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Would Alabama-Clemson 3.0 in the national championship game be a good thing for college football? Why are so many players skipping bowl games? And which ones are worth watching? Adam Kramer explores what’s happening in college football in his weekly notebook, a special bowl season installment of the Tailgate.
If the chalk performs as expected, this year’s national championship game will be a replay of the 2015 and 2016 title games. It will also mark the fourth consecutive year that Alabama and Clemson have met in the postseason—a rivalry that has almost become a tradition.
Some will not like this. The idea of being served more Clemson-Alabama is not appealing for most outside their two home states, no matter how talented the teams and how successful their seasons.
But this is not normal. What these programs have accomplished these past four seasons is historic. Clemson has won 53 games and lost only four (two to the Crimson Tide). Alabama has won 54 games and lost only three (one to Clemson)—the most wins recorded in a four-year stretch in major college football history. And those three losses came by a total of only 22 points.
While talk about Alabama’s ongoing dynasty often dominates the conversation in college football, Nick Saban‘s Crimson Tide are not alone. Like Alabama, Clemson is also led by an elite coach, Dabo Swinney, whose team approaches perfection every year by recruiting and developing many of the nation’s most gifted prospects.
This particular matchup is even more interesting because Swinney, who grew up in Alabama, played and coached for the Crimson Tide.
When answering questions that have become nearly as anticipated as the game itself, Swinney will charmingly sidestep the notion that he could one day replace Saban.
The perception is that this matchup is growing tiresome. But these are not the same players—or teams, for that matter—as four years ago. The rivalry has outgrown Deshaun Watson and the numerous Alabama defensive players who have found a home in the NFL.
There is no guarantee these two will meet. Oklahoma, against Alabama, and Notre Dame, against Clemson, will be legitimate obstacles in the Orange and Cotton Bowl, respectively.
But if Alabama and Clemson are to face off once again, you should celebrate that two of college football’s most successful programs have made it to the championship game. As monotonous as it might feel, it cannot and will not last forever. Appreciate it while you can.
The Best Players in the Country are Skipping Their Bowl Games, as They Should
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This trend isn’t good for the well-being of the sport, and there’s no getting around that. The best players in the country saying farewell instead of enjoying one final sendoff game will continue to have a negative impact on the bowls outside of the playoff. And absolutely nothing can and should be done about it.
When former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith severely injured his knee against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in 2016, a movement began. It spread when running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey sat out their bowl games the following year; both were then selected in the Top 10 of the NFL draft. It has since expanded. This year, more than a dozen star players will forgo playing in their bowl games.
This list includes: quarterback Will Grier of West Virginia; tight end Noah Fant of Iowa; cornerback Greedy Williams of LSU; wide receivers Deebo Samuel of South Carolina, N’Keal Harry of Arizona State and Kelvin Harmon of NC State; defensive linemen Rashan Gary of Michigan and Ed Oliver of Houston, and others.
Many more will follow in the years to come. At least for those who have already established their worth with NFL scouts, bypassing a bowl game is clearly the right business decision.
Given everything that is at stake financially for these players, it is only logical that they do everything in their power to protect their investment (aka their bodies).
Applaud them on the way out. Wish them well. They have entertained you for the past few years, and now they are moving on. The conversation really should start and stop there.
Go get paid to play football.
Previewing the Orange Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
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We don’t know what kind of shape Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle will be in come game time, which is enormously important. After suffering a high ankle sprain against Georgia, Alabama’s starting quarterback spent his Heisman week in a boot after undergoing a procedure to jump-start the healing process before the Tide’s December 29 national semifinal.
Whether it’s Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts at quarterback, Oklahoma’s defense has problems that cannot be fully addressed in a few weeks. The Sooners allowed more passing yards than any team in college football this year (291.4 per game). Every single one. And now they will be tasked with covering the nation’s most impressive collection of skill-position players, not an ideal scenario.
Alabama is not the only team with serious injury concerns. Oklahoma star wideout Marquise Brown injured his foot against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, making his status for the semifinal somewhat of a mystery.
But there still is Kyler Murray, who is gifted enough to perhaps overcome Oklahoma’s defensive woes. If the Sooners have any shot at Alabama, the Heisman winner will have to play the game of his life, similar to Deshaun Watson’s effort two years ago that led Clemson to a 35-31 victory over Alabama in the national championship game.
Not impossible, but a big ask.
Previewing the Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
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As much as we celebrate Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence—and understandably so given his season and true freshman status—Notre Dame’s most daunting task might be slowing running back Travis Etienne, who averaged more than eight yards per carry and rushed for 21 touchdowns this season.
Or…perhaps it’s moving the ball against the Tigers’ vaunted defense, which is ripe with future NFL players up front.
Regardless of where you begin, this is what the Irish are up against. Clemson is deeper and more talented at just about every position, which is often the case when the Tigers play a game against a team not named Alabama.
That’s not to say Notre Dame can’t win. When quarterback Ian Book is rolling, Brian Kelly‘s team can play with just about anyone. And running back Dexter Williams, who should be the engine, can really make a sizable impact.
Sure, there were some close calls. Pitt. Northwestern. Even USC during the final week of the season. Notre Dame’s unbeaten regular season was not always aesthetically pleasing, but its playoff berth was earned. The question now is whether the Irish can pull the upset as a double-digit underdog.
The answer is…maybe?
Five (Non-Semifinal) Games to Watch This Bowl Season
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You’re going to watch the playoff. No further guidance is required there. But there is still the rest of this glorious bowl slate and all the treasures it will bring.
Bowl season isn’t just about marquee matchups; it’s about watchability, which is the criteria applied here.
This time of year can be busy—holidays and family and travel. But these are the games you must make a point to see, summarized in tweet-length form. (All game times Eastern, and all rankings courtesy of the College Football Playoff selection committee).
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Washington (Jan. 1, 5 p.m.): From a schematic standpoint, watching this tremendous Washington secondary chase down Ohio State’s speedy collection of wideouts will be fascinating. And yes, this is also Urban Meyer‘s final game (for now). Beyond that, it’s hard to find a better HD experience than this one.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 8 UCF vs. No. 11 LSU (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.): If Central Florida can pull this off without its star quarterback, I support UCF’s second national championship tour. Why not? Parade. Balloons. Vacation days. The selection committee adored LSU all season despite its three losses. Central Florida? Not so much.
Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 15 Texas (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.): Will Georgia care? Probably! But one can’t help but wonder how the disappointment from the loss in the SEC Championship Game and subsequent omission from the playoff will impact the effort against Texas. Given the current edge Georgia has over Texas in overall talent, here’s a better question: Will it matter?
Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Washington State vs. No. 24 Iowa State (Dec. 28, 9 p.m.): These are not two perennial powers, which is one of the many reasons this game is so delightful. The coaches are worlds apart, which is often the case in games featuring Mike Leach. This is a perfectly odd, likely competitive, bowl game featuring two very different teams.
Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Auburn (Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m.): Neither team is ranked, which might turn some away. But there is something about this matchup—a former Big Ten doormat going up against a team that was a game away from the playoff last season—that is magnetizing. Plus, these two coaches will combine to make roughly $3 billion next year.
What Else to Watch This Bowl Season
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First, Whatever Ed Foley Does Next
Who is Ed Foley, you ask? He is the interim head coach at Temple who has spent the past decade with the program. When Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech, Foley was named as his temporary replacement and asked to lead Temple against Duke in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is also a man of many amazing words.
The game will be played midday on Dec. 27, which isn’t exactly prime viewing. But given the delicious teaser Foley has provided, this should be required viewing.
Second, PUNT WATCH
Mississippi State and Iowa are good football teams with legitimate pro prospects on each sideline. They will play in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day at noon, which is roughly the time the punting will begin.
Lots of punts. Many beautiful, majestic punts. The defenses are good. And while the offenses have their moments, this feels like a game that will be special-teams-centric.
That’s perfectly fine, by the way. You need a little special teams in your life.
Third, the Preseason-Ranking-Gone-Wrong Bowl
Wisconsin began the season ranked No. 4 in the AP poll. Miami started at No. 8. The two will now meet at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27, both unranked, in a game that feels strange given the seasons and expectations that were in place a few months ago.
The game is not without intrigue. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is 11 yards away from 2,000 rushing yards on the season. And after losing four consecutive games, Miami closed out the season by winning its last two. Also, these are two big football brands.
It’s not the game they wanted to be in, but it’s the one we’re left with.
Gambling Locks of the Bowl Season
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Season to date: 44-37-2
During the regular season, despite a regretful start, things turned out nicely. It could’ve been better; it could’ve been worse.
Bowl season is a different handicapping animal. Player absences, interim coaches, questionable motivation…it can be difficult to forecast what will happen in a glorified, televised scrimmage. But that is what shall be done.
Here’s to a brilliant finish to a respectable gambling year, using lines provided by OddsShark.
Fresno State (-4.5) vs. Arizona State: The Bulldogs are really, really good, and Arizona State’s best player, wide receiver N’Keal Harry, will not play, having decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
Auburn (-4) vs. Purdue: Don’t sell all that Auburn stock just yet. Double-digit win to cap off a “meh” year.
Boise State (-3) vs. Boston College: The Broncos burned us late in the year, although we haven’t lost faith in these bowl monsters.
Virginia (+4) vs. South Carolina: One of my favorite plays of the bowl season. Virginia wins outright.
Cal (Pick ’em) vs. TCU: Cal is so much better than most realize. That is all.
Iowa (+7) vs. Mississippi State: It’s going to be a close game, a hard watch and an Iowa cover.
Penn State (-6) vs. Kentucky: I love the year Kentucky had, but I don’t like this matchup one bit.
Washington (+6.5) vs. Ohio State: This might end up being one of the best games of the bowl season; Huskies stay close.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.