The semi-finals; Alabama takes on Clemson in Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma and Georgia meet in Rose Bowl

We begin this New Year’s Day semi-finals playoff with the legacy of legacies.

 

QB Paul Tyson and his great grand-father Paul “Bear” Bryant                  AP photo

The name Paul Tyson might conjure up images of a chicken magnate, but it’s the kid’s great-grandfather that gives knowing pause to the faithful of Tuscaloosa.

Tyson is the great-grandson of Alabama’s iconic, cigarette smoking, whiskey imbibing voice of God, AKA the Tide’s six time national champion coach, Bear Bryant, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound QB was recently offered a scholarship by Nick Saban, the Tide’s other secular sainted headman, to play for the team identified by the universal cursive A.

“It’s definitely a big deal for me,” said the kid who has better lineage than Kim Jung-Un, or Prince William.

On New Year’s Day, let’s see which teams display a winning gridiron pedigree, and which, based on its performance, are in need of some deep genealogical research looking for any traces of genes with athleticism.

No. 4 Alabama versus No. 1 Clemson – Sugar Bowl Jan. 1 (ESPN, 8:45 p.m.) The question for the Tuscaloosan faithful rings as constant as the falls of Niagara; will its beloved Tide lasso a W in this “Threequel” or, is this the beginning of the passing of the baton for America’s preeminent and dominant eleven?

And while most third acts, Ali-Frazier and Sunday Silence-Easy Goer being two of the exceptions, are unwatchable duds that end up being tossed into the dustbin of history, but when this pair of thoroughbreds, who are as consistent as Winston Churchill’s daily late afternoon cigar and three-finger glass of scotch get together, it becomes must watch television especially with the Himalayan-sized stakes riding on the outcome.

In Tuscaloosa, Groucho’s Boys; [“One morning I shot an elephant …, then we tried to remove the tusks.  They were so embedded so firmly we couldn’t budge them.  Of course in Alabama the “Tusk-a-loosa…” “Captain Spaulding” from The Marx Brothers jewel; “Animal Crackers” – 1930] were given a shot to avenge last year’s final-second loss, when the playoff committee in its wisdom, decided that these “Sons of Bear” despite not even qualifying for its Conference Championship, were one of the four best teams in the country, which is the mission statement that the committee is ultimately charged in following.

But unlike the previous Alabama elevens, which groaned with more talent than a state funeral (courtesy of Tina Brown “The Vanity Fair Diaries”) this year’s edition, although still prime-aged, has been a cut below those teams of dominance.

In fact, these “Sons of Johnny Musso” have yet to notch a victory over a top-15 team for two reasons; first and foremost the mediocre overall state of play in the SEC, and secondly, through no fault of Alabama’s, Florida State never lived up to its marquee preseason billing.

On offense, the Tide flows on the leadership of its dual-threat t-sophomore QB Jalen Hurts (15 TDs-1 Int- 60% – 768 yds. rushing – 8 TDs), who glides like Dick Button, while nattily operating as securely and suavely as George Clooney striding the red carpet.

Under his two-year command Alabama’s alpha dog has been nearly as flawless as the Hope Diamond as the Tide has tasted the bile of losing just twice, last year’s championship game on a last second play, and the Auburn game this season.  Simply amazing!

 

QB Jalen Hurts hands off to tailback Damien Harris        AP photo

The quiet assassin, whose passing ability will never be mistaken for that of Joe Willie Namath, is assisted by a starry game breaking receiver Calvin Ridley, (who truth be told hasn’t been as dynamic as last season), and a passel of downhill, steamrolling tailbacks; led by Damien Harris (8.2 yds. a carry), and Bo Scarbrough, who can seemingly run through the side of a pyramid, or a Palestinian protest over the United States acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel; having combined for 1455 yards and 19-TDs.

But if these “Sabanators” are going to move on and secure a place in the title game, it will be with a defense, which despite a slew of injuries, (particularly with its linebackers), remains harder to penetrate than the Gendarmes protecting French President Emmanuel Macron and the ‘Elysee Palace.

 

Alabama All-America safety Minkah Fitzpatrick               AP photo

The nation’s stingiest (11) eleven, featuring All-America safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, backer Rashaan Evans (10.5 tfls – 5 sacks), safety Ronnie Harrison, and tackle Raekwon Davis, ranks second overall, and attacks with the same blinding anger and evil intent that Richard Nixon held toward Katherine Graham and the Washington Post.

For Clemson’s Coach Dabo Swinney, whose team have won 10-in-a-row against ranked AP opponents, this New Orleans excursion carries a certain symmetrical vibe.

It is a Sugar Bowl redux, albeit a quarter-of-a-century later, for the Clemson headman, who suited up for as a member of the Tide’s 1993 perfect season national champion, who in dominating fashion shellacked the Hurricanes of Miami 34-13, a result Swinney would love to reciprocate on New Year’s Day.

 

Clemson QB Kelly Bryant                              AP photo

The director of these “Sons of Jeff Bostic,” is its steady first-year commander, QB Kelly Bryant (12 TDs-6 Ints – 66% – 10 rushing TDs), who has handsomely taken the reins from last year’s All-World QB Deshaun Watson, but whose mettle will be severely tested by the Tide’s relentless pressure.

Clemson’s field general, who shows inconsistency on passes over 20-yards, is assisted by a pair of rocket-fueled tailbacks; Travis Etienne (7.4 yds a pop – 13 TDs), and Tavien Feaster (6.4 ypc – 7 TDs), who have the ability to slither through a key-hole faster than the words disgraced and Bernie Law were typed together onto the pages of the newspapers published throughout the country in announcing his passing.

He also has the luxury of targeting a trio of Allstate (good hands) field-stretchers; Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain, and Ray Ray McCloud, who have combined for more catches (153) than that “Fisher of Men” St. Peter (Christmas season reference) while methodically moving the chains.

Like its counterpart, these defending national champions field a defense that is harder to penetrate than the cell of the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski serving life in the Federal ADX Prison in Florence, Colorado.

 

Clemson’s swarming defense                                              AP photo

The nation’s second (12) stingiest D, and sack (44) leaders, fires behind arguably the best front seven in America featuring a quartet of All-Americas; backer Dorian O’Daniel (10.5 tfls-5 sacks), ends Clelin Ferrell (17 tfls-8.5 sacks), Austin Bryant (14.5 tfls-7.5 sacks), and tackle Christian Wilkins (8.5 tfls-4.5 sacks) who are as relentless as the waves of a winter Nor’easter chewing the dunes of the beaches in the town of Sandwich.

Here’s our theory; give St. Nick more than a week to prepare, especially against a QB who isn’t as dynamic running the ball as Deshaun Watson, or even Johnny Manziel, and the “Tuscaloosan Sphinx, who last smiled when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, is a chess master the caliber of Bobby Fisher at dissecting an opponent.  Roll Tide!

[Note: If Alabama grabs the victory, it will leave Saban on the precipice of tying the once seemingly unapproachable record of six national championships held by the Tides other secular saint Bear Bryant.]

No. 2 Oklahoma versus No. 3 Georgia – Rose Bowl Jan. 1 (ESPN, 5 p.m.) These Norman invaders, AKA the Sooners of Oklahoma, score almost as fast as the next political, Hollywood, restauranteur, CEO, or media “biggie” is accused of sexual harassment.

And in somewhat of an anomaly, these storied programs will be colliding for the first time in of all places “The Granddaddy of Them All” AKA the Rose Bowl, which most fans revere as the cathedral of the game of college football.

[Note: The Rose’s moniker comes from the fact that it’s the oldest of bowl games, first played in 1902 (Harvard defeated Oregon 7-6 in the 1919 Rose Bowl for its last national championship) and it has been played annually since 1916].

OU’s Lincoln Riley, 34, the youngest headman in FBS, has been an offensive innovator of the scale of I.M. Pei, blueprinting the nation’s top ranked offense, which has outscored first-half opponents by the arresting aggregate of; 342-187, while averaging a touchdown shy (44) of 50-points a game.

 

QB Baker Mayfield and Coach Lincoln Riley                        AP photo

The igniter of that points-a-palooza, is OU’s controversial All-World profane, crotch grabbing Heisman winning QB Baker Mayfield (41 TDs-5 Ints-71%), who on the gridiron, sashays with better numbers than Raquel Welch.

The “boffo” dual-threat gunslinger leads the nation in pass efficiency, while averaging over 330-passing yards per game, ranks second in overall total passing (4,340) yards, and lead his troops with the same swashbuckling cocksureedness as that of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.

He was able to compile those Prudential-tall numbers by lasering on passel of explosive receivers featuring All-America tight end Mark Andrews (58-grabs-906 yds.-8 TDs), Maquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb, Jeff Badet, as well as fullback Dmitri Flowers, who is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, taken together they have combined for 28 of the dart-thrower’s touchdowns.

 

OU tailback Rodney Anderson                                 AP photo

And when Coach Riley ‘a la Lyndon Johnson ‘67 in North Viet Nam, temporarily halts his air-raid assault, tailbacks Rodney Anderson, and Trey Sermon (1670-combined yards – 16 TDs), are dangerous defense slicing alternatives.

But, as the Sooner faithful are well aware, its D which has tightened significantly over the last month anchored by All-America backers Ogbomia Okoronkwa (17.5 tfls-8 sacks), and partners Emmanuel Beal, and Kenneth Murray, still displays more holes than a West Bank Palestinian home.

In Athens, the Bulldogs are on the cusp of playing for its first national title since the Vince Dooley-Herschel Walker glory days of 1980, which was the last year of Jimmy Carter’s administration.

Ah, those were the days!

The Bulldogs will also be making its first Rose Bowl appearance since its legendary tailback and Rose Bowl MVP Charlie Trippi (age 96) was creating havoc for defenses in the FDR war year of 1943, a 9-0 shutout over UCLA.

[NOTE: In 1944 Trippi enlisted in the service, and in 1946 won he Maxwell Award as the nation’s most outstanding player, and is a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.]

 

Georgia’s dominating tailbacks; Nick Chubb (L) and Sony Michel         AP photo

And unlike its counterpart, the Dawgs have done most of its damage plowing the earth behind the tailback pairing of Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel, who run more often than Althea Garrison, and have become one of the best couplings since Kate and William, combining for a jaw-dropping; 2123 yards and 26 TDs.

And when one is in need of a blow, Georgia rolls out a freshman from Philly, D’Andre Swift, who could challenge Usain Bolt and is the next tailback dynamo to be bringing the Athens’ faithful to its feet.

 

Georgia t-freshman QB Jake Fromm                                        AP photo

The director of these SEC Champs is t-freshman QB Jake Fromm (21 TDs-5 Ints-63%), who despite his tender age has performed at a PhD level, with assists from a trio of field-stretching receivers; Javon Wims, Terry Godwin, and Mecole Hardman, all of whom are capable of making the clutch grab.

 

Georgia’s punishing and swarming D                                  AP photo

But the Westminster showing for the Bulldogs is its punishing D, the nation’s fourth (13) stingiest, and fourth overall, led by a disrupting turbo-charged trio of backers: All-America Roquan Smith (10.5 tfls-5.5 sacks), D’Andre Walker (11.5 tfls-4.5 sacks), and Lorenzo Carter, who are harder to penetrate than the security perimeter around Pope Francis and Saint Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Santi Petri –yeah, I took Latin at BC High “semper ubi, sub ubi”) at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

This is a very tough game on which to get a handle, we can make a case for both sides.

And Oklahoma’s offensive juggernaut is as intimidating as a leering stare by Harvey Weinstein toward one of his leading ladies or young associates, but that said, we think the D of the “Sons of Vince” does enough to make life uncomfortable for OU’s Heisman QB, leading to an All-SEC title game.  UGH!

Season record: 51-20.

That’s it from cyber space.  We’ll be back with our analysis of the championship game Wednesday night.  Until then, happy and healthy New Year, Peace, and listen to the music.  pk

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