(NEW YORK – December 3, 2013) – Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, who scored the winning touchdown for the Tigers in a barnburner against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, is on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (12/2/13)—on newsstands NOW. In the cover story, senior writer Andy Staples analyzes what was a wild, wacky and sometimes chaotic 2013 college football season. Even before Auburn’s takedown of Alabama there was Johnny Manziel’s half-game suspension, Lane Kiffin’s firing by USC at LAX, Ohio State’s beleaguered perfection, Duke’s emergence (with no assists from Coach K), Missouri’s resurgence and Florida State’s QB controversy. Writes Staples, “Back in August we thought we had all the answers. Johnny Football would challenge to be the second two-time Heisman winner. Oregon would rip through the Pac-12 in spite of a coaching change. And, of course, Alabama would tack on yet another national title. Auburn wasn’t even in the conversation. Well, college football has once again reminded us that each year brings new stars, slumbering giant programs that wake and return to glory, and finishes that make us shut our eyes tight, open them again and scream for a replay to prove we hadn’t dreamed what had just happened. Did an Auburn cornerback return a missed field goal 109 yards to win the Iron Bowl and turn the sport upside-down? Again? ” (Page 40)
Hours before the Iron Bowl’s epic finish, Michigan threatened a shake-up of its own at home before 113, 511 fans at home in Ann Arbor against undefeated Ohio State. The Buckeyes trailed early but got even, trailed and got even again, and so on and so on throughout a game in which, although trailing late, the Wolverines seemed to have all the momentum. Michigan scored a touchdown with 32 seconds left, but missed a two-point conversion, giving the Wolverines a 42-41 victory. Writes Staples, “Ohio State went 12–0 in 2012 but couldn’t play for the national championship because of an NCAA postseason ban. Saturday afternoon, as the buses rolled out of Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes once again stood at 12–0—and once again faced the possibility of being shut out of the BCS title game. Most preseason discussion of the national championship boiled down to one question: Alabama or the field? Not much had changed since August. Because Florida State’s remaining opponents seemed too feeble, the Buckeyes needed someone to take down Bama. Auburn did. As fans poured onto the field 550 miles to the south, the Ohio State players stood in their buses and roared. “It was absolutely nuts for 15 minutes,” coach Urban Meyer says.” (Page 42)
So what’s next? With a host of marquee matchups slated for conference championship weekend, don’t be surprised if college football’s wacky season doesn’t have a few more tricks up its sleeve. |SI Senior Writer, Andy Staples
For this week’s SI, senior writer Pete Thamel had the rare chance to sit in the Ohio State coaches’ box and put on a headset for the Buckeyes’ 40-20 season-opening victory over Buffalo on Aug. 31. “Listening in is like eavesdropping on a program’s family dinner—spoken in mostly undecipherable jargon—complete with cursing, elation and the relentless tension of coach Urban Meyer asking for more,” writes Thamel. “It’s not a fun three hours,” says director of football operations Brian Voltolini, who shadows Meyer on the field. “You can’t take anything personal that happens on game day. If you do, you’re done.” (PAGE 40)
With Buffalo facing a third-and-eight on its second drive, Meyer flips over from the defensive headset channel to the offensive one and says to offensive coordinator Tom Herman, “Tom, I want to be real aggressive on this drive.” (PAGE 40) Herman plans to “jet to inferno,” meaning they will run the no-huddle (jet). After four hurry-up passes in five plays, Ohio State scores on a wheel route from Braxton Miller to Chris Fields. “Hey 5,” Herman says to Miller when he returns to the sideline and puts on a headset. “Good drive, bud. Great job being patient.” (PAGE 40)
After a Miller interception leads to a pick-six for Buffalo (and a third straight unsuccessful drive), Meyer shouts in the headset, “That’s three in a row boys. Let’s go. We need to start blocking these guys.” (PAGE 41) As the quarter progresses and Ohio State continues to struggle, Meyer comes on the headset: “I’ve never got my face kicked in by drop eight like this.” (PAGE 42)
Thamel discovers that there are two types of conversations on the offensive headsets. When Ohio State has the ball only Herman and Meyer can speak. When they don’t have the ball, all of the coaches can chime in. That’s why Thamel hears Herman say, “Can everyone shut up?!” (PAGE 42) The coach was trying to speak with his quarterback but couldn’t hear through all the coaches on the headset.
With the game too close for comfort, Meyer turns away from the high-tempo attack. “Where’s your best back?” Meyer asks Herman. “Let’s pound ’em. It’s Buffalo.” (PAGE 43)
With the play slowing down, Thamel notices the hardest working part of the play-calling operation—the signalers, who stand on the sideline in purple, orange and green shirts. When Herman calls a play into the headset, it doesn’t go directly to the quarterback’s helmet. Rather, the three signalers relay signs to the huddle, with only one of them being the live signaler.
As OSU winds down the clock of a 40-20 win, Meyer adds one final piece of commentary into the headset. “Well, we got outcoached today.” (PAGE 43)
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, a likely 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate who last year led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season, is on the cover of the March 4, 2013 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday. Miller is featured in SI’s Spring Football Preview.
Senior writer Thomas Lake (@thomaslake) examines how Miller’s difficult childhood in Ohio, which included a family that dealt with financial problems and a case of domestic abuse on the day he committed to Ohio State, has helped him rise to stardom through hard work and determination.
That work ethic helped Miller have the best season in 2012 that no one paid attention to since the Buckeyes were not bowl eligible. However, this fall, Lake says: “Buckeye Nation will count on Miller to lead the program to its eighth national championship.” (PAGE 43)
Last season, Miller ran for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. Says Ohio State lineman Jack Mewhort: “You know you’ve got a guy back there that’s straight out of a video game.”(PAGE 43)
However, he only completed 58% of his passes and ranked 43rd in pass efficiency. That’s why you’ll now find Miller spending hours in the film room and holding players-only practices with his teammates about five times a week this offseason.
Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, believes Miller can improve his passing numbers. He tells Lake: “The guy can be as good as there ever was.” (PAGE 47)
Powering the Buckeyes’ turnaround from undisciplined to unbeaten is first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s concept of juice: Who’s bringing the juice today? Who’s got the juice? Meyer uses juice to represent the relationship between hard work and production. Senior writer Pete Thamel looks at how Urban Meyer challenges his team, which cannot compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, to not only maintain its surprising success, but also act as a catalyst for the Big Ten’s revival.