The North Dakota State Bison won the FCS Championship in 2011—and no one else has since.
However, if the No. 3 team in the country wants to win its fifth-straight title, it's going to have to beat the No. 1 team in the land.
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks come in with a 13-1 record in their first appearance in the championship game.
Head coach John Grass watched film of past North Dakota State games when he took over as head coach in 2014, per Tyler Greenawalt of NCAA.com.
“I wanted to see how the best did it,” Grass said. “I wanted to see where the bar was.”
It looks like that strategy may have paid off, as he has his team one win away from a championship.
What: NCAA Division I Football Championship
When: Jan. 9
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Time: 12 p.m. ET
The Defending Champs vs. The Upstarts
North Dakota State may come into the game ranked lower, but rest assured Grass will not be overlooking the Bison, per Greenwalt:
I studied that film inside and out and to kind of see where the direction, where you needed to be at in recruiting and what type caliber athletes you needed to compete at this level, because they are the standard. You've got to go through North Dakota State to win a National Championship. I think that's where the bar is at right now.
The Bison have overcome adversity this season to get where they are. Star quarterback Carson Wentz was lost for the season after he broke his wrist in an Oct. 17 loss to the South Dakota Coyotes.
The senior had completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards, 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions prior to the injury. The Bison had lost their second game in a season for the first time since 2010, and head coach Chris Klieman said many wrote off his team, per Greenwalt.
“People thought, well, the Bison are probably done,” Klieman said. “Then when Carson Wentz got hurt, I would have said most people didn't think this team probably was going to maybe even get to the playoffs, let alone make a run.”
Boy, were they wrong.
North Dakota State hasn't lost in eight games since, despite playing with a freshman at quarterback, Easton Stick, who has filled in admirably with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The two teams feature different styles—at least in the playoffs—and one will have to break in order to crown a champion.
Jacksonville State has been bullying opponents in the playoffs with plays like this during its 62-10 victory over Sam Houston State in the semifinals, per FCS Football:
While the Gamecocks have been lighting up the scoreboard, it might not be as easy to do against the Bison, per FCS Football:
No matter what happens, as FCS Football shows here, it should be a good game considering the success each head coach brings to the table:
With one day left until game time, final practices and preparations are being made, but Klieman said once the ball is kicked off, it will come down to nothing more than who wants it the most at that moment, per Greenwalt.
“All those things are little things that maybe take some of the nerves away. But it's going to play no factor once we kick that thing off at 11 o'clock [CT] against a great football team."
For Grass, he's just glad his team has a chance to make history, per Greenwalt.
“We're excited about an opportunity to play in this game and have the opportunity to play for a National Championship,” Grass said. “It's going to be a great game.”
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The moral of Carlos Watkins' story is that there isn't a moral to every story. You just go about your life, through incredible highs and outrageous lows, and celebrate one and try to survive the other.
Watkins is at a high point right now. A defensive tackle at Clemson, he will play Alabama on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship. He made the key play of Clemson's dream season, the one that made his team fully believe it could get here.
A year ago, he was on the team but not in position physically, emotionally or mentally—for sure not mentally—to make a play like that.
Watkins was still suffering after a car crash left him trapped in the passenger seat for two hours while the fire department arrived and tried to figure out how to get a 295-pound man out of the wreckage. He was in and out of consciousness, with one of his best friends screaming next to him and another dear friend hanging halfway out the window, not bleeding, not moving. When Watkins was awake enough, he knew that friend was dead.
Two hours of that. Imagine.
"I was just wanting to move," he said. "My legs were falling asleep. I started panicking."
That was in September 2013. It's been a long journey for Watkins from that day to Monday's national championship game. It took time, caring, loving and hard work. His support base back home in Mooresboro, North Carolina, helped him through. And it's one of the special things about the Clemson program, and head coach Dabo Swinney, that the place feels like a family.
"The physical aspect for him was more of a process that he felt he had more control over than the mental anguish of losing such a close friend," Daniel Bailey, who was Watkins' coach at Chase High, said. "I think that just kind of weighed on him pretty heavy. I told him that death is not easy for anybody, but much less for a young person. You have such a long life in front of you and ahead of you, it kind of derails your plans.
"With Carlos and his nature, he's a football player, but he's never been one to like to really hurt people. He doesn't like seeing anybody hurt. He's just a tenderhearted young man. And they'd all grown up together [Watkins and his friends], and the families are so close. There was no one blaming anyone. I think the biggest change in him is that he knows some things are just out of your control. They were not doing anything wrong. He had to come to the realization that things just happen."
When Watkins describes it now, he tells the story so calmly, even the horror of it: There was no alcohol involved. There was no other car. There was just a rainstorm, Watkins' SUV and a telephone pole.
He had let his friend and cousin Tajae McMullens drive. Watkins sat in the passenger seat. Dache Gossett, nicknamed 'Sheeke,' who was a former quarterback on Watkins' high school team, was in the back. It was just a few days after Watkins had started in Clemson's game against NC State.
The three young men were headed to a cookout when the SUV hydroplaned and ran into a telephone pole, splitting the pole in half. It fell onto the car and into Watkins' lap. It was only the massive muscles in his legs that kept them from snapping in two, too.
"My cousin was driving the car, and he came up on a turn and me and my friend yelled his name," Watkins said. "He tried to get back to the road and he hit a pole. The window shattered, and I think my head shattered the window, because I was unconscious for a little bit, which I didn't know.
"Somehow, part of the pole had lodged in the car. It was on my legs, and I couldn't move. I had to wait until the fire trucks got there to cut the pole out. They had to drag me out of the back window. I had regained consciousness. I woke up, and my cousin was screaming in the driver's seat."
And what about his friend in the back seat?
"Once I woke up and turned around, I just saw his legs, and half of his body was outside the car."
Watkins spent three days in the hospital with blood clots in both legs. He said he had trouble eating, lost 30 pounds and got emotional help from a team counselor, his coaches and teammates. He felt the accident was his fault—that if he had been driving, maybe his friend wouldn't have died.
"It was my car," he said. "I could have been the one driving to prevent this."
Watkins had back, hip and leg injuries, too, and he said it was hard to get back physically to playing condition. He didn't play the rest of 2013 and wasn't the same when he returned to the field in 2014.
Life moves on for Watkins. And this year, as a fourth-year junior, he made second-team All-ACC. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Appalachian State on what would have been Sheeke's birthday.
But his big moment was in the Notre Dame game. In the week leading up to the Orange Bowl, three Clemson players admitted to me they weren't 100 percent sold the team was good enough to win a national title until after it beat the Irish on Oct. 3. That turned out to be Watkins' moment—and the team's moment.
Clemson was up 18 points in the game, but the Irish came back and scored a touchdown with seven seconds left. With all the momentum, Notre Dame just needed a two-point conversion to take the game to overtime. Watkins made the tackle, stopping quarterback DeShone Kizer on the 2-yard line, and Clemson won.
"It happened fast," Watkins, who remembered feeling exhausted going into the play, said. "I actually took a bad step on that play. I stepped inside, and it kind of threw me out of position. But I got back, rolled my guard, and the quarterback ended up coming to me. Once we made that play, it was like a lot of relief."
Clemson improved to 4-0 with that win and has just kept winning, bringing a 14-0 record into the championship game.
Bailey has told Watkins no matter what happens in the championship game, everyone back home is proud of him, proud of the way he represents himself, their community, Clemson University.
From tragedy to the mountaintop. What's the moral? No moral, really.
"This right here is the story of my life," Watkins said. "I remember talking to my dad when I was younger. We used to watch NFL or basketball players have a life story, some sort of tragic incident they went through. I told my dad, 'I really don't have [a] story.'
"He said, 'You'll have one.' I feel like this is one of those stories."
It's not exactly a story anyone would want, but you don't always get to choose. You just live it.
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.
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Although they aren't household names just yet, many of the top high school football players in the country will be on display at the 2016 Army All-American Bowl.
The Under Armour All-America Game featured a good portion of the top competitors in the 2016 class, although the upcoming showcase isn't exactly a consolation battle. Saturday's game includes the best quarterbacks in the nation and many skill players who will be on highlight reels throughout the next few years at the collegiate level.
If you want to watch the future stars of your favorite team or just want to get a preview of the next few years of college football, this game is a good place to start. Here is a look at everything you need to know to keep you informed about the upcoming exhibition.
When: Saturday, Jan. 9
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Top Players to Watch
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
One of the biggest stories during the week is the battle to be the top quarterback in the 2016 class. K.J. Costello has an argument, although most seem to consider this a two-man race between Jacob Eason and Shea Patterson.
Eason noted this week that the competition to be No. 1 is on his mind, although he is more concerned with the future, per Adam Gorney of Rivals.com:
I would be lying if it wasn’t something I strived for. I wouldn’t be devastated if I wasn’t and it wouldn’t destroy my life, but any competitive person wants to be No. 1.
We don’t really talk about rankings or who’s No. 1, it’s more about college and success. It would be really cool for Georgia to play Ole Miss for the SEC championship and to go head-to-head in that respect.
Per Gorney, Eason is committed to play for Georgia, while Patterson is headed to Ole Miss, meaning there could be some exciting SEC battles in the future if these players live up to expectations.
While both players have high potential, Eason represents a better physical presence at this stage in their careers. At about 6'6", he is a few inches taller than Patterson (6'2") and turns that into superior arm strength on both deep and mid-range throws. In any case, it will be interesting to see which player performs the best on the big stage in this All-Star event.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
No matter what happens to Clemson in the national championship game, the Tigers will be back for more next year with a lot of returning talent. To make things even scarier for opposing teams, they are adding top talent like Dexter Lawrence to an already-elite defense.
You can only show so much in practice, but Lawrence has certainly been a standout in the week leading up to the All-American Bowl. Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com noted Lawrence and Derrick Brown have been dominant on the defensive side of the ball:
Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports hears even higher praise from coaches in attendance:
Lawrence is a physically imposing specimen at 6'4", 327 pounds, but he also has the agility to get past opposing linemen and into the backfield with regularity. His strength will ensure he gets on the field early at Clemson, and it won't be long before he is an All-Conference performer or even better.
Considering how advanced he is compared to other high school players, you will likely hear his name called quite a bit in the exhibition game.
Isaac Nauta, TE, Undecided
It's rare to see a tight end highlighted as a top player, especially at the high school or college level, but Isaac Nauta is not an ordinary tight end. The 6'4" athlete has a chance to be a game-changer over the next few years no matter where he ends up.
Not only is Nauta an explosive athlete, but he also has soft hands that will make him a serious threat over the middle. This play down the seam will definitely beat most defenses, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports:
The tight end will announce his college decision during the Army All-American Bowl, and he is down to Michigan, Georgia and Alabama, per Sam Webb of Scout.com. As one of the top uncommitted players in the class, this moment will be just as exciting as the game itself.
Although he will disappoint plenty of fans in this moment, his play on the field will be must-see action during this showcase.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for more year-round sports analysis.
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Lopsided results have characterized the 2015-16 bowl season and national semifinals, but college football fans can at least take comfort in knowing that the biggest game of all, the 2016 College Football National Championship, indeed features the two best teams in the nation in No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama.
There's a good chance the game is as competitive as the two teams' respective resumes would suggest.
Clemson is looking to complete a 15-0 undefeated season and capture the school's first national championship since 1981. For Alabama, it's a chance at a 16th national title and fifth under head coach Nick Saban.
The stakes are high; the stage is set. All that's left is to play the game.
Here's a rundown of the viewing info and odds, followed by a look at some interesting prop bets for the game. Game odds are courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
CFP National Championship 2016: Alabama vs. Clemson
When: Monday, January 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Watch: ESPN or live stream at WatchESPN
Odds: Alabama (-6.5); over-under: 50.5
No surprise here. The player given the best odds to score the game's first touchdown is the Heisman Trophy winner. Derrick Henry tops the list, which is hardly a surprise considering he scored 25 of his team's 50 offensive touchdowns this year. He has a fine track record of getting the Crimson Tide off to a fine start. Henry has scored the first touchdown for either team in seven of 14 games this year.
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman and Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley aren't too far behind. Gallman is perhaps under-appreciated outside of Clemson thanks to sharing a backfield with star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The sophomore back has 13 touchdowns on the season and has scored in six of Clemson's last seven games.
Calvin Ridley is Alabama's top receiving threat and scored twice against Michigan State in the semifinal. Then again, he only has seven touchdowns on the entire season and will face a difficult test in Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander. It would be quite the feat if he beats Alexander for the first score of the game.
Watson is a better threat than most quarterbacks to take it upon himself to score. Equally dangerous as a passer and runner, Watson has scored a staggering eight rushing touchdowns in his last five games. If there is a run defense to shut him down, it would appear to be Alabama's. ESPN.com notes the Crimson Tide defense doesn't like to let quarterbacks run around too much:
Just as Watson’s running has hit a high gear lately, Alabama’s rush defense appears to be peaking.
The Crimson Tide held Michigan State to 29 rushing yards in the Cotton Bowl, a season low for the Spartans. It was the sixth straight opponent the Crimson Tide held to fewer than 100 rush yards, the longest active FBS streak -- by four games.
Can a running quarterback hurt Alabama? The Tide have allowed one 20-yard rush by a quarterback this season.
Then again, Watson is a rare athlete. Alabama (nor any other team) doesn't often come across quarterbacks with his speed and instincts as a ball-carrier. He's the type of player who can flummox even the stoutest of run defenses, especially with a talented back like Gallman drawing plenty of attention.
According to TeamRankings.com, Alabama's highest-scoring quarter is the second, at 10.6 points per game in this frame. Same goes for the Tigers, who have averaged 11.6 points per second quarters this season. The odds in the table above reflect this reality.
While Clemson does a pretty good job of picking up points throughout the game, it appears Alabama is a slow starter. It averages just 4.6 points per first quarter, per TeamRankings.com. For a power-running team, this seems pretty intuitive. It may take a drive or two to break down the opposing defense and let the floodgates open. Chewing the clock also comes into play.
If this game is close, the fourth quarter might be a good bet to see a bunch of points. Smaller, speedy players like Clemson's Hunter Renfrow could have a better chance of turning a short gain into a long one. Watson is dangerous in a two-minute drill against a prevent defense.
Henry loves to wear teams down. If he doesn't score early, he's a good bet to finish drives late. Alabama center Ryan Kelly told Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh why it's so hard for defenses to contain Henry:
He’s got the endurance. I mean, the guy can run for days. Defensive guys, when we start going fast in the third and fourth quarter, them getting off the ground, running back there and trying to get lined up, then you’ve got Derrick Henry running at you and you have to tackle him, do it all over again, that kind of wears down defenders.
I can’t [speak] for them, but a guy like his stature, his size, his speed, I wouldn’t want to do that every time. It would suck.
Apparently, the oddsmakers feel this game has a better chance of starting off with a touchdown than a field goal. In 55 red-zone trips, Clemson scored 33 touchdowns and 16 field goals; it has little trouble finishing off drives. Alabama also put up far more touchdowns than field goals when it got close to paydirt, with 33 touchdowns and 15 field goals in 59 red-zone trips.
This is to say nothing of the several long touchdowns Henry ripped off this year, or the big plays in the passing game engineered by Watson and Alabama QB Jake Coker.
Clemson's scoring ability is sound, but this is Alabama's defense we're talking about. Even if Watson's mobility proves troublesome, Alabama can clamp down in the red zone, where the field is shorter and there's less room to maneuver.
An early Clemson drive stalling out because the likes of Alabama linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster can hunt down Watson and Gallman without worrying about leaving swaths of open grass behind them seems like a distinct possibility.
On the flip side, Henry driving into the teeth of Clemson's excellent defensive front might take some time to set up the passing game. Jake Coker faces a strong pass rush and a strong cornerback duo in Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley.
Barring a big downfield play early on, Alabama's passing game might only take off once Henry and (perhaps) a dash of Kenyan Drake have established the run and forced Clemson to draw in its defense.
These two teams have little trouble finishing drives, but national-title jitters and strong defensive play might mean field goals come first in this contest.
Prop bets are courtesy of Oddschecker.com and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
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