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Top takeaways from Saturday’s bowl games, CFB Playoff semifinals

Jesse Reed
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always Clemson and Alabama…

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The final Saturday of the 2018 college football season has come and gone. It featured five games, and of course the two College Football Playoff semifinals.

One thing it did not feature much of, however, was intrigue.

Of the five total games, just one of them was really tightly contested. And it was the one most fans likely didn’t get to see, having been broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.

The big, most obvious takeaway from Saturday’s games is that Clemson and Alabama will once again go head-to-head for the title next Tuesday.

Here’s what else we learned.


Nevada somehow turned snooze fest into overtime victory

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The Wolf Pack were getting dominated for most of Saturday’s Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl against Arkansas State. They were down 7-3 and had struggled to make anything happen on offense before waking up right near the end.

With under four minutes left to play in regulation, Nevada engineered a 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Devonte Lee. The Wolf Pack defense then got roasted by Justice Hansen and the Red Wolves, who marched downfield and kicked a game-tying field goal as time expired.

In overtime, Nevada once again discovered an offensive attack and shockingly won on an 11-yard touchdown reception by Reagan Roberson.

Nevada was outgained 499-285. Arkansas State had 10 more first downs than the Wolf Pack. It was a lopsided game, but in the end Nevada found a way to get the job done with key plays at critical moments.


South Carolina didn’t show up for Belk Bowl

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Virginia absolutely dominated the Belk Bowl, despite the fact that South Carolina had one edge no other team could have possibly boasted coming into the game.

Jake Bentley was a miserable wreck. He completed less than half his passes and tossed a couple of bad interceptions. The run game was practically non-existent. The Gamecocks were helpless to stop Bryce Perkins, Jordan Ellis and Olamide Zaccheaus as the Cavaliers racked up 28 first downs, 28 points and 413 total yards of offense.

This game was pretty much over before it hit the second quarter. The end result was an embarrassing 28-0 shutout loss that sends Will Muschamp and Co. back home with a 7-6 final record on the season.


Jim Harbaugh once again gets owned in a big game

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Not only did Michigan lose to Florida on Saturday at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines got taken behind the woodshed.

The Gators poured it on in the second half, coming up with huge plays on the ground — gashing the typically dominant Michigan defense right up the gut — and on defense en route to a 41-15 victory.

With the blowout loss, Jim Harbaugh fell to 1-9 against top-10 teams since taking over at Michigan, and he now has a 1-3 record in bowl games. He’s never beaten Ohio State, and after this latest meltdown in a big game the notion that he’s vastly overrated is taking hold on a national level.


Dan Mullen has the Gators trending up

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The Gators went 4-7 last year. When Dan Mullen took over as the head coach, it was widely assumed he’d need a couple of years to get the program back on track and undo the damage Jim McElwain had done during his tenure at the helm.

Then Florida started knocking off teams like Mississippi State and LSU. Heading into bowl season, Mullen had definitely exceeded expectations guiding the Gators to a 9-3 record. Then, they dropped the hammer on Harbaugh’s Wolverines in one of the most impressive showings we’ve seen from Florida football in years.

It’s not hard to imagine that the Gators will really be a team to be reckoned with now that Mullen has proven capable of coaching up a roster that still has some holes. Clearly, this is a program on its way up, and Saturday’s dominant showing was the cherry on top of a tremendous season.


Same old Irish?

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The last time the Fighting Irish had a shot at the national championship, they were boat raced by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. On Saturday in Arlington, fans of the Irish were treated to more of the same.

Notre Dame was hopelessly outmatched on both sides of the ball. Ian Book was under constant pressure and struggled as the typically dominant Notre Dame rushing attack was conspicuously absent. On the other side, Clemson’s offense had its way with the Irish defense.

Despite going undefeated during the regular season, and despite hanging on for the first quarter, it quickly became clear that Notre Dame was in no way Clemson’s peer. This is something that many people predicted heading into the College Football Playoff due to the talent gap between the programs.

It doesn’t, however, mean that the wrong team got into the playoff. What it really does show is that the chasm standing in between between the haves (Clemson and Alabama) and the have-nots (everyone else) is exceedingly wide.


Trevor Lawrence sure doesn’t play like a freshman

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Despite the fact that he’s been rock solid all year, many wondered if Lawrence might succumb to pressure once the bright lights of the playoff settled upon his golden locks.

He did not. In fact, Lawrence put together a masterful performance against a very good Notre Dame defense. His two touchdown passes to Justyn Ross in the second quarter were both magnificently placed (watch here), and he had a spectacular overall game going off for 327 yards with three touchdowns before giving way to Chase Brice in the fourth quarter.

At the age of 19, just one year removed from high school, Lawrence is already an elite college quarterback. He has unbelievable arm strength, doesn’t get rattled under pressure and has the athleticism to evade pressure in the pocket.

Clemson can absolutely win the title this year with this young man under center.


Tua got his Heisman revenge against Kyler Murray 

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First off, we have to give Kyler Murray a ton of credit for the way he fought and brought his team back to at least give the Crimson Tide a game. He had a brutal start and saw his team fall into a 28-0 hole in the second quarter. But he never stopped scrapping for every single inch he could gain against the tough ‘Bama defense and had a fantastic overall game.

That said, there’s no doubt that Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa one-upped his counterpart in the Orange Bowl. Showing himself to be healthy enough to do what we’ve grown accustomed to all year long, Tagovailoa was as potent as ever.

In the end, Tagovailoa put forth a nearly flawless performance. Completing 24-of-27 passes for 318 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, his razor-sharp play sparked ‘Bama’s 45-34 victory and kept Murray and Co. from ever making a serious charge at the lead.


The title game is going to have a different feel this year

49ers Levi's Stadium

Courtesy of AP Photo/Tony Avelar

For the third time in four seasons, the College Football National Championship Game will be contested by Alabama and Clemson. This year’s title game should have a different feel than the previous two, however, because both teams feature incredible pure passers.

The championship game might end up being a defensive struggle because of how darn good both teams are on that side of the ball. However, we haven’t really seen Tua Tagovailoa be slowed down by anything other than injury this year, and Trevor Lawrence has uncanny poise in the face of pressure.

It would be surprising if Clemson and ‘Bama went crazy on the scoreboard. However, we should see plenty of huge plays through the air from these two young signal callers. It’s going to be a highly entertaining game between what’s clearly been the two top teams in the nation this season.


I’m all for playoff expansion, but this year it wouldn’t have mattered

The College Football Playoff should be expanded. There’s no reason not to get all Power Five conference champions into the mix, along with the best Group of Five team and two additional at-large teams. It really makes all the sense in the world.

That said, this year an expanded playoff would not have mattered one little bit. Clemson and Alabama are so far ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to top-to-bottom talent and depth that other teams cannot hope to compete for 60 minutes.

The counter argument to this would be that Georgia nearly took ‘Bama down in the SEC Championship Game.

My response is that Tagovailoa was not close to healthy, even from the start of that game. Once the Crimson Tide got a healthy quarterback under center they dominated. Despite a nearly flawless performance by Georgia, the Bulldogs still ended up losing, and we’re also talking about a team that got destroyed by LSU earlier in the season.

Sure. Expand the playoff. It would be great for the players and give fans a bit more fun to look forward to at the end of the year. But don’t think for a moment that the final outcome would be anything other than Clemson and Alabama once again meeting up for the title.

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