NCAA

College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

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College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

Back-to-back classics.

That’s what we’ve witnessed in the National Championship Game the past two seasons. Even in their wildest dreams, the organizers of the College Football Playoff couldn’t have imagined two games of this caliber in successive seasons.

Last year, you’ll recall No. 2 ranked Alabama edged No. 1 ranked Clemson, 45-40. This year, the tables were turned, as No. 2 Clemson edged No. 1 Alabama, 35-31. A year ago, after defense dominated the first three quarters, the teams erupted for 40 points in the fourth quarter. This year’s game followed the same script, with the teams combining for 28 points in the final period (21 by Clemson).

Divine Deshaun: The game confirmed the unparalleled brilliance of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who passed for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner with one second remaining. In two games against the No. 1 defense in the country, playing for the national championship under the brightest lights and greatest pressure, all Watson did was pass for 825 yards, rush for another 116, and account for eight touchdowns.

Watson’s performance capped a career in which he went 32-3 as a starter, graduated in three years, and finished second and third in the Heisman Trophy balloting (behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey last year, and behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson this year).

Looking back through the post-season prism, one wonders how Jackson could out-vote Watson. Clemson, after all, beat Louisville 42-36 early in the season. Jackson won despite finishing the season with two straight sub-par performances in upset losses to Houston and Kentucky, then was shut down by LSU in a 29-9 clunker in the Citrus Bowl.

Watson didn’t have quite the same glittering stats, but beat Jackson head to head and won the national title. Like Stanford greats Andrew Luck (who finished second twice), and John Elway (who finished second to Herschel Walker), Watson will go down as one of the best college players never to win the Heisman.

Dykes Dismissed: Earlier this week, Cal fired head coach Sonny Dykes after four seasons at the helm of the Golden Bear program. While the timing was unusual — in that it came six weeks after the end of the season — the decision was not surprising. There were three main issues with the Dykes regime: 1) The inability to develop anything resembling a defense. The Bears ranked near the bottom of NCAA defensive statistics for all four years, and there was no sign of improvement.

2) Dykes publicly pursued other coaching jobs almost from the first moment he arrived in Berkeley, most recently at Houston and Baylor. This was embarrassing to the University and the Old Blues who understandably want a coach who is committed to the school and wants to be in Berkeley.

3) Lagging ticket sales and donor support. Cal had a university-wide debt of $150 million last year, $21 million of it in athletics (largely related to debt service on the stadium renovation). The athletic department needs to fill seats in Memorial Stadium and get the donors excited again.

Like many others, we had recommended then-San Jose State Coach Mike MacIntyre to the Cal athletic department four years ago. One can only wonder where the Bears might be right now if MacIntyre, who has done such an amazing job at Colorado, would’ve been hired instead of Dykes.

Recruiting Trail: Stanford is reportedly on the way to signing one of the nation’s finest recruiting classes. According to Scout.com, coach David Shaw has already garnered commitments from the country’s No. 1 ranked quarterback (Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian School), No. 1 and 2 ranked offensive linemen (Foster Sarell of Graham Kapowsin HS in Graham, Washington, and Walker Little of Episcopal HS in Bellaire, Texas) and No. 1 tight end Colby Parkinson of Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village). Nationally, Scout rates Sarell the second best player in the country and Mills No. 3.

Speaking of recruiting, Alabama didn’t go home empty-handed this week, as the nation’s top recruit, running back Najee Harris from Antioch HS, decided to go with the Crimson Tide. Harris had verbally committed earlier, then flirted with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh before sticking with Alabama.

Unsung Utah: With his Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham now has the best bowl record of any active coach. Since taking over the reins in Salt Lake City, Coach Whit is 10-1 in postseason play.

USC Finishes at No. 3: After its scintillating win in the Rose Bowl, USC climbed to No. 3 in the final AP poll. If star Adoree Jackson opts to come back for another year, the Trojans will contend for the national title next season.

Chargers to LA: San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos announced on Thursday that the Chargers will move to Los Angeles next season. One can only wonder what this means for the future of Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, and San Diego State football?

Jim Harbaugh vows he'll remain Michigan coach, not plotting NFL return

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Jim Harbaugh vows he'll remain Michigan coach, not plotting NFL return

Jim Harbaugh is being proactive in addressing the rumors this year: No, he isn’t leaving Michigan to return to the NFL, he says.

"I can't be any more clear about this -- it's not true," the former 49ers coach told ESPN’s Adam Schefter this weekend. "I'm not going anywhere."

Harbaugh’s success in San Francisco -- a 44-19-1 record and a Super Bowl berth in four seasons (2011-14) -- leads some to speculate each year that an NFL return could be in the cards. Harbaugh hinted that chatter could be planted by others to hurt him in recruiting players to Michigan, where he's 38-13 in four seasons as coach.

"This is a choreographed message that comes up at this time every year before signing day," Harbaugh said. "It's people spreading messages to further their own personal agenda.”

Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan in the mid-1980s. Schefter, the reporter, also is a Michigan alum.

FL teams that need an offensive-minded coach who can develop a young QB surely will inquire about Harbaugh’s availability, though. For example, should the Arizona Cardinals, who’ve struggled to a 3-9 record, decide one season with coach Steve Wilks is enough, they certainly could consider Harbaugh and the impact he’d have on rookie QB Josh Rosen.

That would mean seeing Harbaugh and his signature pleated khakis on the Levi’s Stadium sideline once per season. Not sure how 49ers fans would feel about that.

Heisman Trophy voting 2018: Why Kyler Murray won college football's top honor

Heisman Trophy voting 2018: Why Kyler Murray won college football's top honor

Everyone knew Kyler Murray was a great college football player. But his Big 12 Championship Game performance, along with Tua Tagovailoa's SEC title game struggles, showed he was the best college football player, thus worthy of the 2018 Heisman Trophy.

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples shared a graphic that revealed Tagovailoa received the majority of Heisman votes made before and during the conference championship games, but Murray cleaned up after all was said and done.

It makes sense that the majority of Heisman voters who waited to cast their ballots picked Murray. The Oklahoma quarterback completed 25 of 34 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 39-27 win over Texas that pushed the Sooners into the College Football Playoff field.

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, struggled for Alabama, going 10-of-25 passing for 164 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions before leaving the SEC Championship Game against Georgia with an injury. Jalen Hurts relieved Tagovailoa and rallied the Crimson Tide to a 35-28 win that kept them in the CFP field.

Of course, the A's, who voted for Murray to play baseball by drafting him last summer, hope he sticks with his original plan. Or, at the minimum, pull a Bo Jackson and play both sports.