From CSJ Reports –
For the third consecutive year, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) champion will be determined by a four-team playoff, and for the third consecutive year, Alabama is considered the odds-on favorite to win it all. While much of the post-selection debate revolved around the exclusion of Michigan and Penn State, the focus quickly turned to the epic battles that will take place on New Year’s Eve.
The Matchups: In the first game at 3 p.m. ET, four-seed Washington will take on top-seeded Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Most analysts don’t give head coach Chris Peterson’s team much of a chance, but quarterback Jake Browning hopes to have the game of his life against head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defensive unit that has allowed just 11.7 points per game.
In the second contest at 7 p.m. ET, three-seed Ohio State will face off against two-seed Clemson in the Battle Frog Fiesta Bowl. Under Urban Meyer’s leadership, the Buckeyes won the first four-team playoff two years ago while Dabo Swinney brings back a Tigers squad that has only lost two games in the past two seasons.
But there’s more to these games than meets the eye. Beyond the x’s and o’s and the array of NFL level talent on the field, all four teams feature individuals who desire to lives their lives in a way that glorifies God. Here’s a quick look at some of the coaches and athletes who have made public professions of faith:
Alabama Crimson Tide
J.K Scott (Punter)
Often unnoticed and unheralded, a team’s punter can actually have a significant impact on a game at any given moment. That was certainly the case with J.K. Scott who consistently helped the Crimson Tide gain favorable field position with his 47.7 per punt average.
Scott was also a second team All-American and first team All-SEC selection, but its faith that is more valuable than winning awards or football games.
“My identity is in Christ, not in football, and that changes everything,” he told FCA Magazine. “When I truly believe what He says about me, nothing else really matters. My boldness and courage come from that.”
Dabo Swinney (Head Coach)
One of the most colorful coaches in college football, Dabo Swinney has become known for his off-the-cuff remarks during post-game interviews and the passionate support of his players. In eight and a half seasons, he has compiled an 87-28 record and led the Tigers to three ACC Championships (2011, 2015 and 2016) and a last season’s national runner-up trophy.
But if you ask anyone close to the Clemson football program, they will undoubtedly list Swinney’s faith as the foundation of everything he does.
“As a Christian I hope a light shines through me,” he told the Associated Press. “I try to be who I am. I try to be transparent. I try to live my life in a way that I hope is pleasing to my Maker. As a program, we try to challenge these guys to be the best that they can be every day.”
Deshaun Watson (Quarterback)
Most of Clemson’s success this past two seasons has rested on the throwing arm (and sometimes scrambling legs) of junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. In 2016, he had 3,914 passing yards and 37 touchdowns (plus six more on the ground). Watson finished second in Heisman Trophy voting for a second consecutive year, but did manage to win the Johnny Unitas Award and the Davey O’Brien Award.
According to the Associated Press, Watson partially decided to play at Clemson because of head coach Dabo Swinney’s Christian faith. He has been known to share Bible verses (e.g. Isaiah 54:17) and inspirational message (e.g. “I’m NOTHING without God!) via social media.
“God’s dream for you are (sic) always better than your dreams for you.” Watson shared to his Twitter followers during the offseason.
Artavis Scott (Wide Receiver)
One of the ACC’s most dangerous offensive threats, Scott continued to be a favorite target for Deshaun Watson this season. He tallied a combined 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns (rushing and receiving) and was Clemson’s primary kickoff and punt return specialist.
But Scott’s greatest contributions to the team have come in the form of his spiritual leadership.
“You only really learn the strength of your spine when your back is against the wall,” Scott told FCA Magazine. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Andy Teasdall (Punter)
In his second season at Clemson’s first-string punter, Teasdall continued to put up solid numbers for the special teams unit (37.7 yards per punt). As he looks forward to another shot at the college football playoffs, however, his relationship with Christ remains the most valued prize.
“No matter what I face, I keep my eyes fixed ahead on the Lord and continue to keep moving forward,” Teasdall told FCA Magazine. “With Him, everything will be all right.”
Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer (Head Coach)
When discussing Meyer’s place in history, there’s not really much of an argument to be made. His achievements at the Florida and Ohio State easily land him among college football’s coaching elite. Meyer has won three national championships, five conference titles, and combined for a gaudy 165-28 overall record.
Now in his fifth season at Ohio State, has returned the Buckeyes back to its glory days and looks to improve on is 61-5 record and add a second national championship under Meyer’s leadership.
Away from the game, Meyer has renewed his commitment to keeping family above football on his list of priorities. It was the only way he was able to return to the game he loved after health issues forced him to leave Florida following the 2010 season.
And thanks in part to the influence of Tim Tebow, the former Gators quarterback, Meyer (a self-identified Christian “believer”) has also become more fervent in his pursuit of a relationship with God.
Trevor Walker (Defensive Back)
As a reserve defensive back, Walker played in all 13 games including action on special teams. Despite limited playing time, he did force a fumble and had seven total tackles. But it’s off the field where Walker’s spiritual leadership has made the biggest impact.
“I am bold and courageous in my faith in God because He has showed me before that He does exist,” he told FCA Magazine. “He has helped me and my family out of obstacles we didn’t think we’d come out of, and we give all credit to Him.”
K.J. Carta-Samuels (Quarterback)
With Jake Browning at the helm, it’s not likely that Carta-Samuels will see much action in the college football playoffs. But if he is needed, the backup quarterback will be ready—fortified by a steady commitment to his Christian faith.
“I have recognized that God is my Father,” Carta-Samuels told FCA Magazine. “And as His son I have been able to let go of control and have been set free to live.”
(Photos: Clemson University Athletic Department; Lauren Nelson; Atlanta Falcons; Adam Glanzman)