deon Cain, Watson’s primary vertical weapons, didn’t play in last year’s title game. The two of them have 1,897 receiving yards and 19 touchdown catches combined this year. And don’t forget about the sure-handed Hunter Renfrow, who keeps the chains moving.

Tonight, we’ll find out if we can start talking about Nick Saban being the greatest college football coach ever, or if Clemson ends their championship drought.

Can Alabama’s freshman signal caller deal with Clemson’s monster in the middle, Carlos Watkins? Can he find Calvin Ridley to establish a deep threat? Can Sarkisian call an excellent game? Can OJ Howard dominate like he did last year and make things easy for Hurts in the passing game? Can Watson pull as many rabbits out of his helmet as he did last year?

The answers to those questions will give us tonight’s winner.

All year long, I thought Alabama was indestructible.

But with Watson lined up for Clemson under center tonight, now I’m not so sure.


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