Last weekend’s back and forth of offensive haymakers between LSU and Georgia highlighted a shift that’s occurred in the SEC.
Alabama hasn’t caught up yet. It’s hard to watch them play. Their methodical dentist-like approach to college football is the antithesis of the direction the sport is heading in. While other programs are scoring more often, going no-huddle, throwing vertically and installing read-options to take advantage of their mobile quarterbacks, Saban is shutting it down with conventional offense and a defense that creates scoring opportunities.
Other coaches seem to have it all wrong. Alabama’s defense is one of the speediest in the nation, but they bore you to death on the other end. Between 2008 and 2012, Saban’s offenses ran the fewest plays per minute of possession of any FBS program in the nation. Saban is swigging moonshine while the rest of college football’s top-10 are inhaling Vaportinis.
It’s almost like watching a Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view. Instead of inflicting damage, Mayweather’s defensive prowess has kept him atop the pound-for-pound rankings past his 36th birthday.
Yeah, one of his belts are often on the line and what ‘Bama and Mayweather both do in their respective fields of interest is ethereal, but it lacks the fireworks that attracts eyeballs and gets the adrenaline rushing.
People don’t tune in to watch Mayweather or the Crimson Tide win for the same reasons they did The U and Ali. The possibility of them getting rocked in an upset is what attracts folks to watch Alabama. Unfortunately, their aversion to risk taking — Mayweather’s unwillingness to trade power punches and Alabama’s conservative approach to offense — prevents them from making the same mistakes that knocked previous champs off of their pedestals.
The similarities don’t end there. Mayweather’s got a private jet. Saban’s contract gives him access to a private jet. Sure, he doesn’t own it, but why pay for a jet when you have one at your disposal for free? He’s already the highest paid coach in college football and if a bidding war erupts with Texas, he’ll increase his lead. Mayweather has a taste for the finer things. Saban’s idea of bling are the four championship rings he’s won in the last decade.
HEISMAN JURY: These candidates are making their case for why they should be awarded the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Each week, TSL will deliberate over each player’s weekly exploits. After the month of September we rank where the candidates stand.
1. Johnny Manziel - After the first five games of his freshman campaign, Manziel had accounted for 1,780 total yards and 18 touchdowns. That was before he even earned a mention in the Heisman conversation. This season, he‘s accounted for 1,703 yards and 17 touchdowns despite taking a break against Rice. Is there anyone out there who has had a Geno Smith-like September? No.
2. Marcus Mariota - His 11-for-25 performance against Cal occurred in the rain, but Oregon’s quarterback position is a lot like James Bond. The role produces megastars, but it’s hard to gauge how much credit for success goes to the brand name system. It takes a special performance to put him in that Sean Connery territory. Until we see him go into Golden Gun mode and start shredding a top-15 team, we can’t place him over Manziel.
3. Brett Hundley - Hundley couldn’t have emerged at a better time. While the Trojans search for their next golden quarterback, Hundley’s taken the nation by storm. October and November are where he can leave his mark.
4. Aaron Murray - After the Clemson loss Murray’s big game credentials were under siege. Since then, he’s made up for UGA’s porous pass defense without any standout receivers (after Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL in the end zone during the first quarter of their season opener) and has led the Bulldogs to a 3-1 record after rushing through the meat of their schedule while most of the nation was chowing on FCS squads. Todd Gurley would be on this list ahead of Murray if he could stay healthy.
5. Blake Bell - He’s only started two games, but there’s no denying the impact he’s made on Oklahoma’s offense. His 88.4 QBR is the seventh-highest in the nation.
6. Brandin Cooks - This list is too bland without throwing some positional diversity to season the pot. Sure quarterbacks are the most valuable position in football, but these rankings should factor in the value of a player respective to fellow athletes at the same position. Cooks tried to lobby for Sean Mannion’s Heisman candidacy after the game, but it should have been the other way around. Cooks is putting up some Michael Crabtree-type numbers. Besides an interception and a 52 percent completion rate left Mannion with a 48.8 QBR last weekend.
Alternates: Lache Seastrunk, Bryce Petty, Ka’Deem Carey, Bishop Sankey, Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater
RING OF FIRE: This week, a trio of programs on the rise take a stab at the ruling class in their respective conferences.
No. 25 Maryland at No. 8 FSU
The last time Maryland finished a month of September with an unblemished record, FSU stomped out that 8-0 fire. The Terps offense is moving at warp speed in 2013, averaging nearly twice as many yards per game as they did in 2012 and is second only to Clemson in the ACC. Florida State’s defense is still wiping off the grass stains and cleat marks off their backs after Boston College’s one-dimensional offense stomped all over them for 200 yards. C.J. Brown returned as a cerebral passer while maintaining his elusive running ability and Stefon Diggs is quietly building an argument for being the best receiver in the nation.
Despite leading the ACC in sacks and seconds in interceptions, Maryland’s pressure defense has its work cut out for them. The Terps coaches should have been hard at work during the bye week prepping for Jameis Winston. In the Terp's final year in the ACC, a run at the conference championship would be a fitting goodbye, considering the $52 million exit fee the ACC is trying to extract from Maryland.
No. 15 Washington at No. 5 Stanford
Two years ago, Washington was a typical Pac-12 offense with Keith Price spurring comparisons to Warren Moon in the Run N’ Shoot, as he spun the magic bean all over the field. The Huskies look more like Stanford as they sprout points by watering their passing offense with one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. In last Saturday’s win over Arizona, Bishop Sankey took 40 handoffs for the nation’s 11th ranked rushing offense. Stanford owes Washington a beatdown for ending their national championship hopes and a repeat upset could grab the attention of Sarkisian’s previous employer.
No. 6 Ohio State at No. 15 Northwestern
The fact that the Big Ten’s most anticipated matchup is between Ohio State and Northwestern either illustrates how much Northwestern has risen under Pat Fitzgerald or how far the conference has fallen. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde got back into a groove for Ohio State against Wisconsin. Conversely, Northwestern gets a boost with the healthy return of All-American running back Venric Mark. Calling an Oct. 5 matchup the biggest in a millennium sounds like a stretch, but this is Northwestern. If their bend, but don’t break defense can nag Ohio State a little, then a Big Ten title becomes a reality.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
Nearly eight years after their legendary national championship clash, USC and Texas are still competing against one another. Allegedly, USC made the decision to fire Lane Kiffin on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport so they could get a head start on Texas in their head coaching search. Athletic Director Pat Haden is going to need that plane this fall. Over the next several weeks, Haden will be chartering dozens of flights and stacking up thousands of AirMiles searching for the Trojans next head coach.
On Tuesday word reached Kevin Sumlin that the USC Trojans were interested in pursuing him about their open vacancy. The Trojans are reaching into every corner of North America for their next head coach.
If you’re a successful head football coach, Haden may be waiting in your driveway sometime soon. Attainable or not, USC’s list is exhaustive. That means David Shaw, Sumlin, James Franklin, Steve Sarkisian, Mike Riley, Chris Petersen, Jack del Rio and Jeff Fisher may want to keep their heads on a swivel.
When Shaw was informed his name was on USC’s “short list” he joked, "It might be short, but it's one person too long."
Shaw will never voluntarily leave his alma mater for another college job, so they need to get that idea out of their heads quickly. Del Rio and Jeff Fisher are both Trojan Men, but neither seem to fit the bill of a master recruiter that drum up excitement for the program. Hiring a coach who is an alum isn’t as important as programs have been led to believe.
There’s a misconception that the Trojans and Longhorns are battling over the same candidates. USC doesn’t need to get a head start on Texas, they need a compass. USC is a more popular national brand. Charisma and national appeal are a must. Texas wins the passion debate. While Haden is gallivanting around the nation, Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds has a more regional focus on coaches in their crosshairs with built-in Lone Star state recruiting connections.
In all likelihood, Texas is just biding their time and waiting out the season before moving on from Brown. For one, Brown is the polar opposite of Kiffin. He’s a national championship-winning head coach, who just appears to have been slow to keep up with the changing landscape of college football. Firing Brown after a random loss on the road would be cold and callous after all he’s done for the Longhorns.
Texas’ next prospective head coach is only a few cattle fields down the road in Waco (Art Briles), Fort-Worth (Gary Patterson), College Station (Sumlin). The latter is the youthful choice. Briles is the ideal candidate. He spent his entire career in the state and is a habitual winner. Since Chip Kelly left for the pros, he’s become the czar of college football’s most high octane offense. Briles has created blistering offensive schemes at every stop in his career. His first two high school state championship squads scored the second and third most touchdowns in preps football history. In his first collegiate coaching destination at Houston, he offered Case Keenum his first scholarship offer before he rewrote NCAA passing records and brought Robert Griffin III with him to Baylor.
He has Baylor off to an undefeated September averaging over 60 points a game and can absolutely lock the Texas recruiting scene down with the resources supplied by the richest public university in the country. The results of Texas and USC coaching searches will be a testament to contrasting strategies and in the process resurrect two powerhouse programs.