MIAMI GARDENS – It was a big afternoon for Dan Mullen and his Florida Gators. They pummeled Michigan so badly that, if Tampa Bay football fans are lucky, it drives Jim Harbaugh into the Bucs' loving arms. A great season for the Gators, 10 big wins, bigger offseason recruiting ahead, all arrows pointed up and …
Florida is going to need a bigger boat.
Saturday night, Mullen and the Gators saw how far they have to go, how far everybody in the SEC has to go, how far everybody but Clemson has to go.
Maybe Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley will leave for the NFL and the Bucs after seeing there was no future in the College Football Playoff, not with Nick Saban and Alabama pulling its first-half velociraptor act (28-0 lead) before coasting on in for a 45-34 national semifinal Orange Bowl win while making Oklahoma Heisman winner and two-sport wonder Kyler Murray long for A's pitchers and catchers reporting. Everyone not named Dabo Swinney should consider his options.
Maybe we should forget expanding the college football playoffs.
We should constrict them.
Two teams. Same two teams.
So, Alabama will play in its fourth consecutive title game. Alabama and Clemson will meet in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Clemson inhaled Notre Dame on Saturday.
Remind me again: We played all these games this season why?
Alabama has the best of both worlds: an SEC defense and a Big 12 offense. That went a long way toward making this semifinal no contest, even when Murray and OU mounted a sincere comeback.
Alabama scored touchdowns on its first three possessions for a 21-0 lead. It led 28-0 after the symbolic play of the evening: Alabama's Josh Jacobs blasting through Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes near the goal line, leaving Barnes on the field, beyond groggy, beyond beaten. Oklahoma had deferred after winning the coin toss. Bad move.
Maybe only 14-0 Clemson has a chance against 14-0 Alabama. Maybe only Clemson's defensive line has a chance against Alabama QB and Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, who showed everyone exactly how you bounce back from ankle surgery, shredding Oklahoma with 21-for-24 passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns. I'm thinking of getting ankle surgery myself.
Oklahoma's awful defense didn't deserve to be in this game. But it was the OU offense that couldn't keep up. The Sooners entered the game leading the country in scoring offense and total offense. They ended it under Alabama's elephant feet. This isn't the Crimson Tide's best defense, not by a long shot, but it showed up when it mattered.
Really, this game was over on the opening drive, after the officiating crew reviewed an Alabama fumble at the Oklahoma 1-yard line. It then ruled that the Alabama runner Damien Harris had been down. He scored on the next play. The crew then reviewed and upheld the second Alabama TD to make sure it was actually a catch by Alabama's Henry Ruggs. It was.
At that a point, the referee allegedly came to the OU sideline and said, "Fellas, you're on your own."
There was Oklahoma's first possession, when Murray was hauled down twice on sacks. The Heisman winner's numbers for the night weren't awful, with 308 passing yards and 109 rushing yards, but he completed only 19 of 37 passes. And he had never been chased — and caught — as he was Saturday.
And when Oklahoma pulled to within 31-20 late in the third quarter, Alabama yawned, put it back in gear and went back to work, never facing a third down the rest of the evening except when Tagovailoa took a knee at the finish.
That's how it went, no contest even when Oklahoma tried to make it one. The only drama left was what the never-happy Nicky would throw farther, his head set, which he broke in anger at one point, or the Orange Bowl's principal exported fruit.
"It was more fun throwing the oranges," Saban said.
The big guy will be up to his navel in oranges come the championship game against Swinney and Clemson. Alabama has beaten Clemson twice in the last three playoffs, which included one of the great playoff games (like there are a lot of those) when Clemson won the national title in Tampa in a heartstopper. I can't wait until the CFP returns to Tampa. It could be as early as 2026. Wonder if Alabama and Clemson will stay on the beach.
All we know is surf's up. Alabama is back. Oklahoma didn't completely embarrass itself Saturday, but it never had a real chance. It was that simple. Alabama-Clemson will be a lot more complicated. But we were all reminded just how far everyone else has to go, Dan Mullen and Florida included.
Think you're close?
Talk to the headset.
You know, the broken one.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or 813-731-8029