Wow. Is all I can say on one of the BEST games I have seen in a very long time. And I am an Alabama fan! Look, if you appreciate good football, even if you are on the "losing" side, you have to appreciate what happened as two great teams played and one came out on top. That is how championship games SHOULD be. And the last two years, we pretty much got that with both these teams. So, let's talk about this classic game, a game that will go for the ages.
Bama vs. Clemson was who I had before the season started with Clemson winning the rematch, but how both teams played made me re-consider all through 2016.
1. I WAS RIGHT AND WRONG AT THE SAME TIME: If you go back to my predictions before the 2016 football season started and you eliminate my picks of Notre Dame, TCU, Michigan State, and UCLA actually making it to New Year's Bowl games (which were downright awful now) I actually got the national championship game right, just with the rankings flipped between Alabama and Clemson with Clemson winning 33-28. I was wrong because given how Clemson hit the snooze button over & over against teams like Auburn, NC State, Troy, Pitt, and Virginia Tech to an extent, I didn't think they even deserved a playoff spot when the announcements came given they played "meh" at times. So for most of the season I thought Alabama would smoke them if they met. So August me in that case was right while college football season me until the playoff started was wrong. And by the time the game was official, I still had no idea who would win.
Alabama was uncharacteristically amped up too much for this game.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2. ALABAMA PREPARED FOR CLEMSON LIKE USC, AUBURN, AND FLORIDA PREPARED FOR ALABAMA THIS YEAR: I have said this year how Auburn, Florida, and USC amped themselves up for playing Alabama was that the first quarter they stood toe to toe with the Tide, even having a lead at some point and they were being very "rah-rah, let's get him!" energy to jump up & down and celebrate. Those teams played like Alabama was THE GAME for them. And when the energy died down, Alabama curb-stomped them all into an oblivion. Well, all week, we heard Bama players somewhat uncharacteristically talk a lot to the media and how they WANTED Clemson after what Deshaun Watson did to the defense last year (despite the win). And the first quarter, Alabama's defense played possessed and acted like they had a chip on their shoulder, something not really seen before. I even made a tweet saying I am not sure if that was the best idea. But after the first score by Clemson, Alabama's defense, while still flying to the ball, lacked that same energy for really the next 3 quarters. And by the 4th they were gassed out because Clemson played very collectively, despite the hits the Tide put on Watson, Williams, and Gallman. So in essence, you can somewhat think that Clemson's victory was won probably last year, with Bama's defensive players losing a bit of their composure and edge.
Ben Boulware and Clemson made big stops when it mattered most.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
3. CLEMSON'S DEFENSE PLAYED WELL ENOUGH TO WIN. Not often you say playing well is allowing 31 points, especially to Alabama and still win a game, but while Bama scored, mostly via big plays, the Tigers really kept Alabama from doing a lot of long drives and had what felt like were quick 3-and-outs. And the 2nd half, they really did do a nice job on Bama's running game. It also contributed to keeping Alabama's defense out on the field just as much as Clemson's offense.
Robinson seemed off all night against Clemson.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
4. CAM ROBINSON PROBABLY PLAYED HIS WORST GAME IN COLLEGE: The Outland Trophy winner probably didn't sleep a wink last night. But he had two key false start penalties that kept Alabama from putting up touchdowns perhaps. Both times it negated GREAT field position for Alabama, including a near-TD from Bama's defense that had they converted, may have been the game in the 2nd half. Also, he had difficulty blocking the whole night and while the two rushing TD's were on his side, it seemed like Alabama did not generate enough on that side to really dominate.
Renfrow can go to any establishment in Clemson and eat or drink for free after last night.
The Greenville News-USA TODAY Sports
5. HUNTER RENFROW IS THE MVP OF THE GAME: Say what you will about Watson, Gallman, and Williams, but it was Hunter Renfrow that did in the Tide (and nearly did them in last year too). 10 receptions, 92 yards and every one of those yards counted. I don't think the Tigers win without Renfrow. He stepped up big.
Sarkisian was "okay" last night, but some calls were a bit strange.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
6. STEVE SARKISIAN WASN'T GOOD NOR BAD LAST NIGHT: After the talk of Lane Kiffin's exodus from Alabama, many wondered if it was the right move. Honestly, it was needed as I posted last week. But he did nothing to really impress me with his calls (though he made a couple of good calls with the Howard TD and the WR pass late in the 4th), but he did nothing to go "what is he thinking?" Now, I would have preferred him to run the ball more (much like every other Alabama fan wanted), but Clemson really forced Bama to pass so I cannot fault Sark too much.
Bama fans are screaming foul for some picks or screens, pending on who you are.
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7. LET THE "PICK RULE" COME INTO PLAY: Two of Clemson's TD's (including the game-winner) were off of plays of WR screens where some Bama fans are screaming "OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE!!!!" And Notre Dame fans go "yep, we know the pain!" (Florida State anybody?). I do not ever fault referee calls in any game, and I don't think the interference was the right call for either play, but if Saban says anything, the NCAA will look at it. And people will debate it. My assumption is, had it been another conference that wasn't the Big 12, where offensive penalties do not really get called, especially offensive interference penalties, it MAY have been called. But there will be a debate this off-season about it.
Name me a better national championship in the last 17 years.
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8. BEST NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SINCE 1998? YES! Thinking back on all of the college football national championship games since the berth of the BCS, this is without a doubt the best game played. You can make an argument perhaps for Florida State/Auburn, but given the "rematch" bit happening and how you had two amazing scoring drives by Bama and Clemson and how the storylines were, I don't think any of them holds a candle to what we saw in Tampa. It was as dramatic and awesome as you can get. And listen, I said I am a Bama fan, but I enjoyed watching that game thoroughly, though I did wish Bama came out on top. But you cannot ask for a better game.............maybe if we can beg and plead for Watson and any other non-senior of Alabama and Clemson to come back to play so we can get Clemson/Alabama 3, I'd be all for it.
Now the worst part? 8 more months until kickoff. Not cool.