Sea­son ends with a bang, or did it?

Re­cruit­ing, sign­ing day, spring camps ex­tend the fun

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - By Brent Zw­erne­man

To those lament­ing the end of col­lege foot­ball sea­son un­til early Septem­ber, their or­ange cool­ers are half empty. To those know­ing it’s now re­cruit­ing sea­son, with spring drills around the bend and train­ing camps cap­ping the end of va­ca­tion sea­son, their cool­ers are half full.

Col­lege foot­ball truly is a year-round sport with the right ap­proach, and there’s no rea­son to be sad fol­low­ing Clem­son’s white-knuckle 35-31 come­back vic­tory over Alabama on Mon­day night in a ti­tle game for the ages.

Un­less you’re an Alabama fan, and then you are wel­come to sob un­til Septem­ber.

Mean­while, here are a dozen ques­tions to help pass the time un­til Sept. 2 … errr … na­tional sign­ing day Feb. 1:

What are the five best ti­tle games in his­tory?

Let’s call Texas top­pling South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the Rose Bowl fol­low­ing the 2005 sea­son the West

Coast Game of the Cen­tury, and Mon­day’s thriller in Tampa, Fla., the East Coast Game of the Cen­tury. Ev­ery­body wins, right? Keep­ing in mind all politics, news and sports are lo­cal, Vince Young lead­ing a come­back over the Tro­jans edges De­shaun Watson do­ing like­wise against the Crim­son Tide. By the skin of a fourth-down touch­down run.

Ohio State edg­ing Mi­ami in dou­ble over­time fol­low­ing the 2002 sea­son (No. 3), Mi­ami clip­ping Ne­braska fol­low­ing the 1983 sea­son (No. 4) and Penn State knock­ing off Mi­ami fol­low­ing the 1986 sea­son (No. 5) all likely re­ceive plenty of top votes in their re­spec­tive re­gions. But this is our list.

How did high-stakes thriller fare via Hi-Def ?

Television rat­ings were up from last year’s first ti­tle game be­tween Alabama and Clem­son but down from the first Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ti­tle game two years ago (Ohio State over Ore­gon). Mon­day’s game had a 15.3 rat­ing, 4 per­cent higher than last sea­son’s but still not on pace with the Buck­eyes’ ti­tle (18.2), ac­cord­ing to USA To­day. In all, more than 26 mil­lion view­ers tuned in via the many ways to view it these days, ac­cord­ing to ESPN, mak­ing the game the most watched event on a cable net­work since last year’s game. In Hous­ton, the game drew a 17.1, 21st in the na­tion.

How did Clem­son win?

ESPN broad­cast­ers were on Clem­son quar­ter­back De­shaun Watson for not smil­ing enough early. It was all part of the plan, as Watson left the smil­ing to his re­ceivers, with four of them col­lect­ing 90-plus yards of re­ceiv­ing each. Watson wasn’t afraid of Alabama, de­spite an early beat­ing, and con­tin­u­ally com­pleted passes in his many small pock­ets of op­por­tu­nity.

What went wrong for Alabama?

When Crim­son Tide line­backer Ryan An­der­son caused and re­cov­ered a fum­ble by Wayne Gall­man early in the sec­ond half, An­der­son ap­peared primed to pile on to the de­fense’s to­tal of 11 turnovers re­turned for touch­downs. But heads-up Clem­son re­ceiver Hunter Ren­frow chased down and tack­led An­der­son at the Tigers’ 16, and three plays later a stuffed drive re­sulted in a field goal.

Ren­frow saved four points; Clem­son won by four. Alabama had plenty go wrong in other ar­eas, but that one stuck out in a sea of piv­otal plays.

What tops the list when sec­ond-guess­ing Alabama?

The dis­missal of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Lane Kif­fin the week be­fore the game, that’s what. Kif­fin had called plays for this of­fense the last three sea­sons, but Nick Sa­ban cut him loose so Kif­fin could fo­cus on his new gig as Florida At­lantic’s coach. The cu­ri­ous move re­sult­ing from a bat­tle of egos was a swerve the Crim­son Tide couldn’t over­come.

Sure, Alabama scored 31 points with Steve Sark­isian di­rect­ing traf­fic, but the Crim­son Tide were 2-of-15 on third-down con­ver­sions and oc­ca­sion­ally were bailed out by scram­bling fresh­man quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts of Chan­nelview. Just not enough, in the end.

What tops the list when sec­ond-guess­ing Clem­son?

The Tigers over­came poor clock man­age­ment on their fi­nal drive to toss a 2-yard touch­down pass with a sec­ond re­main­ing. Clem­son looked ge­nius in the end, but it had used a full two min­utes to get to that point — when a lone mis­step might have meant the clock ran out on the Tigers’ chances.

Will the de­throned king find its crown next sea­son?

Alabama is mad and likely will be the fa­vorite to re­claim the ti­tle in a year. In fact, be­fore the ti­tle game was even played, a Las Ve­gas odd­s­maker es­tab­lished the Crim­son Tide as a 3-to1 fa­vorite to win it all in Jan­uary 2018. The Crim­son Tide lose a bevy of tal­ented se­niors on de­fense such as end Jonathan Allen and lineback­ers Tim Wil­liams, An­der­son and Reuben Foster, but Alabama has re­cruited so well un­der Sa­ban that plenty more fives­tar prospects are ready to take their place.

Will Clem­son keep on rolling with­out De­shaun Watson?

Prob­a­bly. Maybe. Ju­nior Kelly Bryant will earn first shot at re­plac­ing a leg­end, but don’t count out hyped in­com­ing fresh­man Hunter John­son to earn a long look. Red­shirt fresh­man Zer­rick Cooper and sopho­more Is­rael Tucker also will likely be in the mix, so coach Dabo Swin­ney pos­sesses a load of op­tions at the po­si­tion.

Who will make next sea­son’s fi­nal four?

Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Penn State will meet in the Rose and Sugar bowls. You read it here first.

Who will win next year’s ti­tle?

Re­mem­ber that part about Alabama be­ing mad? The Tide will still be mad in 360 days in At­lanta, con­cern­ing what hap­pened on Mon­day in Tampa. (An­swer: Alabama.)

What’s next on the col­lege foot­ball docket?

The re­cruit­ing dead pe­riod ends Wed­nes­day, mean­ing an aw­fully live pe­riod starts Thurs­day as pro­grams try to so­lid­ify or ramp up their classes, and per­haps be­come the next Clem­son or Alabama. Na­tional sign­ing day is Feb. 1, a date the hard­est of the game’s core fans con­sider a na­tional hol­i­day.

Who’s lead­ing the way in re­cruit­ing?

No sur­prises here. Ohio State, Alabama (the top two are nearly even), Ge­or­gia, Michi­gan, Florida State, Ok­la­homa, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Notre Dame round out’s top 10 with about three weeks of re­cruit­ing re­main­ing. The site’s top-ranked re­cruit, run­ning back Na­jee Har­ris, has pledged to play for Alabama. What a shocker, right?

Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Clem­son QB De­shaun Watson, left, and coach Dabo Swin­ney bask af­ter one of the best ti­tle games.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Alabama’s bid to re­turn to the top of the col­lege foot­ball heap will de­pend in part on the mat­u­ra­tion of quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts, the Chan­nelview prod­uct who fared well as a fresh­man but has con­sid­er­able room to im­prove as a passer.

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