independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

American Football: Bowled over by college collisions

First, google Jadeveon Clowney. Then look him up on YouTube. Seriously, it's well worth it.

Right. On Tuesday of last week in Tampa, young Clowney's South Carolina team were playing Michigan in the Outback Bowl, one of college football's end-of-season showpiece games. Trailing 22-21 in the final quarter, South Carolina were denied possession by an umpiring decision bad enough to shock a League of Ireland fan. It looked to be a fatal blow for the Gamecocks.

On the next play, Michigan running back Vincent Smith received the ball. Clowney hurtled towards him as though he'd been shot out of a cannon and tackled Smith with a ferocity which sent the player, his helmet and the ball flying. The 19-year-old defensive end then recovered the ball one-handed and ploughed forward a couple of yards. Michigan scored a touchdown from the next play and went on to win the game 33-28. ESPN asked, "Was Jadeveon Clowney's hit the best ever?" It really was that good.

But it was just one of the thrills of American college football's Bowl Season, something which has become my personal sporting highlight of the holiday period.

I became a convert when the great snow of 2010 meant I could hardly leave the house never mind the village.

In between wondering whether to burn the furniture for added heat, I started watching the Bowls, the long series of matches between the best regular season teams which conclude with the national title game between the top two. And, as the wolves howled outside and people bobsleighed to the pub, I found myself caring an inordinate amount about the likes of Texas Christian University, Boise State, Southern Mississippi and Florida International.

This year I've found myself rooting for a new crop of underdogs, despairing as little Northern Illinois got creamed by mighty Florida State, celebrating as Louisville turned over a Florida team ranked 18 places higher than them, and anticipating the big one tomorrow night in Miami when Notre Dame, who kicked off their season in Dublin, bid to win their first national title since 1988 by defeating Alabama.

The final pits the two most successful colleges in history against each other but while only two of Notre Dame's eight victories have come in the last 35 years, Alabama have won two of their nine in the last three years and are hot favourites to become only the third team in history to make it three out of four, Notre Dame (1946-1949) and Nebraska (1994-1997) being the others.

Nevertheless, Notre Dame, ranked number 25 at the start of the season, have defied the odds all year and might be buoyed up by their historical superiority over Alabama. They've won five of six meetings, including the New Year's Eve 1973 game between the sides in the Sugar Bowl, sometimes cited as the greatest college football match of all.

The action begins at half-one Tuesday morning on ESPN America and it will be well worth your while stocking up on the coffee required to make it through the whole game.

First, though, I've got to watch tonight's GoDaddy.Com Bowl showdown between the Kent State Golden Flashes and the Arkansas State Red Wolves. It's not a problem. I can stop any time I want. Honest.

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