(TMG’s National Championship Game Day update which will be posted from before the kickoff until the final whistle )

TAMPA–

PRE-GAME MUNCHIES–

Who said college football is not king in the South? After almost 24 hours of chilling cold (for Tampa) with temperatures in the 30s, some wind and some rain, game day started out clear, sunny, cool and then by afternoon–warm.

Why is this a big deal? For the first time since January 2014 when Florida State beat Auburn in the Rose Bowl in January 2014. Monday ‘s title game between Alabama and Clemson will  be played in an OUTDOOR venue, Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. Monday’s game will be the first  CFB national championship game played in an outdoor  stadium.

In case there was any doubt about the influence of ESPN at this game, all you had to do was check the credential list–of which 1,300 were issued to the World Wide  Leader.

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Glad to see my TMG colleague Chris Dufresne (Rankman) has picked up some football knowledge this season since he continues to embrace the OVER–UNDER aspect of  CFB betting, in which winning bets are determined by total points.

At the start of the season, this California kid didn’t know  OVER-UNDER or  TAKING OR GIVING POINTS from a PUSH when it came to gambling. He embraced the PICK 3 concept TMG put in as part of its football coverage.  Of course, he didn’t finish above .500 for the season, which is the bench mark for success–so it was hardly shocking that Rankman  mentioned the Over-Under for the Clemson game (51) as the focal point of his pre-game pick.

Rankman picked the OVER in a 30-24 Alabama win, which meant Alabama wasn’t covering the 7 point spread, but Rankman hoped he was wrong (about the outcome, not the spread).

He also took a swipe at A Jersey guy for picking Clemson to not only cover, but win the game. but East  agrees with West in that the OVER will be the winning choice. To make it unanimous, The Gould Standard also thought  The OVER was a good  bet, picking another a 31-27 Bama win..

We will see.

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Not that it means anything, but when we arrived at the Stadium this afternoon ( 3 p.m–5 hour rule (TMG) for post season and championship games) but the crowd had a much more orange (Clemson) tinge to it than Crimson. That is likely  to even itself out by kickoff.

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Who would have thought category that Boston College made headlines on the night of a national championship football game?  Former Boston College nose tackle Mike Ruth was inducted into the  College Football Hall of Fame in the same class as such legendary figures as Steve Spurrier (in as a coach and player) and Peyton Manning.  Good for BC. Ruth was a once in generational player for the Eagles, who reached his peak in college.  And then there was even better news for BC. All ACC defensive lineman Harold Landry announced he was returning to BC for his senior season.

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An hour and 15 minutes before  kick off, the cheapest seat (from scalpers) at Raymond James Stadium was $1,700.  Average price for a ticket on Clemson side was $2,200 which is $500 more than the average price for an Alabama ticket….Who had the longest path to the championship game? That would be Alabama, which is 468 miles from Raymond James Stadium. Clemson is 466 miles away.

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Unlike some coaches who say they are friends, Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach both like and respect each other and had a brief conversation on  the field before the game which ended with handshakes and pats on the back. It makes it easier that Sweeney is an Alabama native and an Alabama alum and would undoubtedly be cheering for the Tide if Clemson were not in the game.

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FIRST QUARTER

Alabama offense goes three and out on the first series of plays called by new Tide offensive  coordinator Steve Sarkisian.  Was that laughter I heard coming from former Tide OC Lane Kiffin, wherever he was watching?….Tide defense 4th down stand at its own 40 a portent of the future for the Tigers offense on key plays?….Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough’s 25 yard run for a TD with 9:23 remaining in the first quarter  might also have been a portent of future for the Tigers.

DANGER, DANGER.  Clemson QB Deshaun Watson lost a fumble on a bad handoff with 1:50 remaining in the first quarter, giving Alabama the ball at the Clemson 40. Although the Tiger defense forced a quick 3 and out, Bama punter  JK Scott’s kick was downed  at the Clemson 1. More danger for the Tigers.

Quarter ends.  Bama has the edge in points 7-0 and in momentum.Nothing I’ve seen thus far suggests that Alabama’s winning streak is going to end at 26 games tonight. Watson has a total of 23 passing and 0 yards rushing.

Bama 7, Clemson 0

 

SECOND QUARTER

The groans you heard were from ESPN’s  headquarters in Bristol, Ct, where ratings-driven executives shook  their head in dismay in watching Scarbrough scamper 35 yards for  his second TD and a 14-0 lead, less than five minutes into the second quarter.

Why the possible gloom and doom?  A potential rout in a game which had only regional appeal could have had millions of viewers switching  from the football game to ABC’s The Bachelor or some other form of entertainment.

Clemson has the ability to come back, but opponents of  Alabama with high ambitions, have seen this  story line before. The fact that it took the Tide only 1: 24 to move 74 yards for the score was another ominous sign for the Tigers.

And then came Watson.

The Clemson QB did what he has done throughout his career–take over a situation when Clemson needed him most.

This time, Watson scampered the final 8 yards in a TD scoring drive which went 87 yards in 7 plays,  taking only 1:33. And just like that there was noise in half of the stadium and smiles on the corporate faces in Bristol and a less concern about who was going to get a rose tonight.

The key now was the Alabama response–and Alabama almost always responds. This time it didn’t and was forced to punt, giving Clemson a solid 4:24 to respond with another Watson statement

.Alabama’s defense wouldn’t allow it, despite some dumb clock management by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who kept putting the ball in the air (unsuccessfully).

The Tigers survived without further damage.  Edge in points to Alabama: 14-7

Edge in momentum to Clemson, which will receive the ball at the start of the second half.

THIRD QUARTER

Want to catch up to Alabama in the second half when the Tide has the lead?  Good luck against a Nick Saban coached team, which was 106-6 when it had the lead at halftime.But Clemson was going to try.

DANGER, DANGER, PART 2–Another turnover (fumble) gave the ball to the Tide inside the Clemson 20 on the opening drive of the second half. But the Clemson defense held again, limiting the Tide to a 27-yard field goal by Adam Griffith.  17-7 looks SO MUCH better than 21-7 for Tiger fans.

Nice Try New York:  For the second straight year,  New York City tried to get in the spirit of the championship game by illuminating the Empire  State building in orange and purple (Clemson colors) and Crimson and White.  Problem is  that most New Yorkers don’t have a clue or give a hoot about who wins, although beating the point spread might be an option for one segment of the population.

For what’s it worth, Saban’s media quotes about Clemson at halftime: ‘These guys are pretty good, so we’ve got to do a better job of executing.” Coaching 101?”

Tuscaloosa,do we have a problem?  Well, with a 24-yard  TD ass from Watson to Hunter Renfrow with 7:10 left in the third quarter, Alabama’s lead down to 17-14.  The good news was that it was a competitive game, the bad news was that at the three hour mark, they were only slightly past the halfway mark of the third quarter.

And then the Tide rolled in one tsunami as Alabama  QB Jalen Hurts connected with OJ Howard ona  68-yard TD pass, which again upped the Tide’s lead to 10 points.  But more significantly it put the game closer to the OVER-UNDER total of 51.

But as the game moved into the fourth quarter, Watson was moving the Tigers with even more speed against an Alabama defense that was looking more and more  vulnerable.

Edge in Points; Alabama 24-14.

Edge in Momentum: Clemson

FOURTH QUARTER

Can history in college football championship games repeat itself? In case you forgot or missed last season’s 45-40 Alabama win over Clemson in the CFB national championship game, the two teams were ding their best to create a replay at Raymond James Stadium on Monday night.

How else to explain the 24-21 Alabama lead clung to after Watson finished another scoring drive with a 4-yard TD pass to WR Mike Williams a minute into the fourth quarter.  Clemson was only the third school this season  to score more than 16 points against the Tide. (Ole Miss and Arkansas were the point producers).

Now it was crunch time, with the clock running down. 6:33 left, Clemson first down on its own 12, trailing 24-21 and time for Watson to see if he could become a magic man in his last collegiate game.

It took Clemson and Watson 1:55 and 6 plays to go  the 88 yards on a Wayne Gallman plunge to put Alabama behind in the fourth quarter for the first time this year.

Blood in the water, and the Tigers acted like sharks. but this was ALABAMA.  The Tide converted a 4th one at their own 41. Jalen Hurt, the freshman QB, who took the keys to the Ferrari this season, put the pressure back on Watson by scampering the final 30 yards for the go ahead TD  and a 31-28  lead.

With 2:01 left, Watson had the ball on his 31 and was being asked to perform one more miracle–with help from people like WR Mike Williams. The Tigers reached the Tide 33 as the clock dropped under a minute.

Clemson needed a field goal to tie, a TD to topple a champion.  A 17 yard pass from Watson to Jordan Leggett gave the Tigers a first and goal at the Bama 9.  14 seconds left.

Incomplete in the end zone .  9 seconds left.  Another incomplete pass, but a pass inference call against Alabama. First and goal  at the 2, 6 seconds left.  Roll out to the left by Watson, who then spotted a wide  open  Renfrow for a TD with 0:01 seconds left,  35-31.

One last chance for the Tide. Squib kick to avoid a return, Clemson recovers.

No miracle for Bama.

VICTORY,  NATIONAL CHAMPIONS:  Clemson.

 

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