For awhile I thought last Monday’s College Football Championship game was going to feature each team scoring every time they had the ball.
It sure started out that way.
Then, the game saw some defensive stops and as it evolved, class showed.
Alabama was the class of the title game, not to diminish Ohio State’s efforts, but the Crimson Tide left no doubt who was the king of the college game.
Nick Saban now has won seven national titles, and this one was a fun game to watch. There were exciting plays throughout the Crimson Tide’s 52-24 romp over the Buckeyes. ‘Bama now has won 14 consecutive games and while they will lose a bunch of players to the NFL don’t shed a tear for the champions.
Their Heisman Trophy receiver DeVonta Smith left the game with an injured right hand in the third quarter, but not before he caught 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns.
A few weeks ago I lamented the fact that the same teams seem to always pop up as the strongest contenders for the crown. The fact is, that’s not going to change.
The rich get richer.
Schools like Alabama, which finished this virus-strapped season 12-0, while Ohio State, playing a shortened Big Ten schedule, and wound up 7-1, don’t rely on recruiting athletes from their respective territories.
No, they go all over the country to get the best players.
The Buckeyes go South, and the Tide goes to the Midwest, if that’s where the cream of the crop is located.
Didn’t ‘Bama go out to Hawaii to recruit Tua?
If you’re a hot high school prospect, and you watched the game, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of what you saw?
Of course, those few schools don’t get everybody.
Other powers approach prospects with the opportunity to knock off the SEC or Big Ten champs.
They present a scenario in which they promise players a chance to establish their own identity. The head coach may be more appealing as well.
But we’re talking about a Clemson, or LSU, Oklahoma, or other schools who have won their share of national titles and will again.
It’s still a small group.
It comes down to the fact that college football is, what it’s always been, an ideal farm system for the NFL.
Nothing wrong with that.
Most of us see the big boys play on Saturdays (sometimes Fridays as well), and pinpoint the players who we’ll all see on Sundays.
The pro scouts check out those future prospects when they visit and look at the tapes of the smaller schools we don’t often see.
And let’s not forget the bulk of college rosters made up of players who will never play in the NFL, but can tell their grandchildren they proudly played for their alma mater.
So, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s the same old championship game with the same old teams.
Who corralled the most Top 100 athletes?
You’ll see many of them on the final Monday night of the college football season.
It’ll be quite a display of the college game at its highest level.
Just as last Monday night proved, once again.
Meanwhile, NFL called it Super Wildcard Weekend.
Six games in two days.
When the dust cleared (what dust?) we were left with the final four in each Conference.
Here are my views looking back on the games played, and a forward take on this weekend’s divisional round matchups.
First, the big surprise.
The Browns after losing 17 straight games in Pittsburgh trounced the once 11-0 to advance. This, despite losing their coach Kevin Stefanski on the sidelines due to COVID, and seeing several offensive linemen fall by the wayside during the game.
That line, for the Browns, has been essential, paving the way for the best 1-2 running punch in the league, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
But in football, it’s all about the quarterback and turnovers.
Baker Mayfield was sharp and the Steelers turned it over five times, including four interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger, who is nearing the end.
It was 28-0 Browns after one quarter. But no lead is insurmountable with three quarters left to play.
The Steelers mounted a threat, but it was quashed by the Browns.Cleveland’s COVID problems affected more than just their head coach.
Their entire week of prep was turned tipsy-turvy by the effects of the virus, but the Browns survived in a big way.
Now it’s on to Kansas City for the rested top-seeded Chiefs.
KC is the defending Super Bowl champs, and while their defense has been something less than stellar lately, and their all-world QB Patrick Mahomes has leveled off late in the season, the Browns, in my view, are not ready for this kind of confrontation against a post-season savvy team, playing at home, with a brilliant leader under center, and the mission of repeating as world champions in their sights.
The other AFC battle between the Ravens and the Bills should be a beauty.
The Ravens dug down deep to overcome a 10-0 deficit on the road against their conquerors of a year ago, the Titans, and won a grueling contest to advance.
The hero was quarterback Lamar Jackson who had lost his two previous playoff encounters.
Jackson ran for a pair of touchdowns, including a sensational 48-yard classic, avoiding a sack and taking off for what his head coach John Harbaugh said was the greatest run by a QB he had ever seen.
The Bills, struggled somewhat in putting down the Colts.
No surprise here.
When a team sports a high-level signal-caller who has eons of playoff experience, it’s simply not going to be a breeze. And it wasn’t for the Bills, who I believe will beat the Ravens.
Last season, I thought Baltimore was going all the way. Heading into the stretch run this year, they appeared nearly out of the running.
Even with the Ravens saving their best for last, the Bills are a fine-tuned machine, in my view, and combining a solid defense with QB Josh Allen, not far out of MVP consideration, Buffalo should take the next step.
That would set up a dream Chiefs-Bills matchup to determine which team the AFC sends to Tampa for Super Bowl 55.
The NFC features an intriguing collision coming up this weekend.
First, the Rams travel to Lambeau Field to face the number one seed Green Bay Packers.
For practically all this season, the Packers have been the top team in the Conference, vying for that honor with the Saints.
But Green Bay is clearly ahead of the pack, and will face the top defensive team in the league, the Los Angeles Rams.
Despite serious quarterback issues with injuries to regular starter Jared Goff, and his backup John Wolford, the Rams eliminated the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks. The inexperienced
Wolford started, but a hard hit early sent him to the hospital.
Goff, despite his injury came in and allowed that tremendous LA defense to do its thing and move on in the playoffs.
The Seahawks had their moments in 2020, but their defense was fragile and Russell Wilson, impressive early, fell short late in the year.
Aaron Rodgers will be named the MVP and rightfully so.
The Packers are more than Aaron Rodgers. They have a running game and a defense to compete and beat anyone. They appear to be a more experienced version of the Buffalo Bills.
I think the Rams defense can be effective against the Pack.
But I don’t think they can put up enough points to win this game on the road.
Green Bay it is.
Now, the fascinating third meeting of the year between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Saints have won the first two. Don’t be fooled.
It tough to beat a good team three times in one year.
Their first meeting was on opening day.
I won’t go into the details much because past performance means little.
It’s how you play that day.
But for the record, Drew Brees had 2 TD 0 Int in their 11-point win in the first encounter in the Bayou.
Drew Brees and Tom Brady
In week 9, the Saints blew out the Bucs 38-3. Brees had 4 TD, no picks.
In the two games against the Saints, Tom Brady had 2 TD and 5 Int.
In winning their wildcard matchups, neither the Bucs nor the Saints played anything close to their top level.
When teams play in sub-par fashion and still win, that is a great sign.
The Saints were better in beating the Bears, than the Bucs were in subduing Washington and their practice squad quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke played his heart out in a tough spot against a tough team in the playoffs. He was one of the standouts the first weekend.
He proved he could be a starter in the league.
In the upcoming contest, I have a feeling the Bucs and Brady will have their best showing. I predict an upset over the Saints who have shown some vulnerabilities. And Brees isn’t quite what he was.
Maybe Brady isn’t either (this is the first playoff pairing of 40-plus quarterbacks), but I like Tampa Bay to get to within a game of the Super Bowl.
I was an undergraduate at Syracuse when the great Ernie Davis played. The great Jim Brown had gone before. The great Floyd Little would come later.
They all wore number 44.
They all were magnificent.
After graduation, my close friend Bill Philips and I began our six-month Army active duty tour at Ft. Dix, N.J.
After the eight-week basic training duties were over, we remained at Ft. Dix working as personnel specialists in the office of the Company Commander.
He was a major, we were privates.
Floyd Little was now a sophomore. It was his first year on the varsity.
In those days freshmen played on the freshman team. That was it.
So, there was a game coming up at old Archbold Stadium.
Kansas with the remarkable Gale Sayers was coming in to play the Orange with their soph star Floyd Little.
Bill and I had to see that game.
As we were walking down the road with our suitcases, heading for Syracuse, the Company Commander asked where we were going.
We told him. He told us we couldn’t go. Despite being a weekend, he said we hadn’t asked for permission.
In one of our great life decisions, we left anyway.
We were risking plenty. You can probably imagine.
As for the game, The Orange won big 38-6. Sayers, who would prove to be one of the NFL greats as was Little, was held to 86 yards on 16 carries. Most of it coming in the final quarter against the Syracuse subs.
Little, meanwhile, scored five touchdowns, including a 55-yard run, enroute to a 159 yard rushing day.
When we returned to Ft. Dix, the major never said a word.
We breathed a sigh of relief.
The first time I actually met Floyd was when I was assigned to work with him when he was a first-year analyst with NBC.
It was a Broncos-Chargers game in Denver, where Little starred.
He was a joy to work with, and we hit it off.
Who didn’t like Floyd Little, really?
Then, on October 13, 2016, I was honored to be inducted into the WAER Hall of Fame at Syracuse University. WAER was where I started broadcasting. It was a non-commercial FM station at the time. It launched by career.
On the night of the event, my great friend Ernie Accorsi was on hand to present me, as was another friend who needs no introduction, Jim Boeheim.
But the surprise of the night was the appearance of my old friend, Floyd Little.
With Floyd Little at the WAER Hall of Fame, October 2016
That made a memorable night, extra special.
Floyd Little who passed away recently, was a winner in every sense of the word.
Most important, a winner as a human being.
Please check out my Floyd Little Tribute on YouTube by clicking here.