2014 Division Championship Sunday Thoughts

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

This past week was rather exciting in spite of our football team entering the off-season.  The MNC football game on Monday was about as entertaining as it gets.  Auburn is, without question, one of the best coached football teams in America.  Hats off to Gus Malzahn for his efforts.  In the middle of this past season, many thought I was crazy praising Ellis Johnson's work there but I don't want hear any arguments today.  Auburn's issues were two-fold:  special teams and relative lack of talent.  FSU appeared to be the clear physical favorite.  The 'Noles were able to capitalize on Auburn's inability to properly cover a kickoff.  Jimbo Fisher saved the football game near the end of the 1st half via a successful fake punt that ended with a touchdown.  Ultimately, FSU's wide receivers showed just how good they really are and Winston that he could put it all together when everything is on the line.  Credit Florida State's coaching staff as well for making adjustments as the game progressed.  Auburn looked like world-beaters early on but FSU adjusted on both sides of the ball to turn the tide at the end of the 1st half and throughout the 3rd quarter.  I do think it is a bit odd that had Tre Mason fallen down near the goalline instead of scoring the final TD, Auburn likely could have burned enough time to win the football game with an eventual TD or kicked a chip shot field goal to send the game into overtime.  No, I am not necessarily advocating this tactic just musing aloud about the concept.

Clemson announced that Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins, and Bashaud Breeland will be headed to the NFL Draft this Spring; Stephone Anthony will return next season; Vic Beasley has not made a final determination yet.  We've discussed Watkins and Bryant at length here.  Breeland was a bit of a surprise for me and will be a big loss for the Clemson secondary in '14.  From his perspective, I believe he wouldn't significantly improve his draft stock had he returned.  Because of this, the nature of the game, the risk of being injured, and the opportunity to cash in an extra year, I understand the move.  He would have benefited from another season at Clemson, no doubt, but the risk/reward for staying/going could be argued either way.  Anthony will add to what should be a solid front seven next year.  He made huge steps this year and, with the same improvements next year, could showcase that 5-star talent to NFL scouts.  I believe that Beasley will eventually decide to leave--particularly with Round 1-2 projections following his one big collegiate year.  Surely another year would help (add weight, work into pass coverage, etc...) as Beasley will likely be moved to linebacker at the next level and needs some work on those items.  However, I understand how difficult it is to turn down the possibility of that much money.

Clemson basketball was able to pull off a big victory yesterday against Duke.  This victory comes just days following a poor performance against Florida State.  Clemson has a trip to VPI mid-week then hosts Wake on Saturday.  The following week has the Tigers traveling to Pitt then to Chapel Hill.  Hopefully the Tigers can use the big win over the Blue Devils to create momentum to carry the troops through January.

Coach Dabo came out earlier this weekend proclaiming that he thought Chad Morris will be back next season.  It is my understanding that The Chad is in the mix for a couple open spots.  Morris has been particular to date regarding his first college head coaching gig and I expect nothing but the same as the final scenarios play out this month.  He will assure that he gets in where he has a very high likelihood of success and won't just take a head job for the title.  Money isn't too big of an issue for Morris (he is the highest paid assistant in the land so he isn't exactly hurting for loot).  I suspect his biggest concerns would be finding a good fit and assessing where his offense would be at Clemson after the losses we'll see going into '14.

Divisional playoffs are underway with Denver/San Diego and 49ers/Panthers today.  Yesterday's games ended as I expected.  The Saints struggled all year on the road while the Seahawks run things in their crib.  The Patriots were, well, the Patriots.  They did what they always do--find a way to win.  It was pretty interesting watching New England progress over this season.  They lost Aaron Hernandez prior to the season, Gronk was injured most of the year and ultimately suffered a season-ending injury, had an extremely young team yet were able to overcome all this adversity to make it to the Conference Championship.  Bill Belichick and staff always do this.  They are able to identify personnel and overall strengths/weaknesses to maximize what they do best and what gives them the best chance to win a football game.  This season it involved adjusting offensive strategy to rely more on the running game than years past.  In previous seasons it was using wide receivers in the defensive backfield.  Whatever the issue, this team is able to overcome obstacles every year and, frankly, it is nothing short of impressive / amazing how they find ways to get the job done.

Today's games should be interesting as well.  San Francisco heads to Charlotte in what most expect to be a low scoring defensive affair similar to their meeting earlier this year.  We'll see if the Panthers get over Nature Boy Ric Flair's heel turn last week pumping up the 49ers.  Personally, I can't stand Cam Newton and am a Falcons fan, so I'll be pulling for the team from the Bay to move forward...blast away.

Denver hosting San Diego is going to be a fun one to watch as well.  Manning's career is beginning to wind down and he knows it.  That becomes increasingly important as he still trails his little brother in the Super Bowl ring count.  Denver gets Wes Welker back today.  He was not available in Denver's loss to the Chargers a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately, I now little about the Chargers sans they squeaked into the playoffs and now are looking to go on a run.

Should be an interesting day of pro football and an important week for Clemson basketball.  I'll be following both of these items along with the Morris/Beasley stay/leave sagas.

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