Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore on Thursday he believes the Alabama Crimson Tide would have defeated the Clemson Tigers in January's national title game had he not been jettisoned as the team's offensive coordinator.
"It's no disrespect to Steve [Sarkisian]," Kiffin said. "No matter who it was, you've been there all year long. You've been there for the quarterback. You're all he knew. You were undefeated together. We've won  straight games together. You feel like, okay, it’s different. As great as Sark is, it’s just different. Again, if it had been 14 points either way ... when it’s one play here or there, you think if those guys had the person they were used to, it would have made a difference."
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It's hard to knock Kiffin's belief, namely because he helped mold then-true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts into an efficient playmaker and pocket passer despite some obvious limitations.
With a comprehensive understanding of Hurts' weaknesses, Kiffin opted to call 14 passes compared to 50 rushes in the Tide's 24-7 College Football Playoff semifinal win over the Washington Huskies.
Kiffin was promptly let go two days later to pursue his new gig at FAU and replaced on the sidelines for the national championship by offensive analyst Sarkisian.
The Crimson Tide scored 31 points in the last-second loss to the Tigers, but their run-pass balance was noticeably off. All told, Alabama attempted 31 passes compared to 34 runs, while Hurts completed just 13 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown.
"It was rough," Kiffin said of watching the game from afar. "It got really rough when you watched the game. At first, the idea of, 'Okay, do your job. Focus on this one.' But really when you watched it, and because they lost, and it was so close. If they lose by a lot, you don’t feel like, 'Okay, would there have been a difference?'"
Now looking to move on from the title game heartbreak, the Tide will open their 2017 season Saturday with a titanic showdown against the Florida State Seminoles at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Kiffin, meanwhile, has his sights set on FAU's Week 1 clash with the Navy Midshipmen on Friday evening.