NCAA Football News

Cold Hard Fact for Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fact: Alabama has won 11 national championships in the poll era (since 1936), the most of any team.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light. 

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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College Football Championship 2016: Top Breakout Stars from Alabama vs. Clemson

There are three aspects to a football game: offense, defense and special teams. For as much attention as the first two receive, it can often be special teams that turns the outcome of a game one way or another.

Despite there being so many superstars and so much talent on the field in Glendale, Arizona, Monday, it was the special teams that made the difference for Alabama, as the Crimson Tide claimed yet another title and extended their dynasty another season.

It wasn’t all about the specialists, though, with the superstars carrying both teams throughout the game and setting up the thrilling finale. Alabama running back Derrick Henry was a beast on the ground throughout, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson put on his best Vince Young impression in the first half and even injured Tigers defender Shaq Lawson stepped up in a big way.

But while the headliners will, well, dominate the headlines in the morning, they weren’t the only players who stepped up, with both teams getting performances from a few less heralded players that kept them in the game.

The casual fan likely didn’t know who some of these players were before the game, but afterward, it is hard to ignore the presence of some of the breakout stars from last night's title game.

 

Top Breakout Stars

Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow

For everything Watson did to carry Clemson in the first half when seemingly nothing else was working, he had to have someone to throw the ball to, or else all of his scrambling would have been for naught. That's where Hunter Renfrow comes in.

Heading into the game, Renfrow, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, was fifth on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, but Monday night fans would have been excused for thinking he was the team’s No. 1 target.

Despite only recording three touchdowns in the first 13 games of the year, Renfrow was on the receiving end of two scores in the opening quarter Monday that saw Clemson take an early lead against Alabama.

Even when Deon Cain returns to the team next season and forces Renfrow back down the depth chart, it is hard to imagine the young receiver disappearing completely. With Charone Peake gone, Renfrow should still have a big role for the Tigers next season even if it is as a second or third receiver.

 

Clemson DE Kevin Dodd

Perhaps it is a little unfair to call Kevin Dodd a breakout star after the regular season he had, but if fans didn’t know who he was before Monday night, they absolutely do now.

Overshadowed throughout his career by the likes of Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson, Dodd continued to grow until he jumped into the starting lineup this season and established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the country.

Recording nine sacks this season—good for second-best on the team behind Lawson—Dodd was a force for most of the year, but showed off his abilities to the fullest against Alabama. Finishing the game with three sacks, Dodd outplayed Lawson and was the most dominate defensive player on the field for either team.

If he elects to return for the 2016 season, Dodd will be looked at to continue the legacy of great defensive ends at Clemson after Lawson departs for the NFL.

 

Alabama TE O.J. Howard

Here’s the thing, if you have watched Alabama at any point over the last couple of seasons, you know exactly who O.J. Howard is. Since his freshman year, the tight end has been touted as one of the most talented players in the country at his position, but he has never quite reached that potential—that is until Monday.

As Alabama looked for offensive balance—only offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows why you would when Derrick Henry is capable of running the ball 40 times—the typical course of action would be to call on No. 1 wideout Calvin Ridley. But in the title game it was Howard who stepped up, and he did so in a huge way.

Finishing the game with 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns that both gave Alabama the lead, Howard showed why Crimson Tide fans have been so excited for him to break out over the past few seasons.

Whether or not Alabama was the right fit for him to put up big numbers at tight end, Howard has established himself as one of the best in the country and provides an interesting prospect for NFL scouts.

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National Signing Day 2016: Predictions for Top Recruits After CFP Championship

With the close of college football season Monday night, fans will turn their attentions to the Feb. 3 national signing day.

While many top recruits already have at least verbally committed to their schools, 18 of the top-50 247Sports prospects have yet to announce their decisions.

The usual SEC suspects lead the way in the team recruiting rankings—with the LSU Tigers at the top—claiming six of the top-10 spots, but it's the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes that come in at second and third.

 

Top-Five Remaining Uncommitted Recruits

Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, NJ), DT

Gary is the No. 1 overall prospect and has not committed, although 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts, with a 64 percent certainty, he lands in Ann Arbor with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. 

Here are some highlights per Prep1Force.com:

At this point in the game it would be a surprise if Gary, an east-coaster, defied the odds and picked an SEC school, although it's possible. However, with the turnaround Harbaugh performed at Michigan this year—from five wins to 10—expect Gary to prove most experts right.

Prediction: Michigan

 

Derrick Brown, Lanier (Buford, GA), DT

Brown, at 6'4", 317 pounds, is the No. 8 recruit, per 247Sports. He's projected to attend Georgia by every expert with 247Sports, despite narrowing his list to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee, per USA TODAY.

The Army Bowl shared a picture of the talented lineman who was named the American Family Insurance Defensive Player of the Year:

He's a hometown guy, and even though the Bulldogs fired longtime coach Mark Richt, it doesn't appear to have hindered Brown any with his decision.

Prediction: Georgia

 

Ben Davis, Gordo Sch (Gordo, AL), ILB

The 247 Crystal Ball experts are in agreement here as well, predicting Davis to attend Alabama in the fall. A 6'3", 240-pound linebacker, Davis will announce his decision live on ESPN during national signing day on Feb. 3, per Ben Thomas of AL.com.

Davis' list includes Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Notre Dame and LSU, "with the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs 'kind of sharing No. 1 at the moment.'"

After a 100-tackle senior season playing deep in the heart of SEC country, Davis is highly sought-after. While top recruits certainly leave their home state for other schools, it would seem Alabama have the advantage after winning its fourth national title in seven years Monday night.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Lyndell Wilson, Carver (Montgomery, AL), OLB

Wilson, a talented linebacker with a rare combination of size and speed shown in this video from MaxPreps.com, is ranked No. 13 overall by 247Sports, with a 71 percent chance of landing at Alabama.

He has narrowed his selection down to three SEC schools, per Amos Morale III of NOLA.com—Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Morale said Wilson has listed Florida as his top choice multiple times, but the Crimson Tide have been recruiting him since his freshman season, and their dynasty looms large, especially for an in-state player.

Georgia seems to be third on the list considering Wilson said he didn't know much about new head coach Kirby Smart, but he also said he has talked with Davis, his Under Armour game roommate, about playing together, per Morale.

It would be interesting to see an Alabama kid choose Florida during a time where it seems no one can beat Alabama, but it's hard to believe head coach Nick Saban would let him get away considering the Crimson Tide proved they are on another level compared to the Gators with an old-fashioned SEC Championship beatdown this year.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, TX), S

Jones, the fifth defensive player in the top five, but the only defensive back, has narrowed his choices down to four schools, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN:

The 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts a 71 percent chance for Texas A&M, compared to 24 for Texas. Per Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation, Jones remains a top target for the Longhorns:

The most important safety target left on the board for the Longhorns is Nacogdoches star Brandon Jones, who is getting a full-court press from emerging ace recruiter Jeff Traylor, the Texas tight ends coach who recently elected to remain in Austin for at least one more year.

In the past month Texas A&M has lost its offensive coordinator (although it just hired Noel Mazzone from UCLA), athletic director and two, former 5-star quarterbacks. 

It's not like the Aggies are in disarray, but there has to be an "upset" or two with some of the top recruits, and it feels like this could be the case here, as head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns showed some life at the end of last season with a big road win over the No. 12 Baylor Bears.

Prediction: Texas

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College Football Rankings: Early Look at 2016 Preseason Top 25

The Alabama Crimson Tide are still celebrating their national championship, but it's never too early to look ahead. 

While Alabama fans will continue to bask in the glory of this title for at least a few more days, every other school has already started the countdown to September. 

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is still a week away (Jan. 18), so 2016 projections could change up until that point. But based on the players we know are leaving and those who have indicated their early decisions, here's a very early look at how the preseason rankings could look in August. 

 

Notable Teams

1. Clemson Tigers

Clemson returns arguably the most valuable player in the nation, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will be an early Heisman favorite in 2016. 

Redshirt sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is also likely to return, as is true sophomore receiver Artavis Scott. 

But Clemson isn't just returning the overwhelming majority of its offense, it's also adding to it. 

Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed almost the entire season after suffering a neck injury in Clemson's season opener, is expected to return. Williams led the Tigers with 1,030 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2014 and will add another dangerous weapon to the Clemson offense. 

Clemson will have the opportunity to start 2016 with a statement, as it travels to Auburn to open the season on Sept. 3.

 

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

The full extent of Alabama's mass exodus to the NFL isn't yet known, but it will be substantial. 

Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland, Jake Coker and Jonathan Allen are just a few key players who are graduating or expected to leave early for the pros. 

But we've seen this happen time and time again at Alabama, and head coach Nick Saban always reloads. 

Cooper Bateman will likely take over at quarterback for Alabama, with sophomore running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris battling it out for the carries at running back. 

Unfortunately for Alabama, there will be no time to ease in the new starters. The Tide kicks off the season with a showdown against USC in Arlington, Texas, and then travels to Ole Miss in Week 3.

 

7. Tennessee Volunteers

Perhaps no 8-4 team has ever been closer to contending for a championship than Tennessee was in 2015. 

The Vols held fourth-quarter leads in three of their four losses, including crushing defeats against Oklahoma and Alabama. 

While those losses were devastating for Tennessee and its fans, the Vols may be better off in 2016 having learned from those experiences. 

The stars of the offense, quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, return for the Vols and should both be considered early Heisman dark horses. 

Tennessee also made a significant coaching move, hiring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop away from Penn State. 

 

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

As Tim Shoemaker of ElevenWarriors.com points out, Ohio State has a lot of holes to fill in 2016:

Sixteen starters will need replaced for Ohio State next season. Number drops to 14 if you pencil in Curtis Samuel & Sam Hubbard as starters.

— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) January 6, 2016

One of the few returning starters, quarterback J.T. Barrett is arguably their most valuable player on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to make the Buckeyes Big Ten contenders once again. 

Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will be the leaders of a defense seeking eight new starters. 

One of those new starters on defense will be Sam Hubbard, who primarily took the field as a situational pass-rusher in 2015. According to CFB Film Room, Hubbard generated 14 quarterback pressures during the regular season. 

 

13. Houston Cougars

Through the first two years of the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five teams have failed to make a serious push to crash the party. That could change in 2016. 

Houston enters the season with a wave of momentum, having handled Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

The Cougars will have the opportunity to make an even greater statement on opening weekend as they take on Oklahoma in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. 

With a victory over Oklahoma, Tom Herman's squad would have the signature victory necessary to make a serious push for the playoffs. 

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The Call That Made Nick Saban the Best Coach in College Football History

GLENDALE, Ariz. — They had run the play before, time and time again, and it had failed. Over and over again, the ball had hit the ground or bounced out of bounds. It was not ready for Clemson or a stage this magnificent. 

In fact, days before Nick Saban won his fifth national championship by a very un-Saban-like score of 45-40, he watched the play—appropriately named "pop kick"—flop one last time.

In Thursday's walkthrough, having wanted to execute one more successful dry run, Marlon Humphrey let the football hit the ground.

"It was 50-50," special teams coordinator Bobby Williams said as confetti danced around him following the game, seeming completely at ease with those percentages after the fact. 

He was not alone. With a new wave of "Dead Dynasty" columns waiting to be composed and Clemson on the verge of snatching all momentum, Saban made a decision that will reshape his robust legacy. 

He pulled the trigger on a play that masterfully showcased his magnificent adaptability—a theme that has not been recognized enough. And above all, he cemented himself as the greatest ever—a living, breathing—and now gamblin'—legend. 

"If we wouldn't have got that," Saban said shortly before leaving the podium, "y'all would be killing me right now."

With a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Alabama tied the game 24-24 with a 33-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

Even with the score back to even, it had been an uphill climb all evening. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had given Alabama's impenetrable defense fits, fitting balls in tight windows and picking up yardage on the ground that had not been there for the past three months.

Alabama needed a lift—perhaps emotionally more than anything else. So, instead of turning to his Heisman Trophy-winning running back or one of the many experienced superstars at his disposal, he turned to his kicker and a redshirt freshman cornerback who was by no means a sure thing. He had seen that firsthand.

"We were tired on defense and weren't doing a good job of getting them stopped," Saban said. "And I felt like if we didn't do something or take a chance to change the momentum of the game that we wouldn't have a chance to win."

Knowing the complex relationship the school has with its kickers, Griffith took the field just like usual. But instead of blasting the kick deep, he popped it into the air—like a tennis player trying to catch his opponent at the net—and it fell right into Humphrey's arms.

A stunned stadium—both sides—tried to process what it had witnessed. It was perfect in every way.

"I knew for sure we were going to get it, to be honest," Humphrey said, unfazed by the failed practice attempts. "But it was a tie game. That was pretty gutsy."

It was out of Saban's comfort zone in every way imaginable. From the personnel to the call itself, this was not part of the process. This was something no one in the building had anticipated.

To cap it, the man who rarely smiles unleashed one for the world to see. The man who rarely appreciates his work—especially during a game of this magnitude—couldn't help but marvel at how it had all come together.

Two plays later, quarterback Jake Coker connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 51-yard touchdown pass. The onside kick was the shot of adrenaline; this was the moment that made it whole.

"It got the sideline energized," Howard said of the kick. "Everybody was pumped up, and we went down and scored on the next drive, so it was a big momentum swing for us." 

Despite Clemson's unrelenting efforts, Alabama never trailed again. The final score told the tale of a game ripe with explosive plays and tremendous swings—things that would have crippled Saban in the past.

But that was just that—the past. 

That was before Saban went out and hired Lane Kiffin—admitting in plain view that he desperately needed help on the offensive side of the ball. The decision has worked brilliantly—and loomed large in the most significant game of the year. 

That was before Saban reconstructed his defense to generate more sacks—something that had plagued this program leading up to 2015. Along with this alteration, Saban went out and hired Mel Tucker to coach his defensive backs, fully aware new influence was necessary.

Long before Saban made the most memorable call of an incredible career, he showed the world he was capable of change. We simply didn't bother to notice.

In many ways, this play was the culmination of countless gambles taken to reach this point.

But those plays will take a backseat to a decision that will be discussed and celebrated in Alabama living rooms for generations—long after Saban retires and is recognized as the greatest to ever stroll any sideline.

They will talk about their coach and all of the championships he brought them—each more special than the next. And yes, they will recount the one time he called a play that didn't work until it absolutely had to.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Jake Coker's Ultimate Redemption Story Is What College Football Is All About

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As the celebration started making the transition from the confetti-filled field to the smoke-filled locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium, Alabama offensive lineman Alphonse Taylor couldn’t help but have a little fun in front of some reporters.

Using a half-filled Gatorade as a microphone, he decided to turn the tables a little and interview senior quarterback Jake Coker himself.

“I’m with the man, the myth and the legend, Jacob Coker everybody,” the massive junior right guard yelled into the bottle. “How does it feel to be a national champion?”

“I can’t describe it, especially after having to play behind all you fat [boys], it really makes it special,” Coker said while playing along and trying to get someone to light his victory cigar.

“You’re not too small yourself. What was going through your head when you took that knee in that last possession?”

“Indescribable.”

A few minutes later, Coker finally sat down and let the emotions start to wash over him. He hadn’t had the best game, completing 16 of his 25 passes, but his 335 yards ended up being a career high.

Moreover, he had done it—like the big it, the its of all its. After leaving Florida State and transferring to his beloved Alabama in 2014, he helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship with Monday’s dramatic 45-40 victory against Clemson.

“I’m exhausted,” he said. “We had to earn it, that’s for sure.”

Like a lot of his teammates, Coker took a pounding. He was sacked five times, and Clemson totaled nine tackles for a loss in a game that changed hands five times before Alabama finally pulled away—and then the game still went down to the wire.

While junior running back Derrick Henry finished with 158 rushing yards on 36 carries and three touchdowns, Alabama knew going in that it would need more than the Heisman Trophy winner to win.

Head coach Nick Saban called it a “big-little” game, in that Clemson’s defense was the kind Alabama’s offense was going to have some negative plays against (although it didn’t anticipate that many), but it would have the chance to get some playmakers into open space.

“I thought we would be able to make some big plays in this game,” he said.

Noticing the Clemson players sometimes needed a while to get lined up how they wanted, part of Alabama’s strategy was to go hurry-up. The result was that the Tigers would get into formation but then be unable to make adjustments before the snap.

One result was junior tight end O.J. Howard having a breakout game with 208 yards on five catches, including touchdowns of 53 and 51 yards.

He was essentially left uncovered on both, the first giving Alabama its initial 21-14 lead early in the second half following the extra point, and the second helping the Crimson Tide pull ahead for good in the fourth quarter.

“We needed that big time,” Coker said about the first touchdown, as Saban had noted during his halftime interview that his quarterback was holding on to the ball too long.

But Howard’s biggest play may have been the 63-yard catch-and-run that set up Alabama’s final touchdown, a one-yard Henry dive that took defensive linemen Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson helping out as fullbacks to drive in and a review to confirm.

“Some of those plays were fast plays,” offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “We were trying to use that to our advantage, and some of our guys were able to make plays.”

Finally, after Clemson rallied for a final touchdown and the subsequent onside kick went out of bounds, Alabama breathed a sigh of relief and began the celebration for its 16th national championship.

“I can’t even put it into words. Dream come true,” wide receiver Richard Mullaney said.

Actually, it was better than that for Coker, who was a fifth-year transfer like Mullaney but wasn’t heavily recruited by Alabama despite growing up in Mobile. He ended up initially attending Florida State, which appeared to be a much better opportunity for him at the time.

It obviously didn’t turn out that way.

“Five years ago, I never though I’d be here, that’s for sure,” Coker said.

So when the game ended, Coker ran over to hug his family in the front row and give a shout-out to brother Patrick Brown, an Air Force captain whom he calls his inspiration.

“When you win a national championship with Alabama, that’s about all you can ask for. That’s the top for me. I couldn’t be more proud.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Despite Loss, Deshaun Watson Became the Heisman Trophy Front Runner for 2016

As the gold confetti fell from University of Phoenix Stadium deep into the Arizona night on Monday, Deshaun Watson ran off the field not in the jubilant celebration that he had imagined as a little kid, but in defeat after an opportunity lost. It marked only the second time Watson has lost as Clemson's starter. 

By any metric, Watson’s 2015 was one for the ages, as he led his team to an undefeated regular season, an ACC title and a playoff berth. Individually, Watson made it to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation and became the first college football player ever to pass for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season.

And in the end, as the calendar had shifted to 2016, the precocious signal-caller came just a few plays away from slowing the Tide dynasty and bringing a championship to Howard’s Rock.

While the 45-40 final score was not what Watson was hoping for, his sublime individual performance likely made him the new face of college football heading into 2016.

“He's special. He really is,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in his postgame press conference, per Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh. “That's one of the things Coach [Nick] Saban was talking to me about after the game. This guy, he's special. Again, he's got great toughness, great heart, a great mind for the game, and just made some huge plays all the way to the end.”

With apologies to fellow superstar Christian McCaffrey and his video game moves for Stanford, it will be Watson who will headline preseason Heisman lists and magazine covers in a few short months. That much was clear in his heroic attempt to lead a bruised and battered Tigers team to the verge of immortality against an Alabama juggernaut and one of college football's best defenses. 

Coming into this game, Watson was a household name amongst college football fans, but lacked the national buzz of a Derrick Henry or Cardale Jones of last year. 

Now everybody knows his name. 

Almost 10 years to the day after Vince Young hypnotized the country on his way to a national title for Texas, Watson nearly did the same in a different shade of orange. Casual fans and college football die-hards saw Watson throw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rush for another 73 on the ground.

Even though it was in a losing effort, breaking Young’s historic mark for total offense in a championship game will not be lost in the minds of anybody over the coming months.

“At the end of the day, I wanted the W. All the stats doesn't really matter to me. I just wanted to get the win and do something that we haven't done in 34 years,” said Watson, per Walsh. “But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, love my brothers, and you'll see us in Tampa next year.”

What Watson did, going toe-to-toe with one of the best defenses in recent memory and continually out-foxing one of the best coaches of any era, was simply one of the most amazing championship game performances of all time.

And he had to do it nearly by himself, too.

Wide receiver Deon Cain missed the two bowl games after being suspended. Fellow wideout Mike Williams was lost on the opening drive of the season. Against Alabama, running back Wayne Gallman was injured and ineffective in the second half. Watson had to deliver every possession. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough in a game with a handful of missed opportunities down the stretch for the Tigers.

“Going into this game, I was expecting to win. I thought we should have won,” the quarterback said, per Walsh. “But like Coach Swinney said, there was a few plays that we didn't really capitalize on, and I missed some throws, we dropped some balls, and just had some...miscues. Just some little things like that is going to really force yourself in a hole, and it's hard to beat a team like Alabama if you make those mistakes.”

But those mistakes could be the fuel Watson needs to climb over the hump this offseason as Clemson enters 2016 the favorite to make it back to the College Football Playoff and capture yet another ACC title. They are no longer a team mocked for “Clemsoning” at inopportune times, but one that rightfully is among the elite programs of the sport—now and for the foreseeable future.

A big reason for that is Watson, of course, who will return to a tiny South Carolina town on Tuesday as a hero in defeat and a player the program can continue to chase a national title with.

The bulk of his young receiving corps returns next season, as does his offensive line and the typically terrific Gallman. The defense will take a few hits, but Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables has proven to be a master at reloading in the face of loss.

“It will really start when we get back to school, start watching this film, fix some of the mistakes I made, and just getting back rolling. Putting on some weight, getting in the weight room some more, and taking that next step in my game and level,” said Watson, per Walsh. “I talked to Derrick Henry after the game, and we're going to try to link up after the off-season (so I can) learn from him and just really build that relationship. He's the Heisman winner, national champion, so I'm trying to do the same thing and just learn from guys that have been there and done it.”

Clemson lost to a dominant force on Monday night, but the team pushed Alabama to a point where even Crimson Tide fans were rightfully amazed at what the dual-threat quarterback from Gainesville, Georgia could do with the football in his hands.

There’s a special player in that orange No. 4 jersey, and all of college football knows it now. Even with an ending he’d just as soon forget, the encore to an amazing 2015 might just be Deshaun Watson warming up.

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

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O.J. Howard Wins 2016 College Football National Championship Offensive MVP

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game featured the Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry and a Heisman Trophy finalist in Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Naturally, a tight end who didn’t find the end zone during the entire regular season earned Offensive Player of the Game honors.

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard racked up 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches during the Crimson Tide’s 45-40 victory over the Tigers on Monday night.

His first touchdown was from 53 yards out and opened the scoring in the second half to break a 14-14 tie. His second score broke a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter. The 51-yard touchdown catch with 9:45 remaining turned out to be the game-winner, as Clemson trailed for the remainder of the contest. 

Howard also busted loose on a tight end screen while the Crimson Tide were attempting to run out the clock late in the game, which set up a one-yard score by Henry with 1:07 left. ESPN Stats & Info shared the highlight:

The big play by the 6’6”, 242-pound tight end prompted this reaction from Michael Wilbon of ESPN:

Howard's outing was surprising because he tallied only 394 receiving yards all year and didn't record a single touchdown. In fact, Monday’s touchdowns were his first since he scored twice in 2013.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin joked about Howard’s breakthrough after the game.

“We'd been resting him for 14 games," he said, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports. "He had fresh legs.”

The Crimson Tide picked the right time to unveil Howard to the world.

Now Howard must decide if he will come back for his senior season as one of the vocal points of the Alabama offense, or pursue the NFL. Bleacher Report's NFL draft expert Matt Miller believes he is likely to get drafted in the first few rounds if he declares: 

Whether he returns or not, Howard has catapulted himself onto the national scene in impressive fashion. 

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The Legend of Derrick Henry Grows with Record-Setting National Title Performance

Barring a surprise, Alabama's 2016 national championship win over Clemson in Arizona was likely running back Derrick Henry's last game in a Crimson Tide uniform. The 6'3", 242-pound monster who towered over former 'Bama running back Mark Ingram Jr. (5'9", 215 lbs) in the pregame coin toss is expected to declare for the NFL draft. 

Yet, Monday's game wasn't even close to being Henry's best performance. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner wasn't the difference-maker in Alabama's 45-40 victory at all. 

Henry was solid; make no mistake about that. Rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns is nothing to dismiss. However, Henry had just 30 yards in the second half and never broke off a run longer than five yards in that span. 

If you can believe it, the team's "non-stars" won its latest championship: quarterback Jake Coker, who went 16-of-25 for 335 yards and two touchdowns; tight end O.J. Howard, who had five catches for a career-best 208 yards and two touchdowns; and Henry's backup, Kenyan Drake, who had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

You know, blue-chip recruits like Henry who were far less heralded this season. 

But the legend of Henry grew in Alabama lore all the same. The running back built like a linebacker broke Shaun Alexander's school record for career rushing yards during the third quarter. Alexander had 3,565 yards in his four-year career in Tuscaloosa, according to Sports Illustrated. Henry, obviously, needed only three years to eclipse that number.

Alexander, by the way, was on the sidelines to watch it all happen: 

It was the latest milestone to fall to Henry in a year of rewritten records.

During the SEC title game against Florida in December, Henry broke the single-season SEC rushing record previously held by Herschel Walker (1,891 yards). Henry needed only 323 carries to surpass Walker's mark. In 1981, Walker needed 385 carries to set that record. 

The week before that, against Auburn, Henry broke Alabama's single-season rushing record previously held by Trent Richardson, who rushed for 1,679 yards in 2011. Among the records Henry broke in 2015 are Alabama’s single-season rushing touchdowns record (previous record: 21) and single-game rushing attempts record (previous record: 42). 

None of that includes his national high school career rushing record, which he set at Yulee High School in Florida in 2012. 

And now, he can add a national title to his resume in addition to being the FBS rushing leader: 

In short, Henry will go down as one of the most accomplished backs to ever pass through Alabama. His 2015 effort is easily the most decorated in program history. Seeing as the Tide have churned out stellar running backs like an assembly line lately, that's saying something. 

Alabama certainly wasn't afraid to use Henry. No running back this season had more attempts. After the Tide used him more sparsely in September, Henry averaged around 28 carries per game in October and November. That number jumped up to 32 carries per game in December (though his 44 carries against Florida skew the stat slightly). Against the Tigers on Monday, Henry had 36 carries. 

As offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin joked before the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State, the goal for the Tide was to feed their bruising running back. Kiffin said, "Hopefully we give the ball to Derrick more than" Ohio State turned to Ezekiel Elliott (12 carries) vs. the Spartans: 

And feed him, they did. In time, how Henry is viewed in Alabama history will have greater context. He might not be projected as the best pro to ever come through the program—B/R draft guru Matt Miller has Henry as a mid-third-round selection—but he is among the most productive. 

No, Henry did not have his greatest night against Clemson. That he was able to endear himself to Tide fans all the same further cements his place in the program's illustrious history. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless noted otherwise. 

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Alabama vs. Clemson: Game Grades and Analysis CFP National Championship Game

Derrick Henry's three touchdowns powered the Alabama Crimson Tide to a 45-40 victory over the Clemson Tigers during the CFP National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona, Monday night.

Alabama claimed its fourth title in the last seven years and 16th in program history. Nick Saban earned his 100th career win at the school in style.

Pass Offense: The first half was not kind to Jake Coker, who looked tentative during the opening 30 minutes. He never dominated, but Coker took advantage of two blown coverages for long touchdowns to O.J. Howard. The tight end tallied a career-best 208 yards. Jasmine Watkins of Athlon Sports highlighted one of Coker's key moments Clemson gift-wrapped for him:

Run Offense: Derrick Henry opened the scoring with a 50-yard score and added a pair of touchdowns later on, including the game-sealing tally late in the fourth quarter. He finished the contest with 158 yards on 36 carries.

Pass Defense: Alabama's NFL-bound defensive linemen consistently pressured Deshaun Watson, but linebacker Rashaan Evans managed the only two sacks due to the Clemson quarterback's elusiveness. Eddie Jackson's interception set up a Crimson Tide touchdown. USA Today's Dan Wolken highlighted Saban's admiration for Watson's ability in that the "whole team" benefits from having him under center:

Run Defense: Designed runs—especially up the middle—were rarely effective against the Alabama front seven. Watson did a majority of his damage while scrambling, and Alabama limited Wayne Gallman to 11 yards on 13 carries, excluding his late 34-yard scamper.

Special Teams: The Crimson Tide's special teams won the game. Adam Griffith lofted a gorgeous surprise onside kick that led to Howard's go-ahead touchdown, and Kenyan Drake added a 95-yard kickoff return for a score. For good measure, JK Scott notched 42.4 yards per punt. Reddit CFB highlighted what it called Alabama's "perfect pooch kick":

Coaching: Lane Kiffin capitalized on Clemson's aggressive defensive ends, rolling Coker out of the pocket to create easy throws. Despite the score, Kirby Smart had a decent final game as the D-coordinator. Watson was nothing short of spectacular at extending plays after the defensive call worked.

Pass Offense: Though the accolades are no consolation, Deshaun Watson is a legendary magician. He became the first quarterback ever to throw for at least 4,000 yards and run for 1,000-plus, according to B/R Insights. The sophomore completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns—two of which went to Hunter Renfrow. Coach Dabo Swinney praised Watson's performance, calling him a "special" player and expressed his anticipation for Watson's return to the gridiron next season (h/t Paul Newberry of the Associated Press):

Run Offense: Alabama's powerful defensive line stopped Gallman from providing much of a positive impact on the ground. Watson used his scrambling ability to pick up a few first downs, ending with 87 yards on 18 non-sack rushing attempts.

Pass Defense: The best news? Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson combined for five sacks. The good news? Clemson absolutely shut down big-play threat Calvin Ridley. The bad news? Clemson failed to stop Howard, who had three 50-plus-yard gains and was the game's difference-maker.

Run Defense: Henry's 158 yards appear like an awful performance against the run. However, the Tigers surrendered an even 3.0 yards per carry to Henry after his 50-yard touchdown. Overall, Clemson truly did an excellent job containing the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner.

Special Teams: Greg Huegel connected on two field goals, while Andy Teasdall registered 44.2 yards per punt and downed two attempts inside the 10-yard line. Drake's kick-return touchdown will be a lasting negative from the loss, though. Swinney "promised" his team's return to the national championship game in less than another 34 years (h/t Brad Senkiw of the Independent Mail).

Coaching: Mental lapses from defensive backs could be a coaching issue, but the latter sure looked like an on-field problem. On the other hand, leaving the kick-return unit vulnerable to lose an onside kick wasn't great. Overall, Dabo Swinney and Co. had a decent night. They'll be back.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Deshaun Watson Breaks Vince Young's Total-Yards Record in a National Title Game

Despite coming up short Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson broke former Texas Longhorns star Vince Young's record for the most total yards in a national title game, per SportsCenter:

The sophomore, who threw four touchdown passes in the game, recorded 405 yards passing and 73 yards rushing in the 45-40 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

He also broke Matt Leinart's record for the most passing yards in a national championship game.

Although it was an impressive performance, it wasn't shocking to those who followed Watson this season. 

He finished third in Heisman Trophy voting and torched defenses for 4,104 passing yards, 1,105 rushing yards and 47 total touchdowns. 

Watson earned respect from fans all over the country but also one of his opponents, 2015 Heisman winner Derrick Henry, per SEC Network:

While it may not be as important to him as winning the game, he proved all of the accolades and praise he received this year were warranted.

Watson should have his Tigers in the championship mix next season. And who knows? Perhaps he'll have a chance to break his own records.

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Alabama Wins 2016 CFP Championship: Celebration Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Alabama Crimson Tide reign at the top again.

The Crimson Tide defeated the Clemson Tigers 45-40 in a College Football Playoff National Championship Game that will go down as a classic with many memorable moments.

The onside kick. O.J. Howard being wide-open for every catch he made. Deshaun Watson's historic night. It was all a spectacle, ending with the Tide winning a national championship for the fourth time under head coach Nick Saban.

Alabama shared some of these moments after the clock hit triple zeroes, including the trophy presentation:

Times can get stressful when running a tight ship like Saban does. Alabama expects perfection each time the Crimson Tide play, so it's always a phenomenon when Saban smiles, per BuzzFeed Sports:

Once a win is no longer in doubt, Saban needs to cool off because it's been a long year. So here's a Gatorade bath, video courtesy of Vice Sports:

Or, according to CBS Sports' Will Brinson, perhaps the Crimson Tide players poured something else on Saban:

With five national championships under his belt, Saban has coached in and won many important games. Dan Wolken of USA Today thought Monday's performance should rank at the top of the list:

Clemson's late touchdown, which helped the team cut the deficit to five in the closing seconds, ended up making a huge difference in the sportsbooks. The line closed with the Tigers as 6.5-point underdogs, per Odds Shark, and the backdoor cover either won people a lot of money or sent them home upset.

This is, arguably, an accurate representation of Las Vegas right now, per Bleacher Report:

Even those who cover the pros for a living, such as Rich Eisen of NFL Network, had to take a step back and admire what was happening inside University of Phoenix Stadium:

After winning a national championship, it might be best to not judge anything the champs decide to do. For example, who will tell them to stop smoking cigars in the locker room? Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel was there to observe, not to rat anyone out:

Even the Alabama cheerleaders and mascot reveled in the fact that their team is atop the college football world once again, per SB Nation:

The confetti they're sitting on was even used to create a confetti snow angel, much like the one sophomore running back Lawrence Erekosima made, per SportsCenter:

Throughout the night, fans compared Monday's game to the USC-Texas Rose Bowl in 2006. It lived up to the hype, but didn't finish the way that historic contest did.

Nevertheless, it was still one of the best national title games in recent memory and will go down as a classic.

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Alabama's O.J. Howard Finally Meets Potential, Has NFL Draft Scouts Salivating

All eyes were on Alabama running back and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, and unfortunately for Henry, that included the eyes of the Clemson front seven.

Sure, he finished with 158 yards on 36 carries, but 50 of those yards came on a first-quarter touchdown run in Alabama's 45-40 win over the top-ranked Tigers.

In the second half, while the top two teams in the country were busy trading body blow after body blow like two heavyweight fighters going toe-to-toe for the belt, Henry found himself bottled up by the fast, physical and deep Clemson defense.

Somebody had to step up, and it was Tuscaloosa's version of a unicorn—tight end O.J. Howard.

The junior caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns for the Crimson Tide, etching his name in stone as one of the most surprising stars in title-game history after not realizing his potential for the majority of his career.

His 53-yard touchdown gave Alabama a 21-14 lead coming out of halftime, and his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown broke a tie in the fourth quarter after head coach Nick Saban stunned Clemson with an onside kick. It was the play that sent the Crimson Tide's momentum into overdrive when they needed it the most. 

As Ben Jones of TideSports.com noted on Twitter, Saban places the blame on himself for not getting him more involved in the game plan over his first three seasons with the program. 

Even in a critical spot on 2nd-and-long late in the fourth quarter with Alabama up one score, quarterback Jake Coker found Howard for a 63-yard catch-and-run down to the Clemson 14-yard line that set up Henry's third touchdown, which iced the game. 

The 6'6", 242-pound native of Prattville, Alabama, came to town as one of the 5-star studs of the 2013 recruiting class, but he never really materialized into the weapon he was touted to be.

"Everything I've heard is that he was kind of lazy," Bleacher Report NFL draft analyst Matt Miller said. "Some of it, too, was because of the way the scheme was designed, they're going to run the ball so much and that is going come in to play. A lot of the focus on the edge was with Ridley and those guys."

Now, things have changed quite a bit for Howard.

His performance, which earned him offensive MVP honors, has scouts at the next level drooling based on his potential, size, running ability, hands and ability to play his best against the best. 

"It moves him up, there's no way around it," Miller said. "I always tell people that you want 'big plus big,' and that's what tonight was. You're going against a Clemson secondary in which every one of those guys is going to play in the NFL, and some of those guys are going to be early draft picks."

It took him long enough.

Howard entered the title game with just two career touchdown catches—both during the 2013 season—394 receiving yards during the 2015 season and the "recruiting bust" label.

"Anybody who follows recruiting knows who O.J. Howard is and that he's a freak and an athlete, but he had never had those numbers until tonight," Miller said. "You got an idea of what he can do. I always say to scout traits over production. Tonight you got to see those two things come together."

Howard has a decision to make after his masterful performance. His career might have been slow to get started, but his junior year ended on the highest of high notes.

Will he strike while the iron is hot and make the jump to the next level?

He was more of a mystery than a monster in college, but that mystery was solved in the biggest game of the season. 

Better late than never.

 

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.

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College Football Rankings 2015-16: B/R's Final Official Top 25

Now that was worth the wait.

More than four months ago, we started the journey of the 2015 college football season. The hope was we would be rewarded for the experience of navigating a regular season full of non-stop excitement and weekly thrills. We got what we thought would be a pair of great playoff games, only to be handed duds.

But Monday's national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, did not disappoint. Alabama and Clemson played their hearts out, but only one team could come out on top.

And only one can finish atop the final Bleacher Report Top 25.

Twenty-one members of our college football staff voted in this week's Top 25: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.

First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent rank worth one fewer point, all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 highest vote-getters made our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.

See where each team landed after the completion of the 2015 season and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Alabama vs. Clemson: Score and Reaction for 2016 College Football Championship

Defense doesn't win championships. Special teams and big plays win championships.

The Alabama Crimson Tide shocked the Clemson Tigers with four touchdowns of 50 yards or more on the way to a 45-40 victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night. It was Alabama's fourth national title since the 2009 season and cemented its recent run as one of the best ever, as ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:

It was also head coach Nick Saban's fifth career title, and Dan Wolken of USA Today considered Monday's performance one of the coach's best:

The championship was also a testament to Saban's recruiting ability, as John Garcia Jr. of Scout.com noted:

Saban made his impact with a critical decision to attempt an onside kick in the fourth quarter after Alabama had tied the game. It worked—and set up a go-ahead touchdown, which underscored one of the themes from Monday's contest.

Clemson's special teams consistently collapsed: missing a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half and allowing the onside kick and a backbreaking kickoff return for a touchdown by Kenyan Drake in the final quarter. Drake averaged 39.2 yards per return on five attempts.

The Tigers also failed to stop tight end O.J. Howard—who finished with 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns after scoring twice in the last three seasons combined—and running back Derrick Henry—who proved his Heisman Trophy worth with 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson capped a brilliant season with 405 passing yards, 73 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He put up 40 points against the nation's No. 1 scoring defense and was unstoppable throughout the four quarters. He warned the college football world something like that would happen back in 2012:

With players such as Watson and Henry, the offenses wasted little time making game-changing plays in the first quarter on the way to 21 combined points. Although Clemson took a 14-7 lead into the second, Alabama struck first when Henry steamrolled his way through a hole for a 50-yard touchdown.

Robby Kalland of CBS Sports depicted the scene:

Ryan Krasnoo of Sports Illustrated said, "It should be illegal for someone 6'3" and 235 pounds to run that fast." And Bryan Fischer of Bleacher Report recognized the offensive line's efforts on the play:

The Tigers responded with two quick scores. Watson found Hunter Renfrow, who chose Clemson as a preferred walk-on, for two touchdowns in the opening quarter. One went for 31 yards and the other went for 11.

The Alabama defense was having trouble keeping up with the Tigers' early pace. College GameDay shared a look at the first connection:

Fischer weighed in on the development:

B/R Insights pointed out how rare the early defensive struggles were for the Crimson Tide:

Alabama turned the tide in the second quarter when Eddie Jackson picked off Watson, which set up another touchdown by Henry and knotted the game at 14. College GameDay illustrated how difficult it was for the Clemson defense to stop the Heisman winner from scoring from the 1-yard line:

Henry also made some program history in the first half, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The defenses settled down for the remainder of the half, and the teams entered the locker rooms tied at 14. Greg Huegel missed a 44-yard field goal that would have put the Tigers ahead before halftime. It came after time mismanagement by the officials, who failed to stop the clock after a first down and forced Clemson to take its last timeout and try a longer field goal than perhaps it would have otherwise.

Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch offered his support for Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney:

Clemson had reason to be concerned outside of the officials, because cornerback Mackensie Alexander—who was questionable coming into the game with a hamstring injury—left the contest after reaggravating the ailment. Alexander had "been moving at half speed most of the night," according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports. "You just knew that hammy would bite at some point."

Right on cue, the Crimson Tide exploited the limited Tigers secondary to start the second half. Jake Coker hit Howard for a 53-yard score after a blown coverage assignment left the tight end wide open down the sideline. SportsCenter captured how open Howard was even after the catch:

Larry Williams of TigerIllustrated.com acknowledged those kinds of plays have been an issue for Clemson:

The Tigers responded with a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17 and got a stop when Kevin Dodd recorded an impressive sack on the ensuing possession. Nancy Armour of USA Today put the pressure by the Clemson front seven into perspective: 

Watson looked like a magician with the football as he kept alive a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a number of critical scrambles and perfectly placed throws. While Watson did most of the work, running back Wayne Gallman capped the series with a one-yard touchdown run.

The Tigers had a 24-21 lead, and Watson was drawing a number of comparisons, per Fornelli:

Henry, on the other hand, made more program history during the third, as Alabama Football pointed out:

Early in the fourth quarter, Coker came through with an incredible 38-yard completion to ArDarius Stewart as he was falling backward. That set up the game-tying field goal with 10:34 left. Alabama then stunned Clemson with its surprise onside kick, and Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated discussed the gutsy call:

Coker helped the Tide take a 31-24 lead with a 51-yard pass to Howard, who was wide open for the second time. Wolken reacted to the poor defense:

Clemson kicked a field goal to make it 31-27, but Drake opened a two-score margin with a 95-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. It was another special teams disaster for the Tigers at the most inopportune time, and Fischer said it had been foreshadowed:

Clemson wasn't dead yet, as Watson directed an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He connected with Artavis Scott from 15 yards out for a touchdown, but the Tigers could not convert the two-point attempt and found themselves trailing 38-33 with 4:40 left. B/R Insights noted Watson made history during the drive:

Just when it looked like the Tigers were going to get a stop, Howard busted loose on a tight end screen to put Alabama in field-goal range, and Coker scrambled for a first down with 2:10 left. Michael Wilbon of ESPN remarked on the speed of Howard from the tight end position:

Henry then put the game away from less than a yard out, though the officials delayed their touchdown call to the point that many in the crowd thought Clemson had registered a third-down stop. Mike Farrell of Rivals.com agreed with the ruling but wondered about the execution of the call:

Even with Alabama ahead 45-33 and only 1:07 left on the clock, Watson continued his fight, finding Jordan Leggett for a 24-yard score to trim the deficit to 45-40. It was too little, too late, however, and Alabama clinched the national title with a kneel-down after Clemson failed to recover its onside kick.

 

What's Next?

Unfortunately for college football fans, the offseason is next for every team. Fortunately for fans of both Clemson and Alabama, their squads are well-positioned to challenge for a spot in next season's College Football Playoff.

Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports ranked the Crimson Tide No. 1 and the Tigers No. 2 in his early Top 25 for 2016, largely because of the talent both teams will still have in place. Alabama will likely lose Henry, but running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will take the reins in the backfield, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley will still be a dangerous threat in the passing game.

Plus, the Crimson Tide ranked in the top six nationally in scoring defense in each of the last seven seasons and will likely reload on that side of the ball once again.

For the Tigers, Watson's return is the primary reason they will be among the nation's best. He proved himself as a Heisman finalist throughout the season and will be on the shortlist of favorites to capture the award next year, especially after Monday's outing. Wide receiver Mike Williams will also return to give Watson another weapon he didn't have in 2015.

A championship rematch is a legitimate possibility next season. Few would likely complain after Monday's incredible, back-and-forth affair.

 

Postgame Reaction

Howard was named Offensive Player of the Game in the aftermath, while Jackson, who tallied the interception, was named the Defensive Player of the Game.

Still, Saban recognized his entire team after the win, per SEC Sports: “It was a tough game. I am so proud of our players.”

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin discussed his coach and “said he was ‘stunned’ when Saban called the onside kick. Said he had to be careful not to make a face that would give it away,” per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports.

Saban described his rationale for the move, per Mandel: “I called the onside kick because it was 21-21, we were tired on defense, needed to do something to change momentum or wasn't going to win.”

Kiffin also jokingly said, per Mandel, that Alabama had “been resting him for 14 games. He had fresh legs,” when discussing Howard’s breakthrough performance after a quiet career. Saban took responsibility, though, and said “bad coaching” by him is why Howard wasn’t used enough this year, per Josh Bean of AL.com.

On the other side, Swinney was already looking ahead, per Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports: “You can't let one game define you. This program doesn't take a backseat to anybody. We can beat anybody, and that's a fact.”

Swinney also said, per College GameDay, “It won't be another 34 years before we'll be back, I promise you that.”

With Watson returning next season, it’s hard to argue with that.

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