When Alabama and Clemson were established as huge favorites in the College Football Playoff semifinals, a tsunami of skepticism may have swept across the land.
You wondered why No. 1 Alabama was determined so superior (14 points) to a No. 4 Oklahoma, and why there was so little respect for No. 3 Notre Dame against No. 2 Clemson. The undefeated Irish were a 12-point dog.
Well, now we know why. Not only were the Tide and Tigers superior, clearly the two elite teams in the nation, it seems the selection committee muddled the metrics keeping Ohio State or Georgia out of the mix.
The committee really had no choice. It was under threat of disintegration. The Irish were undefeated (12-0) for the first time since 2012 and that made exclusion constitutionally impossible under the Knute Rockne/NBC clause which favors the program over others when everything else seems equal.
Come on, we know Georgia and Ohio State would have been favored in games against ND and either, especially the Bulldogs, would certainly have raised more sweat from Clemson.
But it is what it is: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3. Alabama 45, Oklahoma 34. Now we can look forward to something fabulous on Jan. 7 when the Tide and Tigers play for the national championship.
We will get into the specifics of the matchup later this week, but here are a few appetizers to whet your whistles.
This will be the first national title game between undefeated teams (14-0) in the CFP era. No team has won 15 games since the 1897 Penn team. Whether Carlisle, Wesleyan and Gettysburg could compete in the SEC and ACC is obviously debatable.
This will be Alabama’s fourth straight CFP national championship game, which makes Nick Saban the Franklin Delano Roosevelt of college football coaches. It will be Clemson’s third trip in four years. You’ll recall the Tide knocked it out in their 2017 semifinal.
This will also be the third meeting of 1-2 for the title in the CFP era. The underdog has won the first two, Alabama over Clemson in 2016, Clemson over Alabama in 2017. Yes, Alabama-Clemson continues to trend.
Before we look ahead, let’s peer through the rearview mirror at Saturday’s semifinals.
After the Tide opened a 21-0 lead by scoring touchdowns on their first three drives, then expanded it to 28-0, on-the-fence viewers probably switched to Netflix aware medical science had obviously healed Tua Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain.
The runner-up to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in the Heisman voting was 24-of-27 for 318 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. Hopefully, his surgeon and athletic trainers have performance bonuses in their contracts.
Eventually, the second truth came self-evident: Everyone knew Oklahoma’s defense is terrible. And we don’t mean just this season. How many programs do you think could bring Heisman Trophy QBs into the semifinals two straight seasons and go 0-2 because it allowed 99 points? On Saturday, it allowed an abysmal 528 yards.
They also knew its offense, which gained just 24 yards in the first quarter, was too commanding to lay still for 60 minutes. In 2018, Oklahoma had a 4,000-yard passer, Kyler Murray, and two 1,000-yard receivers, CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown, and two 1,000- yard rushers, Murray and Kennedy Brooks.
By the time the game ended, Murray had become the first QB to stem the Tide for over 100 yards rushing since Saban came to Tuscaloosa. It had gained more yards (471) than any team had against Alabama this season. And Oklahoma had scored 34 of the game’s last 51 points.
But as The Athletic pointed out, no team since Cam Newton’s 2010 Auburn group, had been ranked lower than No. 40 in scoring defense or total defense had eventually won the national championship. The Sooners were 96th and 107th.
The question is a natural one: How can Oklahoma attract generational offensive players like Baker Mayfield and Murray and defensive players who’d have trouble stopping New Hampshire?
It’s too bad we will never see Jon Gruden in the film room breaking down coverages with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the nation’s new glamour boy QB. He has the hair of Clay Matthews and the throwing arm of Jared Goff.
No matter what happens against Alabama, it’s clear the Tigers will soon begin to wonder if the freshman’s college career will be more Sam Darnold (two seasons), Josh Allen (three) or Justin Herbert (four years).
After being handed the keys in Week 5, Lawrence kept the promise coach Dabo Sweeney had made to fans angry over the benching of Kelly Bryant. Lawrence helped the passing game take flight.
Certainly, Notre Dame’s defense was damaged once All-American Julian Love was injured in the first half. It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Lawrence (327 yards) threw three TD passes.
Suddenly, a 3-3 nail-bitter was transformed into a 23-3 belly-laugh when Tee Higgins outmuscled an Irish cornerback for a TD pass in the corner of the endzone with two seconds to play in the first half.
Clemson’s defense, overshadowed all season by its carnivorous offense, picked up six sacks, closing the cover on QB Ian Book’s storybook season. Running back Dexter Williams gained only 54 yards. Notre Dame’s one entry into the red zone all night yielded its three points. And the Tigers managed it all without All-American tackle Dexter Lawrence, who was suspended after failing a drug test.
No. 3 Notre Dame? Yeah, right. The last two time a 12-0 team of theirs was on the big stage in 2012, it lost by four TDs to Alabama in the National Championship game.
Maybe next year, the selection committee will look upon a Notre Dame candidacy for a CFP berth with a little more diligence.