Does Alabama coach Nick Saban need to update his "Process"? And would Michigan State had better playoff hopes playing a cupcake instead of Oregon? Andy Staples answers these questions and more in #DearAndy.
College football chaos has left a lot of questions unanswered. This week, I’ll take a crack at a few of those queries.
Here’s what we cover in the video:
• The SEC’s two Mississippi schools are in the top three of the Associated Press poll. Is that a sign that the end times are upon us?
• Is scorched earth the only way an undefeated Marshall makes the playoff?
• How does an LSU fan get the image of Katy Perry holding a corn dog out of his head?
Read on for more questions and answers…
I only partially agree with the first statement. Yes, Alabama’s last four losses -- which date back to November 2012 -- have come against teams that run up-tempo offenses. The other common denominator? They came against teams that have players that are as good as the Crimson Tide’s players.
In 2012, Texas A&M had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (Johnny Manziel), a top-10 drafted wide receiver (Mike Evans), two top-10 offensive tackles (Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) and a guy playing right guard who will be a top-10 tackle next May (Cedric Ogbeuhi). The Auburn team that beat Alabama on a freaky play in the last second had a left tackle taken second in the draft (Greg Robinson) and a Heisman finalist tailback (Tre Mason) and came within 13 seconds of winning the national title. The Oklahoma team that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was stacked with talent on both sides of the ball. The Ole Miss team that beat Alabama last week had stars such as defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and cornerback Tony Conner that the Rebels beat the Crimson Tide head-to-head to sign.
For a few years, Alabama was getting seemingly the best player at every position -- especially along the line of scrimmage and in the secondary -- in the South. But that isn’t sustainable. Stack up enough five-stars, and eventually the next set will see a barrier to playing time and distribute itself among other schools. The 85-scholarship limit has something to do with this, but the more critical number is 11. That’s how many players can be on the field at once. It’s hard to get drafted if you don’t play, so a lot of players who want to move on to the NFL in three years will seek a path of lesser resistance.
Does Saban adjust his “Process”? From a program philosophy standpoint, no. All of the off-field aspects of Saban’s program -- an NFL-style front office, analysts that allow coaches to work more efficiently, mental training -- have been so successful that nearly every program in the country has tried to copy them to some degree.
But will Saban need to adjust from a schematic standpoint? Yes. His preferred defense is excellent at stopping teams that attack head-on. It is less effective against spread teams because it favors heavier players who don’t have the speed or stamina to play sideline-to-sideline.
The hardest adjustment for Saban may be tweaking the “critical factors” his staff uses when evaluating recruits. Saban adopted these from his college coach, Don James, and they have served him well through the years. But unless he can find 265-pound genetic freaks that run like 235-pounders, he may need to seek a different kind of inside linebacker. He also may have to begin hunting lighter nose tackles. (This may have already happened. Current nose A’Shawn Robinson is 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds and runs like a 300-pounder.) Also, any defense that endeavors to stop the hurry-up spread needs a few players who can morph between safety and outside linebacker. This shouldn’t be much of a problem for Saban, who has always found versatile safeties. Landon Collins can do pretty much anything the Tide need.
The best template for a spread-stopping defense is the LSU defense of the past few years. (Not this year’s.) The Tigers have always opted for lighter and faster at most defensive positions, and that allows them to spread out with the offense as well as manage the energy-draining tempo. LSU shut down Oregon in 2011. Manziel and the Aggies couldn’t do anything against the Tigers for two seasons. LSU was the only team to beat Auburn last year. So if Saban wants to tweak his critical factors, he need only look at the LSU depth charts from 2011-13 to see what type of players are best suited to deal with today’s offenses.
From @HalfwayToHobo: To finally end all announcer confusion, what's the difference between a jet sweep, an end-around and a reverse?
Thank you for this question because I always end up shouting at my television when an announcer calls an end-around a reverse and a reverse a double-reverse. The jet sweep vs. end-around is a little trickier, but I’ll do my best to differentiate.
End-around made more sense decades ago when offenses had a player whose position was just called “end.” These were jack-of-all-trades guys who blocked, caught passes and occasionally contributed to the run game by running from one side of the formation to take a handoff or a pitch around the opposite side of the formation. Now, the term has become a catchall for a play in which an offensive player starts on one side of the formation, gets the ball in the middle of the field and continues on to the other side of the formation.
A jet sweep involves a receiver using jet motion pre-snap to move parallel to the line of scrimmage and arrive at the quarterback just after the snap. This allows for a quick, smooth handoff. Plus, the receiver has a great head of steam that presumably will help him round the corner on the other side of the formation. This is not to be confused with a fly sweep, which involves the quarterback pitching to a receiver crossing the formation behind him.
A reverse involves a handoff to a player moving one direction who then hands to a player moving in the opposite direction. A double reverse adds a third exchange to a player moving in the same direction as the player who took the first handoff. So if you see two exchanges, it’s a reverse. The third exchange makes it a double reverse.
My best guess is 4-1. Neither Watson nor Cole Stoudt had anything to do with Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb combining for three consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns on three consecutive offensive downs. (Running the same toss sweep, mind you.) That’s all on the Clemson defense.
But Clemson probably would have beaten a Jameis Winston-less Florida State with Watson starting. The Tigers only needed one more point in regulation, and they probably would have gotten that had Watson been in during the first four possessions. That win would have put Clemson in position to win the Atlantic Division, win the ACC and make the playoff. Now, barring an unimaginable collapse by the Seminoles, all those things are pretty much impossible.
From @napachamp: Why do AP writers (not necessarily you) [complain] about the coaches poll when the AP poll is just as bad oftentimes?
I don’t write for the Associated Press. I write for Sports Illustrated. (Though I can still crank out an inverted pyramid story with a hero lede in a pinch.) I also don’t vote in the AP poll anymore. Thankfully, I was allowed to stop after five years. But you are correct. Some AP voters do complain about the coaches poll while cheerfully ignoring the fact that their rankings make just as little sense as the ones produced by the sports information directors and the operations guys who fill out the coaches’ ballots. Why? Because we’re sportswriters, and our favorite sport -- no matter what we cover -- is complaining. We were all five-star recruits in complaining.
That said, stop worrying about either poll. They don’t matter anymore. I know decades of following the polls have conditioned people to sweat the rankings every week, but just stop. The College Football Playoff selection committee is all that matters, and the members truly don’t care what a bunch of sportswriters, SIDs or ops guys think.
That doesn’t mean the committee will get it right. It only means it won’t get it wrong because of anything the pollsters did.