Short takes: Saban's status, Smart's defense and word about Lane Kiffin

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Yeah, they're back. Alabama, looking like the dominant program of way back in, well, 2012, bludgeoned Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Thursday night 38-0, to advance to the national championship game against unbeaten Clemson. Given the Tigers' performance earlier, a 37-17 win over Oklahoma, it's shaping up as a great title game.

For my column on Alabama's performance and another impressive showing by Kirby Smart's defense, click here ( or here ( or here (

Below are my three "short takes" on the game:

1. SABAN STILL ON TOP:  Nick Saban would never make this about him but he had to know what the narrative would've been if Alabama had fallen to Michigan State. Instead, he reaffirmed he's still the best coach in college football and the program is still on top. The Crimson Tide dominated a very good Michigan State team and almost certainly will be favored over Clemson, despite the fact the Tigers are unbeaten, the playoffs' top seed and handled Oklahoma with ease. Nobody can know how long Saban, who's 64 years old, plans to coach, but nobody should ever wonder again if he or Alabama are sliding.

2. KIRBY SMART'S DEFENSE: Yes, Georgia will have to wait until after the Jan. 11 championship game to get its new coach in Athens. But Smart, who told the AJC this week he plans to travel to Jacksonville for the Bulldogs' appearance in the Gator Bowl, made the right decision to stay with Alabama through the playoffs. He said this is a special defense and they looked the part, shutting out Michigan State, holding the Spartans to 239 yards in offense, forcing two turnovers and constant harassing and beating up MSU quarterback Connor Cook (four sacks). Smart said he was surprised by the shutout: "We had some really good practices and I thought our kids really played well. (But) I can't say I expected that to happen."

The Tide's defense was so good and so fast that at one point Cook could be seen mouthing the words, "They're f'in everywhere." Cook stated the obvious later: "Like I said before, you watch the film and the way their defensive line played, the way their linebackers filled the gaps, the way their secondary made plays in the pass game in the back end, everyone was aware of how good of a defense they were."

3. A WORD ABOUT LANE KIFFIN: His three stints as head coach (Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, Southern Cal) did not end well. But the guy has done a really good job as an offensive coordinator and developer of quarterbacks in his two seasons at Alabama. I don't know if Kiffin will ever get another head coach shot, or if he deserves one, but guys are just made to be coordinators. Alabama quarterback Jake Coker was named the game's outstanding offensive player, completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Afterward, he credited Kiffin for his and the offense's performance.  "He called plays that were open and he did a great job," Coker said. "I'm happy he’s on our side." Kiffin said this week he has learned a lot from working with Saban and believes he is better prepared to be a head coach. But when asked if he thought that would happen, he said, "I have no idea. But I can't worry about that right now."

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.