NCAA Football News

Report: Jim Harbaugh to Watch Movies, Have Sleepover with Penn State Recruit

Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to get a recruit, even if it means sleeping over at the recruit's house and going to class with him.

Seriously. That is not a hyperbole.

According to Allen Trieu of Scout.com, Harbaugh is going all-out in an effort to flip No. 1 kicking recruit (per 247Sports) Quinn Nordin from his commitment to Penn State over to Michigan. The Wolverines coach even told the recruit he'd be spending a full day with him—sleepover and all.

Nordin appears to get a kick out of the Michigan coach's tactics, per Trieu:

Under the exact rules, he's going to be at my house at 12:01 he said. That's when it's legal for him to be at my house. He said we can watch a movie, see how well we gel and he said he would sleep over after that.

I was in tears laughing when he said that. He said the next day, if my parents didn't want me to miss school, he would go to every class with me and go to lunch with me. I was laughing so hard.

It's not even like Harbaugh is demanding a bed or anything. According to Trieu, all the coach is asking for is a "six-foot, three-inch piece of carpet." Hopefully, they will surprise him with bunk beds—everybody loves bunk beds. 

Now before anyone questions Harbaugh's methods, as long as everyone involved is cool with it and it's not a violation, there's nothing wrong with a coach doing everything he can to land a recruit.

This plan apparently comes right out of Harbaugh's playbook, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive Media Group:

If this is what it takes to win games, Wolverines fans aren't going to judge. All they care about is bringing a championship to Ann Arbor.

[h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 10 College Football National Championship Games of All Time

With Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson in the second College Football Playoff National Championship, the offseason has officially begun. 

But before moving on into that vast desert, it's time to take a moment and recall just what happened between the Tide and Tigers Monday night. The game was everything it was advertised to be. These were undeniably the two best teams in college football in 2015, and they battled it out until the final seconds. 

But where does the 2016 national championship rank all time? It was entertaining and heart-stopping at the same time. Does that put it among the 10 best national championships to ever be played in college football? 

With that in mind, we've power ranked those great national championships over the years. Many of them, you'll find, are classics that came down to a final play or a tight score. Usually, too, there were big-picture storylines (dynasties, upstart programs getting an upset, first-time meetings between blue-blood programs or iconic head coaches). 

Did the '16 national championship fit those descriptors? Check out the following top 10 and share your favorite games in the comment section below. 

Begin Slideshow

Can Any Coach Join Nick Saban, Urban Meyer in Dominating College Football?

The smiles are infrequent, the scowls are everlasting and the chase for the next one is a reoccurring game played out 24/7/365 that begins just as soon as the past one ends.

The life of Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t easy, but he is one of the few—in any profession—who can not only handle the rigors of the demanding job that he has but thrive at the same time. That’s a good reason why he held up another national championship trophy on Monday night after escaping a very good Clemson team with a superstar quarterback in Deshaun Watson.

In short, the process he has developed works spectacularly at a place like the one he rules over in Tuscaloosa, and there appears to be no sign of the Crimson Tide slowing down any time soon.

Saban captured his fifth title to close out the 2015 season, marking the fourth time in seven years that he captured a trophy for an Alabama program that has long been established as a blue blood of the sport.

Adding in his first championship at LSU, the five rings he can put on for recruits represent the most of any coach not named Bear Bryant.

That is likely why, as the confetti was still falling on Monday night, there was plenty of talk of Saban being the greatest of all time—given not only the rings he has but the fact that he’s consistently won at a high level in the modern era of college football, when success is much more difficult to sustain.

That conversation may be best saved for another day to add a bit more historical perspective rather than in-the-moment awe, but there is little question that Saban’s juggernaut at Alabama is dominating the sport unlike many others before.

“I know you all think I'm a little bit crazy, so I'll just go ahead and be crazy. I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree,” Saban said at his celebratory press conference on Tuesday morning. “I can't really talk to you much more about the perspective and the significance of this, because moving forward, it doesn't really mean a lot.”

Despite the overwhelming numbers that tilt toward Tuscaloosa, it’s not a one-man game in college football. This past season’s championship run allowed Saban to wrestle back the title of "best active college football coach" away from the man who beat him a year ago in Urban Meyer.

The Ohio State coach’s year did not go according to script in 2015 despite a vast collection of NFL talent and a championship pedigree on hand.

Still, it’s not hard to see that the pool of national title winners has been decidedly limited as of late.

Is there anybody who can challenge the sport’s top dogs? Here are a few candidates.

 

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Fisher, a Saban disciple who has successfully taken “the Process” to the ACC, is one of the few coaches in the past decade to have broken through to win a national title.

The Seminoles are annually found in the top 10 when it comes to recruiting, and it appears Fisher is in for the long haul after shunning overtures from other programs recently and getting his yearly salary bumped into the $5 million range.

The question marks surrounding the facilities at FSU are getting answered and the team should once again be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2016. Ring No. 2 only seems like a matter of when—not if—for Fisher.

 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Swinney spoke at length prior to Monday’s game about knowing that the Tigers would be in a national title game when he took the job and had slowly been building toward that moment.

While the team came up just short in a instant classic of a game, it seems pretty clear to everybody in the sport that Dabo has his program in the upper echelon of college football and ready to stay for a long while.

He’s unique in being so trusting with his assistants when it comes to true X’s and O’s compared to some others, but it’s an approach that has worked for him and Clemson.

Given that Deshaun Watson and others return in 2016 and recruiting is going well, it seems likely that Swinney will remain in the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future until, maybe, he returns to his alma mater to take over for Saban one day.

 

Tom Herman, Houston/???

There was no hotter name on the coaching carousel this offseason than Herman’s, and for good reason. He took a good team and made it great during his first head coaching stop and likely positioned the Cougars to make a serious run at the Top Four next season given who is on their schedule (namely Oklahoma and Louisville).

As Ohio State’s 2015 season proved, he was a big piece of winning a title as an assistant, and the feeling many have is it’s only a matter of time before the guy who simply “gets it” wins one as a head coach.

Many expect him to move up the road to Texas after next year, and if that’s the case, he may very well have a program to go on a Saban- or Meyer-like run.

 

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

The Wolverines exceeded expectations in their conquering hero’s return to Ann Arbor in 2015, and it’s quickly been apparent just how good a coach the former quarterback is when comparing Michigan to the past few years under Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez.

The recruiting is already there and it won’t be long—as in this upcoming season—before playoff talk will begin for Harbaugh and company.

The presence of Meyer in Columbus will provide plenty of challenges, but if there’s somebody with the acumen and drive to match Saban, it’s clearly the man in maize and blue.

 

David Shaw, Stanford

A spot in the championship game is just about the only thing missing from Shaw’s resume after building a West Coast dynasty at a place where sustained success hasn’t, well, been sustained.

He gets graded a bit on a curve as a result, but it’s not hard to see why the Cardinal will be a team in the national conversation for years and years to come.

 

Gary Patterson, TCU/Art Briles, Baylor

After this season, it’s pretty clear that these two Big 12 coaches are near the front of the list when it comes to best coaches to have never won a national title.

Still, as evidenced by recent bowl games and recent results, both of these small private school coaches have done a tremendous job without the resources that some of their peers on this list have. If one of them can truly break through and win a national title in a state like Texas, it might be the start of a budding Lone Star dynasty.

One still has to get over the hump, however, and the top dogs in college football show no signs of slowing down.

Both the Buckeyes and Tide appear to be locks to start the next several seasons in the Top 10 based on reputation alone, and for good reason.

There’s still time to decompress from the 2015 season and soak in another title for the sport’s equivalent of title town, but the more things change, it appears the more they stay the same.

“It's not just winning the game. It's not just winning the championship. It's always the goal as a competitor, but there's a lot more things that are very positive in terms of what you try to do internally in your organization to help people, build relationships, and I think that's the fun part of being a part of a team,” Saban added on Tuesday.

But for those outside the high walls surrounding the practice fields in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, the game is mostly just about winning. And right now, it’s very much a two-man game.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFP National Championship 2016: Stats, Box Score for Alabama vs. Clemson

In a thrilling back-and-forth contest that more than lived up to the hype, Alabama defeated Clemson, 45-40, on Monday to win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, the school's fourth national title in seven seasons.

The game featured massive performances from the usual suspects, such as Bama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. There were also superlative displays from less likely sources, such as Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard and Tigers walk-on freshman Hunter Renfrow. 

Fans were also treated to a game that had just one turnover, few penalties and key special teams performances, including the platonic ideal of an onside kick. Alabama and Clemson were mostly operating at the peak of their respective capabilities, much to the delight of a rapt nation.

After such a fantastic testament to the sport of football, there's just so much to take in. Here's a look at the box scores and key team stats for the national title contest.


Box-Score Breakdown

The first thing that might jump out at you is Alabama's passing numbers. Jake Coker trafficked almost exclusively in big plays on Monday, with the most important of them going to Howard. The junior tight end has struggled to take advantage of his excellent athleticism in his college career, but he was in perfect position to make plays in this game.

Both long touchdowns came on busted coverages, and his 63-yard scamper up the sideline led to Henry's third score and put Alabama up two scores late in the contest. Here's a look at that latter play, per ESPN Stats & Info:

For his efforts, Howard was named offensive MVP. Not bad for a guy who came into the game with 394 receiving yards on the season and hadn't scored since 2013.

There was but one turnover in a clean contest, and it came courtesy of a second-quarter interception from Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why you do the high-point drill, per SEC Network: 

Following the pick, Alabama marched to a Henry touchdown to tie the game at 14-14. Jackson was named the game's defensive MVP.

Although Jackson got the better of him on one play, Watson was the game's best overall player for much of the evening. Running into the teeth of a fearsome Alabama front seven, he ground out plenty of key yards. As a passer, Watson was superlative, finding Renfrow on the edges and guys such as Charone Peake and Jordan Leggett up the seams. 

ESPN Stats & Info put his huge yardage total into context: 

Deadspin's Tom Ley raved about his performance: 

Watson wasn’t just busting up an all-world defense, he was exerting complete control over the game. He escaped blitzes, rifled perfect throws all over the field, and never once wavered, despite the defense and special teams unit repeatedly shooting their own dicks off. Watson was in the zone, and it showed on almost every throw he made.

According to B/R Insights, Watson also became the first FBS player to top 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a single campaign. 

In the end, though, the Heisman finalist's team lost to the Heisman winner's side. Henry pounded out 158 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 2,219 and 28 in those categories. The towering running back was quick to compliment his talented teammates after the game.

"I don't want to make this all about me," the 6'3", 242-pound Henry said, per AL.com's Joseph Goodman. "It's my teammates, and I couldn't have done it without them, and they made this possible. That's something I will hold for them forever, and it's so special."

Special thanks should go to his understudy, running back Kenyan Drake, who returned a kick 95 yards to the house in the second half, putting Bama up 38-27 at a time when Watson was doing well to exert his control over the game. Here's the monstrous special teams play, per ESPN:

Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd was another player often overshadowed by a famous teammate—in this case, Shaq Lawson—who played out of his mind on Monday. Dodd had three sacks in the game, and his end-of-season string of awesome performances caught the attention of some in the NFL, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman: 

NFL riches likely await several of the players mentioned above, and that doesn't even include guys such as Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Reggie Ragland and A'Shawn Robinson.

When you have two teams stocked with as much pro-caliber talent as Alabama and Clemson, you're pretty much bound to get the type of phenomenal contest we saw on Monday evening. This College Football Playoff thing is working out pretty nicely. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Can Florida Make a College Football Playoff Run in 2016?

Well, that was fun, wasn't it?

The college football season came to an end late Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, with the Alabama Crimson Tide's 45-40 win over the Clemson Tigers in one of the most dramatic championship games in the sport's history. 

Now on to the offseason, where virtually every SEC team is littered with questions that need to be addressed over the next nine months.

To help hold you over, we address some of those questions in the weekly Bleacher Report SEC Q&A:

Winning the College Football Playoff might be a little too aggressive in year two for head coach Jim McElwain because, while his Gators did win the SEC East in 2015, it was more than just a quarterback issue that led to the three-game losing streak to close the season.

Treon Harris wasn't great, don't get me wrong. He threw more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) over the final six games of the year, completed just 47.8 percent of his passes, and regressed from his first start after Will Grier's suspension he threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a pinch at LSU.

He will be joined in the offseason battle for the top spot on the depth chart by former Oregon State/Alabama quarterback Luke Del Rio, Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and true freshman early enrollee Feleipe Franks, so consider that battle as wide open as it possibly can be.

The offensive line sputtered as well. After progressing over the first two months of the season, it gave up 24 sacks over the final six games of the year, allowed far too much penetration on running plays and put Harris in bad situations time and time again.

Most of those players—like Martez Ivey—are youngsters who will get better with time. In time to make a title game run in 2016, though? That's too much, too soon.

In a down SEC East, the Gators still will have to contend with a loaded Tennessee team and a talented Georgia team. They draw LSU and Arkansas out of the West, have the regular-season finale vs. Florida State on the road and a very small margin for error in order to make a national title run. 

Just worry about the SEC East and offensive consistency first, and then talk about the playoff.

Not to be "Buzz Killington," but no, I don't think LSU will get back to Atlanta under head coach Les Miles.

I wrote in "Bold Predictions for SEC Football in 2016" last week that Miles will be fired mid-season for repeating the same mistakes that nearly cost him his job in November 2015, which, obviously, would make it impossible for him to lead the team to Atlanta next year.

Even if I'm wrong about that (and LSU fans certainly let me know how wrong they think I will be), LSU still has a major Alabama problem. The Crimson Tide simply don't lose games to teams that play their style, which is all LSU knows. That's a big reason why they've topped the Tigers five straight times and shut down superstar running back Leonard Fournette last year in Tuscaloosa.

If LSU can't beat Alabama and can't find enough offensive consistency to take care of business in its other big games—as has been the case the last couple of years—it won't be playing in the SEC Championship Game anytime soon.

A big part of the problem is quarterback, where aside from Zach Mettenberger's senior year in 2013, LSU really hasn't had a difference-maker at the position. Miles doesn't need to find a superstar out there, just somebody who can look like one enough to keep defenses honest and away from Fournette and the rest of the running backs.

Considering Ole Miss and Arkansas have improved, Alabama's cooking, Auburn's high ceiling and Mississippi State's sustained success, Miles simply can't win unless he becomes a little more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. 

Until that happens, expect more frustration.

I'm a little more optimistic with Ole Miss having success in 2016, despite losing talented junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

We already know they can clear the Alabama hurdle after toppling the Tide in each of the last two seasons, including in Tuscaloosa at night in 2015 without Tunsil in the lineup. Quarterback Chad Kelly will return, plus they get Alabama at home in Week 3 of 2016 when the Tide still might be figuring out their identity.

Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow and others should be able to pick up the slack for Treadwell as youngsters like Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge take on more of a responsibility at wide receiver. The defensive line is still loaded with underrated players like Breeland Speaks and Marquis Haynes, and producing top-tier defenses is something that has become a staple of head coach Hugh Freeze's teams.

Their cross-division road game is at Vanderbilt, Georgia will still be building when the two teams meet in Oxford in late September and the bye week comes in Week 6, right before a critical stretch that pits the Rebels against Arkansas, LSU and Auburn. 

If I had to make a pick right now, I'd say Ole Miss doesn't make it to Atlanta next year because Alabama will find a way to solve the Rebel puzzle in Week 3. That game will decide the division, though.

Alex Collins is the loss that will draw the most headlines after he topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the third straight season. But Kody Walker is solid, Rawleigh Williams III could be back after last season's neck injury, commit Devwah Whaley is solid and the one thing we know about Bret Bielema-coached teams is that they pound the rock no matter who's back there.

The loss of Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola up front hurts, but Bielema has mixed and matched up front before and should be able to do it again. Hunter Henry's early departure is devastating on paper after he caught 51 passes for 739 yards and became one of the nation's most feared tight ends in 2015. But tight ends grow on trees in Fayetteville, Arkansas, so Jeremy Sprinkle should be just fine.

The loss of quarterback Brandon Allen, though, is the biggest issue facing Bielema. Allen capped off his up-and-down career on fire, tossing 30 touchdowns on the year including 15 in his final five games. The good news is that USC transfer Ricky Town will be in the mix, along with Austin Allen, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey—all of whom have considerable high school accolades in tow. 

Arkansas needs to find a quarterback who can just be slightly more than a game manager early on to allow the running game to grow. If that happens, it won't miss a beat.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama vs. Clemson 2016: Comments, Reaction After College Football Championship

After a forgettable bowl season, fans were treated to a show in the national championship game as the Alabama Crimson Tide held on for a 45-40 win over the Clemson Tigers.

The matchup featured just about everything you would want to see in a title game. There were heroic performances on both sides of the ball, huge plays that will be remembered forever and two teams that simply wouldn't quit. Although the favorite came out as the winner, there were twists and turns throughout with the outcome not decided until the final moments.

Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports 1 might have been the most excited in describing the game:

The win for Alabama continues a dynasty in Tuscaloosa, giving the school four national titles in seven years. Head coach Nick Saban also has a title with LSU, totaling five in 11 years for the historically good coach.

"I think this is the most impressive run of the modern era," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. "I think it all goes back to Saban. He’s the most complete football coach in the nation today, and maybe ever."

Considering how many wins Bowden had in his career, this is pretty high praise for Saban.

Although the current Alabama coach remains behind Bear Bryant with six national championships, you could argue what Saban has done is even more impressive in this era of parity. ESPN's Mike Greenberg didn't hold back in his assessment of the coach:

Pretty much every NFL fan wants him to leave to coach for their team, but it seems much more likely he will close out his career doing what he does best: leading college teams to championships.

He was proud of the effort displayed from the current group in overcome obstacles from earlier in the year:

It certainly didn't seem like the Tide were winning a championship after a home loss to Ole Miss in September, but improvement is one of the keys in any sport. One man who showed this off more than anyone was O.J. Howard, who was the star of the day for Alabama.

Although Howard came to Tuscaloosa as one of the top recruits in the nation, the tight end hadn't been used much in his first three years. He had 394 receiving yards coming into the game but blew that away with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Clemson.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams—who also finds a way to put up big numbers despite little playing time—provided his thoughts on Howard after the game, per Matt Zenitz of AL.com:

They didn't have no answer for him. O.J. only caught the ball like six times before this game, so we knew they didn't have any film on him really ballin' and stuff like that. It's a mastermind, our offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin. He knows that the team didn't even game plan for O.J., and O.J. had five receptions for 208 yards. That's crazy. That's crazy.

Saban joked after the game that it was all part of the play, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Howard wasn't the only star to show up Monday night. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry somehow had a "quiet" 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard scamper into the end zone early in the game. 

Dave Pasch of ESPN was impressed watching the big man run in the first half:

Quarterback Jake Coker also finished with solid numbers after a poor start to the game, totaling 335 passing yards and two touchdowns in the win. As ESPN's Stephen A. Smith noted, he also had some clutch plays to help the team win:

Despite all the numbers from Alabama's players, they were all arguably overshadowed by the performance of Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, who had himself quite a day in a losing effort.

The Clemson quarterback finished with 405 passing yards, four touchdowns and just one interception to go with 73 rushing yards all against an elite defense. One of ESPN's broadcasts showed head coaches in a film room discussing the game, and no one had a legitimate answer for how to stop Watson, according to Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated:

Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow praised Watson despite the loss:

On the plus side for the Tigers, Watson is only a true sophomore and likely to return to school for at least one more year. This certainly gives head coach Dabo Swinney confidence in coming back to this point, per Sports Illustrated:

There’s no doubt that we will be back. It won’t be 34 years before we’re going to be back, I promise you that. ...Our team is built to sustain success. We’ve got the right ingredients from a toughness standpoint, talent standpoint, and then just, again, the will to win and the culture that we have in our program.

The scary thing is when Watson asked where he can improve, he responded, "Just my whole game," per to Ted Miller of ESPN. You can imagine just about every FBS coach shivering at the thought of a quarterback of this ability getting better.

With all the comments and reaction from this game, there were still some great moments where no words were needed, like this hug between Henry and Watson after the game:

Two top competitors putting it all on the line for 60 minutes before having nothing but pure respect afterwards is really what sports are all about. The only hope is that every other title game in the future can match the battle Alabama and Clemson provided.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jeff Long Leaves as CFP Selection Committee Chairman: Latest Comments, Reaction

On the heels of Alabama's College Football Playoff National Championship Game victory, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will not return as the director of the playoff selection committee next season.   

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy reported Tuesday that Long would not keep his post in 2016. Selection committee chairman Bill Hancock confirmed Long's move to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com.

Long has been the CFP selection committee chairman since it was first established in October 2013. He was part of a 13-member panel that was used to determine which four teams would compete in college football's newly established College Football Playoff. 

After last year's inaugural playoff, Long was unanimously re-elected as the committee's chairman by the other members of the group.

Before his re-election, per ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, Long said the entire selection committee felt the weight of what its decision meant to teams and the sport: 

Most of the people in that room came from the background of student-athletes and players, and there was a sense of, 'We need to get this right for those four teams and those student-athletes and how hard they worked and prepared.' Only four teams could make it, and we felt -- I did -- it felt heavier as we got closer to that championship weekend.

The selection committee has endured its share of criticism during its brief two-year run with Long at the helm, but there's no denying how well things have worked out. 

Ohio State was a controversial choice to make the final four two years ago, but it rode Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones to a national title with wins over Alabama and Oregon. Alabama and Clemson were the two best teams in college football this season and met in the title game, with the Crimson Tide prevailing 45-40 on Monday.

Given the unusual structure with college football's postseason system, finding a 100 percent consensus is virtually impossible. Long was able to lead a diverse group of people and got them to work as one, deciding who had earned the right to compete for the sport's biggest prize. 

The next person to hold Long's chair does not have an easy task, though they have been given a strong template to build upon. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Things You Can Count On: Death, Taxes and Nick Saban's Process Winning Titles

Nick Saban likes to talk about football as a process, which explains why we tend to think of his greatness as cold and methodical. We see the relentlessness of the talent at Alabama, the consistency of the results, the history of championship games that aren't even close, and we think of Saban as a machine.    

But here's what we miss, thinking of him that way: Yes, Saban is methodical, but the method doesn't always take him to the same place.

That's what made it so special Monday night when Saban won the national championship because of an almost whimsical call.

It was the onside kick heard 'round the college football world, with 10:34 left in a tie game, that turned the momentum for Alabama in its 45-40 win over Clemson. Saban called it, and then, of all things and all people, actually smiled on the sideline after doing it.

It felt almost gimmicky. It didn't feel like typical cold, methodical Saban. It made you wonder…Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson looked unstoppable, Alabama QB Jake Coker kept taking momentum-killing sacks, and the game was tied 24-24. Saban couldn't count on his usual methodical demolition. He recognized that this time, that wasn't going to win.

Was it all enough to make Saban abandon his process? To become the gambler, the chance-taker?

But then you hear him talk about how they practiced that play, how they designed it, how they called it because of the way Clemson was lining up, how it was situational strategy, and you realize: He stuck to the process; it just took him to a different place this time.

And in another way, to the same place. Four national championships at Alabama in seven years, and five overall in Saban's career. Times change, people change, but you can count on death, taxes and Nick Saban's process.

There had been perhaps some questions about this coming into the year. A year ago in the College Football Playoff, Urban Meyer made Saban look outdated for the first time. Ohio State was stronger, faster and cleverer than Alabama. On Monday? Meyer was in a suit working for ESPN, watching Saban win.

Two years ago, it was Gus Malzahn bringing his modern-genius, no-huddle, spread offense to Saban and beating him in the Iron Bowl. Tick, tock. Clock ticking on Saban? Well, now Malzahn is already in some danger of losing his job.

And Saban is the national champion. Again.

In fact, every class he has recruited to play at Alabama has won the national championship. Imagine the recruiting pitch he can make: "Your son will win the national championship and will be in an NFL pipeline." Even John Calipari in college basketball can't match that.

Saban reclaimed his spot as the game's all-time best coach with this win. He is one short of Bear Bryant's all-time record six titles. And not to say anything sacrilegious about Bryant, but Saban is better. Bryant surely meant more to Alabama and to pride in the region than Saban does. But in this era, with so much money funneling to so many different programs, it is just so much harder to win.

It's sort of freaky how much Saban compares to Bill Belichick, not only in demeanor but also in the simple fact he comes without an expiration date.

Last year, Belichick's Patriots lost to Kansas City early in the season and Tom Brady wasn't looking great. This year, Alabama lost to Ole Miss and didn't seem to have a quarterback. And then Belichick went on to win yet another Super Bowl, albeit without Saban's smile.

Belichick has different things to fight off, such as the salary cap, and he dumps off famous fan-favorites just before they are paid too much and then finds gems out of nowhere.

This year, Saban had to make his own adjustments, far more than usual. After the loss to Ole Miss in September, Alabama seemed to be slipping. Its record against ranked teams had been falling. We'd seen Saban fight time the past couple of years, starting when Johnny Manziel appeared at Texas A&M and beat him. Saban thought rules should be changed to stop the modern game and then went around the country talking to coaches about how to stop the tempo and spread. He brought in Lane Kiffin with the idea of modernizing his own offense to some reasonable level.

But this year was different. This year was more. While Meyer started the year with three Heisman-level quarterbacks and then wasn't able to get first-rate QB play out of any of them, Saban just had big question marks. This was not one of his best teams.

At 64, he is still growing as a coach. I mean, people consider Phil Jackson to be the greatest NBA coach of all time. Maybe so, but it would sure help his case if he could win a title without a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal on the roster. That's not to say this Alabama team is filled with scrubs. Running back Derrick Henry did just win the Heisman Trophy.

But this team was without the reliability of AJ McCarron at quarterback. Saban and Kiffin basically had to find a way to coach around Coker most of the year. And while the defense is still often dominant, gone are the days of it giving up less than 10 points per game.

People won't be talking about that stuff today. Saban is back on top, the process reaffirmed.

No wonder he was smiling.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2016 Preseason College Football Rankings: Predicting Post-Championship Poll

After all the debate and the outcry from Columbus, Ohio, and Stanford, California, it turns out the committee got it right. Alabama and Clemson were the two best teams in the country.

A seesaw affair between the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams was thrilling from start to finish, but after the Tigers took a 24-21 lead in the third quarter, it was the Alabama special teams that turned the game around and earned Nick Saban yet another national championship.

This season ended how so many before them have, with Alabama raising the trophy as the best in college football, but as the offseason begins, it means a hard reset for the entire landscape of the sport, with every team sharing equal hope for a championship and many of the big names that made 2015-16 possible off to bigger and better things.

The Crimson Tide are likely going to be favorites to repeat, with title game opponent Clemson and Oklahoma nipping at their heels.

But everyone knows who the favorites are going to be—hint: They are pretty similar to what we saw at the start of this season and the season before that—so let's dig a little deeper and see who some of the sleeper picks for next season’s title are.

 

Dark Horses for the 2016-17 Championship

Tennessee

Wait, this seems familiar. Why is that? Oh, right, Tennessee was in this exact same spot last season before dropping off by the end of the season. The Volunteers started the year in the AP Top 25 but dropped off by the midway point of the year and were essentially an afterthought from then on.

But the Vols closed their season strong with six straight wins, including a 39-point walloping of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, and look poised to bounce back in 2016. The team's four losses in 2015 were by a combined 17 points, and with a few different bounces of the ball, Tennessee could have lived up to the hype.

With Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd in control offensively, the Volunteers should be able to put up points regularly, but with so much depth returning on defense, they might not need to. The SEC slate isn't what it used to be, but if Tennessee can avoid slipping up against Florida or Georgia in the first half of the year, an Oct. 15 matchup with Alabama at home could be one of the biggest games of the season.

 

Stanford

Some would argue that this past season, Stanford was one of the four best teams in the country despite its two losses and shouldn't have been left out of the College Football Playoff. Following a huge defeat of Iowa in the Rose Bowl, those fans might be right, and the Cardinal will get their chance at redemption in 2016.

There are a few key losses—Kevin Hogan, Blake Martinez and Kodi Whitfield are just a few names that won't be back next season—but Stanford has something no other team in the country will have next season: Christian McCaffrey.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up was arguably the best player in college football in 2015, and he returns to school another year older and another year wiser. His versatile skill set was on display against the Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl, and as long as he is on the team, Stanford is in the running for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the playoff. McCaffrey is that good.

 

Houston

No one can be quite sure since it never came to fruition, but there is a chance Connecticut cost Houston a trip to the playoff this season. That is how good the Cougars were in Tom Herman's first season at the helm.

Finishing 13-1, including a decisive win against Florida State on New Year's Eve, Houston gets Herman back—which is monumental news—but also brings back plenty on the field to help bolster its chances of another great run. With Greg Ward Jr. and Chance Allen both back, the offense should be fine. As long as the defense can hold up under pressure, the Cougars will be the favorites to finish highest in the Group of Five.

But Houston should have higher aspirations than that in 2016, with a playoff spot very much within reach. The Cougars will know whether or not they are up for the playoff very early, with a game against Oklahoma to start the season as one of the marquee matchups of Week 1.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

All 2015-16 College Football Bowl Season Team

And now, the offseason has begun.

There will be time to feel sad about this later. For now, catch up on everything that happened during the 2015-16 postseason with Bleacher Report's All-Bowl Season Team. From backup quarterbacks playing hero in comeback wins to gutsy defenders coming up with big plays, we tracked down the best performances from the past few weeks into one nifty group.

Selections were based on statistics from bowl games, but context around the game matters as well. In other words, a quarterback didn't have to pass for the most yards to be selected. A receiver didn't have to score the most touchdowns.

With that said, it's time to reveal our All-Bowl team. Agree with the selections? Disagree? Let your voice be heard in the comment section below.

Begin Slideshow

Lessons Learned from 2nd Year of the College Football Playoff

The first two games of the College Football Playoff might have been disappointing for neutral fans and television executives, but on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, the second-ever CFP National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers gave the 2015 season the thrilling finale it deserved.

The back-and-forth title clash between the nation's two best teams was a smashing success for a system that had somewhat of a sophomore slump.

Two semifinals that were virtually over by the fourth quarter on a day of low TV ratings made some worry about Clemson and Alabama's duel in the desert.

But it was an excellent national championship game, and now it's time to reflect on Year 2 of the College Football Playoff as Alabama and its massive fanbase celebrate another title coming to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Here are five lessons learned from this year's playoff, from conference politics to scheduling conflicts to the title game itself.

Begin Slideshow

Buckeyes' Status as CFB's Most Valuable Program Proves Urban Meyer's Underpaid

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The confetti has hardly been cleaned up in Glendale, Arizona, as Alabama still celebrates its 45-40 victory over Clemson to capture the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship.

But while the Crimson Tide may have reclaimed college football's throne on the field, as far as money is concerned, Ohio State remains the sport's reigning champ.

Just hours before Alabama took the field at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Beaton named the Buckeyes college football's most valuable program for the second consecutive season.

According to Ryan Brewer (via Beaton), an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Ohio State football program is currently worth $946.6 million, edging out Texas ($885.05 million), Michigan ($811.30 million), Notre Dame ($723.59) and the Crimson Tide ($694.87).

And while the Buckeyes' value dipped from $1.1 billion a year ago, their status as college football's only team worth more than $900 million is nothing to scoff at.

Surely that number will find itself attractive to prospective advertisers and sponsors such as Nike, whose athletic apparel contract with the school was valued at $4.3 million in 2015. It's a deal that is looking more and more like a steal for the apparel provider as it moves toward its 2018 end date.

Of course, there's a difference between "value" and "profit," and in USA Today's annual rankings of program revenue, Ohio State trailed Oregon, Texas, Michigan and Alabama. As an overall athletic department, the Buckeyes reported revenue of $170.9 million from 2014-2015, according to CBS Sports, trailing just Texas ($179.6 million).

But Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith asserted last November, "If I wanted to just have more money than Texas, we’d have more money than Texas."

Considering the estimated value of the backbone of Smith's department, it'd be tough to disagree. Which raises the question: Why doesn't Urban Meyer make more money?

Collecting $5.8 million, Meyer made the third-most of any college coach in 2015 and just .0061 percent of his program's estimated worth. Even when the now-fifth-year Ohio State head coach hits his 2015 contract extension's average salary of $6.5 million, Meyer will make just .0068 percent of his program's current worth.

Buckeyes fans would love to believe that its team's head coach is irrelevant to its value, that if it wasn't Meyer on the Ohio Stadium sideline, it'd be another big name maintaining the football program's value. And yes, there's certainly a strong case to be made that the players on the field deserve a much larger piece of the pie than the scholarships they receive for their services.

Tradition, history and a large alumni base—and larger fanbase—all play significant factors in the Buckeyes' value as well, as evidenced by Texas' strong standing despite its recent string of disappointing seasons. But make no mistake about it: Meyer is the CEO of Ohio State football and the man most responsible for the Buckeyes' status as college football's most valuable program.

Don't believe it? Just look at the last season Ohio State spent without Meyer standing on its sideline. Mired in a scandal that resulted in the departure of head coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes endured a 6-7 campaign in 2011, which culminated with sanctions that handicapped Meyer's debut season in Columbus in 2012.

Off the field, the financial numbers indicated a program in need of a jolt, with the Wall Street Journal valuing the OSU football program at $520 million at the end of the 2011 season—the seventh-most valuable program in all of college football.

Accumulating a 12-0 record while dealing with postseason sanctions in 2012, Meyer helped boost the Buckeyes' value to $586.6 million, up two spots to the fifth-most valuable in college football. In 2013, Ohio State's value jumped to $674.8 million—fourth in college football—before nearly doubling from its 2011 worth with an estimated $1.1 billion—with a "b"—in 2014.

The Buckeyes' value may have slipped this year, but so did those of the rest of college football's programs. Ohio State football is still worth more than any other program in the country and is only trending upward entering 2016.

And it's not difficult to see the reason why.

In Meyer's four seasons in Columbus, the Buckeyes are 50-4 and have remained in the national title hunt every year, including a chase for the Associated Press' national championship when they were ineligible for postseason play in 2012. Meyer has inked four top-seven recruiting classes and will sign another in three weeks, proof that the future of Ohio State is in good hands, even as the Buckeyes prepare to dominate the ticker of the upcoming NFL draft.

Even if 2011 was an outlier, Ohio State football was never as valuable during the height of Tressel's decade in Columbus as it is now. In 2007, coming off back-to-back national title game appearances, Forbes slotted the Buckeyes' program as the 10th-most valuable in college football at an estimated $71 million.

As far as college coaches are concerned, Meyer's properly paid, trailing only Alabama's Nick Saban in annual salary. But with Meyer admitting that the NFL came calling this winter, the marketplace could dictate that he's in line for another raise, as it'd be hard to imagine Meyer not garnering more than the five-year, $32.5 million contract Chip Kelly signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.

According to CoachingHotSeat.com, 10 NFL coaches made more in 2015 than Meyer did at Ohio State. The demand he would draw as a big-name candidate if he were to test the waters would surely make him one of pro football's higher-paid head coaches.

"I don't want to get into that. I'm not naming teams," Meyer said when asked about receiving overtures from the professional ranks. "It makes you think, just because of the respect, but I love where I'm at."

Returning to Ohio State, Meyer will have his work cut out for him, returning just six total starters from his 2015 team. But with the way he's recruited, the Buckeyes are a safe bet to remain in the playoff conversation through the bulk of the season, which has become the standard he's set in his first four seasons at Ohio State.

"What does the future hold?" Meyer asked rhetorically last week. "The future's extremely bright."

Looking at the financial numbers, that rings true in more ways than one. And it may just mean that Meyer is in line for another well-deserved raise sooner than later.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia's New DC Mel Tucker Will Help Keep Bulldogs Defense at Elite Level

Late Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, when Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker left the victorious locker room after helping Alabama win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, he walked out on top.

His team gave up yards in chunks to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, but safety Eddie Jackson—who he converted from corner in his first and only offseason with the Crimson Tide—forced the game's only turnover, which Alabama converted into a touchdown in the 45-40 win over the top-ranked Tigers.

Now, he's on to the next stage in his life with some familiar faces.

Georgia announced Tuesday morning Tucker will be the new defensive coordinator of the Bulldogs, joining new head coach Kirby Smart and assistant/analyst Glenn Schumann as former members of the Tide staff making the jump to Athens.

The trio made a quick break out of the desert in order to get started quickly at Georgia, according to Schumann's Twitter page.

Tucker is the perfect hire for Smart and will keep Georgia's defense—the nation's seventh-best in yards per game (305.9) and 13th in yards per play (4.76)—at an elite level in 2016.

No, Tucker didn't coordinate Alabama's defense last year. But he fixed its one major problem.

The Tide gave up a league-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards a year ago. The move of Jackson to safety, the play of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Harrison and the increased focus Tucker brought helped drop that number to 112 in 2015 despite playing one more game than the previous year.

While he has never been a coordinator at the college level other than 2004, when he was the co-coordinator at Ohio State, he did serve as the coordinator at three different NFL stops with Cleveland (2008), Jacksonville (2009-2012) and Chicago (2013-2014). His 2011 Jaguars defense gave up just 313 yards per game, the sixth-best mark in the league.

Plus, that NFL experience will undoubtedly be helpful on the recruiting trail, as former Bulldog and current co-host of WCNN 680 The Fan's Buck and Kincade radio show Buck Belue noted on Twitter.

Besides, it's not like Tucker is going to have to do it all.

He has a tremendous insurance policy in Smart as a head coach, who led Alabama to top-12 defenses nationally in all eight seasons he was in a similar role under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban from 2008-2015.

If anybody knows the defensive-minded head coach/defensive coordinator dynamic, what it takes to successfully work together and achieve sustained success, it's Smart.

With a stud like linebacker Lorenzo Carter coming back and a solid core that includes lineman Trenton Thompson and SEC interception leader Dominick Sanders, Tucker should be able to slide right in and pick up right where former coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left off.

He's the right hire at the right time for Georgia and for Smart.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama's Derrick Henry Was Feeling All Sorts of Ways During CFP Championship

Derrick Henry might've had the most forgettable 158-yard, three-touchdown game in the history of organized football on Monday night.

That's not a knock on Henry. It's not his fault Lane Kiffin decided to open the lab vault and unleash Olympic sprinter/possible Resident Evil monster O.J. Howard on the world. 

But even with Henry's contributions getting somewhat lost in the sauce of Alabama's 45-40 College Football Playoff championship win over Clemson, he still made his presence known. Specifically, he made it known on Jake Coker's attempts to put water in his mouth.

Mike Tunison posted a GIF of Henry coming in hot and nearly congratulating Coker over the bench.

That was long before victory was assured. So, you can only imagine what Henry looked like after the Crimson Tide seized victory.

Reddit user rezips (h/t SB Nation's James Dator) posted footage of the running back's postgame reaction. He could scarcely contain himself:

Or not. I don't know exactly what that look is, but it looks like the face you'd make if aliens landed and began making out with your girlfriend.

Or maybe it's just the face you make when you've spent the last four hours running at top speed and being bombarded with all of the most intense emotions known to man.

Yeah. That's probably it.


Dan is on Twitter. He hasn't made that face since Fallout 4 debuted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Nick Saban Will Never Leave Alabama for NFL

From the moment the clock struck triple zeros at University of Phoenix Stadium, the confetti fell all over the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban began drying off after getting doused with Gatorade, you could sense what was coming next.

The offseason, and the annual event known as "Saban Watch."

Saban just wrapped up his fourth national title in nine years in Tuscaloosa (fifth overall counting the 2003 title at LSU) and, as my colleague Adam Kramer noted from Glendale, Arizona, etched his name as perhaps the best coach in college football history.

There's only one thing left for Saban to do, right? After all, his 15-17 record with the NFL's Miami Dolphins from 2005-2006 sticks out like a sore thumb on his otherwise sterling resume.

Say it with me, say it with feeling and say it over and over again until you can't get it out of your head: Nick Saban isn't going to the NFL.

And here's why.

 

Cemented Legacy

Yes, Saban failed at the NFL level. 

Do you think he cares? If you do, have you seen Saban lately?

He ditched the process-oriented robot that won titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012—while lamenting the fact he missed out on a few recruiting days—in favor of the happy, smiling, dancing T-Rex that seemed to enjoy the conclusion to this season more so than any other title in his career.

"I'd just like to reiterate once again how proud I am of our team, everybody involved in the team, the players, number one," Saban said after the 45-40 win over Clemson, according to postgame quotes released by the CFP. "This was really about doing the best we could to help them have a chance to be successful and have an experience of winning a championship."

Of course, he's always going to be concerned with what's next, the players coming in, the fight against complacency and making sure everybody buys in to "the process." What has changed with Saban, though, is that he seems to enjoy that much more than he did just a couple of years ago.

The Kick Six, the Oklahoma loss and the semifinal shocker to Ohio State over the last two years humbled him, and his response is clear.

He no longer fears losing more than he enjoys winning, which seems to have quelled any desire to welcome the final challenge. As my colleague Lars Anderson wrote last week on Twitter, he's fine just where he is:

This challenge—the challenge of building and sustaining success at an elite level in college—is good enough. 

 

He's Not a Job-Jumper Anymore

Saban was labeled as a "job-jumper" after leaving LSU for the Dolphins in 2005, only to jump to Alabama two years later after repeated denials of his interest in the opening in Tuscaloosa.

Newsflash: That was nearly a decade ago, and people change. Especially 64-year-old men who have recently become grandfathers and put down roots in a location working in an industry like coaching that's inherently nomadic.

Yes, 54-year-old Saban would likely be all for the next big challenge, notice that grass that's always greener on the other side and throw his hat in every ring imaginable.

The only one he's thrown his hat into over the last couple of years is Texas, and all that did was earn him a $6.9 million-per-year contract through 2021 along with the reassurance he can retire in Tuscaloosa if he wants to and make enough to set his family up for generations—plural.

Saban spoke about his life outside of football prior to the game, according to the CFP:

I like to spend time with my family. I like to get away. We have two places that we sort of escape to. One is in Boca Grande, which is in Florida, and one is Lake Burton, which is in the mountains on the Georgia-North Carolina border. We have a lot of good relationships, a lot of good friends. I enjoy playing golf and spending time with those people and our family.

Could he cash in at the NFL level? No doubt about it.

His current income would be near the top of the NFL pay scale, according to CoachesHotSeat.com, but he wouldn't have that stability and the family structure he has built in Tuscaloosa would be uprooted in order to scratch that one remaining itch.

As Phil Savage of the Alabama radio network and SiriusXM noted after the Cotton Bowl, Alabama is Saban's life:

At his age, another move is just not worth it.

 

Knowledge is Power

If Saban would even consider a move up to the NFL, he would almost certainly require 100 percent control of personnel moves. 

Teams could certainly offer that, but as we saw with Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles, that places the coach in much more peril if those decisions don't pay off quickly. 

Why bother?

He has all the power he needs in Tuscaloosa, has reeled in five straight top-ranked recruiting classes and has assembled some of the most impressive coaching staffs in college football history.

Even if he gets full control over an NFL franchise, he's never going to have more power anywhere in the world of football than he has right now. After all, his boss—athletics director Bill Battle—knew how important it was to keep Saban happy from the moment he got his job in 2013.

"I want to learn from that guy," Battle said, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. "He’s good. I mean, he’s really good."

Why would Saban bother messing with success?

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Power 5 Conference Team's Best Returning Player for the 2016 Season

Monday night, the 2015 season wrapped up in tremendous fashion with Alabama’s 45-40 national title-game win over Clemson. It was a fun end to what had been, at times, a lackluster bowl season, but it also reminded us how exciting college football can be.

It was also a reminder that college football is always changing. We’re less than one week away from the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft, which means new players will step into more prominent roles left behind by graduates and early departures. That doesn’t mean that the game will lose its talent, though. Far from it.

College football has plenty of special players left. Here’s a look at the most talented player remaining on each Power Five program. We did not include players who have declared for the draft, per NFL.com, and stats are from ESPN.com and programs’ official websites.

Begin Slideshow

Why Clemson Is an Early Favorite to Win the 2016 National Title

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship is over. Clemson, the No. 1 team in the country for the latter part of the 2015 season, came up just short in a 45-40 loss.

No, this wasn't the return of "Clemsoning." The Tigers lost by five points to a perennial power and now arguably the greatest college football coach of all time in Nick Saban. They fought until the absolute end, failing to convert an onside kick that would have given them a chance at a Hail Mary. 

The loss certainly stings for Clemson, but this is not the peak moment for this program. This is not the end. 

"There's no doubt that we will be back. It won't be 34 years before we're going to be back, I promise you that," Swinney said, via Cory McCartney of FoxSports.com.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee agreed: 

Clemson will be back on this stage. With all their key players returning next year, projecting the Tigers to return to this very game isn't unfathomable. In fact, it's perfectly reasonable. 

Not all teams are created equally. You know this. I know this. In any given year, there are a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship. For the sake of this discussion, Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford were given long looks based on returning players and coaches.

Every team will have question marks. This is unavoidable. For example: Alabama will need to replace quarterback Jake Coker and members of the best defensive front seven in college football in memory. The good news for the Tide is even the backups are outstanding.

And when you're an NFL factory like Ohio State, can the 2016 team pick up where the 2015 version left off? There's no Joey Bosa at defensive end and no Ezekiel Elliott at running back to anchor the defense and offense, respectively.

Of all the teams examined, the one that kept coming up was Clemson. It might seem too safe—boring, even—to select the Tigers to return to the national championship game, but there are a plenty of reasons to like them.

 

Strengths: It Starts with Quarterback Deshaun Watson

Watson is a once-in-a-generation type of talent for Clemson. That in and of itself gives the Tigers an edge over other teams in consideration. 

There's a tremendous amount of value in dual-threat quarterbacks at the college level because it gives one of the best athletes on the team the ball on every snap.

Watson isn't just an athlete playing quarterback, though. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. He made significant strides as a passer during his sophomore campaign. In September, he threw for 213.7 yards per game. By November, that number increased to 321.8 yards per game.

In a year without much star power at quarterback, Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. 

Against Alabama, Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and he rushed for another 73 yards. In the words of offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain, there's not much Watson can't do: 

Watson was ready to play from Week 1 of his freshman season. That didn't mean Watson was going to play at a high level right away or consistently, but he was unquestionably the best option in 2014. By his third game—a 23-17 loss to Florida State in which he took over for Cole Stoudt—he threw for 266 yards. The following week against North Carolina, he tossed six touchdown passes.

He's only going to get better by the 2016 season. Watson will be a third-year player and in his second year as a full-time starter. The arsenal of weapons around him will return almost entirely intact. Leading receiver Artavis Scott will be a junior as well and the offense's best deep threat, Deon Cain, will be a sophomore.

The rapport between Watson and Cain blossomed as the season progressed. From Oct. 31 to Nov. 28, Cain had a touchdown in five straight games and caught 19 passes.

Though he was suspended for the playoffs for violating team rules, he's already enrolled in spring classes, according to ESPN.com, a good sign he's ready to compete again.

Cain is hardly the only explosive playmaker returning. Receiver Mike Williams, who missed practically the entire season with a neck injury, will be back. Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier reported that tight end Jordan Leggett will be back as well:

Running back Wayne Gallman announced on Twitter that he's considering his options but would like to win a national title:

For all the skill guys coming back, though, the more important group will be the offensive line. It's a team effort, but the Tigers gave up just 18 sacks in 15 games. The two big losses will be guard Eric Mac Lain and tackle Joe Gore, but three starters will be back, including freshman sensation Mitch Hyatt at left tackle.

Winning up front is paramount, and it can be difficult to keep an offense playing a high level when there's excessive turnover in the trenches.

The 2016 Clemson offense should strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators and opposing coaches everywhere. The amount of talent returning is almost unthinkable.

 

Weaknesses: 2 Key Areas Might Need to Be Rebuilt on Defense

By now, defensive coordinator Brent Venables deserves the benefit of the doubt. Heading into the 2015 season, the primary concern about Clemson was the defense. The entire D-line had to be replaced, as well as a handful of other starters.

Statistically, this was the best unit in college football in 2014, giving up a mere four yards per play.

All Clemson did this year was finish second in the country in sacks, tied for 24th in scoring defense and tied for 24th in total takeaways. So, yeah, Venables did a remarkable job with players who didn't have a lot of starting experience.

The good news for the Tigers is they won't have to go through the same type of defensive overhaul for 2016. Defensive end Shaq Lawson will enter the NFL draft, and NFL Network's Rand Getlin suggested in December that cornerback Mackensie Alexander is expected to do the same.

Much of Clemson's returning defense depends on a couple of key decisions involving safety Jayron Kearse and defensive end Kevin Dodd, who told Tony Crumpton of TigerNet.com that he's on the fence about leaving: 

I have submitted my papers. I want some feedback. Just to see where I stand. I'm willing to come back next year and take that leadership role. If that's not the case, then it's not the case. But I have been in this program four years. I felt like I have contributed well. I'm not saying I am leaving but if I did, I don't think I would be selfish. But I do want to come back and have that dominant season, but I do want to see where I stand.

If Dodd leaves, that means Clemson will have to replace nearly 50 percent of its sack production and roughly 30 percent of its quarterback hurries. That's a monumental blow to the pass rush.

Then again, Vic Beasley accounted for about 27 percent of Clemson's pass rush in 2014, and Venables showed the production could be replaced.

All things considered, Alexander would be the biggest loss. The 5'11", 195-pound redshirt sophomore is the team's top shutdown corner. For what it's worth, Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller believes Alexander could work his way into the top corner spot for the draft:

As David Hale of ESPN.com noted last month, Alexander had the lowest completion percentage allowed per target (31 percent) of anyone in major college football. Replacing that is no easy task.

 

Why the Tigers Will Win

In the end, head coach Dabo Swinney has made us ask "Why not?" rather than "Why?"

The 2016 national championship was a game between one of the sport's greatest coaches (Alabama's Nick Saban) and one who's carving his own path to greatness (Swinney).

Since losing the 2012 Orange Bowl to West Virginia, an undeniable turning point for Clemson with the benefit of hindsight, Swinney has beaten Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma (twice), Notre Dame and Florida State.

The list of coaches able to say as much in such a short time span is, at best, short.

Swinney is recruiting at a championship-level, too. For the past five years, Clemson has averaged a top-15 class. That's just good enough to compete for a national title.

With less than a month to go before national signing day, the Tigers have the No. 11-ranked class nationally. Should verbal commits hold, blue-chip players like all-purpose back Tavien Feaster, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Xavier Kelly should be in positions to compete for playing time right away.

But before looking ahead, you have to go back—back to Clemson's 24-22 win over Notre Dame in monsoon conditions.

In an interview with ESPN after the victory, Swinney said his players had to B.Y.O.G: Bring Your Own Guts. It's been a mantra for the Tigers during their undefeated run all the way up to the national championship game.

When you win that much, guts aren't the only thing required. In 2016, Clemson will be B.Y.O.E: Bring Your Own Expectations. Despite losing a heartbreaker to Alabama, the Tigers will have high expectations next year. The pieces are certainly there to fulfill them.

For the first time in a while, Clemson knows defeat in the worst way. Those coming back will make it their mission to never feel like that again.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama vs. Clemson: Top Plays, Highlights from 2016 CFP Championship

In a thrilling game, the Alabama Crimson Tide earned their fourth national championship in the last seven years by beating the Clemson Tigers 45-40 on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona. Clemson's Deshaun Watson had an amazing game in a losing effort (405 passing yards, four touchdowns and 73 yards rushing), but Alabama got it done with a total team effort.

ESPN SportsCenter was able to capture head coach Nick Saban surrendering a smile after his team's victory:

 

The Heisman Winner

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry had a monster game statistically. He ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. His one-yard plunge put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. He also had a 50-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.

If this was his last college football game, he will leave Tuscaloosa in style.

 

The Quarterback

Jake Coker has received some criticism throughout his career at Alabama, and he's had to overcome a wealth of adversity. However, just as he was against the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl, the senior was at his best when it mattered most.

He made several crucial throws over the course of the game. In total, he completed 16 of 25 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. After his third touchdown strike, Coker was a little amped, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

That 51-yard touchdown pass was to tight end O.J. Howard. The junior had five receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Most of the yardage came on completions courtesy of busted coverages by the Tigers secondary, but Howard's speed is impressive for a player at his position.

The aforementioned big score was one of the three biggest plays of the game, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

 

The Pooch

With the game tied at 24 after an Adam Griffith field goal, Saban elected to try a surprise onside kick. The gamble worked, as the Tide recovered and took over just outside Clemson territory.

With Clemson still reeling from the sneak attack, Coker hit Howard for the 51-yard strike. Howard had already caught a 53-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

The onside kick call took guts, but had it been unsuccessful, Saban and his staff would have been second-guessed. Because it worked, it'll go down as just another ingenious call by a college football coaching legend.

 

The Dive

After Watson rallied the Tigers to a field goal to answer Howard's touchdown, it was Kenyan Drake's turn to make his mark in the national championship. On the ensuing kickoff, Drake went 95 yards to make the score 38-27.

Drake had to extend and dive for the pylon to score, and the replay showed he stayed inbounds and broke the plain of the end zone. The amount of players who contributed to Bama's win are even more plentiful than the highlights presented indicate.

That's just proof that the Tide were indeed the best team in college football this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama vs. Clemson: Ratings for 2016 College Football Championship Revealed

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson received a 15.8 overnight rating for Monday night's telecast on ESPN.  

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal passed along word of the rating from the Crimson Tide's triumph Tuesday, which he notes is a 15 percent drop from the 2015 title game.

USA Today noted last year's championship clash between Ohio State and Oregon received an 18.2 rating and 33,395,000 viewers.

Although overall viewership numbers haven't yet been released, the ratings drop continues a trend that was seen during the semifinal games, which were held on New Year's Eve.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reported both matchups in the previous round saw viewership drop considerably (45 percent for Clemson vs. Oklahoma and 34 percent for Alabama vs. Michigan State). In all, the games lost more than 12 million viewers combined.

The New Year's Eve placement of those game certainly played a role in the decrease. Yet, Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com passed along comments from CFP executive director Bill Hancock, who stated there hasn't been any talk of redoing the schedule for future years.

"The contract is in place for 12 years," Hancock said Jan. 4 on The Audible podcast. "We have not talked at all about making any changes."

John Consoli of Broadcasting & Cable reported Jan. 8 that ESPN owed advertisers around $20 million in ad makegoods after ratings for the semifinals fell short of expectations.

The ratings for the title game may cause even more alarm bells to sound since it took place in its traditional Monday night slot against little sports competition. Furthermore, the game was highly entertaining with the Tide's 45-40 victory not being wrapped up until the final minutes.

Hancock told Fox Sports after the semifinals that "we all need to be careful, step back and remember that one year does not make a trend." That said, the ratings drop means the pressure will be on to produce bounce-back results at the end of next season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages