Naughty or Nice for the Final Four: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame

By Joe Scibelli, Esq.

Heading into the holiday week, the CFP committee made its decisions as who is in and who is out. Keeping the holidays in mind, here are my takes on what teams have under their tree, what’s on each teams’ wish lists, and who is on the nice list or naughty list for the upcoming CFP.

What’s under Alabama’s Tree: Three Kings who are about to Travel to Time Square.

Alabama’s three-headed attack showed up last Saturday in the nail-biting thriller against Florida. Going into the CFP, Santa already established that Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and Devonta Smith all made the nice list. Harris had five total touchdowns against the Gators: two on the ground and three through the air. He also had 245 total yards with his 31 running attempts and his five receptions. Harris was nominated as the game’s MVP, and rightfully so, after scoring 30 of Alabama’s 52 points. Alabama keeps asking for dominate RBs every season and the old man in red continues to supply the Tide with one. Santa might as well wear crimson compared to red for how spoiled Alabama fans are. Smith also had a big game with 15 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Smith had one the best defensives in the SEC on their toes. Last but not least, the quarterback, Mac Jones. Jones made his case for why he should win the Heisman compared to opposing quarterback, Kyle Trask, last Saturday. Jones threw the 43 times and completed 33 of those passes. He had 418 passing yards and five touchdowns. Jones showed the Heisman committee that the Heisman winner is in Alabama, however, which member of the Tide will win it? All that being said, Alabama’s offense went off on all cylinders and gashed the Gators for 52 points.

Alabama’s Wish List: Prevent Pass Defense Woes.         

This Alabama team is not like past Alabama teams. The Alabama we grew up loving (or hating), were elite defensive teams that play smash-mouth football. This year, Alabama looks like last year’s LSU team. An elite offense but shaky defense. The first half of the SEC Championship game, Alabama’s defense was able to contain Florida and Trask, leading the Gators 35-17. However, in the second half, Florida managed to put up four touchdowns, making a championship blowout into a game. Trask threw the ball for over 400 yards and had three touchdowns through the air. Bama’s defense had no problem with the run only giving up 54 yards, but Trask, especially, in the second half began picking apart Bama’s secondary, making it a thrilling game. Therefore, Alabama secondary is currently on Santa’s naughty list, and to get off the list they will need to contain Ian Book, and either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields.

Alabama is on the Nice List.

It’s not a surprise, Alabama made the nice list. Three Heisman candidates, best coach in college football, and the number 1 seed. Santa will make extra sure that Crimson Tide have something sweet under their tree this holiday season.

 

What’s Under Clemson’s Tree: Everything, (And I Absolutely Hate it.)

Well Clemson is looking like a championship team. Clemson dominated Notre Dame in their blow out win 34-10. According to ESPN metrics, by the start of second half, Clemson had 98.3% of chance of beating Notre Dame. That percentage only went up for the remainder of the game. Notre Dame looked like a completely different team against a Trevor Lawrence-ran offense, and boy, did Notre Dame look like they were still on Thanksgiving. Watching the game, you could see how Trevor Lawrence dictated the game. All the schemes Notre Dame tried run on defense, Lawrence tore apart. From blown man coverage touchdowns to 34 yards quarterback scrambles, he was composer and Nutcracker to Notre Dame’s rat king. Clemson’s defense also showed up, holding the Fighting Irish to only 10 points. Last time these teams played Notre Dame put up 47 points. However, this Clemson team is not the same Clemson back in November. Having James Skalski, Clemson’s linebacker and defensive play caller, and Trevor Lawrence back for the revenge game, the Tigers sure let the Fighting Irish have it. Clemson’s team win made sure that there was no coal under the tree.

Clemson’s Wish List: Nothing (Which I hate Even More!)

I cannot write honestly one critique on Clemson going into the CFP. The crack in their armor was their losses due to injury or COVID-19. Now Clemson is healthy, their leaders are leading, and their team is winning, or rather demolishing. Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers want one thing from the jolly old man and that’s to win out, allowing Lawrence to leave another historical mark on College Football before he moves on to the pros.

 Clemson is on Top of Santa’s Nice List.

Clemson is on top of the nice list for sure. No team entering the CFP wants to match up against them. Lawrence has a twinkle in his eye like a star over a manger in Bethlehem. Except this twinkle is above another CFP trophy.

What’s Under Ohio State’s Tree: Trey Sermon and Winning a Power 5 Conference.

History was made last Saturday by Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon. 1995 Heisman winner Eddie George held the record for most rushing yards in Big Ten Championship game with 314 yards. However, after holding that record for 25 years, Sermon with his 29 carries and 331 yards made history. Sermon was a beast, averaging about 11.4 yards per carry, making a top-10 Northwestern defense look like chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Northwestern was scorched. Even with the amount of yards Sermon had, Northwestern did make it a competitive game, well at least in the first half. Northwestern held the Buckeyes to 6 points and was leading by 4 before half time. In the second half, however, Sermon rushed for 271 of his 331 total yards and the script switched. Sermon lead the Buckeyes to a comeback win, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer leading Santa through that cold winter’s night.

Members of JDF have made it very clear that 6 games are not enough games played to be in the CFP (Walt and Fonz to be exact), which leads me to the second half of Ohio State’s presents under the tree. Being in a Power 5 conference is essential and the CFP committee likes diversity. The CFP committee always gives preference to Power 5 Champions, it has always been that way and it always will. Teams like Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina went undefeated, played at least 9 games, and had strong resumés, but are stuck at the kids table. Now, the Buckeyes received the third seat at the adults’ table and are looking for a chance to cut into championship Christmas ham. Therefore, the Buckeyes are grateful for the win and fortunate to be in the CFP.

Ohio State’s Wish List: A Regular Season Justin Fields, Not the Lackluster Big 10 Championship Fields, and Silenced Critics.

Fields performance last Saturday showed that a former Heisman favorite might be the worst of the 4 starting quarterbacks in the CFP. We know Trevor Lawrence is the best player in college football and Mac Jones may win the Heisman (if his own teammates don’t beat him to it). Ian Book isn’t like Lawrence or Mac, but he’s held his own as the starting quarterback for the Irish. Fields on the other hand, had his worst performance of the year. 12 completions with 27 attempts for 114 yards and two interceptions. Fields was off his game for sure. Prior to last Saturday, Fields’ worst QBR was 83.5 against at the time number 9 Indiana, but against Northwestern, Fields’ QBR was a mere 34.6. Fortunately for him, Sermon had a record-breaking day and put the Buckeyes on his back. Fields may look to his thumb injury as why he did so poorly but in the CFP: “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, the Clemson Tigers are coming to town.”

Speaking of Clemson, head coach Dabo Swinney made it clear on what his opinion is on Ohio State being in the CFP. People of the great state of Ohio think Dabo is either the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge for trying to undermine Ohio State’s chances of winning a national championship. Dabo had the Buckeyes in his most recent coaching poll not in the CFP, not in the top 5, and not even in the top 10. He ranked the undefeated Big 10 champs at number 11. I know that Dabo and Ryan Day, Ohio State’s head coach, won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year, but Day is keeping his head up despite the criticism:

“People can say whatever they want [about the CFP]; they have their opinions. I’m not going to talk about other teams because I think we have enough to talk positively about our program. But I’ll say this, if we have an opportunity to play anybody in the country in one game, I’m going to take the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Day is keeping his team focused and trying to shut out all the noise, but fans are seeing a lot of hypocrisy this season, taking to mind, COVID-19 really stirred up the pot.

Ohio State is Still Getting Coal.

Playing against a clearly salty Dabo is as bad as Halloween monsters trying to run Christmas. (If you don’t get the reference watch a Nightmare Before Christmas.) The Tigers are the Buckeyes’ nightmare. A strong front seven and an elite quarterback are exactly the opposite what Ryan Day, Justin Fields, and Ohio State want under the tree.

What’s Under Notre Dame’s Tree: A Veteran Team with A Lot to Prove.

Notre Dame felt the wrath of a vengeful Clemson team in the ACC championship. Clemson was the Miser Brothers to Notre Dame’s Christmas. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish do have holiday hope and it starts with their senior quarterback. Ian Book was recruited the same year Trevor Lawrence was recruited to Clemson. Lawrence was the number 1 quarterback in 2018 and second in ESPN’s top 300. Book on the other hand was the number 22 quarterback in 2018 and was not in ESPN’s top 300. Well the Senior quarterback from California has come a long way and is the star on top of the Fighting Irish’s tree. With 30-4 career record as the starter for Notre Dame, Book is a seasoned veteran who could lead the Irish to a CFP Championship. Book’s numbers aren’t staggering like other quarterbacks in college football, but Book is consistent and a leader. Book acknowledged after the loss that Clemson made many adjustments from their prior matchup and his team need to be prepared. Now moving forward, head coach Brian Kelly has to make major adjustments, but having Ian Book behind center makes it a lot easier.

Notre Dame’s Wish List: Not Playing Alabama in the First Round.

Someone had to play Alabama in the first round and unfortunately Notre Dame drew the short stick. We all saw what Clemson was able to do against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game as Lawrence was able to throw deep balls in broken man coverage or able to run the for first downs. Now, Notre Dame is getting ready for the three kings from Tuscaloosa. These kings, however, are not bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Rather they are bringing a dual threat offense conducted by Mac Jones. For Notre Dame to win, Ian Book needs to throw the ball and keep up with Alabama’s offense. Looking at the SEC Championship game, Alabama’s run defense held their ground. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams has been the work horse for the Fighting Irish this year on the ground. However, he hasn’t been consistent throughout the season, especially in the ACC Championship. Therefore, Notre Dame wishes that Ian Book can be the new king and keep Notre Dame alive in a very highly anticipated matchup.

Notre Dame Got Coal Too.

It kills me to say, but this isn’t Notre Dame’s year. Though Notre Dame has had impressive seasons with Book under center, Alabama is too much. Even if there is a Christmas miracle, and the Fighting Irish beat the Tide, I still think either Clemson or Ohio State will be able to secure a national championship over Notre Dame.

Who Really Deserves Coal: The NCAA and the CFP Committee.

I need to add this last point. After this season, with all the rescheduling, cancellations, and general chaos, college football needs to expand the CFP. These kids work too hard not to get an opportunity to play in a major game. Specifically speaking, Coastal Carolina. Not being able to play in their conference championship game due to COVID-19 and being sent to the Cure Bowl to play Liberty. The Chanticleers deserve better after having a historic season. So, for the CFP to get off Santa’s naughty list, expand the playoffs to 8 teams which can allow schools like Coastal and Cincinnati an opportunity to play and possibly beat Power 5 Schools. 

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