Kelly relishes playoff role of Irish
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.
Navy leads 6051-7.
Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly and his Irish fought their way into the College Football Playoff this season.