We begin this championship week with one of America’s great writers, his classic novel, and one of college football’s greatest coaches who has an unquenchable “Ahab-like” quest to reside at the mountain top.
In Herman Melville’s classic tome “Moby-Dick,” which it so happens will have a cover-to-cover reading this weekend in New Bedford, Captain Ahab on the whaler Pequod seeks revenge against the white whale Moby Dick who in a previous encounter had severed his leg at the knee.
Though not the suicide mission of Melville’s protagonist, Alabama’s Nick Saban has embarked on a journey of singular calling; to topple the record (six national championships) of the most iconic of college football coaches, Bear Bryant.
You can almost see it in St. Nick’s joyless eyes.
“Sleep? That bed is a coffin, and those winding sheets I do not sleep, I die.” Ahab, Herman Melville.
On this championship Monday, let’s see which team writes the next great chapter in its football history, and which, like Melville’s Ahab, is tangled and doomed with despair from losing a chance at immortality.
No.2 Alabama vs No.1 Clemson National Championship Game – Monday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.) The Tide’s run has been better than Billy Rodgers record breaking jaunt in the ’75 Boston Marathon.
Alabama, a.k.a. Groucho’s favorite team, (“When elephant hunting in Africa we tried to remove the tusks, but they were embedded so firmly we couldn’t budge them, of course in Alabama; the Tuscaloosa,” Captain Spaulding from “Animal Crackers,”) has been favored in an eye-popping 80 of its last 81 games, and Saban is seeking its fourth title in seven years, which would be his fifth overall. [Note: he owns one from his tenure at LSU. Bear won his half-dozen championships at Bama, and if Crimson head man can bag number five, he and Bryant will be the only coaches with at least five titles etched next to their names.]
The signature of this “Title-Town” eleven, who are riding an eleven game winning streak, is an atom smashing D that possesses better numbers than Elle Macpherson.
The nation’s stingiest (13) D, anchored by its All-World backer Reggie Ragland (97 total tackles -56 solo), his partner Reuben Foster, and corner Geno Matias-Smith, ranks second overall, best in rushing yards surrendered (70), third in sacks (50), and employs a rotating NFL ready eleven man front seven, that is as sturdy and impregnable as Vladimir Putin’s summer palace on the Black Sea.
But if the D of the Sons of Kenny Stabler carries a supermodel cache, the offense “leans” more toward the category of a Melissa McCarthy.
The tone setter is its anvil pounding, migraine inducing Heisman tailback Derrick Henry, who led the nation with 2061 rushing yards, while scoring an SEC record 25 touchdowns.
But the rest of the offense under the steady tiller of QB Jake Coker (19 TDs-8 INTs-67%) and a quartet of chain movers led by starry freshman Calvin Ridley, is as bland as a black and white photo of Bruins coach Claude Julien, who resembles a minister from the Politburo days of the Soviet Union.
In Death Valley it’s a much different story.
Clemson (14-0) is as unblemished as Christie Brinkley, and like the supermodel, is perfectly balanced on both sides of the ball.
Dabo’s Boys, who on New Year’s Eve in the Orange Bowl officially buried “Clemsoning” the program’s long associate phrase of derision, are currently riding the nation’s longest (17) winning streak.
The Tigers head man, who is a native son of Alabama, and played and coached for the Tide, is also hoping to capture the school’s first national championship since Ronald Reagan (1981) was in the Oval Office reminiscing about his days as host of; “Death Valley Days.”
The Clemson orange and purple chariot, which looks like a rock poster from Peter Max, is driven by its Houdini-esque Heisman finalist, QB Deshaun Watson (30 TDs-11 INTs-69% – 887 rushing yards-11 TDs- also rushed for over 100-yards in five of his last six games), who glides with the grace of Gene Kelly combined with the evasive quickness of a squirrel caught in traffic.
The flashy maestro is assisted by a rumbling bulldozer in tailback Wayne Gallman (10 TDs), and a trio field stretchers: Artavis Scott, Charone Peake, and tight end Jordan Leggett who have combined for 17 TDs.
But the main ingredient behind this “BYOG” (“Bring you own guts” – a favorite Swinney phraseology) surreal Clemson season is a defense that even Benjamin Netanyahu would admire.
The descendants of William “Refrigerator” Perry are more disruptive than Bernie Sanders at an NRA convention, or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with his “finger on the button,” rank eight overall, ninth in sacks (43), and attack behind its All-America pairing; corner Mackensie Alexander, end Shaq Lawson (questionable knee) (22.5 TFLs-9.5 sacks), with big assists from end Kevin Dodd (15 TFLs-8 sacks), and backer B.J. (14.5 TFLs-5.5 sacks) Goodson.
This is a difficult game on which to get a handle.
In recent years, teams with dual-threat QB’s the caliber of Watson have given Saban fits, but we think Alabama’s NFL caliber D, which is arguably Saban’s best, will be up to the task, as St. Nick a.k.a. “Coach Ahab” moves one ring closer in his “Artemis-like” hunt to surpass the Bear.
That’s it from cyber-space and for the season. Thanks to all for checking in, good health in 2016 and as always; Peace, and listen to the music. PK