Welcome to the fourteenth and final edition of sophomore year The Hangover, where I recap the previous weekend in college football. This week, The Hangover comes from Santa Clara, California, where I watched my team get…dominated. Let’s break it down.

With 8:26 to go in the 3rd Quarter, Savion Smith fell down. Something happened to his ankle and he hit the deck, leaving Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross wide open. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence found Ross for a 74-yard touchdown that made it 37-16. At that moment, I sat down in my seat. I clutched my “lucky hat,” a 1992 Alabama National Championship cap that had been with me for all of the fun victories and the few tough losses, in my hands and closed my eyes. In that instant, I knew it was over.

When I write The Hangover, I try to check my fandom at the door. I’ve always been pro-SEC, as regular readers know, but I do my best to keep it real. So I’ll do that here.

Clemson dominated. They took advantage of early mistakes to snag momentum, made all of the 50/50 plays, avoided errors of their own, and fully controlled the game. Trevor Lawrence started off rough (2 of 7) and then showcased his talent, finishing with 347 yards and three scores. Travis Etienne broke dozens of tackles on the way to 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Justyn Ross had 153 receiving yards and the one aforementioned touchdown, plus a plethora of spectacular catches.

On the other side, Tua Tagovailoa made too many mistakes. An early pick six cancelled out any edge after the defense forced a first drive three-and-out, and he never really found a rhythm in the second half. Alabama ran the football well (163 rushing yards combined by Damien Harris, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs), but the score in the second half meant going more one-dimensional. A doomed fake field goal just made things worse. Alabama didn’t help themselves on a night when Clemson was already playing well enough to win a second national title in three seasons.

As a college football fan, this is an exciting development. There’s no longer a dynasty in college football; there are two titans. Two schools have traded the last four national championships. Graduating seniors for both Alabama and Clemson went 55-4 in their careers. That’s remarkable.

As an Alabama fan, this one hurts. It stings more than the other few moments of heartbreak over the last decade. It’s worse than losses with weird, flukey plays or losses where Alabama just ran out of time. It’s worse than the Kick Six or the other title loss to Clemson because this one felt hopeless way too early. Domination is fun until you’re on the other side.

That doesn’t mean the ride is over. Way too many writers will tell you that Alabama’s reign is over. It is this year, but not going forward. Instead, the podium holds two instead of one. Clemson was obviously better tonight, but now, in this moment, these two programs are equal. These are the powerhouses. These are the fixtures of college football, and it’ll take a lot for anybody else to challenge these two squads.

Don’t see this as me taking anything away from Clemson. Dabo Swinney and his staff out-coached Nick Saban and his men. Trevor Lawrence was the better quarterback. Clemson was much tougher defensively. The Tigers earned and deserved this victory. But we should also see this for what it is–Clemson winning this round. These two programs have been trading blows for the last four seasons, and it’s hard to imagine these meetings to stop anytime soon. We may actually get a best-of-seven between Alabama and Clemson before it’s all said and done, and I’d love to see it. So, tonight belongs to Clemson. Which of these two will take the crown next year? We don’t know yet, but it’s probably a safe bet that this isn’t the last time we’ll see Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban on opposing sidelines with a national championship on the line.

Gray’s Final 2018-2019 Top 10

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. LSU
  9. Washington State
  10. Texas

My top 10 finishes as you see above. Clemson and Alabama close out the top two spots. Ohio State takes the third ranking after an impressive Rose Bowl victory over Washington, and Oklahoma closes out the top four. Notre Dame finishes at five for me, and I’m curious to see how good the Irish are next season with a tougher schedule (at Georgia, at Michigan). Florida’s impressive victory over Michigan puts the Gators higher than a Georgia team that no-showed against Texas (seriously, Jake Fromm was a different guy in that Sugar Bowl compared to the SEC Championship Game…and not in a better way). LSU’s victory over UCF that wasn’t as close as the final margin puts the Tigers at eight, and Washington State and Texas finish out the top ten after great bowl victories. A special shout-out to Kentucky, who just missed the list. The Wildcats had an unbelievable season and Mark Stoops deserves SEC Coach of the Year.

Gray’s Way-Too-Early 2019-2020 Top 10

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. Ohio State
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Texas
  7. Florida
  8. Texas A&M
  9. LSU
  10. Notre Dame

As I said earlier, Alabama and Clemson will be back again. I fully expect these two to meet once again in the College Football Playoff. Both return a lot of firepower on offense. We’ll see who decides to leave early for the NFL, especially for Alabama, but on the surface these two will be loaded once again. They’ll be the two front-runners. Behind them sits Georgia, who is just waiting to take the next step. The Bulldogs will bring back 15 starters, but two things have to happen if Kirby Smart’s squad wants to challenge for the title. First, Jake Fromm will have to continue to develop. Second, Georgia has to find a way to avoid a blowout loss where they were outplayed for sixty minutes (i.e. at LSU, Texas). Ohio State with Justin Fields is dangerous, and we’ll see how Ryan Day does in his first season in Columbus. Oklahoma at five is more of a gut-feeling; Lincoln Riley hasn’t missed the playoff yet, and the hiring of new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch (who did superb work a few years ago at Washington State) will be a game-changer. I expect Oklahoma to be in the mix next year. Right behind them I’ve got Texas, who returns Sam Ehlinger and some other playmakers on both sides of the ball. I put Florida at seven because of the growth I saw both from Feleipe Franks and on defense as the year proceeded. Dan Mullen can have this team in the SEC East hunt next year. Texas A&M is at eight, despite losing Trayveon Williams to the draft. A&M only brings back eleven starters, but I think the Jimbo Fisher rebuild continues to progress. LSU brings back Joe Burrow, who looked really good down the stretch, and some excellent defensive talent. The Tigers also travel to Texas on September 7th next year. Finally, Notre Dame finishes up at the ten spot. A lot returns on offense and a good bit on defense, but I think the schedule is too tough next year to put the Irish in position for a playoff run.

Random Rankings

We here at RR HQ don’t quite know what to do. Most of us support Alabama, so there’s an air of sadness around the office. So, we decided to rank the five things we can do to take our mind off this disappointing loss.

1. Drink

2. Go on Twitter and wonder how Bohemian Rhapsody won the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Drama (also laugh at this hilarious picture that you understand if you watched the Golden Globes)

3. Watch highlights of Alabama basketball’s victory over Kentucky from this past weekend

4. Get ready for class (yeah, things start back Wednesday in Tuscaloosa)

5. Start thinking about next season

SEC Power Rankings

With the season finished, it’s time to look ahead at how the SEC will stack up next season. The gap between the SEC West and SEC East has closed considerably. I’m excited to see how it breaks down. Here are my way-too-early predictions for the 2019-2020 season in the Southeastern Conference.

West

  1. Alabama
  2. Texas A&M
  3. LSU
  4. Auburn
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Arkansas

East

  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Missouri
  4. Kentucky
  5. Tennessee
  6. South Carolina
  7. Vanderbilt

So Who’s Ready for Next Season?

College football is over, which is obviously very upsetting for all of us who love this sport. College basketball is going, sure, but nothing beats the fall. So while the wait is long, here’s what you can go ahead and put on the calendar for next year’s opening weekend:

Georgia Tech at Clemson (Thursday)

Northwestern at Stanford

South Carolina vs. North Carolina (in Charlotte, NC)

Georgia at Vanderbilt

Auburn vs. Oregon (in Arlington, TX)

Boise State vs. Florida State (in Jacksonville, FL)

Duke vs. Alabama (in Atlanta, GA)

Florida vs. Miami (in Orlando, FL)

Houston at Oklahoma

Notre Dame at Louisville (Monday)

I can’t wait for next season, and I know you can’t either. Thanks for reading along with The Hangover this year. It’s truly been a blast to put out content all season long. The Buzzer-Beater will be back soon for college basketball, and I’ve got more SEC Network projects coming in the future. Stay tuned! We’ll see you around.

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