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College Football Playoff: Final thoughts before tonight's national title game

MONICA HERNDON | Times

9

January

The wait is finally over.

The College Football Playoff national title game will be kicking off tonight, at long last. I've been preparing for the game since this time last year. Tampa has been working for much longer than that.

So as the battle between Alabama and Clemson nears, here are my final thoughts:

Steve Sarkisian might be the biggest key to the game. Miami coach Mark Richt was admittedly a little rusty spitting out plays during his first few practices because it had been a long time since he had called plays. Sarkisian hasn't done so since the 2014 Holiday Bowl. Sarkisian obviously knows what he's doing, but I don't think the transition will be seamless, either. Keep in mind, too, that true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts will have to be working closely with a new coordinator, and those relationships take time to develop. Maybe it doesn't matter, because Hurts is close to head coach Nick Saban. Or maybe, in the fourth quarter of a close game, it will matter a lot.

I'm not much into motivation - I'm pretty sure playing for a national championship is enough of an incentive to try really, really hard - but I do think it's interesting that both teams are claiming to be the underdog. Yes, Alabama, you've won 26 games in a row and four national titles in seven seasons, but no one believes in you.

If Clemson wins, it's time to start thinking of Dabo Swinney among the sport's best coaches (if he isn't there already). If Swinney wins tonight, he'll become the fifth active Division I head coach with a national title. He will also have beaten all four of the other ones...in the last 13 months. If he doesn't? The window might close on Clemson. The Tigers will lose their star quarterback (Deshaun Watson), star linebacker (Ben Boulware) and a ton of other talent (receiver Artavis Scott?). I'm not saying they'll fall to 6-6, but I don't know if they can reload to compete for another national championship.

The smartest thing I read this week (other than everything my Tampa Bay Times colleagues wrote, of course)? It's this, from Smart Football, on the play that might decide tonight's outcome.

It's a shame that the weather has been unseasonably cool during Tampa's latest moment in the spotlight. Even so, the comments I've heard from out-of-town reporters/guests have been overwhelmingly positive.

[Last modified: Monday, January 9, 2017 11:27am]

    

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