College football does not have an NBA problem. There is not an inevitable champion like the Warriors are in pro basketball, despite the narrative that Alabama might as well be handed the trophy already.
Clemson, undefeated and almost as dominant as the Crimson Tide through 10 games, can take down Nick Saban’s dynamo. I’ve believed this for weeks, and am even more convinced after what we witnessed Saturday.
That afternoon, Alabama’s offense struggled against a strong defense in a 24-0 shutout of Mississippi State that was aided by a few favorable calls. Tua Tagovailoa left in the third quarter with a banged-up quad. His knee has also given him trouble this season. A few hours later, Clemson dominated Boston College, 27-7, locking up its fourth straight ACC Atlantic division crown.
This isn’t to say I expect Clemson to win it all or even believe it will happen. But I am certain the Tigers are in Alabama’s class. A showdown between the last two national champions would not be a mismatch. It would be every bit as intriguing as the two national championship games the nation’s two best programs played in 2016 and 2017.
Clemson has three strengths that are needed to take down Alabama: A fearsome pass rush, strong passing attack and no fear of the Crimson Tide. Many of the Tigers’ veterans were on the national championship team that dethroned Alabama.
As impressive as Tagovailoa has been this year, as dynamic and electric in his likely quest to win the Heisman Trophy, he’s rarely been under a heavy rush. He’s been sacked just eight times. Frequently, he’s had the time to make himself a sandwich or take a nap. That won’t happen against Clemson’s NFL-level front four, the quartet of Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins that has produced 14.5 of the Tigers’ 32 sacks.
Though true freshman and former-No. 1 prospect Trevor Lawrence wasn’t at his best in the win over Boston College, completing 29-of-40 passes for 295 yards, a touchdown and an interception, he has the big arm and the weapons to give Alabama’s secondary problems. He won’t have to play in cold weather again, and has completed 66.7 percent of his passes to go with 19 touchdown passes and four picks this season. Remember, Alabama has had issues with passing quarterbacks Kellen Mond of Texas A&M and Ty Storey of Arkansas. Neither is in Lawrence’s class.
Of course, the ACC is weak this year. Traditional power Florida State is a mess. Still, Clemson has defeated its past five league foes by a combined 267-43. That’s Alabama-esque, with a defense allowing just 12.7 points per game, tied for the fewest in the country.
Late in Clemson’s win over Boston College, coach Dabo Swinney was shown on ESPN talking about his playing days, when there were two buses: The big-time bus and what he called the “ROY” bus — “Rest of Ya’ll.”
“It’s kind of Alabama and the rest of y’all,” he said. “We’re just glad to be on the ‘ROY’ bus right now and still have a chance.”
Swinney knows better. The big-time bus has two equally deserving sets of passengers: Clemson and Alabama. Unlike the NBA, whose champion is already determined, college football has two juggernauts each capable of knocking the other off.
Nick Brossette made the smart play. His coach, Ed Orgeron, didn’t seem to understand it, though. The LSU running back gave himself up and slid to the turf at the Arkansas 7-yard line instead of trying to score a touchdown with less than 90 seconds left and LSU up seven points. Arkansas was out of timeouts. The Tigers could take knees to run out the clock instead of giving the opposition any chance to rally, small as that may have been. And, yet, Orgeron called for another running play rather than taking a knee. Brossette took a knee again, and Orgeron again called for a running play.
Oddly, in his postgame press conference, Orgeron said Brossette going down was something they coach. Yet, when asked why he kept running plays, the LSU coach said he thought they could score. Baffling.
More like Win-bush
I couldn’t help but be impressed by Brandon Wimbush. Not only by his performance Saturday against Florida State, but how the Teaneck, N.J., native has handled his demotion this season. A top recruit who led Notre Dame to 10 wins last year, he was replaced after three weeks by Ian Book, and handled the demotion with class. Didn’t transfer, didn’t pout, at least not publicly. He obviously stayed ready, because when needed, Wimbush delivered three touchdown passes and 198 total yards to keep the Irish undefeated ahead of Saturday’s showdown against 12th-ranked Syracuse at Yankee Stadium.
1. Alabama (10-0) (Last week: 1)
Good news, Alabama detractors: The Crimson Tide’s offense has slightly stumbled of late, held under 30 points the last two weeks. But there is of course bad news: The defense hasn’t allowed a point over the past nine quarters.
2. Clemson (10-0) (2)
The Tigers defense gets scarier by the week, now allowing just 12.7 points per game after dominating Boston College in a 27-7 rout to lock up their fourth straight ACC Atlantic division crown.
3. Notre Dame (10-0) (3)
The college football world will turn its focus to New York City for what feels like the first time in forever when Notre Dame hosts Syracuse at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It will be a nice distraction from the disaster that is the city’s NFL teams.
4. Michigan (9-1) (4)
Michigan’s top-ranked defense hasn’t allowed more than a touchdown in a month, as the Wolverines continue to look primed to win their first Big Ten crown since 2004.
5. Georgia (9-1) (6)
Projected as a breakout star this year, D’Andre Swift has begun to hit his stride, running for over 100 yards each of the last three weeks and scoring four touchdowns as Georgia has found its rhythm.
6. Oklahoma (9-1) (7)
This defense, gashed for 640 yards and 47 points by mediocre-at-best Oklahoma State, might allow 100 points to Alabama.
7. Ohio State (9-1) (8)
Saturday’s 26-6 win at Michigan State was by far the Buckeyes’ best performance of the season, a dominant defensive effort that should make Michigan fans concerned about the Thanksgiving weekend showdown in Columbus.
8. LSU (8-2) (6)
There was no Alabama hangover for the Tigers, who started fast and hung on late to knock off Arkansas.
9. Central Florida (9-0) (9)
A showdown with 19th-ranked Cincinnati is the stage the Knights need to make a statement to the playoff committee. A victory would also lock up the AAC East division crown.
10. West Virginia (8-1) (10)
The Mountaineers’ fifth-ranked passing attack has gotten them this far, tied atop the Big 12 with two games remaining, and it will need to stay prolific with games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma coming up.
(in order of expected finish)
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
He is human, held to a season-low 164 yards passing in Saturday’s 24-0 shutout of Mississippi State. Don’t get used to such performances.
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
He may not win the Heisman, but there isn’t a more valuable player to his team in the country. That was obvious again Saturday, as Murray refused to let Oklahoma lose, producing 415 total yards in a 48-47 victory over Oklahoma State.
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
With another 300-yard, three-touchdown performance, Grier is throwing his way to New York City next month.
QB Gardner Minshew, Washington State
The senior has played 10 games and thrown for over 300 yards in all of them, keying the Cougars’ run to the top of the Pac-12 North division.
QB McKenzie Milton, Central Florida
Three touchdowns and 262 total yards in a win over Navy for Milton, who has led the Knights on this best-in-the-nation 22-game winning streak.