Gaston De Cardenas
December 27, 2015

Deshaun Watson said he met Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton when he was in high school, and the two are still friends.

''We've always had a good relationship,'' Watson said. ''As we talk, each and every year it keeps growing. We always have that close bond and we're both each other's biggest supporters, cheering each other on.''

Watson also grew up a big fan of Tim Tebow. He said he usually chose to be the Florida Gators when playing NCAA Football video games.

''I used to love playing with Tim Tebow, and then as I got older, I started playing with Oregon a little bit more. I just liked to spread the teams around and do the up-tempo things.''

Watson said he feels his dual-threat ability should help, not hurt, his NFL prospects.

''A lot of people think that being a dual threat, you can't really throw the ball. Well, it's really not about throwing for 400 yards every game. It's about getting the `W,''' Watson said. ''There's a lot of quarterbacks that can run and have been successful doing it at the next level.

''Cam Newton is one right now. Michael Vick in his younger days. Alex Smith is doing a great job. I could go on and on. Russell Wilson. There's a lot of guys out there that can do both and be successful.''

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Alabama all-purpose running back Kenyan Drake knows there is a difference between being hurt and being injured.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide's complement to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has been hurt a lot this year.

''It doesn't mean I couldn't go out there and give my best effort,'' Drake said Sunday.

After breaking his arm making a tackle on kickoff coverage Nov. 14 at Mississippi State, Drake missed two games. But he was back three weeks later to play in the SEC championship game.

Even before the broken arm, he had suffered a cracked rib against Ole Miss, had a sprained ankle, a concussion after the LSU game and a bruised quad this season without missing any other games.

''It's just been a year of ailments,'' said Drake, whose junior season in 2014 ended when he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle. ''But that's how this team is. We got through adversity, so I feel like I can be a testament for that, how to work through that.''

Drake says he feels as good as he has all season going into Alabama's national semifinal game against No. 3 Michigan State on New Year's Eve at the Cotton Bowl.

The extra time between the SEC title game and the Cotton Bowl gave Drake time to focus on treatment and get his body right. Henry, who has an SEC-record 1,986 yards rushing with 23 touchdowns, says its means a lot to have Drake back healthy.

''Somebody that I grew as a person and player with,'' Henry said. ''He's a great player and does a great job for our offense, very effective because he can run and catch the ball.''

Drake has 72 carries for 380 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown, and 24 catches for 250 yards and a score.

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Lane Kiffin expects to be back at Alabama for a third season as offensive coordinator.

The former USC and Tennessee coach has helped the Crimson Tide reach the College Football Playoff in each of his two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Throughout the seasons there was speculation that Kiffin could land a head coaching job, especially when it looked as if there might be around 30 openings. But as of now, only the Texas State and Ball State jobs are open and it is unlikely Kiffin would go to the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference.

''I'd love to be back,'' Kiffin said. ''We'll have a new set of challenges with a third year of a new quarterback and replacing a Heisman Trophy winner (Derrick Henry), just as we did with a Biletnikoff winner the year before (Amari Cooper), and some great returning players to work with. I'd be real excited about that.''

Alabama coach Nick Saban rarely lets his assistants do interviews, but at New Year's Six Bowls it is mandatory for coordinators to be available to the media.

Kiffin said he passed up some opportunities to leave Alabama after last season.

''It didn't feel right,'' Kiffin said.

The 40-year-old Kiffin has already had three major head coaching jobs. He was the Oakland Raiders coach for 20 games before being fired in 2008.

He was the head coach at Tennessee in 2009 and went 7-6, but left after one season to become coach at Southern California.

Kiffin was fired by USC five games into the 2013 season, and there weren't many opportunities for him at that point - until Saban came calling.

''He really took a chance on me. The phone wasn't ringing, even for assistant coaching jobs,'' Kiffin said.

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Of the 14 Clemson players and four Oklahoma players who call Florida home, Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas is the only one from either team in the Orange Bowl who is from Miami.

So this national semifinal is a bit of a homecoming.

The former Miami Central High standout, whose final regular-season game in high school was a win at Sun Life Stadium, said he received 120 text messages immediately after Oklahoma's bowl announcement ''from people I never even heard of, from friends I didn't even know I had,'' looking for tickets.

He has collected 16 so far, but said he needs ''at least 40.'' Thomas, who wears No. 13 in honor of his grandmother, Shirley Thomas, who died from cancer when he was 13 years old, said he grew up in a rough neighborhood and many of his childhood friends are now dead or in jail.

''I see that on Facebook when I'm up at Oklahoma and I'm looking at that thinking, ''I'm glad I left because I could have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

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Hawkins reported from Dallas, and Gorten reported from Miami. AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo also contributed to this report from Dallas.

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For more from inside the College Football Playoff, visit AP Now: College Football at http://collegefootball.ap.org/ap-now-college-football .

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