• Navel-gazing, or the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game

    Each week during the college football regular season, Brian Williams and I devote a little time to surveying the best and the weirdest elements of the sport. Most of the time, on Sunday or Monday, I pitch questions that have something to do with college football, or bring up problems that I’m having trouble resolving, or talk up things that I think might worthy of more research, and bundle it together with a list of games that I think might be decent or important enough to pick; Brian somehow finds the time to respond within a day or two, editing out my attempts to ask questions about Mike Leach every week and picking up a couple obvious storylines that I missed while trying to figure out what historic military disaster to compare to the Texas Longhorn offense. We go back and forth as many as times we need to settle on about five good questions and at least five games to pick that week, and we turn that into Tailgating, and hopefully you enjoy reading that as much as we enjoy writing it.

    When there’s only one game, though, and it’s a game that we both think feels kind of ‘meh’ at that, it’s a little more difficult to do all that. Especially when you start at like two o’clock this afternoon.

    As we’ll explain,
    Tailgating is a creature of the most magical regular season in sports, and it seems almost inappropriate to try to replicate that when, instead of the national championship playing out all across the country at once, it’s just playing out in Arizona. So, tonight, we present Navel-gazing, or the back and forth where Brian and I discuss how there’s nothing to discuss and ultimately end up having a discussion about tonight’s game. It really needs to be up by kickoff, though, so here it is.

    ________________________
    from: Matthew Kocsan
    to: Brian Williams
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 2:18 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Brian,

    I've been a little too busy to think too much TG with my upcoming trip, so I kind of dropped the ball here. I had thought about a question about NYE/D ratings and what games we were looking forward to already for next season, but I struggled with actual questions about Clemson and Alabama for some reason. I put it aside and then somehow never came back to it. Considering the game starts in six-and-a-half hours, do you want to:

    (1) Crap out a very basic in which we more or less just pick our winners and write a paragraph or two about how we expect the game to go;
    (2) Just put the NYD piece up in Position #1 for the evening and just talk through everything in the comments section.

    Up to you. I'm good either way.

    There is a third way, I guess: we could do a Top 10/Bottom 5, where we rank the ten best games of the regular season and the five worst games of the bowl season, as a lead-in for our picks. We each write basically a one-liner about the games and then a paragraph each about the national championship game. We could also save the best-games-of-2015 for the preview next season, like we did this year, but whatever.

    Let me know what you want to do. Obviously, #2 is an appealing option since we're really pressed for time because I let this go as long as I did, but I thought I'd ask all the same.

    Cheers,
    Matt

    ________________________
    from: Brian Williams
    to: Matthew Kocsan
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 4:21 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Matt,

    I included a brief comment in the Water Cooler. Nothing major, just basically a why-Clemson-can-win type of deal.

    I dropped the ball too. I thought about it, but it's been busy both real life and with stuff on the site, but never broached the topic with you.

    I mean, I guess we can crap something out, but is it worth it? I'm not sure how much availability I'll have to sit down and write. I'm sure I'll be able to find a half hour if need be. Are you picking Clemson?

    I think at this point we can get away with using the last TG as an open thread. Really, is a kinda/sorta column worth it considering what we usually do? If we can make it worthwhile, great, but if not, it's probably best to just pass.

    Brian

    ________________________
    from: Matthew Kocsan
    to: Brian Williams
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 4:26 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Brian,

    I'm fine with just punting this time. Last year, there was a ton to talk about heading into the national championship game, this year less so. It feels weird to not have something for the national title, but so what, I guess?

    Yes, I like Clemson. Maybe I'll write something for tomorrow if something interesting happens in the game.

    —MCK

    ________________________
    from: Brian Williams
    to: Matthew Kocsan
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 4:55 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Like I said, I can throw something together in a half hour-45 minutes if you like. I'm just wondering if the eyes will be worth it. I think we both took a breath after New Year's and lost the motivation to jump back in. It's a pretty demanding article.

    If you want to dive in, I'm game. Maybe a couple of quick thoughts just on the game isn't a bad idea.

    I'm hedging, as you can see. It's what I sometimes do...

    Brian

    ________________________
    from: Matthew Kocsan
    to: Brian Williams
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 5:06 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Brian,

    It is a demanding article, but more than that, it's really designed for the regular season. It works okay during championship week and bowl games, but it's not terribly adaptable to a one-game feature. Last year, we managed it, but we had tons of material from the week before: major falls for FSU and SEC generally, the rise of Oregon, an Ohio State team that had kind of shocked everyone, and plus we added our early look for next year. This year, we had one game in which Clemson was quietly dominant and another in which Michigan State looked like a high school team.

    What are our central questions here, or problems that we're trying to resolve and we think need research and commentary? That's always the crux of this, and I'm not exactly sure what unanswered questions I really have at this point, at least about the two teams that are relevant right now.

    If there's something you want to talk about, I'm game, too, but I'm not sure what that is at the moment apart from the game itself. Does that make sense to you? Should we write about this?

    —MCK

    ________________________
    from: Brian Williams
    to: Matthew Kocsan
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 6:00 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    I know exactly what you're saying. Really, if we do anything, it probably shouldn't even be labeled Tailgating to avoid confusion. Because this wouldn't be that.

    There isn't anything overly compelling about this year's matchup. It should be a good game, but people are bored with Bama, and Clemson doesn't have appeal. I also wonder if having the games on NYE took away from the aftermath since we had to move on so quickly. And really, what championship matchup would be compelling? Would Oklahoma have created more juice? Certainly not Michigan State. Outside of the novelty of last year, and a matchup between the clear two best teams (2 unbeatens?), is there any matchup that is compelling beyond, 'well, it's the National Championship, so I'll watch'?

    ________________________
    from: Brian Williams
    to: Matthew Kocsan
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 6:01 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Heck, if we add af few thoughts on the game, is this email chain an article?

    ________________________
    from: Matthew Kocsan
    to: Brian Williams
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 6:21 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    What should we call it, then? Navel gazing? I mean, that works, because that's pretty much what we're doing here and it parodies the name of the article we usually write.

    I more or less said what I think in the comments to your Water Cooler piece. I think Clemson needs to attack to the line of scrimmage and move its interior linemen, working from the inside out and back in to establish and maintain a running game throughout the night. Those two approaches on the ground need to complement each other, because you can't just smash into the middle or race to the corner against a defense as fast and as disciplined as this one. If you can do that, and you can make plays about fifteen yards down field in the passing game, I think Clemson has a pretty good shot to take this one home. The Tigers have the playmakers and the line to accomplish that, and to withstand one or two turnovers pushing the ball forward.

    As for Alabama, and this is part of the problem, there isn't as much to say. If Coker can make a play or two through the air and give Saban his ten- or fourteen-point lead that he prizes so much—and he got to maintain against Michigan State, courtesy of Connor Cook's utterly atrocious interception on that flat fade at the close of the first half—Derrick Henry is going to get his thirty, thirty five, forty carries, and he should declare for the NFL Draft immediately after the game. That's all.

    Maybe here's a thought. Say you're Clemson and you win the toss tonight. Do you take the ball, or do you defer?

    —MCK

    ________________________
    from: Brian Williams
    to: Matthew Kocsan
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 7:09 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    Given Alabama's conservative nature, I absolutely defer. Alabama's biggest chance to move the ball on offense is to wear Clemson down. Early in the game, Clemson has to feel good about being able to prevent Bama from driving the length of the field, and it would prevent them from putting too much pressure on that opening drive. There's nothing worse for Clemson than if they were to commit an early turnover, and the negative aspect of that is much greater than the positive benefits of scoring on the opening drive. Play conservatively early, defer the choice to the 2nd half, and take the 1st half to see how Alabama handles Deshaun Watson. This should be a close game at halftime. If Clemson can go to the half with a lead of any sort, suddenly they'll have a drive to start the 2nd that could put them up 2 scores, and force Alabama to put the ball in the hands of Coker.

    Even if Alabama scores, the game isn't lost. Clemson has an offense that's better than any Alabama faced all year. They are good enough to move the ball and a one-score game won't get them into a panic. This isn't Notre Dame.

    As I said in WC, it's not the 5 turnovers that necessarily won the game for Ole Miss against Alabama, it's the lead that they took that forced Alabama into playing a less conservative brand of football. Derrick Henry will get his 25 carries no matter what, but Clemson's defense is good enough to contain Alabama in the 1st half. The biggest danger to them is that they wear down in the 4th quarter. The they prove they can prevent Alabama from getting too much going offensively, the less pressure that will put on Watson, and eventually something is going to open up.

    Neither team wants to go down more than one score at any point, and both are capable of imploding if they do go down by multiple scores, but Clemson is more capable of erasing a 10-14 point deficit than Alabama.

    The Alabama defense is the best unit on the field, but Clemson's the more well-rounded team. I also feel like there are more scenarios for them to win than Alabama. I like Clemson 31-24.

    Brian

    ________________________
    from: Matthew Kocsan
    to: Brian Williams
    date: Mon., Jan. 11, 2016, 7:43 PM (EST)
    subject: Re: TG, NCG

    As much as the gambler in me would love to take the ball and announce my presence, I have to agree, allowing Alabama to put their defense on the field to begin the game does exactly what they would like and, to some degree or another, plays right into their hands. More than that, though, assuming Alabama will mostly use its offense to test your strength throughout the first two quarters, the game should be within striking distance at the half. It was for Michigan State, even though the Spartans had demonstrated utterly no capacity to move the ball throughout the first thirty minutes and Connor Cook ended any hope of scoring with one of the flattest and most ill-advised throws I've ever seen. (Sparty had the right idea, but that was either a perfect throw for a touchdown or an interception, and there was no third option unless he heaved it into the fourth row of the stands.)

    That first possession of the second half and opportunity to score, I'm saying, is going to be critical. I said on New Year's Eve that Clemson's first half against Oklahoma reminded me of last year's Sugar Bowl, in that the score at the end of a half of football didn't really reflect who had controlled the game. That might seems surprising considering that game was 21-6 at one point, but the score concealed how well Ohio State had moved the ball throughout the half, and that two first-quarter Ohio State drives had ended in field goals of 21 and 22 yards, while Alabama had managed two short fields which were converted into touchdowns. Last Thursday, Clemson had two short field goals and 43-yarder and chewed up 96 yards on their lone touchdown drive of the half. The bookend possessions for Oklahoma of the half were the Sooners' two touchdowns, and while all points count the same and points ultimately trump all, if you only pay attention to the scoreboard in the first half you might miss what direction the game is trending. Clemson took over on the first possession of the second half and managed to keep a fairly dynamic Baker Mayfield in check throughout the rest of the game. That first possession of the second half against Alabama, though, is the opportunity to force Alabama to either play from behind in the second half or to force them to score to keep in front of you, rather than granting them license to hold the ball, milk clock, and only score when they feel the time is right to go for the kill.

    Clemson will obviously face a better back tonight in Henry, and Coker does have the ability to extend plays if not the improvisational skills of a guy like Mayfield, but they can contain them. I like the Tigers, too, Give me Clemson, 37-23.

    Cheers,
    MCK

    Matt Kocsan and Brian Williams are staff writers at FootballPros. You can follow them both on twitter @kocsan (Matt) and @FPCommish (Brian).

    Comments 49 Comments
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Wait, we have a Pac-12 crew? What did either team do to deserve this?
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      So, Clemson took our advice and deferred, at least.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      I actually wouldn't mind watching the 'Film Room' broadcast, so I'm taping that and will try to watch it tomorrow.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      THESIS: the hurry-up offense is only as effective as you were on the previous play.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Classic 3rd & 1 problem. Nine guys in a box is the definition of an-inch-deep-and-a-mile-wide support.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      That was a hell of a throw by Watson on that wheel route. Good Lord.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Two big kickoff returns consecutively where kickers need to save touchdowns. Lots of space on special teams plays. Maybe something to watch for later?
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Oh, Saban kickers, man.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      I mean, it's easy for me to say from my chair, but if Watson doesn't throw that so flat, that's a touchdown anyway.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      I mean, it's easy for me to say from my chair, but if Watson doesn't throw that so flat, that's a touchdown anyway.
      Certainly looked that way to me too.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Certainly looked that way to me too.
      He had his man beat and the only safety help was trying to bait him into the pick. The receiver could easily have run under it.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Clemson has four sacks in the first half. That's kind of a lot.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Alabama is just lighting Clemson defenders up whenever someone goes against the grain on a play.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Wait, we have a Pac-12 crew? What did either team do to deserve this?
      ...and Dabo has every right to be furious at that rolling clock with :12 left in the half. How the s--- does that happen, PAC-12 refs?
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      ...and Dabo has every right to be furious at that rolling clock with :12 left in the half. How the s--- does that happen, PAC-12 refs?
      You took the words out of my mouth. Cost them 3 points in all likelihood.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Also, I want to purchase the suit Desmond Howard is wearing wherever it is available.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Anyone else watching the ESPN2 version? Just happily stumbled onto it
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      Anyone else watching the ESPN2 version? Just happily stumbled onto it
      Is that the Homerfest?
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      That was a hell of a throw by Watson on that wheel route. Good Lord.
      Again. That coverage by Harrison, too, though.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Clemson is going to get eight sacks before this is over.