So I was watching the Peach Bowl playoff game New Year’s Eve, perplexed time and again when Alabama chose to throw the ball instead of handing it to the one-man wrecking crew named Bo Scarbrough.

Scarbrough, a bionic-looking 228-pounder who runs as if he weighs 250, just kept running over and through Washington tacklers in averaging nearly a first down per carry. Seriously, the only thing that could stop Scarbrough was not giving him the ball. Seemed to me Lane Kiffin, the Alabama offensive coordinator headed to be the head coach at Florida Atlantic, was doing that all too often.

Also seemed to me Nick Saban, Kiffin’s boss, was getting agitated about it on the sidelines. And so I tweeted this:

Apparently, many felt the same way because it was re-tweeted many, many times. And Alabama didn’t call many more passes, either.

Little did we know…

That was Saturday afternoon. Monday morning came the announcement: The next pass Kiffin calls will be at Florida Atlantic. Steve Sarkisian, who already had been named as Kiffin’s successor whenever the Alabama season ended, will take over immediately. Sarkisian will call the plays in Monday night’s national championship game against Clemson.

To say this is unprecedented is an understatement. Alabama, 14-0 after its 24-7 victory over Washington, will play the national championship game with a new play-caller.

Both Saban and Kiffin have said it was a mutual decision and here is what that essentially means: Saban decided and Kiffin went along with it, as if he had any other choice in the matter.

Bottom line: Saban, the absolute best in the business, obviously feels Alabama has a better chance to win without Kiffin than with him.

Either way, Alabama has a steep challenge. Clemson, a 7-point underdog, walloped Ohio State 31-0 in the other semifinal game, looking every bit as talented as Alabama in the process.

This is a rematch of last year’s championship game, which Alabama won 45-40, despite being out-gained 550 to 473. Clemson had more rushing yards, more passing yards and 31 first downs to Alabama’s 18.

Alabama must be at its best to beat Clemson. Clearly, Saban believes Bama will be better without Kiffin than it would have been with him.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.