Kelly, Notre Dame ‘new kids on block’

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - College Football -

AT­LANTA — Sit­ting be­side Nick Sa­ban, Lin­coln Ri­ley and Dabo Swinney at a gath­er­ing of the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off coaches, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly re­ferred to his team as “the new kids on the block.”

The de­scrip­tion fit. Sa­ban has guided No. 1 Alabama, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, to its fifth con­sec­u­tive play­off. Swinney and Clem­son are mak­ing their fourth con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance. Ri­ley’s Ok­la­homa team is in the play­off for the third time in four years.

The Fight­ing Ir­ish are new­com­ers, but the play­off is an old dream for one of col­lege foot­ball’s most fa­mil­iar names.

“It’s some­thing we cer­tainly

look to­ward each and ev­ery year,” Kelly said Thurs­day at the Col­lege Foot­ball Hall of Fame.

Fi­nally, Kelly has his chance when No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) plays No. 2 Clem­son (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama (13-0) will play No. 4 Ok­la­homa (12-1) in the Orange Bowl.

Are these col­lege foot­ball’s best four teams?

Ge­or­gia, which made it all the way to last year’s na­tional cham­pi­onship game, took a 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC Cham­pi­onship Game. Fol­low­ing the game, Sa­ban said he be­lieved Ge­or­gia was

one of the na­tion’s best four teams.

In his fi­nal vote in the coaches poll, how­ever, Sa­ban voted for the four teams that ac­tu­ally made the play­off. Ge­or­gia was No. 5 in his poll.

Sa­ban stuck by his vote — and his Ge­or­gia claim — on Thurs­day night.

“I do think they were one of the top four teams in the coun­try, but I didn’t think they were go­ing to get in the play­off with two losses,” Sa­ban said, adding that he voted for the best four teams he thought had a chance to be in­cluded in the play­off.

“What this re­ally in­di­cates is the SEC Cham­pi­onship Game was a play­off game,” he said.

Asked a fol­low-up ques­tion, Sa­ban wouldn’t say Ge­or­gia should be one of the play­off teams.

“I think they’re one of the best four teams, no dis­re­spect to the other coaches here,” Sa­ban said. “I’m say­ing what I said and I’m not chang­ing what I said. I voted for the four teams that are here.”

The loss to Alabama dropped Ge­or­gia (11-2) to No. 5 in Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off poll. The Bull­dogs will play No. 15 Texas (9-4) in the Su­gar Bowl.

Mean­while, Ok­la­homa’s Kyler Mur­ray edged Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa in AP Player of the Year vot­ing re­leased Thurs­day. Mur­ray has a chance to give the Soon­ers two con­sec­u­tive Heis­man Tro­phy win­ners, fol­low­ing Baker May­field.

“To have a chance to have guys back to back, you re­ally never dream it,” Ri­ley said.

Kelly

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