Archive for the ‘NCAA Football’ Category

Maurice Clarett carries the ball

The latest entry in ESPN’s 30-for-30 series, Youngstown Boys, directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, will premiere on Saturday, December 14, at 9 p.m. ET after the Heisman Trophy Presentation on ESPN. Youngstown Boys is the second effort in the documentary series from the Zimbalist brothers, with their previous entry, The Two Escobars, standing as one of the most celebrated films of the collection.

Via ESPN official release:

Youngstown Boys explores class and power dynamics in college sports through the parallel, interconnected journeys of one-time dynamic running back Maurice Clarett and former elite head coach Jim Tressel. Both emerged from the working-class city of Youngstown, Ohio—Tressel as the head coach who turned around the football program at Youngstown State—before they joined for a magical season at Ohio State University in 2002 that produced the first national football championship for the school in over 30 years.

Shortly thereafter though, Clarett was suspended from college football and began a downward spiral that ended with a prison term. Tressel continued at Ohio State for another eight years before his career there also ended in scandal.

Youngstown Boys instantly sets itself among the top tier of the 30-for-30 series’ films. Fans of films like The Two Escobars, The Best That Never Was, and Once Brothers will be satiated by the story’s powerful portrayal of relationship dynamics, success, struggle, and redemption.

We spoke with co-director Michael Zimbalist about making the film, its themes, Clarett and Tressel, and the NCAA.

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The offensive coordinator appears complacent. It’s a rare sight. He’s smiling. Peacock postured, and certain. His pride is so pronounced that even the defensive coordinator – whose affinity for humanity seldom prompts insight – is able to immediately understand that something good has happened to his colleague.

“You’re in a good mood.”

The offensive coordinator doesn’t hear him.

“I said, ‘You’re in a good mood.’”

“What’s that? Sorry.”

“You look like you’re feelin’ good. What’s goin’ on?”

“Oh, yeah. I think I did it.”

“Did what?”

“I invented the perfect play.”

The seeming lunacy of the statement doesn’t escape the defensive coordinator. He doesn’t know how to respond. He respects his colleague, but his claim is ridiculous.

“Oh yeah? Let me see it.”

Still dreamy, as though something mesmerizing is occurring in the distance, the offensive coordinator hands over his playbook. The defensive coordinator takes it, looks at the page, rests his finger on his mouth, twice stops himself from speaking and proceeds to not do anything for several seconds. The offensive coordinator continues his gaze toward the horizon.

“This is incredible.” The defensive coordinator can hardly believe what he’s seeing. “We have to run it. All the time.”

The two coaches call their players together. They line up. Even though the defensive coordinator knows exactly what the play will be, he can’t stop it. The offense scores a touchdown. It’s perfect.

“We have to try this again.”

They do, but a funny thing happens. As the ball is hiked, the right tackle slips and the defensive tackle is able to break through his block and sack the quarterback.

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NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has had a disappointing start to his junior season. Well, as disappointing as two sacks and a dozen tackles over four games – all while garnering more attention from offensive lines than protein shakes and calorie intake – will allow.

Given the size of the hype caboose attached to Clowney coming into the season, it seemed that the only footage of college football recorded from the previous year was his hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith at the Outback Bowl.

Quickness. Toughness. Power. A helmet sent flying. A fumble recovered. Never mind that it set up a go-ahead touchdown on the very next play, it remains the Mona Lisa of highlight reel plays.

The video clip became so popular that nanas were sending it in email forwards to their grandchildren. Of course, it contributed to unfair expectations on Clowney, causing many of us to imagine something right out of – pardon the dated reference – The Waterboy, with opponents relinquishing offensive possession just to avoid having to face Clowney on the field.

We might have gone a little bit overboard with that outlook, perhaps lacking a proper perspective. It’s a condition that seems to be chronic when it comes to Clowney.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old reportedly surprised coaches when – shortly before kickoff against Kentucky – he informed them that his bruised ribs (later found to be a strained rib muscle) were too sore to play. Following the game, head coach Steve Spurrier, expressed no uncertain measure of frustration.

I will just say he told me he couldn’t play. That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said ‘I can’t play’. I said, that’s fine, you don’t have to play. We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to.

Spurrier has since admitted to handling the situation poorly, but the cadre of college football pundits – whose realm of influence doesn’t consider subtlety a virtue – offered up no such mea culpa for their own hot takes criticizing Clowney.

It verges on profound how horribly mistaken and overwhelmingly myopic the aim of their criticism is. It represents a failure to consider anything beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the false violation of a misinformed principle: that student athletes should embrace their own exploitation to the point of risking their future ability to earn as much money as possible.

Clowney, at 6’6″ and 275 lbs is projected to be a top pick in May at the 2014 NFL draft. As such, he stands to sign a large contract with whatever team selects him. After two-and-a-half years of not only raising his draft stock, but also helping the South Carolina football program gain ground in the highly competitive SEC, thereby improving the university’s bottom line, the player – who has never received a salary for his services – doesn’t owe anything to anyone in college football.

Never mind the enormous assumptions one would have to make about Clowney’s injury to question his commitment to the team, it’s completely erroneous to expect him to risk anything at all given his current status. The school should be immensely grateful he hasn’t chosen to sit out the entire season.

It’s a strange bit of reflex that makes us champion certain causes over others without thinking. In the case of criticism being heaped on Clowney, we’re ultimately championing an unpaid young man risking his future earning potential to serve an enterprise whose revenue depends on that risk being taken. We want the sacrifice from the individual while asking nothing of the organization, nor the system that allows such exploitation.

Perhaps we ought to take a page from his coach’s playbook and realize that being on any side other Clowney’s lacks the proper perspective.

osuhelmetThere are both advantages and disadvantages to democracy, but the most favorable aspect that trumps all others is that, in its truest form, common people are represented in a way that allows them to influence the creation and application of law so that it reflects the generally accepted values of a society. Yes, this has and will continue to pose problems for minorities living in a society that doesn’t account for the comfort of others, but at the core of the democratic ideal is an allowance for social change and a protection against the elite hoarding power.

These are good things. However, we’re sometimes susceptible to trickery by the upholders of the status quo – who often have the most to lose through social change – exerting their influence to cause us to believe that certain values are more generally accepted than they actually are. This is frequently done on a political level, a cultural level and less seriously, on a sporting level.

In college sports, we’ve long been taught the virtue of amateurism. It’s a patently false virtue, originated by the high society organizers of the first Modern Olympic Games as a means of glorifying the accomplishments of the aristocratic athlete at the expense of the working class who required professional status as a means of paying for training. When we attach any amount of reason to the discussion around compensation for college athletes, it becomes abundantly clear that they should be paid for generating revenue for their school and risking their own ability to make future income by participating in athletic competitions where debilitating injury is always a possibility.

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Tostitos BCS National Championship Game - Oregon v Auburn

Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer earned the offensive MVP honor in the 2011 BCS National Championship game, and now he’s simply hoping to land a spot with a mid-major. Having earned a two-year degree at Arkansas Baptist, while putting past transgressions behind him, Dyer is seeking a home to play out his final two years of eligibility. Although he was reported to have received interest from TCU and Louisville, it appears as though Dyer will have to settle for a non-BCS option.

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Discover Orange Bowl - Northern Illinois v Florida State

College football is just a couple of months away, which means it’s the season for Heisman campaigns. There’s the obvious parties in the running, like incumbent Texas A&M quarterback, Johnny Manziel. There’s also the self-aggrandizing types like Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk, who told the Sporting News back in December, “I’m going to win the Heisman. I’m going to win it in 2013″. We also have the anti-Heisman campaign campaign, like we’ve seen from Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville.

Now we have the improbable Mid-American Conference Heisman candidate campaign, which is what Northern Illinois has launched in support of senior quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Lynch led the Northern Illinois Huskies to 12-2 record last year, punctuated by a MAC title. Lynch and the Huskies would later fall to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, but his play over the season helped vault the Huskies into a top-25 finish. Lynch would finish sixth in Heisman voting in 2012, behind Manziel, Manti Te’o, Collin Klein, Marqise Lee and Braxton Miller. It was the highest finish for a MAC talent since Byron Leftwich landed at sixth with Marshall in 2002. Fellow Marshall alums, Randy Moss (fourth) and Chad Pennington (fifth), represent the only MAC players to ever receive an invite to New York for the award presentation.

The odds can be much more difficult to overcome when you’re running out against the likes of Akron, UMASS, Buffalo, and every directional designation Michigan has to offer, as opposed to the heavyweights of the south.

While Lynch’s numbers from last season speak for themselves (3,138 yards passing with a 60.2% completion rate, 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, plus another 1,815 yards on the ground and 19 rushing touchdowns), he’s not likely to win the award. It’s not so much that Lynch can’t equal, or even improve upon, his gaudy 2012 totals, but the schedule advantage that the MAC affords him will make it difficult for voters to hold him in the same regard as the talents coming out of the SEC, Big 12, and B1G.

Lynch’s limbs should enable him to put up some impressive numbers, and help Northern Illinois challenge for another MAC title, that much is a given. However, his Heisman candidacy will ultimately come down to how his fellow competitors perform or potentially stumble. Even with the rise of Northern Illinois, Kent State, and Bowling Green, the MAC lacks the firepower to propel Lynch into the national spotlight that he deserves. If anything, we’ve got ourselves a nice little feel-good narrative to which we can tie our horses.

Here’s one way to put the “you never played the game” argument to bed. Bowling Green’s sports information director allows himself to be sacked by 6’3″, 282 pound defensive tackle, Ted Oullet.

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