Kelly rel­ishes play­off role of Ir­ish

Dayton Daily News - - SPORTS - By Charles Odum

Sit­ting be­side AT­LANTA —

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 straight play­off. Swin­ney and Clemson are mak­ing their fourth straight 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 South­east­ern Con­fer­ence 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’m not say­ing that,” he said. “I’m just say­ing, I’m say­ing what I said, and I’m not chang­ing what I said. When we played Ge­or­gia I thought they were one of the best four teams in the coun­try. That doesn’t mean that they’re any bet­ter than the teams that are here, and I voted for the four teams that are here. Is that cor­rect? OK.”

The loss to Alabama dropped Ge­or­gia (11-2) to No. 6 in The AP poll. The Bull­dogs will play No. 14 Texas in the Sugar Bowl. ■ WHAT’S AT STAKE: Brag­ging rights are on the line in the 119th meet­ing. Army will re­tain the Com­man­der-in-Chief ’s Tro­phy with at least a tie. The Black

Knights are try­ing to win for the third straight time in the series after los­ing the pre­vi­ous 14. Army is headed to the Armed Forces bowl but what is usu­ally the big­gest re­ward for a foot­ball is a mere foot­note to beat­ing Navy. The Black Knights have won seven straight games. Navy has de­feated a ranked team 36 times in history, in­clud­ing three wins over Army.

■ Army is sec­ond na­tion­ally in yards rush­ing (303 per game) and con­verted 30-of33 fourth downs. Dar­nell Wool­folk leads the Black Knights in rush­ing with 823 yards and Kelvin Hop­kins Jr. has 783. Wool­folk has 14 touch­downs and Hop­kins has 10 rush­ing TDs to give Army a po­tent 1-2 at­tack. Hop­kins is the start­ing QB and has only thrown 81 passes with six pass­ing TDs, which are dwarfed by his mas­sive rush­ing to­tals.

■ Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will at­tend the game. It will be the 20th game in the series at­tended by a pres­i­dent . ... Navy is 10-1 in games at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field, home of the Su­per Bowl cham­pion Ea­gles . ... Army en­ters the game ranked for the first time since 1996 . ... Navy hasn’t won a road game since Sept. 30, 2017 . ... Army has al­lowed just 106.5 yards rush­ing per game . ... Army has a two-game win­ning streak in the series for the first time since 1995-96.

TO­DAY’S GAME

Navy leads 6051-7.

IM­AGES TODD KIRK­LAND / GETTY

Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly and his Ir­ish fought their way into the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off this sea­son.

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