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Playoff Musings: 'Bama Restores Normalcy; NFL Notes; Belichick Demurs

The most abnormal and bizarre college football season in history ended very normally and predictably last night.

Alabama won the national championship.

It was a “season” in which over 120 games were cancelled, several within hours of kickoff, because of COVID. Numerous head coaches and hundreds of players missed important games. Over 20 teams, exhausted by the mental, physical and emotional pressure of playing during a pandemic, opted out of post-season competition. Some 18 bowl games were cancelled. The Rose Bowl was played in Texas, rather than Pasadena.

Instead of playing the typical 12-game schedule, ACC teams played an average of 10.9 games, SEC teams averaged 10.5 games, Big 12 teams 10.2, Big Ten 7.5, and Pac-12 only 5.4.

It was a season in which Washington won the Pac-12 North with a 3-1 record, then had to drop out of the conference championship game because of a COVID outbreak.

The only reason they played at all, of course, was for the TV money. The empty suits will tell you that it was to give the athletes a chance to play the sport they loved, yet they cancelled all fall sports other than the one that brings in TV dollars.

Trust me, those water polo, field hockey and soccer players wanted an opportunity to play at least as much as those football guys.

But I digress.

Alabama won the national title for the sixth time in 12 years. Think about that. The Crimson Tide has been the best team in the country for half of the last dozen years.

I’m not a huge Nick Saban fan. He’s an arrogant jerk. But he is a great football coach.

This Alabama team was probably his best ever. One of two unbeaten Saban Alabama teams, it is the first to win 12 SEC games, the first to endure a pandemic.

Unquestionably this is the best offensive team in Alabama history, and one of the best ever in college football. It featured the best players in the country at five offensive positions—wide receiver Devonta Smith (Heisman Trophy), running back Najee Harris (Doak Walker Award), quarterback Mac Jones (Davey O’Brien Award), tackle Alex Leatherwood (Outland Trophy), and center Landon Dickerson (Rimington Trophy).

I don’t think that’s ever happened before, and I doubt it will ever happen again.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, the playoffs started with wild card tripleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Some random thoughts:

Mr. Excitement: Is there a more exciting player in football than Lamar Jackson?

Geezer Matchup: Two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history—still going strong well past their 40th birthdays—will meet up Saturday when New Orleans’ 42-year old Drew Brees takes on Tampa Bay’s 43-year old Tom Brady.

Best running back duo in the NFL (and it's not close): Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt of Cleveland.

Fantasy Flop: Before the season I'd recommended Carolina running back and former Stanford star Christian McCaffrey as the obvious first pick.

Now you know why I gave up fantasy football. McCaffrey missed most of the season with a variety of injuries. Come to think of it, my first round picks the last four years I participated all suffered season-ending injuries. Anyway, the No. 1 pick should've been Aaron Rodgers, who will be the league MVP.

Draft Revisited: Quarterback is definitely the hardest position to evaluate when considering prospects for the NFL draft. Consider that in 2017 Mitch Trubisky went with the No. 2 pick in the first round, ahead of Patrick Mahomes (No. 10) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12). Trubisky is average, at best, while Mahomes is among the top three quarterbacks in the league and Watson isn't far behind.

In 2018, four QBs went in the first 10 picks—Baker Mayfield at No. 1, Sam Darnold at No. 3, Josh Allen at No. 7 and Josh Rosen at No. 10. Baker is doing well at Cleveland, Darnold has under-achieved with the Jets, Allen is a stud and Rosen has been a bust. And the aforementioned Lamar Jackson, last year's league MVP, went with the last pick in the first round, No. 32.

Staying Home: One year removed from a Super Bowl they surrendered in the closing minutes, the 49ers finished out of the playoffs at 6-10. No team was more devastated by injuries than our local lads, who lost their best defensive player (Nick Bosa), best defensive back (Richard Sherman), best offensive player (tight end George Kittle), best wide receiver (Deebo Samuel) and starting quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) for most of the season. Wait til next year!

Belichick Says “No Thank You”: In the wake of last Wednesday’s Trump-incited insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick has turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a statement yesterday, Belichick said that after “the tragic events of last week…the decision has been made not to move forward with the award. Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy.

“One of the most rewarding things in my professional career took place in 2020 when, through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions. Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”

Given that the last few medal recipients have included Rush Limbaugh, Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, you can understand Belichick’s reluctance.

Bravo, Bill.


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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