College Football

Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT

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AP

Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT

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ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of it but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared this time?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation , Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

Tagovailoa was brilliant at times, though he had a few freshman moments. He threw an interception when he tried to pass on a running play and all his receivers were blocking. He also darted away from the pass rushers and made some impeccable throws, showing the poise of a veteran. Facing fourth-and-goal from 7, down seven, the left-hander moved to his left and zipped a pass through traffic that hit Calvin Ridley in the numbers for the tying score with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.

He finished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. The winning play was, basically, four receivers going deep.

"After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play," Tagovailoa said. "I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open." Freshmen were everywhere for the Alabama offense: Najee Harris at running back, Henry Ruggs III at receiver, Alex Leatherwood at left tackle after All-American Jonah Williams was hurt. It's a testament to the relentless machine Saban has built.

But this game will be remembered most for his decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This was nothing like the others.

With President Trump in attendance, the all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and the five-star recruit from Hawaii entered. The president watched the second half from Air Force One.

"I don't know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama," Tagovailoa said. "Thank God he found me and we're here right now."

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

Fromm threw for 232 yards for a while it looked as if he was going to be the freshman star for the game, the first to true freshman to lead his team to a national title season since Jamelle Holieway for Oklahoma in 1985.

"I mean, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they'll tell you because that's a really good defense he just went against," Smart said.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban - eight as his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa - quickly built `Bama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama and now Saban is 12-0 against his former assistants.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble - second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety and threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

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USATSI

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

Willie Taggart has done his part to address the issue of undercompensation and freedom of college athletes by reminding them all that he has rights they don’t.

Taggart left his job coaching the football team at the University of Oregon after two days short of a year to take the job at Florida State University. It is his fourth school in six years, and the bowl game he led the Ducks to (the Las Vegas Bowl) will be his fourth, of which he has remained to coach one.

He has, in short, bettered himself consistently without establishing roots anywhere. It’s the New American Dream.

Yet the athletes who actual fuel the college sports engine must appeal to transfer, must sit out years of eligibility and in some cases have their choices restricted or vetoed outright because otherwise CHAOS WOULD REIGN!

Well, there’s chaos and then there’s chaos, of course, to be defined only by those in charge. Coaches do come and go -- 12 have filled vacancies since Chip Kelly took the UCLA job 10 days ago, and there will be plenty more. Somehow the system survives.

But players moving to seek their betterment is bad for business, most of the time because the suspicion is that they have been gotten to by other coaches from other programs – a classic case of the system saving itself from itself at the expense of the weakest of its membership.

The obvious inequity here has not troubled college administrators before, and it surely won’t this time either. The first responsibility of any system is to protect itself, and college football is a cheerily money-making powerhouse – in considerable part because players are underpaid and restricted in ways that coaches aren’t.

But maybe Taggart’s wanderlust can become a force for good. Maybe the next time an athlete wants to transfer, he’ll just ask for “a Taggart form” in hopes of “Taggarting” to another school. I mean, we’d say “Kiffining,” but there is no compelling reason why Lane Kiffin’s name should be in anyone’s mouth unnecessarily, to speak of another coach who sees a better shade of green in every job he doesn’t have but might someday want.

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

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USATSI

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

The 97th Big Game is upon us, and that means you scratching your head and asking, “What? Already?”

Cal and Stanford meet for the 120th time, and as is their custom, only one of the two teams is good. Indeed, Stanford has owned this game for most of the last three and a half decades (they are 10-22-1 since 1984, and has won the last seven game in succession by an average score of 40-18).

Indeed, since 1975, the two teams have had winning records at the same time only five times, a yin-and-yang relationship that has no real logic to it.

But in a changing world and an increasingly professional-sports-driven region, the thing that truly reduced the Big Game from a big event to a friends-and-alumni-only party was the decision to move the game around to accommodate other scheduling issues. It used to be safe the week before Thanksgiving, only rarely straying from its comfortable pocket between November 17 and 23.

Once it had to adjust to demands like the Notre Dame game and the Pacific-12 Conference television demands, the Big Game became just part of the schedule rather than the be-all and end-all of the season. And while true believers like Stanford head coach David Shaw, who has proven after Stanford down to his last molecule by not entertaining NFL jobs, still find it an essential highlight of each season, the more casual fan has moved on to other pastimes.

This is partly due to the transient nature of the modern graduate, but also due to college football’s recent playoff-or-bust mentality, of which the only sniff the Bay Area is likely to have is next year’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium, The Stadium That Creature Comforts Forgot.

But enough about why the Big Game isn’t actually “big.” The truth is, it’s big enough for what it needs to be, and maybe that is its true historical value. The last time Cal and Stanford finished 1-2 in the conference was 1937, so maybe this game, in which Stanford is 7-3 and Cal is 5-5, is about what it is supposed to be.

Something fun for the folks already in the tent.