TAMPA, Fla. — In honor of Clemson’s game-winning drive in Monday night’s CFP National Championship Game, a two-minute drill of thoughts on the just-completed college football season:

• Where does Monday night’s epic 35-31 Clemson victory over Alabama ranK in the pantheon of CFP and BCS championship games? Frankly for much of the night it looked like a mistake-filled dud. Then came the fourth quarter, with three touchdowns in the thrilling final five minutes of game time culminating with Deshaun Watson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with :01 left.

Was it the best ever? It was a little better than last year’s 45-40 Bama win over Clemson (and, no, not because Clemson won this time) but to me it didn’t eclipse Texas’ 41-38 victory over Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl/BCS championship game. The last BCS championship game in January 2015, with Florida State edging Auburn 34-31 on a Jameis Winston-to-Kelvin Benjamin touchdown pass with :13 left is also up there.

But this one was everything you could ask for … especially if you didn’t mind seeing the Death Star of Southeastern Conference football take a fatal hit.

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• While the games on the field may be over, recruiting now takes center stage with the start of the national signing period looming three weeks from Wednesday. Fans the nation over will cheer and curse the 17- and 18-year-olds their teams sign (or don’t sign) as though they’d already done something on the field as impactful as Watson’s game-winning touchdown pass to Renfrow.

Renfrow is a poster child for reminding us all that overheated recruiting rankings are often just that: hot air. Renfrow was a two-star walk-on, which means in a football sense he could be Dabo Swinney’s son (Swinney was in his own words a "crawl on" at Alabama). All Renfrow did was go out Monday night and catch a game-high 10 passes for 92 yards with two touchdowns AND trip up Bama linebacker Ryan Anderson, who looked like he was bound for a patented Crimson Tide scoop and score after he forced a fumble from Clemson’s Wayne Gallman. Bama eventually settled for a field goal.

• Along with recruiting rankings, there’s another thing to consider: Money isn’t everything. In 2014-15, Alabama’s athletic budget topped $132.4 million. Clemson just went past the $100 million mark this fiscal year, not putting the school in a poor neighborhood but definitely a poorer one than Alabama's (the gilded drapes on the Captsone mansion are drawn in mourning until Sunday).

“If we’d walked out last night and brought our checkbooks, we’d have gotten our butts kicked,” Swinney said.

Still, ask Alabama how many millions it would part with to have stopped Clemson from scoring on that last drive?

• Is the Alabama dynasty over after Monday night’s defeat? It’s at least dented a bit, though can you really say that when the Crimson Tide is likely to be favored once again to win the Southeastern Conference and be No. 1 in the preseason polls?

But the questions that dogged quarterback Jalen Hurts and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian going into the Clemson game haven’t gone away. Sark did OK with his conservative, no doubt Saban-influenced game plan (though the trick play pass to O.J. Howard was a timely beauty). Hurts is another matter. In Bama’s two playoff games, he was a combined 20-of-45 passing for 188 yards and one long touchdown against Clemson on a busted coverage to Howard.

Still, beating Alabama remains a huge challenge, and it obviously takes one thing to do it: great quarterback play. The Crimson Tide has lost four games the past three years: twice to Chad Kelly and Ole Miss; in the CFP semis two years ago in the Sugar Bowl it was Cardale Jones surprisingly going off (with a big assist from Ezekiel Elliott); and Monday night to Watson. Mr. DIY was 36 of 56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns passing and rushed for 43 yards and a score.

• Weighing in at 4 hours, 8 minutes, Monday’s game was the longest final in CFP/BCS history, not finishing until well after midnight Eastern time.

With more passing and replays, which were overly plentiful considering the gravity of the night, games grind along these days, especially important games like this. Proposals are starting to crop up, including cutting quarters from 15 minutes to 12 like in high school.

That’s wrong. College football needs to continue to be a 60-minute game. But at least perhaps it’s time to adopt some of the NFL time-saving rules like not stopping the clock to move the chains or on some plays that go out of bounds.

• Oh, and in case you’re already jonesing for college football, it’s 233 days until LSU kicks off against BYU in Houston on Sept. 2. Be here before you know it.

 

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​