The Final Run: The BCS Is Going Out With A Bang!

51COVv29_NAT_Promo

NEW YORK – (December 11, 2013) Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Auburn cornerback Ryan White, who appear on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (12/16/13), are on a collision course for the BCS championship. The Seminoles and the Tigers will play in the national title game on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and it is the right matchup in every way says SI senior writer Michael Rosenberg. In the final year of the BCS as college football’s top postseason format, the Seminoles (13–0) finished atop the standings for the first time since 1999 and were the only team to get through the regular season unbeaten. Auburn (12–1) won the vaunted Southeastern Conference by running from last place in 2012 to first place with their shoelaces on fire. Writes Rosenberg, “Florida State has been the sport’s dominant team, but Auburn represents the sport’s dominant conference, which has won seven straight national championships and wants you to know it. SEC fans chant ‘S-E-C!’ after every bowl win, and probably after most church functions—an a cappella version of ‘Seven Nation Army,’ the sports background music that most of America wants to turn off but can’t.”(Page 49)

Senior writer Lars Anderson makes the case for Auburn winning their second national championship in four years, writing, “The key player in Auburn’s transformation from a 3–9 team in 2012 to a 12–1 squad has been quarterback Nick Marshall, a 6’ 1”, 210-pound junior who spent last season in the hinterlands of the Kansas prairie at Garden City Community College. Marshall has led fourth-quarter comebacks against Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, and he’s infused the program with confidence. Auburn, remarkably, is peaking when it matters most, which is why this team of magic and joy and video-game fun will keep the national title in the state of Alabama for the fifth straight year.” (Page 51)

 


“King Crimson” AJ McCarron on this week’s SI cover

In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (11/25/13)—on newsstands now— executive editor L. Jon Wertheim writes about Alabama’s big man on campus and he doesn’t mean Nick Saban. No, the Big Mac in Tuscaloosa is quarterback AJ McCarron, Bama’s master of passing efficiency, who is on the brink of leading the Crimson Tide to its third national championship in four years. Writes Wertheim, “McCarron might be almost as well known for his arm candy as his arm strength, his body ink as his body of work. But let’s be clear: He’s not just one of the great Alabama quarterbacks. AJ McCarron is on the short list of the most successful players in the history of college football. Even if not many think of him that way.” (Page 39)

Despite his 35 wins in Tuscaloosa and two BCS titles, McCarron has never been a Heisman finalist or a first-team All-America. Instead of being considered one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, he’s routinely labeled as a “game manager.” He plays on a team with an old-school philosophy and with a stern disciplinarian and perfectionist as its head coach.. “He has as many national championships as he does defeats,” writes Wertheim. “He holds the Bama record for passing yards (8,184) and touchdowns (70). He has yet to lose a road game. In an offense designed to pick up as much on the ground as in the air, he still tosses for 222.8 yards a game.” (Page 41)

Joe Namath, who won a national championship at Alabama in 1964 under legendary coach Paul (Bear) Bryant and who Bryant referred to as “the greatest athlete I ever coached,” has nothing but high praise and high hopes for McCarron. “Everything AJ has shown has been positive,” Namath says. “He’s productive in the right way. He’s excelled under pressure. He plays well in big games. He’s a leader. He’s carried himself beautifully. He’s going to go into those interviews and wow them. He’ll be successful [in the NFL], and anyone who knows football knows why.” (Page 45)


Waiting for the Hate

In this week’s Sports Illustrated—on newsstands now—senior writer Austin Murphy writes about how (and why) the nucleus of the Pac-12 is changing, as No. 2 Oregon (8–0) and fifth-ranked Stanford (7–1) prepare to face off in the Pac 12’s game of the year in Palo Alto on Thursday, Nov. 7.

Historically speaking, the Oregon-Stanford college football rivalry never really registered on anyone’s radar west of the Golden Gate Bridge. It never warranted any cool nicknames like The Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn) or The Red River Rivalry (Texas-Oklahoma) or the simple and direct moniker The Game (Michigan-Ohio State). The Ducks and the Cardinal never had the national spotlight on their intense coaching matchups the way Bo Schembechler versus Woody Paige or Bobby Bowden versus Steve Spurrier did.

It was only over the last few years that the Ducks versus the Cardinal took on any type of significance outside the Pacific time zone. The two schools have been forging a rivalry that has shifted the Pac-12’s power nexus had an annual impact on the national title hunt. Writes Murphy, “Besides, acrimony excepted, this game will have everything. It’s Oregon’s second-ranked offense, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, against Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov and the Cardinal’s 25th-ranked D. It’s a play-in to the Pac-12 title game, and the latest dramatization of the conference’s power shift from Los Angeles. It’s a clash of fashions—the Cardinal’s basic red-and-white versus whatever space-age design the Ducks are rocking—and of philosophies reflected by those unis: Stanford’s old-school, smashmouth power game versus Oregon’s no-huddle, hurry-up Blur attack.” (Page 48)

For more than 60 years, Pac-12 football was dominated by heavyweight contenders UCLA and USC, which have won a combined 18 conference titles and 55 national titles between them and which have produced Hall of Fame players such as the Bruins Jackie Robinson (yes, he played football too), Ken Norton Jr. and Troy Aikman, and the Trojans’ Frank Gifford, Marcus Allen and Lynn Swann. Now all eyes in the West are focused on the Ducks’ Mariota and wide receiver Josh Huff and the Cardinal’s Skov and linebacker AJ Tarpley. Nevertheless, the talent surge at both schools can also be attributed to a surge in resources.

Writes Murphy, “The Ducks have won 12 games in each of the past three seasons; the Cardinal, 12, 11 and 12. The Ducks have been to four straight BCS bowls; the Cardinal, three. Both teams’ ascent to the college football aristocracy has come (relatively) recently—spurred largely by a couple of sugar daddies. Call it the Nouveau Riche Bowl. John Arrillaga (net worth: $1.8 billion), who played basketball at Stanford in the 1950s and developed much of the real estate that is now Silicon Valley, has given at least $251 million to his alma mater, where six buildings bear his name. Nike shogun Phil Knight (net worth: $16.3 billion) has kept his name off the architecture in Eugene, but he’s been even more generous, bestowing at least $300 million.” (Page 48)

While Stanford, known more for its academic achievement than its touchdown prowess, has surprised some with its recent success, it’s the Hatfield Dowlin Foot Performance Center, Oregon’s new state-of-the-art, 145,000 square foot football facility that has gone viral across all recruiting and social media platforms. However, Murphy says Knight plays down the importance of his philanthropy and influence on the football program’s success. “The secret is not the money” Knight says. Even with his gifts, Knight believes, Oregon has less to work with “than any of the traditional powers. The secret is management.” (Page 49)


Teddy Bridgewater is Louisville’s Latest Conqueror

BridgewaterAs the completions and the victories pile up, low-key star Teddy Bridgewater brings Louisville closer to New Year’s Day and himself closer to New York City, writes Pete Thamel in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.  Playing in the pros will allow Bridgewater to fulfill a promise he made to his mom, Rose Murphy, when he was in the third grade. “When I make it to the pros,” Teddy Bridgewater said, “I’m going to buy you a pink Escalade with pink rims.” (PAGE 39)

From the age of eight, Bridgewater was tabbed as a can’t-miss quarterback. He excelled in the vaunted Optimist youth leagues in Miami and later at Northwestern High. It was there that he became a top college prospect and did so while his mother was battling breast cancer. Now a junior at Louisville, he’s the nation’s third-most efficient passer on the No. 8 team, a Heisman Trophy candidate and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. “His mother’s situation made him a grown man,” says Northwestern coach Billy Rolle, “and I think that helped him out more than any coach could.” (PAGE 40)

Bridgewater worked hard to avoid the stigma that South Florida produces any athlete but quarterback. He wound up a Cardinal after committing to and decommitting from Miami. “He wanted to be a quarterback,” says Louisville coach Charlie Strong, “not an athlete who’s a quarterback.” (PAGE 40)

After working extremely hard with Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to an 11-2 season and was named Big East Player of the Year last season. He earned a reputation for not only being very accurate but also tough. He played through injuries, and shook off a nasty hit early in Louisville’s Sugar Bowl win over Florida last year. He has become a more willing leader. “This is his football team,” Strong says. “He knows this, his team will only go as far as he takes them.” (PAGE 42)

While Bridgewater has a season of eligibility remaining, he’ll graduate this year. His descision to enter the draft seems like a foregone conclusion. “The reality is that we’re hoping and believing that he has a great season,” says Rose, “and after that he’ll do what he needs to do to prepare to go to the draft.” (PAGE 42)

Thamel finds that Bridgewater is very humble on and off the field. For instance, he asked Louisville not to run a Heisman campaign for him because he doesn’t want special treatment and he still dates his high school sweetheart. “He’s one of those players who wants no credit,” says Strong. “He’d rather sit back and let his work speak for him.” (PAGE 43)

Bridgewater may not get as many Heisman and Twitter mentions as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, the two are “not in the same universe” as NFL prospects, says former Eagles scout John Middlekauff, who adds, “You build a franchise around high-level people as much as high-level players.” (PAGE 50)


Inside This Week’s Sports Illustrated: In Praise of College Football’s Hybrid Players

Hybrid CFBSchematic changes in college football have resulted in more hybrid players on both sides of the ball, writes Andy Staples in this week’s SI. “Welcome to the world of the football hybrid, the player who doesn’t fit any of the standard positions that developed after the game transitioned from the age of two-way ironmen to the age of specialization,” says Staples. “Now if a team doesn’t have at least one amorphous, broadly defined position, it’s behind the curve. And the cooler the name, the better.” (PAGE 45)

Staples takes a look at some of college football’s best hybrid players (and their unique position names), including Northwestern’s “Superback” Dan Vitale, Georgia’s “Star” Josh Harvey-Clemons and UCLA’s “Buck” Anthony Barr.

After Northwestern’s Drake Dunsmore saw success as a blocking tight end, a flexed tight end and as a fullback from 2007 through ’11, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald didn’t think H- or F-back—the usual designations for a hybrid player—fully described the position. “We were looking for a guy who could do multiple things,” says Fitzgerald. “He wasn’t a tight end. He wasn’t a running back. Who could do everything? Superman. So he’s a Superback.” (PAGE 45)

Current Wildcats sophomore Dan Vitale has expanded the “Superback” role. In his first game this season Vitale led the team with five catches for 101 yards in a 44-30 win over Cal. But Fitzgerald plans to also line him up in the backfield and on the line this season. Vitale is a busy man in practice. “I work with the O-linemen,” Vitale says. “I run routes with the receivers. Then I time up with the quarterbacks and running backs.” (PAGE 46)

Staples says the only way for a defense to counter versatility on offense is to develop hybrids as well. Staples writes, “The proliferation of up-tempo spread offenses has forced defensive coordinators to seek out human Swiss Army knives who can play three positions (cornerback, safety and outside linebacker).” Georgia defensive coordinator calls this position the Star. “Some people call it a Nickel/Sam,” Grantham says. “The Star just means he’s the strongside adjuster. He’s going to adjust to the third receiver.” (PAGE 46) The Bulldogs’ Star is Josh Harvey-Clemons, a 6’ 5”, 212-pound sophomore with great size and speed.

UCLA linebacker or “Buck” Anthony Barr had 11 tackles and three forced fumbles in the Bruins’ 41-21 win at Nebraska last Saturday. Barr plays outside linebacker on standard downs and Buck defensive end on passing downs. “He’s multifaceted,” says UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. “He can play the run. He can rush the passer. He can cover. That’s what makes him so special.” (PAGE 48)


This Week’s SI Regional Cover Story: Can Anyone Roll the Tide? A Guide on How to Beat Bama

37COVv20_BAMA_PromoThe Alabama Crimson Tide are expertly coached, stacked with future NFL talent and confident of running the table, but opponents who are smart, willing and armed with the right personnel can take eight simple steps to beat the two-time defending BCS champs, writes Lars Anderson in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.  Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones, who scored three touchdowns last Saturday against Virginia Tech, is featured on a regional cover of this week’s SI. ***Click here to read the entire story on SI.com.

Anderson spoke with a few rival coaches, ex-Alabama staff members and some former Tide players—who spoke on the condition of anonymity—and many thought Alabama would lose at least once this season. “You have to play a near-perfect game, but they have some vulnerable points,” says a coach. “This giant can be slayed.” (PAGE 34) Based on inside information from these former coaches and players, SI put together an eight-step, how-to guide for any team hoping to keep Nick Saban’s Alabama team out of the national championship.

Step 1: Have a quarterback who can make plays with his feet and complete at least a few intermediate and deep throws

Anderson notes that of the five teams that have beaten Alabama since 2010, four had quarterbacks who were dangerous on the ground as well as through the air: LSU’s Jordan Jefferson in 2010 and ’11; Auburn’s Cam Newton in ’10; and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel last season. “Even when you’ve called the right defense and your defense does everything right, that kind of quarterback can still beat you by improvising,” said Nick Saban in the summer of 2011. “It’s the stuff you can’t really plan for that always brings a high level of concern. I mean, it can drive you crazy as a coach.” (PAGE 34)

Alabama faces Manziel and the Aggies on September 14.  Anderson discovered that Saban has continually reminded his players of what Johnny Football did last fall: During the spring and summer a video of the loss played on a loop in the Tide’s weight room. “Coach Saban always got really worked up over those fast, shifty quarterbacks,” says a former Alabama player. “If a guy like Cam Newton got out of the pocket, our linemen would get tired as hell chasing him around, and it basically took away the physical advantage we had over their offensive linemen because we’d get gassed.” (PAGE 34)

Step 2: Challenge the inexperienced defensive backfield

“The weakest position group is going to be the secondary,” says a former Alabama staffer. “It’s imperative that you take advantage of those kids back there. Nick personally coaches the defensive backs and the playbook is incredibly complicated. So I can almost guarantee you that you’ll see a lot of confusion . . . . I’d call at least two, maybe three deep balls a quarter. Let’s see if those kids are ready.” (PAGE 35)

Step 3: Counter Alabama’s D by spreading the field and playing fast

“Instead of having a play come at them every 40 seconds,” says a coach, “you need to snap the ball every 15 to 18 seconds. You gotta get those big boys up front tired.” Anderson adds: “Saban has complained that the hurry-up offense is dangerous—he says it leads to more injuries—but rival coaches believe that argument is a smokescreen aimed at concealing Saban’s real concern: It doesn’t give him time to substitute defenders and call the coverage he wants.” (PAGE 37)

Step 4: Slow Alabama’s rushing attack

Since 2008, the Tide are 53–0 when they rush for more than 150 yards. “The fundamentals of tackling change when you go from trying to tackle a wiggle guy like T.J. Yeldon to a bulldozer like Derrick Henry,” says a coach. “The key is to not let either of them get in the open field, and the best way to do that is bring an extra safety into the box, play eight close to the line and dare them to throw. Because if they get the running game going, the game is over.” (PAGE 37)

Step 5: Contain Amari Cooper

Anderson says that the most explosive player on Alabama’s offense is sophomore wide receiver Amari Cooper. His 11 receiving touchdowns last season broke a school record that had stood since 1950. “I’m going to play umbrella coverage on him,” says a coach. “I’m going to roll up a corner to Cooper at the line of scrimmage and put a safety behind him. On the other side I’m going to take a chance and go man-to-man with no safety help against [wide receiver] Kevin Norwood or whoever is playing there. You just always must know where number 9 [Cooper] is located.” (PAGE 37)

Step 6: Challenge Alabama’s young offensive line and make AJ McCarron beat you when he’s on the run

Last season AJ McCarron became the first quarterback in the BCS era to guide his team to back-to-back titles. And he did so while throwing for 30 touchdowns behind an offensive line that featured three players that are now in the NFL. “I would give them three or four blitzes that I’ve never used in previous games, just to see if they’re ready for something that isn’t in their game plan,” says a coach. (PAGE 38)

Step 7: Force Alabama to kick field goals

Bama kicker Cade Foster, who was 4 of 9 on field goals last season, has connected on only 13 of 27 (48.2%) in his college career. “It’s clear,” says a coach, “that Nick doesn’t have much trust in any of his kickers.” (PAGE 38)

Step 8: Play to make it to the fourth quarter

In 2012, Alabama outscored its opponents 153–26 in the first quarter. “The opening minutes are all about survival,” says a coach. “Get your kids settled down and then, with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, be within a touchdown. That’s when we’ll find out about Alabama’s nerves.” (PAGES 38-39)


Inside this Week’s SI College Football Preview: 28 Pages of Scouting Reports on SI’s Top 25 and Six Regional Covers

34COValav14_PollSPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 2013 College Football Preview—on newsstands now—breaks down SI’s Top 25 with 28 pages of scouting reports that include profiles of key players and breakout stars, Q&As with coaches and other vital analysis. The top six teams in SI’s Top 25 are represented on regional covers:  The top six teams in SI’s top 25 are represented on regional covers of this week’s issue: No. 1 Alabama (T.J. Yelton, So., RB), No. 2 Stanford (Shayne Skov, Sr., LB), No. 3 Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel, So., QB), No. 4 Ohio State (Braxton Miller, Jr., QB), No. 5 Oregon (Marcus Mariota, So., QB) and No. 6 South Carolina (Jadeveon Clowney, Jr., DE). View all six regional covers here.

Here is SI’s preseason top 10:

1.    Alabama
2.    Stanford
3.    Texas A&M
4.    Ohio State
5.    Oregon
6.    South Carolina
7.    Louisville
8.    Notre Dame
9.    Florida
10.    Clemson

Find the entire SI Top 25, expanded scouting reports, video breakdowns, conference analyses, a media roundtable and SI’s All-America team at SI.com/cfb

SI Top 25 Notes: *If Johnny Manziel is ruled ineligible before the season, SI moves the Aggies to No. 15; Alabama tops the SI preseason Top 25 for the fourth consecutive season; Stanford’s No. 2 ranking is the highest SI preseason ranking for the Cardinal.

Also inside SI: Heisman Trophy dark horses (see below); a look at No. 2 Stanford’s Shayne Skov and other “nerds” at good academic schools (No. 22 Northwestern, No. 23 Vanderbilt and Duke) who will make a difference on the field this year (click here); the influx of hurry-up offenses and why it still isn’t for everyone (click here); and how the 1942 Rose Bowl between Oregon State and Duke rallied a nation (click here).

HEISMAN WATCH

Before last season started, few  outside of College Station knew about the soon-to-be Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. So while everyone knows the Heisman favorites, SI’s Zac Ellis looks at some players (with odds) who could match Manziel’s epic rise and make an out-of-nowhere run at the trophy in 2013 (PAGE 59):

•    Jameis Winston, Florida State, QB, Freshman (25 to 1)
•    Chuckie Keeton, Utah State, QB, Junior (100 to 1)
•    Duke Johnson, Miami, RB, Sophomore (50 to 1)
•    Derek Carr, Fresno State, QB, Senior (100 to 1)
•    Dri Archer, Kent State, RB, Senior (75 to 1)
•    Stefon Diggs, Maryland, WR, Sophomore (75 to 1)
•    Kyle Van Noy, BYU, LB, Senior, (150 to 1)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 129 other followers