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What we learned from 2017 CFB championship-game media day

TAMPA -- It wasn't supposed to happen this way for Steve Sarkisian.

The man thrust into the spotlight as Alabama's new offensive coordinator wasn't supposed to face questions this soon about his messy midseason firing from USC in 2015. Sure, Nick Saban had chosen him to replace Lane Kiffin weeks ago after Kiffin accepted the head job at Florida Atlantic. But the setting for Sarkisian's first comments on the subject were supposed to be in August at the onset of fall camp -- the only time Saban ever voluntarily makes coordinators media-available -- in front of a small group of local reporters, for a short time, and in a vastly more UA-controlled environment.

Kiffin's awkward exit after Alabama's College Football Playoff win over Washington changed all that, however, because when Saban tapped Sarkisian to finish the job Kiffin left behind and coach against Clemson for a national title on Monday, it meant for Sarkisian a mandatory one-hour session with dozens of reporters Saturday at the CFP Media Day event.

Turns out, however, the hotter spotlight didn't make him sweat. His answers were measured, reflective and, probably, rehearsed a bit. But unlike Kiffin, Sarkisian knows how not to place foot in mouth.

"It's a process. Everything's a process in what we do," Sarkisian said of his substance-abuse issues that led to a rehabilitation stay following his ouster at USC. "The reality of it is, I'm at this point today. I'm at this point today with a tremendous opportunity."

The immediacy of that opportunity, however, would understandably be unnerving for anyone. He's being asked to take on a huge challenge with just a week to adjust, and help deliver a second consecutive national championship for the Tide. He hasn't been an offensive coordinator since 2008 at USC, under coach Pete Carroll, although he called plays as head coach at Washington and USC. Asked if he'll be rusty for the role, Sarkisian said "We'll see Monday night."

Saban's policy on a silent coaching staff was something Kiffin probably needed. Sarkisian, on the other hand, came across calm and cool under the hottest of circumstances.

"I think the biggest thing I discovered is I'm a good person. Not perfect, like none of us are," he said of his time away from the game (he was fired in October of 2015 and joined the Tide staff 11 months later). "But, the reality of it is I also learned that I love this game. I love coaching football and I love being around these players. I love being around these coaches. I love all of college football. I love game day."

Kiffin acknowledged after his abrupt departure that he struggled to balance his responsibilities at Alabama with his efforts to set up his tenure at FAU. It showed on the field against the Huskies, as Alabama scored only one offensive touchdown through the first three quarters. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley was complimentary of Sarkisian's undertaking, and said things are running "smoother" during preparations for Clemson.

"He's doing a really great job with us so far and I feel like we're going a lot faster and everything is going smoother," Ridley said, per CBS Sports. "We're getting ready to go out there and show what the new offense is going to be about."

While Ridley called it a new offense, don't expect to see much change in what 'Bama does offensively against the Tigers: zone-read options, run-pass options, jet sweeps and quick-screen passes. But coming off a disjointed, penalty-laden performance against UW, don't be surprised if they execute better after a week under Sarkisian than they did for Kiffin in the Peach Bowl.

Here are five other things we learned from the CFP Media Day event on Saturday:

  1. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman isn't lacking for confidence. A few days after former Clemson RB C.J. Spiller called the junior one of the top three running backs in the nation, Gallman -- who intends to file for early draft eligibility -- didn't flinch when asked about how he stacks up with Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and other top rushers expected to be in the draft class.

"I think I am (a top-three back). Basically, it's the type of back I am, what I can provide for an offense," Gallman said. "At Clemson, they've managed how much I've run the ball. I haven't run the ball this year that much. But in pass protection, I think I've gotten way better in that. I think I'm an all-around back."

Indeed, Gallman has rushed just 214 times this year compared to 283 last season, but he's still managed to gain 1,087 yards and score 16 touchdowns. His goal is to run at least a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and has run as low as 4.38 in Clemson testing. Gallman said he's been informed by the Clemson staff that scouts currently see him as a second- or third-round draft pick, though he hasn't filed for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee. Still, he expects his draft stock to rise above some other more heralded rushers during draft season.

"I think I'll prove what I'm worth," he said. "I'm going to work hard to."

  1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson earned his degree last month, allowing him to earn a Reese's Senior Bowl invitation even though he's only a third-year junior. Watson intends to apply for early draft eligibility, but said he hasn't yet decided whether he'll take his game to Mobile, Ala., to perform for NFL coaches and scouts for a week at the Senior Bowl.
  1. Myles GarrettandDerek Barnett might be the two SEC defensive ends that challenged Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson the most this season, but that doesn't mean they're the best ends he's ever seen. The UA junior, who hasn't announced whether he will file for early draft eligibility, said two that he faced as a freshman -- Shane Ray of the Denver Broncos and Preston Smith of the Washington Redskins -- get the nod.

"Those are the two guys I always think about when it comes to the best players I've seen," Robinson said.

Robinson didn't get many reps against Ray in the 2014 SEC title game, because Ray was ejected in the first half for targeting, but Ray still managed to record an assisted sack and clearly made a strong impression anyway. Smith played at Mississippi State and notched a sack against the Tide that season, as well.

  1. Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough's late-season surge, punctuated by an Alabama bowl-record 180 yards against Washington in the Peach Bowl last week, doesn't have the Crimson Tide's third-year sophomore thinking NFL draft just yet. Scarbrough told College Football 24/7 he intends to return to UA next year rather than applying to enter the 2017 draft. He played sparingly for most of the season, so another year of experience could certainly help him improve his draft value.
  1. Forrest Lamp might not have played for a powerhouse program, but the Western Kentucky senior left tackle left quite an impression on some of Alabama's top defensive players when WKU played Alabama earlier this year. Let's go ahead and take the "draft sleeper" label off him, because Tide LB Ryan Anderson and DE Jonathan Allen, both top draft prospects, aren't sleeping on him at all. Anderson called him the best left tackle he saw all season, and Allen, asked the same question, said Lamp would be No. 1 or 2 on his list.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread*.

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