No one saw that coming. No one.
Not the biggest Bama hater. Not anyone in the Swinney family.
No one. Sure, there were a lot of folks who believed Clemson could win the national championship. The Tigers are good.
But to thoroughly trash and demolish Alabama? To make Nick Saban look lost? To confuse and frustrate Tua Tagovailoa to the point that he was replaced after the game had long since been decided? To keep that traditional Tide defense without a sack or forced turnover for the first time since 2011?
To humiliate the humiliators?
It was complete and decisive and unrelenting as Clemson rolled to 30 unanswered points in a 44-16 win over previously unbeaten Alabama.
Clemson crushed it on both sides. Trevor Lawrence was an absolute stud — anyone doubt that that kid would be the first QB off the board if he was eligible to enter the draft? — and his perimeter pieces were stellar. The defensive front was everywhere. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables worked magic.
It was surely impressive and no one is or should take anything away from the Tigers, who now have two national titles under Dabo Swinney, who has cemented his spot as the second-best coach in college football, and the gap between No. 1 and Swinney is tighter than the gap between Swinney and everyone else.
But to discuss, rehash or dissect last night's championship game must start with the complete meltdown suffered by Alabama. It was surreal.
It was so out of character that after the game Saban was not angry or outraged. He looked shocked — we all were — and understandably disappointed. And he sounded calm.
But the game was a disaster after Alabama took a 16-14 lead in the second quarter, and it will be forever remembered for a lot of us for the single worst fake field goal decision any of us have seen in a long time.
Sure, a lot of that Alabama meltdown was because Clemson has the dudes — and the long-locked QB with the Golden Arm — to match the Tide talent-wise.
But it's impossible to recall anyone doing that to a Saban team in a decade.
The bully got bullied friends. And it was stunning.
We have a few traditions around these parts.
Contests are a given. Picks in football have become a familiar face. Power Polls. College basketball Tuesdays (starting next week) too.
We also have done a way-too-early Top 25 college football poll the morning after the national title game.
Before we get to that — and we will — let's review some of the hits and misses of last year's way-too-early Top 25. Here's the link.
First, let's start with the top three: Alabama, Clemson and THE Ohio State. Those were the final three with a little juggling in the order.
Second, well, 4-through-9 all lost bowl games — Wisconsin, Penn State, Georgia, Miami, Washington and Virginia Tech — and several of them finished unranked. That may be as bad as we can do.
We had Michigan at 16, which is way more accurate than most of the views of Team Khakis.
We had Auburn at 17, which is way closer to range in which the Tigers deserved to be than that preseason top-10 noise.
That said, we had FAU and the Fightin' Kiffins at 20, two spots ahead of Notre Dame, four spots ahead of UCF and five spots ahead of Texas. Ouch-standing.
So there's that.
We head into the offseason expecting little change among the elite teams in the country.
Let's round up the usual suspects.
Alabama. Tua and a supporting mediocre cast would be competitive. Tua and an Alabama supporting cast = winning.
Clemson. The national champions will return a slew of shiny parts on offense for sure, but how many of the junior O-linemen and how they replace losing their top five D-linemen will be the question.
Georgia. There have been a slew of defections, be them transfers or declarations, from the offense. Still, when you recruit the way Georgia has the last couple of years, the talent level and the expectations are going to be high.
THE Ohio State. New coach, new quarterback, same stocked roster. If Justin Fields becomes eligible right away, this may be too low.
Oklahoma. After Lincoln Riley has produced consecutive Heisman-winning seasons for different quarterbacks, well, it's safe to assume that whoever is taking snaps for the Sooners will have a big year. And likely will be invited to New York in early December.
Michigan. Shae Patterson returning for what feels like his 12th year of college is a boost for an offense that will be deep and experienced. This may be a little high for a Wolverines team that will have to overall its defense — on the field and in the coaching box — but we have to believe that Jim Harbaugh will be extremely motivated as the whispers get louder.
LSU. The Tigers are going to be better than the surprising 10-3 they posted in 2018. Joe Burrow returns at quarterback with the confidence of the entire program, and depending on NFL defections, the Tigers could return as many as nine defensive starters and eight on offense.
Washington. Yes, we're high on the Huskies despite last year's struggles. They are the best team in the weakest of the Power Five leagues. Yes, they must replace the school's all-time leading rusher in Myles Gaskin and a host of defenders on the back end. But know these two things: Chris Petersen is a surefire top-10 coach nationally; UW will be in the rarest of places as it replaces a four-year starting QB (Jake Browning) who holds almost every school record with a five-star dude (Jacob Eason) who is infinitely more talented.
Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies will be one of the more buzz-generating teams heading into '19 considering they rolled in the bowl game and down the stretch and landed a top-five recruiting class. If dynamic running back Trayveon Williams and tight end Jace Sternberger return the Aggies' offense could be fantastic.
Oregon. Mario Cristobal is right there with Fisher as the coaches who really won the last six weeks. A top-10 recruiting haul after the early signing period included the nation's top prospect according to ESPN. And it's only the second-best get of the winter for Ducks, as quarterback Justin Herbert shunned the NFL draft to return to Eugene. Herbert was ranked as the No. 1 QB prospect in this draft class by Todd McShay.
Texas. We are lower on the Horns than most after they ended the season with an impressive beatdown of Georgia. Yes, there is a slew of momentum for Tom Herman's program, but did you know they had eight senior defensive starters and could be forced to replace 10 regulars on defense?
Notre Dame. This is kind of the line in the sand between those that have at least somewhat of a reasonable-to-outside chance at the playoff, and the Irish again will be in the conversation if they can replace some future NFL dudes on the defensive front and the secondary.
Florida. Dan Mullen can really coach. And if the talent-base gets back to Florida levels, the Gators will be challenging Georgia sooner rather than later. If bowl-game Feleipe Franks translates into 2019 Feleipe Franks, well, it will be high times in Gainesville. And high point totals.
UCF. The Knights will be overvalued because of all their bellyaching and blah-blah-blah. Still, McKenzie Milton and those boys will have a chip on his shoulder and that cakewalk schedule means unbeaten is always possible.
USC. No, not Will Muschamp. This is a very young bunch of Trojans that may or may not have Kliff Kingsbury calling the plays. Considering the recruiting edges of being the most meaningful program West of Texas means USC should never be any lower than this if you think about it.
Penn State. If Tommy Stevens — or potentially a transfer — can pick up where Trace McSorely left off, James Franklin's team could challenge in the Big Ten. If not, the Lions may slide a bit.
Iowa/Stanford/Nebraska. Big physical teams with high motors and overachievers. Of this interchangeable trio, Nebraska in year two of Scott Frost with sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez back and healthy, has the most upside all things considered.
Army. As Spy will attest, Jeff Monken knows what the bleep he's doing. The schedule features an early September trip to Ann Arbor, and a win there will springboard Army over UCF in the Group of Five darling. And with that triple-option attack and a ton of returning players, an early upset is doable. Army loses all of two senior starters, and according to the depth charts at ourlads.com, Army returns 42 of its 44 on the two-deep of its 11-win team that took Oklahoma to double overtime.
Boston College. The Eagles have a bunch of holes — 11 senior starters will depart — but other than Clemson, the ACC is completely getable right now. And this side of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, the BC QB-RB duo of Anthony Brown and AJ Dillion is better than everyone else in the ACC.
Iowa State. Yes, David Montgomery high-tailed it to the NFL. Can't blame him. But the most important returning piece for the Cyclones is coach Matt Campbell, who is aces.
Baylor. Another team pointing in the right direction after making a good coaching hire. Matt Ruhle has turned the Bears' from a win into '17 to seven last year. If that pace continues, well, this is entirely too low.
Wisconsin. Has anyone ever rushed for a quieter 2,000 yards than Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, who went for 2,194 last year as a sophomore. That total was the seventh-most ever behind Barry Sanders (2,628), Melvin Gordon (2,587), Kevin Smith (2,567), Marcus Allen (2,427), Rashaad Penny (2,248) and Derrick Henry (2,219). And Taylor did it with a wretched passing game. If the Badgers find even an adequate option at quarterback, the Badgers could be much improved.
Auburn. Maybe this is a heart pick to even include the Tigers considering Gus Malzahn and Co. must replace its quarterback, its go-to receiver and all three of its starting linebackers. But, Derrick Brown shunned the NFL draft and will be a dude among an experienced defensive line. And the entire offensive line returns. Plus, you have to believe Malzahn knows he is coaching for his whistle.
This and that
— We missed the pick on the title game by a smidge. Our bowl picks finished 19-14-2 (57.6 percent) against the spread. So we missed our overall goal of 60 percent. We will update our season and all-time stats later today. Deal? Deal.
— Congrats to Justin S. for winning the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler Optional) with a stout score of 100. Well-played indeed.
— With last night's lost and non-cover, here's some interesting numbers when Alabama under Nick Saban is a modest favorite of 6.5 or less, which has happened 25 times after Monday. The average line is -4.6; Alabama is 16-9 straight-up in those games and 12-13 against the number; In January games with less than a 7-point spread, Saban is 3-4 ATS and 5-2 overall — wins over Texas, LSU, and Clemson (24-6). Saban is 1-5 against the spread in the last six games that Alabama was less than a 7-point favorite
— Dwayne Haskins declared from the NFL draft, leaving THE Ohio State. He may be the first QB off the board, and would be the first Big Ten quarterback drafted in the first round since Kerry Collins in 1995. That's staggering.
— We spoke about Trevor Lawrence and his skill set. How about seeing this on social media as a 19-year-old. "Trevor Lawrence is the best true freshman QB I've ever seen. If I was running an NFL team, I'd be making trades for as many 2021 picks I could get my hands on." That was posted by Gil Brandt, who only spent almost 30 years as the VP of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys and works for the NFL Network now.
— College football stats to ponder: Last time Nick Saban lost by 21 or more points? It was 2006 in Week 15 when the Buffalo Bills beat his Dolphins 21-bagel. The last two major teams to go 15-0 in college football? Clemson in '18 and Penn in 1897. Alabama allowed one 60-yard pass all season before Monday. It allowed two to the Tigers.
— Non-college football news: The Packers have hired Matt LaFleur as their head coach. LaFleur was the Titans OC in 2018.
True or false Tuesday.
True or false, Clemson will play Alabama in the college football playoff next year.
True or false, the only thing worse than Alabama's performance was Imagine Dragons at halftime.
True or false, Trevor Lawrence should be eligible to enter the draft right now.
On this day, Jan. 8, Elvis would have been 84. Speaking of Elvis, on this day in 1954 Elvis paid $4 to record his first two songs.
David Bowie would have been 72.
On this day in 1835, the US debt was $0 for the first and only time in history.
On this day in 1984, the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.
On this day in 2000, the Music City Miracle happened.
Rushmore of NFL plays with names. Go.