By Tommy Hicks
While waiting for the announcement of the other national championship game between Alabama and Central Florida, here are 17 observations on Alabama’s 17th national championship, earned in its overtime victory over fellow SEC member Georgia Monday night in Atlanta:
1. My guess is the argument over whether or not Alabama deserved its spot in the College Football Playoffs has ended. The No. 4 seed defeated the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds en route to claiming the title. And the game over top-seeded Clemson wasn’t close. Even the folks in Columbus, Ohio, have to, perhaps with hesitation, concede the Tide earned its place.
2. Nick Saban knows his team and its players and what they are capable of doing individually and collectively. There are few coaches in the country who would have handed the reins to his offense over to a true freshman with limited college playing experience to start the second half of the national championship game. Dang few. But he recognized the need for (A) an offensive jolt, and (B) a downfield passing threat as Georgia was loading up defensively at the line of scrimmage. He did, and the bold move paid off with another national crown.
3. Jalen Hurts is a class act. He could have pouted after being replaced as the Tide’s quarterback to start the second half, and it wouldn’t have been unexpected. He could have refused to speak with reporters following the game about Tua Tagovailoa leading the team’s comeback, but he didn’t. He could have crossed his arms and stood on the sidelines, trying to avoid attention, but instead he was the first player on the field to congratulate Tagovailoa following his first touchdown throw.
4. It’s going to be easier for everyone to just call him Tua. And likely, they’ll be calling him the starting quarterback for the first game next season. And I believe Hurts will give him a run in spring drills and won’t transfer to another school, as many started suggesting only moments after the game. At least not next season.
5. If you didn’t believe Nick Saban was the best coach in the county and top five of all time, believe it now. If you wondered why the school would pay him all that money and give him all the power he holds at the school, you need not wonder any longer.
6. How many companies that are experiencing trouble or a lack of punch from their employees would pay good money to have Saban stop by for a pep talk? How many of you would pay good money for a recording of the speech/talk/butt-chewing/whatever Saban gave his team at halftime of Monday’s game? Thought so.
7. The happiest person in the world — not just inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — to see Tua throw that touchdown pass in overtime was Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos. Without question. Alabama fans were already down on Pappanastos heading into the game, but when he missed the short field goal try in the final seconds of regulation, those feelings, well, let’s just say they intensified. Winning the game in OT prevented Pappanastos from receiving untold grief from Alabama fans had the Crimson Tide not won the game. And give him some credit too, he stayed on the field after the game and took part in about a dozen media interviews when he could have made begged off, mixed in with the celebration or simply headed to the locker room to avoid having to talk about the missed kicks.
8. Da’Ron Payne, all 300-plus pounds of him, is an athlete. And a beast. Especially in the second half, when the Alabama defense need to do something, had to do something, Payne was at the forefront, leading that particular charge. He had help, and lots of it, but you couldn’t take your eyes off No. 94.
9. Now, if you want to talk about players who should consider transferring, look no further than Columbus’ own Mekhi Brown — who you may recognize simply as No. 48 for the Crimson Tide. It’s quite likely, based on his tirade on the sidelines Monday night, that it will be suggested he might prefer to find another school at which to play his remaining seasons of eligibility. Just sayin’.
10. The Ridley family seal should be a football cradled tightly by a pair of hands.
11. Remember when one of the Ten Commandments of SEC football was “There shall be no true freshman starting quarterbacks?” Guess there’s only nine such commandments now. Hurts, Tua and Georgia’s Jake Fromm — even Georgia’s Jacob Eason last season and others across the league — have ended that belief. There will be more in the future.
12. The true freshman playing and making a difference factor is not limited to the quarterback position. Both Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart have proven they won’t hesitate to use true freshmen, and these are programs with rosters deep enough to hold true freshmen back if they so desired.
13. Apparently the SEC vs. SEC matchup didn’t hurt TV ratings, as some suggested would be the case. According to a report Tuesday morning, the Alabama-Georgia game received a whopping 16.7 Nielsen rating, which bettered last year’s rating by more than eight points. If it’s a good game, regardless of the conference in which the participating teams reside, college football fans will watch.
14. Speaking of the SEC, the league proved strong at the top again, with Alabama finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, released Tuesday afternoon. Georgia placed No. 2 and Auburn finished at No. 10. LSU was tabbed at No. 18 and Mississippi State at No. 19, while South Carolina received votes but didn’t finish in the Top 25. In case you were wondering, Central Florida finished at No. 6, one spot behind Ohio State which finished No. 5. Oklahoma took the No. 3 spot and Clemson is No. 4.
15. There’s a lot to like about the College Football Playoffs and four teams is enough. There will always be arguments concerning what team or teams missed out, but that would be true with an eight- or 16-team playoff field as well. Some college teams in the national chase play as many as 15 games in the current system. That’s plenty.
16. This national championship, based purely on his outward reaction on the sideline after the game-winning play as well as his demeanor during TV interviews following the game, seemed to be enjoyed more by Saban than his past titles at Alabama. That’s a good sign for Alabama fans, because it appears The Process has evolved enough to continue to push himself and his teams, but allows him to enjoy the moment and the accomplishment. Take the semifinal win for example when he approached the stage for the trophy ceremony wearing his championship cap backward. I’d say he’s more relaxed, and that could translate to more seasons with him as Alabama’s head coach.
17. Look for the 24-hour rule (time period to celebrate a win) to be extended a few hours but not very many. According to ESPN in a post on its web site Tuesday, Alabama holds the No. 1 spot in its way-too-early Top 25 for 2018. Clemson is No. 2, Ohio State No. 3, Oklahoma No. 4 and Georgia is No. 5. Auburn checks in at No. 12, with Mississippi State at No. 19, LSU at No. 23 and South Carolina at No. 25. Oh yeah, UCF makes the list at No. 21.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.