FOXBORO, Mass. — Monday night’s college football national championship was an instant classic, with Clemson rallying to beat Alabama 35-31 in a rematch of last year’s equally thrilling title game.
Trailing by 10 points at the end of the third quarter, the Tigers scored three touchdowns in the final 14 minutes, including a 2-yard scoring pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining to seal the win.
A thousand miles away, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watched that dramatic ending with keen interest, both as a football fan and as an evaluator of future NFL talent.
“In games like that, any play can be a big play,” Belichick said Tuesday morning. “Whether it’s a conventional play, unconventional play, just a great player making a great play or a situational play — fourth-and-1.
“In the end, the national championship came down to a yard. We’ve been in that situation before, both ways. I think that’s the kind of football you see at this time of year. Whether it be at the national championship level or in the NFL playoffs, you get a lot of plays like that that come down to one play — 1 yard — that defines the entire season. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”
This year’s title game featured a motherlode of NFL draft prospects, especially on the Alabama side. The Crimson Tide boasted five players in the top 25 of ESPN’s 2017 draft rankings, including top-10 talents in defensive end Jonathan Allen (third) and linebackers Reuben Allen (fifth) and Tim Williams (ninth).
Clemson, meanwhile, featured two players in the top 30 on that list in wide receiver Mike Williams (12th) and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (29th), plus Watson, who could end up being the top quarterback selected in April. Williams (eight catches, 94 yards, one touchdown) and Watson (36 for 56, 420 passing yards, 43 rushing yards, four total touchdowns) both had monster games Monday night.
Many on Twitter also pegged Renfrow, the undersized slot receiver who caught 10 passes and two touchdowns for the Tigers, as a future Patriots target, though he won’t be draft-eligible until 2018 at the earliest.
“We’ll see what it looks like in a couple months, but I would say there was a lot of good football players on the field,” Belichick said, “some of whom I knew about, some of whom I’m going need to find out more about. But I remember watching that (national title) game last year and then watching probably at least 10 times during the offseason, because there’s so many players. So the ones that played last year that didn’t play this year are being replaced by guys that are going to be a factor in the NFL who are now draft-eligible. And you’re getting to see them against other players of comparable (skill levels).
“Whether they’re draft-eligible or not, the guys that are playing in this game are pretty good. And if they’re not draft-eligible this year, they’ll be draft-eligible next year or some year after. So competitively, it’s a great game to watch. It was a great game to watch last year, and I’m sure it’ll be same this year from that standpoint.”
The Patriots used their top pick in 2016 on a player who played in the national title game, drafting former Alabama cornerback/return man Cyrus Jones 60th overall.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images