Today, ESPN analysts Greg McElroy and Chris Spielman discussed the College Football Playoff Semifinals, Michigan’s head coaching hire of Jim Harbaugh and the resurgence of New Year’s as a college football holiday.
The two discussed the Allstate Sugar Bowl (ESPN, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET) matchup of No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State at length. McElroy won a BCS National Championship as quarterback at Alabama, while Spielman was an All-American at Ohio State. Highlights from their discussion can be found below:
On the Michigan hire of Jim Harbaugh…
Spielman: A hire that you absolutely needed and had to make. Jim or John (Harbaugh) would have been the perfect hire. When you look at Jim, though, everyone knows he’s an excellent football coach. But, he can also go toe-to-toe with Urban Meyer in recruiting. And I think when you look at Michigan, maybe one area that they have fallen off is talent. When you look at head coaches, every coach that I know is pretty good at Xs & Os. The next thing you look at is recruiting, and recruiting at a high level. I think it was the hire that needed to be made.
McElroy: I think he’s worth every penny. I really genuinely believe this is a great, great job by Michigan. It’s a huge move for Jim Harbaugh. One thing I know that he is going to be able to do, when you are talking about the recruiting aspect, he’s going to be able to get guys in the door, reopen that pipeline to California. If he brings guys from all over the country, if Michigan has that national appeal, that national brand, he’s going to be able to get guys in the door. And once they get in the door, he’s a master of creating competition – within the practice, within the team. Making guys compete against each other.
On Nick Saban and Urban Meyer teams playing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl…
Spielman: Both are the ultimate competitors. It’s the classic defensive guy vs. the offensive guy. I think when I look at those guys, they are going down in history as two of the best college football coaches in our game. Certainly Hall of Famers. I think what separates them from a lot of other coaches is that they get their players to play their best on big games. That’s proven in their track record. That’s a sign of a great coach, when you get your team preforming at the highest level.
I do think Ohio State has to play like they did against Wisconsin to have a chance against Alabama. It’s been fun to see, for me, as a fan of college football and celebrating players, the growth of Blake Sims (Alabama, QB). When you have a guy like Blake Sims come in and play like he’s played, that’s a credit to the coaching and a credit to the kid.
McElroy: It’s a matchup of two of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. Guy’s that have had incredible amount of success. Guys that have been elsewhere and won. Right now, Urban is still a lot earlier in his tenure at Ohio State (than Saban at Alabama), but his fingerprints are all over the program. It was most evident when Cardale Jones (Ohio State, QB) took over after J.T. Barrett (Ohio State, QB) went down. That offense is so engrained, they are so dialed in and used to the system that they didn’t skip a beat when the next player went in. That’s when you can really tell coaches did a phenomenal job. This might be, in my opinion, Urban Meyer’s best coaching job. When one guy goes down, and another guy goes in, and the offense doesn’t fall off whatsoever, that means that those guys are so well taught, so well versed in what they are doing offensively that it really proves Urban Meyer has done an incredible job.
Nick Saban and his accolades and what he’s been able to accomplish this season. We thought at times this could be Alabama’s fifth or sixth most talented football teams in Nick Saban’s tenure. They’ve gotten better, they’ve improved, Lane Kiffin’s been an X-factor…It should be an outstanding matchup.
On playing in big games, like the first College Football Playoff Semifinal…
Spielman: The games the same once the game starts. I was one of those guys. It doesn’t matter what the game was or who we were playing, I wanted to give my best every time.
McElroy: I treated (playing) North Texas the same way I treated Texas in the national championship game. It didn’t change my preparation or my approach. Michael Jordan said “I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.”
Resurgence of New Year’s in the college football schedule…
Spielman: New Year’s Day, for me, was a family gathering for Ohio State. The Rose Bowl with Ohio State playing and USC, then the Fiesta and Orange would follow. I think it’s a great idea to embrace the history of college football in how the college football playoff is setup – to make New Year’s an important part of our college football landscape. You reinvent interest again. Create interest once again. I think it’s wonderful.
McElroy: I can remember vividly every, single, New Year’s Day. I moved to Texas in 1998. I didn’t have a ton of friends. My dad had just moved us there from California in Nov. I hadn’t been to many college football games, only one. (My dad) took me to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day and Ricky Williams had just won the Heisman, so it was 1999 and I got to see Ricky Williams in person. And I’ll never forget that as long as I live. That’s my greatest New Year’s memory.
I love that New Year’s identifies with college football. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, we have back-to-back holidays. That’s college football.
Potential challenges for No.1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup…
Spielman: When you have an offense like Alabama, they are good at all three levels: outside, the offensive line is good, two big running backs and of course the quarterback. When you have a threat like Amari Cooper (Alabama, WR) and other capable receivers, T.J. Yeldon (Alabama, RB) and Derrick Henry (Alabama, RB) running down hill and Blake Sims playing at that level makes it difficult to defend. Ohio State’s defense has been vulnerable this year, playing better as of late, but any time you have to defend against Amari Cooper, Ohio State likes to get up and challenge every throw. That can create a big play opportunity for Alabama. Ohio State has to limit what they do… It’s a tough matchup. Alabama’s difficult to matchup with offensively. From my perspective, with Alabama’s defense, Ohio State does a great job of making you defend the whole field. They are inside running, they have the quick screen game, they have the down-field passing game with Devin Smith (Ohio State, WR), they also utilize two tight ends both very capable receivers that can stretch the field.
McElroy: When you look at Ohio State’s offense against Alabama’s defense, so many people are talking about the quarterback situation, the quarterback loss. To me the most important player on the field is Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State, RB), he’s a fast guy, he’s shifty, he can get to the edge and if he gets on the perimeter, Alabama has some big guys up front they don’t necessarily have really really fast guys like they’ve had in years past.
Nick Saban is going to do everything he can offensively to make Cardale uncomfortable throwing the football. He wants the ball to be in his hands… Ezekiel Elliot, if he can get some production out of the running game, which not a lot of people have been able to do against Alabama this year, that would certainly alleviate some of the pressure on Cardale.
On Ohio State, I agree with Chris. They are going to have to commit a safety and a corner to Amari Cooper. They’ve had so much time to look at the teams that have done it well. You look at Arkansas who really had a great game plan to take him out of the game. You look at Ole Miss who did a great job up until the last drive. Both of those team, two of the most contested games, they didn’t get the best player on the field in space. They’ll have to find a way to commit one or two, maybe three guys if (Cooper’s) in the slot, and still be able to stop the run without having to fully emphasize by adding an additional player to the box. The front four have to play extremely well. They have to be disrupted. If they cannot stop the run and force their corners to play on islands, it could be really difficult to stop Alabama.
What are some storylines you are anticipating from the No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State matchup in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual? (Spielman is calling the game for ESPN Radio)
Spielman: I think the storyline to me is the quarterbacks. I mean obviously, to have two Heisman trophy winners.
Oregon can score 30 points in five minutes before you blink an eye. And Florida State has had issues on defense, but they are coming around (on those). To me if I’m Florida State, they have no problems slowing a game down. And they have a tight end. I can’t emphasize the importance enough, just my belief in football, of having a tight end that you have to account for that helps receivers out on the edges work one-on-one matchups. (Florida State) one of the underrated guys in receivers in college football with Rashad Greene (FSU, WR). He can go up and get the ball and he doesn’t miss and the timing and placement is outstanding.
I look for a very, very close game.
Reflections on the first year of the College Football Playoff system…
McElroy: I love the fact that more teams have the opportunity. I love the fact that the Big 12 fans were paying attention to what Minnesota and Ohio State were doing. I love the way Michigan State fans were really paying attention to what was going on between TCU and Baylor. I love that you are now forced to look outside your conference and focus on team’s outside your conference that you wouldn’t necessarily focus on as a college football fan. I love that aspect of it.
I enjoyed the BCS while it was going on, but now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff – we’ve seen the process, and of course not the matchups yet, but I couldn’t be happier with the direction. I don’t want to see any changes to it too soon. I love the way it is right now.
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