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49ers-Saints Classic; Playoffs Set; Year of the Transfer

You may never see a better football game than yesterday's thriller between the 49ers and Saints.

Two of the best teams in the NFL, with home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line. And the teams delivered one of the most entertaining, competitive, down-to-the-wire classics I've ever seen.

Some observations:

Kittle Comes Up Big: The 49ers have the best tight end in the league. George Kittle, a

premier blocker and receiver, made the play of the game—a 39-yard catch and run to set up the game-winning field goal.

Speed Kills: 49ers running backs Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida are two of the fastest players in the NFL. It paid off several times yesterday, as they were able to turn corners and outrun Saints’ defenders who seemed to have the angle.

Garoppolo Is Legit: After the Saints' future Hall of Famer Drew Brees directed his typical game-winning, fourth-quarter, come-from-behind touchdown drive, how did 49ers’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo respond? Only by directing his own game winning drive, moving the 49ers into position for Robbie Gould's kick as time expired.

Garoppolo was brilliant throughout. Any remaining doubts as to his ability to lead the 49ers deep into the playoffs were removed.

Saleh Steps Up: Kudos to 49ers' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh for not playing it safe on the Saints' last touchdown drive. Even though Brees' masterful performance got New Orleans into the end zone, Saleh's aggressive blitzing showed confidence in his team that will pay dividends down the line.

Moving on to college football…

Playoff Set: With No. 5 Utah’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship, and No. 4 Georgia’s loss to LSU in the SEC game, Big 12 champion Oklahoma moved into the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff behind No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson.

LSU moved ahead of Ohio State to the top spot based on its convincing SEC Championship win over Georgia. Ohio State had to come from behind to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, while Clemson annihilated Virginia in the ACC affair.

If this cast of characters sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Oklahoma will be playing in its third straight CFP, and fourth out of the last five. Clemson, the defending national champion, has been in five straight playoffs. Ohio State has been in twice, winning in 2015. LSU, a former BCS champ, is making its first appearance.

The one notable absence is Alabama, which has appeared in all five prior CFPs before missing out this season. Pardon me if I'm not feeling sorry for Nick Saban.

Transfers Triumph: 2019 may be remembered as the year of the transfer quarterback.

LSU's Joe Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State, led the Tigers to the SEC title with an incredible 48 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

Justin Fields, a transfer from Georgia, led Ohio State to the Big Ten championship with 40 touchdown passes and only one interception. That’s not a typo.

Jalen Hurts, a transfer from Alabama, led Oklahoma to the Big 12 championship with 32 scoring passes, and he rushed for another 18.

Heisman Winner: The last two Heisman winners have been Oklahoma QBs, and Hurts is certainly deserving, but LSU's Burrow will win it this year.

Buckeye Riches: Fields is one of three legitimate Heisman candidates on Ohio State. Running back J.K. Dobbins passed Heisman winner Eddie George and All-America Ezekiel Elliott to become the No. 2 rusher in Buckeye history behind two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin. And defensive end Chase Young was the top defensive player in the country.

More Transfers: Speaking of transfers, two former Arizona State quarterbacks led their teams to New Year's Six bowls. Brady White of Memphis will lead his team in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State, while Bryce Perkins and Virginia will meet Florida in the Orange.

Pac-12 Postmortem: We've written about how Utah's Kyle Whittingham is one of the best coaches in the country, deservedly so, but he was out-coached by Oregon's Mario Cristobal in the Pac-12 Championship game.

On offense, the Ducks added a new wrinkle they hadn't shown all year—asking pro-style, drop back quarterback Justin Hebert to run the football. Herbert ran for a couple of key first downs as the Ducks jumped off to a 17-0 lead and never looked back.

On defense, the Ducks focused on shutting down the Utah running game, basically forcing quarterback Tyler Huntley to try to beat them throwing the football. He couldn't do it.

Oregon’s freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux showed why he was the nation's number one recruit last year—blocking a punt and harassing Huntley all night.

Another surprise was the crowd at Levi’s Stadium, a very respectable 38,000 plus.

Cardinal NCAA Magic: And finally, for those of us all too often consumed with football, let’s take a moment to salute the NCAA championship men’s water polo and women’s soccer teams at Stanford.

It’s an incredible accomplishment to win a national championship. Yesterday these two Stanford teams won national titles on the same day! My alma mater has won more NCAA championship than any other school...125…and more could come later this month with men’s soccer and women’s volleyball going deep into the playoffs.

Congrats to everyone at the Stanford AD for putting together the best overall athletic program in the country.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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