Category Archives: College Football

The Deep Freeze

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Hugh Freeze

When Hugh Freeze was named as the head football coach of the Mississippi Rebels in 2012, he was tasked with turning around the fortunes of a program that had sunk to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. In 2011, Ole Miss went 2-10 which led to the termination of Houston Nutt as the school’s head football coach. Freeze was tasked with being able to once again make the Rebels respectable and potentially rub elbows with the top teams in the SEC. In Freeze’s first season at Mississippi, he was able to get the Rebels to a bowl game. In 2014, Freeze led Ole Miss to a 23-17 upset at home against the Alabama Crimson Tide. And to show that the victory wasn’t a fluke, Ole Miss followed this upset up in 2015 by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988, while it also marked the first time in school history that the Rebels had defeated the Crimson Tide in consecutive seasons. In 2014, Freeze got Mississippi to the Peach Bowl for the first time since 1971, and at the conclusion of the 2015 college football season, he led the Rebels to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1969 as his squad was now looked at as a perennial top 20 team. Freeze was also winning battles on the recruiting front as he was putting players such as wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil into the National Football League. And with these players being selected in the first round, it was only helping the credibility of Freeze and his Ole Miss program.

However things began to shift for Freeze at Ole Miss when the NCAA began to probe his program for illegal benefits to his players. Ole Miss gave itself a bowl ban for the upcoming college football season after their own review cited a lack of institutional control. And even with that Ole Miss is set to appear in front of the NCAA later this year as the possibility of them facing sanctions still looms. But even with all of this going on, Ole Miss stuck by Freeze, until this week.

This past Thursday night Freeze was fired by Ole Miss after an investigation by the school illustrated that he made numerous phone calls to an escort service on a university issued cell phone. Initially Freeze denied it, but after the school had concluded its investigation they gave him an ultimatum to either resign or get fired. Freeze chose to resign as either way his reputation is tarnished. And now Ole Miss is left to pick up the pieces and keep their football program afloat, but it will be easier said than done.

With the start of the college football season right around the corner, the upcoming campaign already appears to be a wash for the Rebels. Offensive coordinator Matt Luke will be the interim head football coach for the upcoming season as this will be his opportunity to audition for the job on a full-time basis, but school officials at Oxford might be ready to clean house and start over from scratch.

Ole Miss needs fresh blood to lead their program, while also hiring an established head coach that the alumni will get behind. One of the first names that will be thrown around is former LSU Tigers head football coach Les Miles. In nearly 12 seasons at LSU, Miles was 114-34 which included winning a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships, and one national championship. Miles knows how to win in the SEC and he has a tremendous record in regards of being a great recruiter as he has sent the likes of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Patterson to the National Football League. But what did Miles in at LSU was his inability to defeat Alabama in recent years as that prevented the Bayou Bengals from getting back to the SEC Championship Game. And as Miles is set to be 64-years of age in November, that could steer the big time programs that have openings away from hiring him.

Another name that people will be linking to Ole Miss is former Oregon Ducks head football coach Chip Kelly. In four years as the head football coach at Oregon, Kelly’s record was 46-7 as he was an innovator due to his uptempo spread offense. Kelly left Oregon and he spent the last four years trying to make his system work in the National Football League as he was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers respectively. In four years in the NFL, Kelly’s record was 28-35 as his system could not translate to the next level. And once Kelly was fired by the Niners this past January, the speculation about him returning to college has begun.

The name of current Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin could be thrown around as well. Kiffin is familiar with the Southeastern Conference from his time as the head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers and most recently as the offensive coordinator for Alabama. Kiffin’s name alone produces intrigue, however he is a man who has burned bridges at every stop on his football journey, and as Ole Miss is attempting to escape from its current mess, they don’t need another headache.

It appeared to be a marriage made in heaven between Freeze and Ole Miss as he was the native of Oxford who loved everything about the school. However Freeze was done in by his arrogance which got the school into trouble. And just as Freeze could be shrewd salesman on the recruiting trail, he figured that he could have wiggled his way out of having issues after placing calls to an escort service. But as fast as Freeze made the Rebels respectable is how fast that is came apart.

Ole Miss isn’t the first school to be investigated by the NCAA for giving improper benefits to “student athletes”, and it won’t be the last. As long as head coaches are receiving at least $5 million per year like they currently are, they are going to do whatever it takes to get the top athletes as they must win games in order to keep the alumni and boosters happy. Freeze cut some corners to get Ole Miss among the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, but just like that he has gone from being one of Oxford’s favorite native sons to a man that cannot get out of town quick enough.

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The Shifting Landscape Of The Big 12

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When the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996, it immediately became an elitist league for college football with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Colorado Buffaloes, and Oklahoma leaving the Big 8 Conference, while the Texas Longhorns left the Southwest Conference to help form the new league. From the first day of existence, the Big 12 provided quality football which was illustrated by the Longhorns upset of Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game which prevented the Cornhuskers from repeating as national champions. But even with some of college football’s blue bloods calling the Big 12 home, there has been one program that has been head and shoulders above the rest.

The Sooners have been the face of football in the Big 12 as their 10 conference crowns are by far the most of any program in league history. And when you think of Oklahoma’s dominance, it doesn’t take that long before you begin to think about Bob Stoops.

After helping the Florida Gators win the national championship in 1996 as their defensive coordinator, Stoops became a hot commodity on the coaching scene in college football. And in 1999, Stoops was charged with turning around an Oklahoma program as their head football coach after they had fallen on hard times.

The Sooners were coming off of three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1924 and had actually become an afterthought in college football which was shocking once you factored in their rich history that included six national titles.

But it wouldn’t take Stoops that long to give Oklahoma stability as after the Sooners went 7-5 under him in his first season to make a bowl appearance, the Sooners used that a stepping stone for bigger things. And in 2000, Stoops had led Oklahoma to a national championship with a victory over the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. The turnaround was not supposed to be that quick, but the age of 40, Stoops and Oklahoma were on the national scene.

Oklahoma wouldn’t slow down after winning it all as they continued to be one of the top teams in the Big 12 and a national power. Since Stoops came aboard Oklahoma has never had a losing campaign while only three seasons have gone by without them not finishing ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. Under Stoops, the Sooners have won 10 Big 12 Titles, while playing for the national championship three times after they won it all in 2000. Since Stoops took over at Oklahoma, they’ve had 14 years where they’ve won at least 10 games which included going 11-2 in each of the last two campaigns as that featured a trip to the College Football Playoff in 2015, and a Sugar Bowl victory over the Auburn Tigers this past January.

And with the 2017 college football season set to begin in less than three months, the Sooners are poised for another national title run as they are one of the favorites to win the Big 12. But Stoops shocked the college football world when he made the announcement yesterday that he is stepping down from the post the he has manned for the last 18 years.

In 18 years at Oklahoma, Stoops compiled a record of 190-48 as his teams only suffered nine home losses. Stoops knew how to win the important games as under him Oklahoma was 11-7 versus Texas in the Red River Rivalry, 14-4 against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Bedlam Series, and 6-2 versus Nebraska before they left to join the Big Ten Conference in 2011 which included a pair of victories over their rivals in the Big 12 Championship Game. Under Stoops the Sooners got back to being able to hand pick the top high school football talent in the nation to play there as he sent his fair share of talent to the National Football League. Current New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, along with former NFL players in safety Roy Williams and defensive tackle Tommie Harris are just a few of the athletes whom Stoops got ready for the next level. And as they were able to succeed in the NFL, it helped to keep the pipeline in Norman, Oklahoma going.

But even though that it definitely comes as a shock to see Stoops walk away from Oklahoma; especially with the timing of the decision, he is going out on his terms. There is never the right time to leave, but with reports surfacing that Stoops lost his father at the age of 54 who died while coaching, it could have possibly played into his decision being that he is 56-years of age.

Stoops is leaving a program that is one of the best in the nation and he won’t be remembered as a great coach that hung around too long. Stoops is handing over the reigns at Oklahoma to Lincoln Riley who has spent his last two years in Norman as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The timing of Stoops’ decision allows Oklahoma to retain their entire coaching staff and focus on the upcoming season. But Riley will have some big shoes to fill, while the Big 12 will never be the same.

Lincoln Riley

Riley follows Stoops who raised the bar for excellence at Oklahoma and in the process returned the program to what it was under the likes of Bud Wilkinson, Chuck Fairbanks, and Barry Switzer. And as far as the Big 12 goes, they are losing their meal ticket.

The past six years have seen the Big 12 become a conference that is in turmoil as they lost the Texas A&M Aggies and Missouri Tigers to the Southeastern Conference, Colorado to the Pac-12 Conference, and Nebraska to the Big Ten. The Big 12 has held on by a thread and with the struggles for Texas since 2010, it has been the Sooners under Stoops who have had to carry the conference banner.

So now the other programs within the Big 12 can breath a sigh of relief as Stoops steps away which gives them a better chance to win, but it actually puts their conference closer to not existing than it already is as right now their is not a football program that can carry the league.

There are some who wouldn’t be surprised to see Stoops return to coaching at some point, while there are others who think that he is done. But as Stoops has two sons in high school, he’ll probably take the next few years to be away from coaching in order to spend time with his family. The coaching profession is a difficult one as it puts a strain on personal relationships, while the wear and tear of it can break someone down. And with that no one should question Stoops’ decision as after everything that he’s done for Oklahoma over the last 18 years, he has earned the right to walk away on his terms.

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War Eagle On The Move?

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The Auburn Tigers have called the Southeastern Conference home since 1933 and they have had their fair share of success there. Auburn has won 8 SEC Titles in football while claiming a pair of national championships. However as good as Auburn has been, they are still the little brothers of the Alabama Crimson Tide who have 26 SEC Titles and 16 claimed national championships. Aside from Auburn’s intense rivalry with Alabama that sees them meet each November in the Iron Bowl, they have long standing rivalries within the SEC with the Florida Gators, Tennessee Volunteers, and Georgia Bulldogs. Auburn and Georgia meet each season in a game that is simply “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry”. But unlike Auburn’s annual meetings with Alabama and Georgia, their rivalries with Florida and Tennessee have gone by the wayside.

In 1992, the Southeastern Conference became the first conference at the Division 1-A level to expand to 12 members as the additions of the South Carolina Gamecocks and Arkansas Razorbacks gave them the ability to have a conference title game. The SEC would have two divisions with six teams in each. Auburn along with Alabama would be in the SEC West while Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee would be in the SEC East. The eight-game conference schedule would still allow Auburn to frequently meet Florida and Tennessee, but in recent years it has dissipated even further.

In 2012, the Southeastern Conference would expand to 14 teams after the additions of the Texas A&M Aggies and Missouri Tigers. The Aggies would join Auburn in the SEC West, while Missouri would find a new home in the SEC East. Through all of the this the SEC has decided to maintain an eight-game conference schedule which makes it even harder for schools to maintain rivalries. With Tennessee and Florida in the SEC East, Auburn has not faced the Volunteers since 2013, while they haven’t clashed with the Gators since 2011. But Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs has a solution to this problem.

Jay Jacobs

Jacobs is seeking to have Auburn switch divisions in the Southeastern Conference and go from the SEC West to the SEC East. Geographically it makes sense being that Missouri is further west than Auburn. Auburn would still seek to maintain their yearly showdown against Alabama as it is an in-state rivalry that always creates a buzz no matter what the record of the two teams are, while it would also put the Tigers back in line to face Tennessee and Florida on a yearly basis. A move to the SEC East would also provide Auburn with an easier path to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game as they would no longer have to worry about facing the LSU Tigers on a yearly basis as in recent years the SEC East has not been as competitive as the SEC West. But there is still plenty at the underbelly of this story that must be worked out.

The Southeastern Conference along with the Atlantic Coast Conference are the only two Power Five conferences that don’t currently have a nine-game conference schedule. And just like the SEC, the ACC has 14 schools participating in football. The additional conference game would cut down on headaches as some teams hardly face each other in spite of being in the same conference. Missouri has been in the SEC since 2012, but their only encounters with Alabama and Auburn came in the conference title game. But if the SEC were to allow Auburn to switch divisions while maintaining an eight-game conference schedule, it would mean that they would hardly face teams such as LSU which has become a solid rivalry in the SEC West.

It makes a ton of sense for the Southeastern Conference to allow Auburn to make the switch which would allow them to renew their rivalries with Florida and Tennessee. Over the last three years Auburn’s record is 23-16, while they are 11-13 within the SEC with three defeats coming at the hands of Alabama. Over that stretch the Tigers are 3-3 versus the SEC East with all three defeats coming at the hands of Georgia.

But it is also wise for the Southeastern Conference to do away with a cupcake game on the slate in order to have another conference tilt. In my opinion if a conference wants to have a 14-team league, then they should play a 10-game conference slate.

Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, but they’ve only faced Florida once and their first trip to Gainesville is set up for this season. Being in the same conference means having a sense of familiarity with foes within the league. But we’re talking about senior classes at some schools who won’t face each other at all.

This is one of the many problems with conference expansion as you simply spread yourself too thin in the chase for a few extra dollars as rivalries have gone away. There is plenty of money at the forefront, but rivalries is what makes sports happen. And whereas the Iron Bowl is always a marquee meeting each and every college football season, it’s also time for Auburn to face Tennessee and Florida more often as once upon a time these too were also iconic showdowns within the Southeastern Conference.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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Stay Away

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There’s no doubt that Art Briles can coach as he turned around the fortunes of both the Houston Cougars and Baylor Bears during his respective tenures as the head football coach of both schools, but at what cost? In eight years at Baylor, Briles was 65-37 which included leading the Bears to their first Big 12 Conference Title in 2013. Briles also sent players such as quarterback Robert Griffin and wide receiver Corey Coleman to the National Football League. And when Griffin won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player in 2011, it helped Briles to get a foot hold on recruiting the top high school football players in the talent rich state of Texas. But in the race to win games, Briles took chances on players with character issues which would ultimately be his undoing at Baylor.

Art Briles

Last spring Baylor decided to fire Briles amid the sexual assault scandal that had engulfed their football team. Several reports of Baylor players being involved in rape and other acts of sexual misconduct came to light. And in the reports it was noted that school officials knew of the issues and attempted to cover it up.

Since Baylor fired Briles, he has maintained his innocence. Briles went on to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Baylor which led to a settlement between both parties. Briles is looking to get back into coaching as some boosters at Baylor wanted him back. Baylor would ultimately settle on hiring former Temple Owls head football coach matt Rhule to lead their program. But for the 61-year old Briles, it will be very difficult for an athletic director at another school to open the doors at his/her campus for him.

Sexual assault and domestic violence are two crimes that have been put on the back burner in our society for too long. In many instances the victims of these crimes have been made to feel as if they were wrong for reporting it when they are simply seeking help. And after Briles failed to create an environment where this behavior would not be tolerated, it’s tough to get him another chance.

On April 30, 2012, Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliot was arrested on multiple chargers of illegal sexual conduct with a female on the campus. And in January 2014, Elliot was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he was convicted on two counts of sexual assault. In 2014, Briles opened the doors at Baylor for former Boise State Broncos defensive end Sam Ukwuachu. Ukwuachu would player one season for Baylor before he was indicted for sexually assaulting a female soccer player at the school. Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault in August 2015 and would serve six months in a non-prison detention facility while also receiving 10 years probation.

After Ukwuachu’s conviction, it became public knowledge that he had a history of violence towards women during his time at Boise State. After this there would be a back and forth between Briles and former Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen. Petersen initially claimed to not know of any issues with Ukwuachu during his time at Boise State, but he would later change his story, while also claiming to have informed Briles. But either way Baylor ended up with a player in Ukwuachu that brought baggage with him to Waco, and left a huge stain on the football program’s reputation upon leaving.

After defensive end Shawn Oakman was dismissed from the Penn State Nittany Lions football program in 2011, he would find refuge at Baylor. Former Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien would dismiss Oakman after an incident at a campus store with a female employee who was attempting to prevent him from stealing a sandwich. The female employee would attempt to confiscate Oakman’s student card, but she was grabbed by the wrist by Oakman. Oakman would then leave the store without taking anything, but the incident was enough for O’Brien to show him the door.

In 2013 while at Baylor, Oakman was arrested for allegedly physically assaulting a woman. But this incident would fly under Briles’ radar and in 2014, Oakman would have 11 sacks as he was named a Third-team All-American. Some scouts projected Oakman as a first-round pick heading into the 2016 National Football League Draft. But things changed drastically for Oakman on April 13, 2016 when he was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman at his off-campus apartment. Oakman would later be indicted for the most recent incident and in the process, the NFL bypassed him with the quickness.

Prior the Oakman indictment, Baylor would hire the law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate sexual improprieties within their football program. And as the law firm went to work, it became public that some of the top administrators within Baylor such as school president Ken Starr and Briles knew of the issues, but they failed to act properly on it. And as Briles was let go by the school, Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw were among several administrators, or coaches who would either resign or get fired.

The fallout has continued with reports of gang rapes along with numerous other incidents of sexual incidents. The NCAA has yet to drop the hammer on Baylor for this lack of institutional control, but at some point they must levy sanctions towards the Texas school in the mode that they did against Penn State in 2012 in response to the scandal that involved their former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

And with that schools also need to stay away from Briles as hiring him even as an assistant coach would be a public relations nightmare. As a head coach of a college football team, you cannot be around your players for every moment of the day. But you do have the opportunity to govern accordingly when your players get out of line. Briles and Baylor chose to take the road where they swept things under the rug as long as they were winning games on Saturdays, while also filling up the seats at McLane Stadium. The NCAA has dropped the hammer on people and institutions for much less than what Briles and Baylor have done, and he should not be allowed to put on a headset on a college sideline anytime soon.

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The Outcome That College Football Needed

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Since 2008, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been the premier team in college football as they’ve claimed four national championships while steamrolling over the competition in the process. After the Tide went 6-6 in their first year under head football coach Nick Saban in 2007, they’ve managed to go 112-13 since then while only producing one three-loss campaign. Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama which is not easy to do in this day with parity, but they are the team that college football fans love to hate.

And what has set Alabama apart from the other football programs is that they shine the best in the big games which included going 4-0 in national championship games heading into the 2016 college football season. The Tide won the national championship last year and after entering this past season ranked as the top team in the land, they were looking to become the first squad since the USC Trojans to go wire-to-wire in order to repeat as national champions.

Alabama was able to accept the challenge as they mowed down the competition in the Southeastern Conference and when the regular season was over, they were the only undefeated team in the nation. The Tide would easily defeat the Florida Gators 54-16 in the SEC Championship Game which sent them to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year. And after the Crimson Tide made short work of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl, it was back to the title game for them.

The team that had the indubious pleasure of watching Alabama claim the championship trophy last January were the Clemson Tigers. In nine years under head football coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has become a national power which has seen them win three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships and defeat national recognized teams such as the Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers. During the 2015 college football season Clemson was the feel good story as they were the underdog for the majority of their games. And even in defeat to Alabama, they held their own as they lost 45-40.

But whereas the close loss to Alabama might have broken the spirits of some teams, Clemson used it as fuel to their fire as led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson and senior linebacker Ben Boulware, they took all of the body blows that they could absorb during the regular season which included getting by the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference 19-13 on the road to start the campaign. And when Atlantic Coast Conference play began, Clemson was pushed to the limit by teams such as the Louisville Cardinals, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and Florida State Seminoles. Clemson did slip up once during the season as they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers 43-42 on November 12. But after the loss to Pittsburgh, Clemson would rebound to win their remaining games which included defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game which sent them back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year.

And just like the previous season, the Tigers would head to the College Football Playoff as heavy underdogs. Clemson would meet the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl who were looking to win their second national title in the last three years. But for the second time in the last four seasons, Clemson got the best of Ohio State in a bowl game. However this time was in dominating fashion as the Buckeyes were taken behind the woodshed 31-0 which paved the way for Clemson to have a rematch with the Tide after they easily dispatched of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl 24-7.

The scene was changing from last year’s battle between these two teams which took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. And having the game in Tampa provided more of a buzz for both of these schools which are located in the Southeast; especially for Clemson who had more fans in attendance for Monday night’s championship tilt.

As always there was plenty of anticipation and excitement leading up to the kickoff as one thing was for sure was that the Tigers would not be afraid of intimidated of Alabama when they met them. But when Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after a pair of pulverizing touchdown runs from sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough, it appeared to be a familiar tune as the Crimson Tide were ready beat the brakes off of another opponent.

But we forgot to measure the heart of Clemson as they clawed back into the game. And even after the Tigers were trailing 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, they had Alabama right where they wanted them.

Swinney never wavered from his offensive game plan which called for the Tigers to go uptempo. Clemson wasn’t making substitutions which meant that neither could Alabama as the top-ranked defense in the land was beginning to run out of gas.

Clemson ran 99 plays on offense as they possessed the football for nearly 35 minutes of game time. And when the fourth quarter rolled around, Watson channeled his inner Vince Young as he baffled the Alabama defense, while seeing his stock rise for the 2017 National Football League Draft in the process.

The Tide didn’t have an answer for Watson who led Clemson on three, fourth quarter touchdown drives, and when Scarbrough suffered a broken leg in the second half, he took the Alabama offense to the sideline with him as well.

With just six seconds left in regulation and Clemson traling 31-28 with the football at the Alabama two-yard line, Swinney had a choice as he could get conservative by going for the game-tying field goal, or throwing caution to the wind and becoming a legend in the Palmetto State. Swinney opted to win the game as a field goal would have killed all of Clemson’s momentum heading into overtime. And with just one second left, Watson found sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone to give the Tigers their first national championship since 1981. But as much as Clemson’s victory over Alabama will be celebrated throughout the State of South Carolina from now until the cows come home, their victory was huge for the overall landscape of college football.

The Tide have been the team over the last decade and although that they have suffered losses against other marquee programs such as Oklahoma and Ohio State, they’ve never lost in the national championship game; especially when they were presented with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Along with Saban’s time as the head football coach at LSU, he was 5-0 in title games before Monday night as he always knew how to push the right buttons. But Saban was done in by a head coach in Swinney that not only had seen his act, but also had the personnel in which he could slay the dragon.

College football may be seeking parity for its game, but in the three years of the College Football Playoff, Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have all made multiple trips to the field of four with each program claiming the trophy once, while the top seed entering the tournament has never claimed the title which is good for the game.

But as Alabama left Raymond James Stadium on Monday night watching purple and orange confetti rain down, they’ll once again be set for another title push as Saban continues to recruit and develop talent that will be playing in the National Football League in the very near future. However on Monday when Clemson won the title, they won it not only for themselves, but for all of those people who were told they weren’t good enough to accomplish a goal.

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