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Never doubt Nick Saban, and other lessons from Championship Week

“The best trick the satan ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” – Keyser Soze

“The rat poison you place on the market this week was yummy.” – Nick Saban

Imagine, a complete school soccer world, spending every week assuming Nick Saban was achieved. Imagine Saban’s glee listening to all that doubt.

So, right here we’re, Alabama inexplicably solid within the function of David, slaying a Goliath whose whole historical past pointed to precisely this final result. It was Saban’s best trick, and he lapped up that rat poison prefer it was Dreamland’s dry rub. Bryce Young threw 4 touchdowns, and Alabama dominated Georgia 41-24 — and all of the issues we assumed we understood about school soccer in 2021 have been erased by the person who just about all the time authors the ultimate narrative.


We’ll name it an upset. But that is Alabama. This is Saban. It was deus ex machina, a relentless pressure lulling us into a snug sleep earlier than it struck with righteous fury.

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It’s as if all the season was scripted to deliver us right here, to the twist ending we must always’ve seen coming. It was Bruce Willis’ ghost, a sled named Rosebud, a coach enjoying the a part of humbled loser, when he was clearly Keyser Soze all alongside.

Think of the practically ceaseless carousel of surprises in 2021. Clemson slumped. Oklahoma swapped QBs, misplaced two video games, then misplaced its coach. Both Michigan, which beat Iowa for the Big Ten title on Saturday, and Cincinnati, which thwarted Houston within the AAC championship sport, are in line for playoff berths, whereas their hated neighbor, Ohio State, watches from house. (Or, , Pasadena. Not a foul comfort prize.) It was a yr during which top-10 groups misplaced on an almost weekly foundation, when unranked foes knocked off heavy favorites so regularly the AP ballot ought to’ve put in a revolving door. This season was so filled with the ridiculously chic that Kansas beating Texas wasn’t even the funniest factor to occur to the Longhorns in 2021.


And so, after all, we assumed issues could be completely different for Alabama too.

Fools. All of us.

They say there are solely two certainties in life: dying and taxes. But accountant can get you out of a hefty tax invoice, and there’s a minimum of a 5% probability Elon Musk will work out a system for immortality. Nick Saban within the College Football Playoff although? That’s etched in stone.

Oh, it is not as if we did not have good cause to doubt him. Georgia had dominated all comers this yr. The Bulldogs’ protection surrendered simply eight touchdowns within the common season. The Bulldogs weren’t simply the No. 1 group within the nation; they have been the chief by a mile. Kirby Smart was simply killing time till he might hoist a trophy. But Georgia followers have seen this film earlier than. Deep down, they will need to have recognized the ending.


This Alabama group was so — properly, un-Bama. There was the loss to unranked Texas A&M. There have been myriad shut calls, the slim escapes in opposition to the likes of Florida and LSU and Arkansas. Just every week in the past, the Tide’s O-line was devoured by Auburn, and solely a miracle drive led by Young saved them from a second defeat. (Well, Young’s drive and Bryan Harsin’s indefensible determination to not go for 2 in additional time.) This Alabama group was extra Harry Houdini than David Copperfield — all escape acts and few grand spectacles. But Saban tried to warn us — tried to inform the self-absorbed lots how dumb they sounded complaining about shut wins. Deep down, we will need to have recognized the ending too.

It wasn’t as if Saturday did not present us with other drama.

Baylor survived the Big 12 title sport after a historic goal-line stand. It was a intestine punch for Oklahoma State, which ran 17 performs contained in the Bears’ 10 within the sport and got here away with only one landing. The loss knocked the Cowboys out of the playoff dialog, and whereas Baylor’s pitch to the committee is an effective one — three high quality wins, revenge in opposition to one of many groups it misplaced to — Alabama’s victory makes it practically unattainable to ascertain a path for a two-loss group to make the highest 4.

Cincinnati endured a month of criticism for its personal shut wins, solely Luke Fickell by no means supplied a Saban-esque retort. Instead, the Bearcats turned on the afterburners down the stretch, beating SMU, ECU and, on Saturday, Houston — all by double digits. And maybe Cincinnati might’ve been the signature storyline of this yr’s playoff, the primary Group of 5 group to make the lower. But alas, there is not any overshadowing Alabama, the group the Bearcats are more than likely to see within the College Football Playoff semifinal.

A yr in the past, Jim Harbaugh was on the outs. Michigan followers wished a change after a dismal 2-4 marketing campaign. The lone vivid spot from 2020 was that the annual drubbing by Ohio State was canceled resulting from COVID-19. But Harbaugh caught round, constructed a championship basis on protection and hard-nosed operating, and, within the course of, rose from the ashes — a phoenix in pleated pants. Michigan dominated Iowa within the Big Ten championship sport, 42-3, ruining what may’ve been a pleasant little Saturday at Home Depot and the feed retailer for Hawkeyes followers compelled, as an alternative, to witness the Wolverines’ protection toy with Iowa’s inept O like a cat swatting a mouse. Harbaugh could be coach of the yr, however that is not the kind of trophy Saban is wanting so as to add to his case.

Over the subsequent 3½ weeks, we’ll speak concerning the playoff, and that dialog will rightfully start with Alabama. But we’re gluttons for punishment, and so we’ll construct a case for why Michigan’s pass-rushing tandem might be the last word Bryce Young antidote — or inform a Cinderella story for Cincinnati or, maybe, a revenge fantasy for these beleaguered Bulldogs. We’ll have to do that as a result of we do not wish to admit we already know the ending.

So, go forward and dream. Dream of all of the methods this may not be Nick Saban’s yr — once more.

It’s essential to have hope. Just know that Saban thinks each ounce of it tastes completely scrumptious.

Your doubt offers Nick Saban life. Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The yr of the turnaround

Saturday’s championship sport slate began with a win by Northern Illinois to take the MAC title. Baylor adopted that with a stunner in opposition to Oklahoma State to safe the Big 12 championship. Then it was Utah State’s flip; the Aggies dominated San Diego State to win the Mountain West. Michigan topped all of it off with a victory within the Big Ten title sport.

What do all these convention champions have in frequent? They have been all horrible final yr.

NIU went from 0-6 to 9-4. Baylor went from 2-7 to 11-2. Utah State jumped from 1-5 to 10-3. And Michigan went from a depressing 2-4 to 13-1 and a possible playoff berth.

Chalk it as much as the wild impacts of COVID-19, which created havoc for first-year coach Dave Aranda at Baylor; to raised well being, like Aidan Hutchinson’s return from a season-ending damage at Michigan; or to a wise teaching rent, as Blake Anderson rotated Utah State.

Whatever the magic system was, while you add all of it up, it is a mixed enchancment of 38 wins between them.

Kenny Heisman

Bryce Young may need wrapped up the Heisman Trophy together with his astounding efficiency in opposition to Georgia (421 yards, three TDs), however Pitt’s Kenny Pickett actually deserves a spot among the many finalists when the award is introduced.

Pickett completed Saturday’s 45-21 win over Wake Forest with 253 passing yards and three whole touchdowns — bringing his season whole to 47.

Pickett — now in both his fifth or fiftieth season at Pitt — opened the ACC championship sport with a savvy veteran transfer, faking a slide earlier than operating 58 yards.



Kenny Pickett fools the Wake Forest protection and takes it 58 yards for Pittsburgh’s opening TD.

He adopted that with two landing passes that pushed him forward of Dan Marino for probably the most in class historical past (80) and then Deshaun Watson for probably the most in a single season in ACC historical past (43).

Not unhealthy for a day’s work.

As against Young’s heroics in every of the previous three weeks for Alabama, Pickett’s season lacked a real Heisman second. But even within the Panthers’ two losses, Pickett was good, throwing six TDs in opposition to Western Michigan and racking up 519 passing yards in opposition to Miami. Moreover, Pickett by no means had a genuinely unhealthy sport. He completed with lower than 300 yards of whole offense simply twice within the common season — each in simple wins when Pitt spent the majority of the second half operating down the clock — and his whole on Saturday was solely restricted by a couple of massive sacks and Pitt’s dominant second-half protection.

In other years, that consistency could be sufficient to win the award. In 2021, it will possible should be sufficient for Pickett to know he bested Marino and Watson and received Pitt’s first outright convention title in program historical past and that he’ll get an opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl — and that he additionally has arguably the very best hair within the sport, which, if we’re being sincere, is way extra spectacular than a Heisman.

A Rising star

Utah wrapped up the Pac-12 title by squashing Oregon Ducks for the second time in three weeks on Friday, and the Utes will head to the Rose Bowl as arguably the most well liked group within the nation. The greatest cause: QB Cameron Rising.

Utah opened the season with Baylor switch Charlie Brewer at QB, and it did not go properly. After beating Weber State within the opener, the Utes dropped video games at BYU and San Diego State. Brewer was benched halfway by means of the loss to the Aztecs, and Rising completed the sport with three TD passes in a comeback that fell simply quick.

What may need been if Rising had been on the sphere all alongside?

Utah is 8-1 in Rising’s begins, and he has racked up 23 touchdowns and 5 picks.

Credit to Brewer, whose departure appears to have impressed each Baylor and Utah to New Year’s Six appearances. It’s uncommon somebody leaving generates a lot happiness exterior of Florida head coaches.

Rising has 18 landing passes this season, with a bowl sport but to be performed. At Utah, that is a formidable tally. No Utes QB has topped 20 in a yr since 2008 — which simply so occurs to even be the final yr Utah performed in a BCS or New Year’s Six bowl and the final time it completed ranked within the high 10.

Napier goes out a winner

Billy Napier is off to Florida, the place a battered Gators group and — if historical past is any indication — a hefty buyout in three years await. But earlier than he departed Louisiana, he left the Ragin’ Cajuns with one final milestone win.

Emani Bailey ran for 117 yards and a landing, and in what must be a minimum of his eleventh season at Louisiana, quarterback Levi Lewis had a TD by means of the air and one on the bottom, because the Ragin’ Cajuns toppled Appalachian State within the Sun Belt title sport.

Napier completed his run at Louisiana with 29 wins in his final 32 video games, however this marked his first Sun Belt championship after dropping to App State within the 2019 title sport and seeing final yr’s championship tilt nixed because of the coronavirus. Indeed, this was Louisiana’s first outright convention title in class historical past. It’s a heck of a parting reward.

Napier now strikes on to Florida, and his tenure there’ll invariably be in comparison with Brian Kelly’s at LSU, the in-state college that eschewed hiring the native man in favor of a coach who’s often ragin’ however most actually not Cajun.

Analyzing the playoff hopefuls

The eighth College Football Playoff is upon us, however earlier than we discover out what Gary Barta and the remainder of the gang resolve, let’s dig in on every of the contenders and get some perception from new LSU coach Brian Kelly, who was gracious sufficient to take a while out of his busy schedule getting acclimated in his new home.

Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

Championship Week end result: People doubted Nick Saban. That was a foul concept. Saban’s Crimson Tide demolished the once-indestructible Georgia protection, reminding all the world that this sport belongs to Alabama, and if there’s ever any doubt, that is simply Saban toying with all of us.

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Playoff pitch: Alabama does not have to state its case. In reality, the Tide would really like the committee to easily give them a first-round bye.

Kelly’s take: “Dadgum, that Bryce Young is spicier than my mama’s crawdaddy gumbo. Hoo boy.”

Georgia Bulldogs (12-1)

Championship Week end result: Like all of the other massive video games in opposition to Alabama, solely this time the Tide did not should go to a backup QB to win it. Somehow, that feels worse.

Playoff pitch: Georgia has been on the high of the heap all yr, and one unhealthy sport in opposition to Saban actually should not overshadow that. And so what if it’d arrange an inevitable rematch with the Tide within the nationwide championship. How dramatic a storyline would it not be for the Dawgs to get revenge on an excellent greater stage? On the other hand, how far more struggling can UGA followers be anticipated to endure if they do not?

Kelly’s take: “Allow me to echo the cries of my ancestors and merely say: South-Eastern-Conference! South-Eastern-Conference! Am I doing that proper?”

Michigan Wolverines 12-1

Championship Week end result: Demolished Iowa 42-3, making the Hawkeyes marvel if they may’ve been higher served punting on first down.

Playoff pitch: It will make Ohio State followers actually mad. Sure, Michigan want to win a nationwide title and all, however actually, that is about inflicting ache on Ohio State.

Kelly’s take: “I simply cannot respect a coach who wears khakis. For me, it is swamp waders or nothin’.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-1)

Championship Week end result: Due to a earlier engagement, Notre Dame was unable to attend Championship Week. It sends its sincerest regrets.

Playoff pitch: Notre Dame did not lose to a Power 5 group all season. No follow-up questions, please.

Kelly’s take: “Well, sir, I’ll inform ya what my outdated grandpappy advised me when he got here house from a yearlong stretch out on the oil rig: ‘I’m married to the ocean now, and you simply deliver again too many laborious reminiscences.'”

Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0)

Championship Week end result: Desmond Ridder threw three touchdowns, Jerome Ford ran for 187 yards and the Bearcats’ protection held Houston in test after the primary quarter. Combined with Georgia’s loss to Alabama, the win means Cincinnati is the final remaining undefeated group within the nation.

Playoff pitch: Cincinnati hasn’t misplaced a regular-season sport in two years. Saturday’s spectacular win over Houston solely cemented the Bearcats’ standing as a respectable playoff conten… you are already writing in “Notre Dame” aren’t you?

Kelly’s take: “I do love me a few of that Skyline jambalaya they obtained up in them elements. Down right here, once I requested them to serve my jambalaya over a pleasant linguini, they achieved laughed in my face.”

Cincinnati is on the precipice of CFP historical past. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Baylor Bears (11-2)

Championship Week end result: Beat Oklahoma State 21-16, pulling off a dramatic goal-line stand to safe the win. Oh, and they did it with out their beginning QB.

Playoff pitch: Baylor has three wins over top-15 groups. It avenged one among its two losses by beating the Cowboys on Saturday. And critically, do you actually wish to put two SEC groups in?

Kelly’s take: “This Dave Aranda fella used to teach proper right here within the nice state of Lou-zee-anna however then went and skedaddled over to Baylor, quittin’ on his group. Why, I discover that simply reprehensible.”

Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2)

Championship Week end result: OK, so the loss to Michigan knocked Ohio State out of the Big Ten title sport. But if the Buckeyes had received, Michigan may’ve parted methods with Jim Harbaugh, and no person at Ohio State wished that. So, the loss was actually only a three-dimensional chess maneuver aimed toward preserving future dominance of the convention.

Playoff pitch: There is not a group in America with extra high quality losses than the Buckeyes.

Kelly’s take: “Now, I do know they achieved misplaced to Michigan, however I do declare that offense is sweeter than the sweetest beignets within the Quarter.”

LSU Tigers (6-6)

Championship Week end result: LSU beat the group (Texas A&M) that beat Alabama, which, based mostly on the “Kevin Bacon Rule,” means the Tigers are primarily SEC runners-up.

Playoff pitch: Kelly struggled to deliver his assistants with him from Notre Dame, however he ought to have the ability to a minimum of deliver the 11-1 report. Besides, if Kelly might win 11 video games with out SEC athletes, think about what he’s able to with this group in a playoff? And even that lone loss should not rely right here, since no SEC group would ever lose at house to Cincinnati (as a result of it will by no means schedule Cincinnati).

Kelly’s take: “Leavin’ the Tigers out of the playoff could be like leavin’ the peanuts out of a Coca-Cola. Heck, they oughta spell it P-L-A-Y-E-A-U-X-F-F. Go Tigers. Uh, I imply, Ti-gerrrs. Ti-guss? Dang it. I’ve been listening to outdated Orgeron information conferences whereas I’m on the treadmill. I’ll get it will definitely.”

Heisman Five

As a Heisman voter, we’re prohibited from revealing our remaining ballots, however we’ll be taking an extended take a look at a complete host of contenders, from the defensive standouts like Will Anderson Jr., Aidan Hutchinson and Jordan Davis to the highest QBs similar to Bryce Young, Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral to even some darkish horses like Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. But for now, let’s honor some other heroes of 2021 with our Animal Heisman Five.

1. The Pole Assassin’s Monkey

In a yr stuffed with unlikely storylines — from stunning upsets to big-name coaches altering groups — nothing tops the Texas monkey scenario. And, after all, this was the final chew anybody at Texas confirmed this season.

2. The Miami cat



The greatest catch from Week 2 of school soccer did not occur on the sphere – however within the stands – as a cat discovered itself hanging from a balcony at Hard Rock Stadium.

Ironic that the identical college that saved a falling cat has left Manny Diaz hanging.

3. The Arizona State fox



A fox runs onto the sphere and flees into the tunnel throughout Arizona State’s sport vs. USC.

The fox truly ended up increased on draft boards than Jayden Daniels after this season. The New York Jets proceed to scout it.

4. The Louisville canine



A fan’s canine within the stands will get up in pleasure as Malik Cunningham rushes in to attain a 1-yard landing for Louisville.

Shockingly, the canine did not put Malik Cunningham on his All-ACC poll. Everyone’s a Kenny Pickett fan.

5. Mission II


— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) December 4, 2021

We have been holding this spot for Uga X, however Bryce Young pulled the upset, so congrats to the Northern Illinois mascot. Not since Jordan Lynch has NIU crashed a Heisman occasion like this.

Under-the-radar play of the week

We is not going to tolerate any Matt Araiza slander right here, however this play — was not good. Given Araiza’s epic leg power, nevertheless, we must always all simply be completely satisfied that the poor San Diego State blocker survived being hit by one among his punts.



San Diego State punter Matt Araiza kicks the ball off a teammate, and the ball bounces out the again of the top zone for a security.

Under-the-radar sport of the week

In the second spherical of the FCS playoff, Kennesaw State appeared poised to advance with ease, holding a 31-17 lead over East Tennessee State with simply 5:02 to go. But the Buccaneers (gotta love landlocked pirates) marched 78 yards on 13 performs for a late landing, bringing the rating to 31-24 with simply 88 seconds remaining. ETSU then recovered an onside kick, scored once more on a third-and-goal play and transformed a 2-point attempt when QB Tyler Riddell linked with Nate Adkins to win 32-31. At least Kennesaw State had roughly 9 hours of I-75 site visitors to take a seat and take into consideration what occurred on the bus trip house.



ETSU overcomes a 14-point deficit with beneath two minutes left to stun Kennesaw State and advance within the FCS playoffs.

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