- You already knew the Patriots have a thing for Rutgers, but did you know the Rams have a thing for the Pac-12?
College football has been gone for two weeks, and while fans will have to wait another eight months for the beginning of a new season, the millions who tune into Super Bowl LIII can inject as many college storylines as they want into the final football game of the season to keep it interesting, from the most well-represented alma maters (Georgia and Rutgers tops this year’s list with four active players on the Patriots and Rams) to the college careers and influences of the coaching staffs (from Bill Belichick’s deep ties to the Navy program to Sean McVay’s modest career as a receiver at Miami-Ohio).
Here is a quick college fan's guide to the Super Bowl.
The Rams are #Pac12AfterDark approved
In the three years since the franchise has moved to Los Angeles, the Rams have stocked up on players who played out west, led by former No. 1 pick Jared Goff, who piloted Cal’s Air Raid offense under now SMU coach Sonny Dykes.
The Rams have plenty of Pac-12 flavor beyond Goff, including three players from Oregon State: wide receiver Brandin Cooks, punter Johnny Hekker and backup quarterback Sean Mannion. Cooks had eight catches for 108 yards in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints, while Hekker improbably produced the big play that got the Rams back in the game, completing a 12-yard pass on a fake punt that extended the drive that led to L.A.’s first points of the game after the Rams into a 13–0 hole. The Pac-12 North influences don’t stop in Corvallis: Cornerback Troy Hill and tight end Johnny Mundt went to Oregon, and cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker Cory Littleton played at Washington.
USC will join the Beavers with three players representing the program in Atlanta, including wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, the defensive back who benefited from the now-infamous pass interference no-call that kept the Rams’ hopes alive.
Adding to the Pacific Northwest flavor, three other Rams played at FCS power Eastern Washington. Injured wide receiver Cooper Kupp, linebacker Samson Ebukam and practice squad center Aaron Neary each played their college home games on the red turf in Cheney.
Rutgers has company among New England’s go-to schools
New England will be making its record 11th appearance in the Super Bowl, and this year’s roster has six players coming from the lower divisions of college football—and of course, a handful from Rutgers, the downtrodden program Belichick has long gone out of his way to compliment.
Rutgers has gone 19–42 in the last five seasons, a span during which the Patriots have made four Super Bowl appearances. But the Scarlet Knights are tied with Georgia for the most active players that will appear on football’s biggest stage.
The Scarlet Knights have three players on the active roster—defensive backs Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon—but they don’t lead all schools as they have in past Super Bowls. New England lists four players each from Arkansas and Iowa between its roster and practice squad, including offensive lineman James Ferentz, the son of longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz. Former Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema was brought to Foxborough last summer as a “consultant to the head coach” after he was let go following a disappointing fifth season in Fayetteville.
As for the nation’s premier program, Alabama will only be represented in Atlanta by two players, one on each active roster: Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Rams linebacker Mark Barron. Hightower and Barron were teammates on the Crimson Tide’s 2010 and ’11 squads, the latter of which won the national title.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Miami players have placed the most alumni on Super Bowl rosters.
With three Hurricanes players expected to see action in Atlanta, the total number of representatives from Miami will rise to 65. Next on the list are Tennessee and USC, who are tied with 63 players.
A familiar site
Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built to house the Atlanta Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United, but college football fans are very familiar with the building since it took over for the Georgia Dome and played host to several of the biggest games of the past two seasons.
Mercedes-Benz also hosts the Peach Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, the Celebration Bowl and the SEC title game, and it was the site of last year’s national championship game between Alabama and Georgia. The near $2 billion stadium will be the site of the men's college basketball Final Four in 2020.