NCAA Talk

Deshaun Watson, Clemson dethrone Alabama in thrilling national championship

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Deshaun Watson, Clemson dethrone Alabama in thrilling national championship

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Deshaun Watson took the snap, rolled right and with one of the easiest throws he had to make all night, completed Clemson's journey to the top of college football.

A frantic fourth quarter and a championship rematch between Clemson and Alabama was decided with 1 second left on a 2-yard touchdown toss to Hunter Renfrow.

"I couldn't hear the crowd," Watson said. "I just felt at peace."

Watson and the Tigers dethroned the defending champs and became the first team to beat Nick Saban's Alabama dynasty in a national title game, taking down the top-ranked Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night in the College Football Playoff.

A 35-year title drought for Clemson is over. The Tigers are national champions for the first time since 1981.

A year after Alabama won its fourth title under Saban with a classic 45-40 win in Arizona, Clemson (14-1) denied the Tide (14-1) an unprecedented fifth championship in eight seasons.

"That has to be one of the greatest games of all time," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Hard to argue.

The new champions have a process of their own that includes a loquacious coach who can turn a postgame interview into a fiery sermon, a spectacular quarterback who did not need a Heisman Trophy to show he was the best player in the country and a fun-loving team that plays with a chip on its shoulder.

"There was no upset tonight," Swinney said. "That's the last thing I told them when we left the locker room. I said, `When we win the game tonight I don't want to hear one word about this being an upset. The only upset is going to be if we don't win the dadgum game.'"

The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, but Watson got the ball last. Playing in his final college game, the junior quarterback threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns. In two games against Alabama and the most ferocious defense in college football, Watson has thrown for 825 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns. He was sacked four times Monday night and took some cringe-inducing shots from All-Americans Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster.

"You know, I never got the sense that he was rattled," Allen said about Watson.

Swinney, the native Alabaman and former Crimson Tide walk-on receiver, has built an elite program at Clemson that was missing only one thing. Now the Tigers can check that box, too.

"Eight years ago we set out to put Clemson back on top," Swinney said. "We came up a little short last year, but today on top of the mountain, the Clemson flag is flying."

After three quarters of body slams and tight defense, Tigers-Tide II ended up looking a lot like the first meeting when the teams combined for 40 points in the fourth quarter.

Watson found Mike Williams for a 4-yard touchdown a minute into the fourth quarter to make it 24-21 Alabama.

The Tigers took their first lead, 28-24, with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter when Wayne Gallman surged in from a yard out.

The Tide's offense, which had gone dormant for most of the second half, came to life with the help of a sweet call from newly promoted offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Receiver ArDarius Stewart took a backward pass from Jalen Hurts and fired a strike to O.J. Howard for 24 yards.

On the next play, Hurts broke free from a collapsing pocket and weaved through defenders for a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28 with 2:07 left.

More than enough time for Watson.

"I was calm," Watson said. He said he thought about Vince Young's last-second touchdown for Texas that derailed the Southern California's championship run in the 2005 championship game at the Rose Bowl. He told his team: "Let's go be great."

Watson hooked up with Williams and Jordan Leggett, who made great catches for big gains to get to first-and-goal with 14 seconds left.

A pass interference on Alabama made it first-and-goal at the 2 with six seconds left. Time for one more play to avoid a game-tying kick and overtime. Renfrow slipped away from the defense at the goal line with the help of some traffic created by Artavis Scott - or maybe it was an illegal pick? - and was alone for an easy toss.

"If you watch the ending, the slot receiver actually cut Minkah," Alabama linebacker Tim Williams said. "Usually, on a pick route, you're not supposed to chop somebody. You're supposed to pick them. The guy there just chopped Minkah down, but it's football."

For the former walk-on Renfrow, it was his second TD catch of the game. He had two last season against Alabama.

Alabama was 4-0 in national championship games under Saban. It was 106-6 in games it led at half and 96-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead as the Tide did Monday night. Clemson overcame all those odds.

The Tide jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind two long touchdown runs by Bo Scarbrough in the first half. The 230-pound sophomore back was pretty much Alabama's whole offense for a while, running for 93 yards on 16 carries while Hurts and the passing game struggle. Scarbrough left in the third quarter with a leg injury, but the Tide finally found some other help. Hurts hooked up with O.J. Howard, one of last year's heroes for `Bama, for a 68-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14 late in the third quarter.

"Look, there's not one play in the game that makes a difference in a game," Saban said. "We could have done a lot of things a lot better."

When it ended, Clemson's 315-pound defensive lineman Christian Wilkins did a split and a cartwheel and Ben Boulware, one of the toughest linebackers in the country, was in tears.

The Tigers had snapped Alabama's 26-game winning streak and beaten a No. 1 team for the first time ever.

"It's been 35 long years!" Boulware screamed. "It's coming home baby! It's coming home!"

Last season Alabama met its match in Clemson, but prevailed. This time, Clemson made sure the sequel had a different ending.

DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto retiring after 18 years at helm

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USA TODAY

DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto retiring after 18 years at helm

DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto informed the university she will retire in the coming months after 18 years at the helm. 

"It truly has been our privilege and the honor of a lifetime to serve DePaul as athletic director and to witness the unprecedented growth from that  ‘little school under the el’ to its current world class University serving students from around the globe," Ponsetto said in a statement.

“The changing times over these past few months has led me to this decision. Having successfully battled two breast cancer diagnoses and currently in treatment for a third, I thought it was time to step away from the long days, working every weekend and the 24/7 demands that being an athletic director requires."

Ponsetto has been a member of DePaul's athletic department since 1974, when she was a four-sport athlete (tennis, volleyball, basketball, softball). After graduating in 1978, she became DePaul's first assistant women's basketball coach. She later spent seven years as the senior associate athletic director before taking over as AD in 2002.

Ponsetto guided DePaul into the Big East from Conference USA in 2003 and helped organize the new Big East in 2013. She oversaw the development of Wintrust Arena, now home to the basketball teams after decades of playing at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

The women's team has made 17 straight NCAA tournaments under head coach Doug Bruno. The men's team hasn't made the tournament since 2004 and has just two winning seasons since (2006-07, 2018-19). Ponsetto has hired three coaches in that span: Jerry Wainwright, Oliver Purnell and Dave Leitao — who is in his second stint as head coach.

The NCAA put DePaul's men's basketball program on probation for three years last summer due to a recruiting violation, of one two controversies to surround the athletic department in recent years. In April, a sports psychologist formerly affiliated with DePaul filed a lawsuit claiming she was terminated after raising concerns of former softball coach Eugene Lenti's abusive behavior towards players. Lenti is Lenti Ponsetto's brother.

Ponsetto will stay in her role and assist DePaul in its transition to a new AD. The university plans to conduct a national search for her replacement this summer.

NCAA to allow student-athletes to make money off name, image, likeness

NCAA to allow student-athletes to make money off name, image, likeness

The NCAA still won’t be paying its players, but it will allow student-athletes to receive endorsements from third-parties.

The governmental body for college athletics has long been a strong proponent of its athletes being amateurs, but this marks a drastic change in that, even if the schools won’t be allowed to pay the athletes directly. The NCAA’s Board of Governors met this week and supported the changes with some caveats.

“While student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed,” a press release from the NCAA read. “The board emphasized that at no point should a university or college pay student-athletes for name, image and likeness activities.”

The rule changes aren’t officially in place and must be implemented by the three divisions of college athletics that fall under the NCAA. The next step is for each division to make the actual rules the board of governors supported. The goal is for that to be in place in January and to take effect for the 2021-22 school year.

“The board’s action is the latest step by the Association to support college athletes and modernize its rules regarding name, image and likeness,” the press release read.

The process for this started back in October and has remained on track for January 2021. 

Maybe the next time a player like Zion Williamson gets hurt busting his shoe open on the court, he can switch shoe companies and make some money off it?