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Tuesday
May162006

Return of The Narrative

A few months back, the blog Gunslingers introduced college football's version of The Narrative.

That [media] problem is with "the narrative," which has become the way all news coverage seems to work these days.

In mass media journalism, there is a greater reliance on profit than in the past. And when profit matters more, the corporate heads want to ensure that the journalists stay within bounds - whatever stories are covered need to be more predictable, so the accountants and such know what they can expect. Things are planned out in advance. Storylines are decided upon weeks ahead of time. It's a matter of certainty.

And in the college football journalism world, certainty matters too. As early as the Spring, storylines are developed and plans are set in motion. Gameday knew probably back in January that the Ohio State-Texas game would be a huge matchup, so ESPN started hyping it a month ahead of time. ESPN decided USC would be a big story, so they've had Shelley Smith preparing in depth stories for months.

The key is that they decide upon the story ahead of time, so when something comes up that doesn't fit the parameters of that story, they don't know what to do.

Is there a narrative at work this year?  Sure looks like it.  And it involves three teams: Notre Dame, Ohio State, and West Virginia.

Notre Dame has a resurgent team, a noticeable coach, the Heisman trophy front-runner and a devout national following.  Ohio State beat the living snot out of Notre Dame in last year's Fiesta Bowl and returns a ridiculous offensive.  West Virginia shocked the world and beat Georgia behind two precocious freshmen in last year's Sugar Bowl.  Several prominent college football writers have already made stops in Morgantown and the season has yet to start---what does that tell you?

Should we be cynical and lash out at the media crush that will circle these teams on their road to a potential national title?  Based on last year's Narrative, no.  Last year the media grabbed the USC/Texas matchup and ran with it from day one---and they nailed it.

I will, however, get a laugh when annoyed fans forget their screams of ESUSCPN when there are 24/7 updates for five consecutive months about Brady Quinn's right arm.  NDSPN?  I have no idea.

Now, for more narrative fun.

Three freshman players most likely to get Ted Ginn type goo goo eyes treatment:

-Myron Rolle, Florida State DB
-Percy Harvin, Florida WR
-Chris 'Beanie' Wells, Ohio State RB

Rolle enrolled early at Florida State and had a great spring camp.  Already a starter at safety.

Harvin's a decent receiver but has great athleticism and playmaking ability.  He's a great fit for Urban Meyer's offense.

Wells won't unseat Antonio Pittman, but he's considered the second coming of Maurice Clarett, without the baggage.  He's a nifty big back with a big personality and a fan website.

Other frosh who can ball and might win media favor with good performances:

-Matt Stafford, Georgia QB
-C.J. Spiller, Clemson RB
-Allen Bradford, USC Athlete
-James Aldridge, Notre Dame RB
-Michael Goodson, Texas A&M RB
-Charles Scott, LSU RB

Stafford won't stay on the bench long behind Joe Tereshinski.  Georgia faithful think he's the second coming of Elway (wait, I thought that was Jimmy Clausen?).

Spiller shocked the world and went with Clemson over Florida and Florida State on signing day.  He's behind quality backs but neither has his speed and shiftiness.

Bradford needs to find a position, but I like what Lannie Julias had to say about him:

He's the only player I've seen in the last 40 years of doing this that I think could be an All-American-level player at as many as seven positions.

Aldridge is simply Notre Dame's only back with any measurable talent and playmaking skill.  Once the lights go on he'll have the faithful wanting to bench Darius Walker.

Goodson is another shifty, speedy back like Spiller.  He's got a great feel for playing in space and can catch the ball.

One of my friends who has a better eye for things than myself felt that Scott is a much better 'big back' than Ohio State's Wells.  Scott will benefit from a shaky depth chart with Alley Broussard coming off a knee injury and Justin Vincent yet to snap out of his sophomore funk.

There were many other frosh I could have added here.  The big trick with freshmen is to mentally adjust to the college game.

I remember asking HP what he thought about USC's incoming stable of backs this year, and he said what matters right now is less about their physical skills and more their ability to realize they can play D-I football.  It's the guy who knows he belongs fastest and acts on that who will do well his freshman year. 

Look no further than West Virginia, where the unknown Steve Slaton beat out super-recruit Jason Gwaltney for major carries last year.  Slaton's physical gifts aren't much better than Gwaltney's, but he simply could wrap his mind around the idea of being a D-I star faster than his more hyped teammate.

Finally, two forgotten sophomores who will star this year:

-Drew Weatherford, Florida State QB
-Antone Smith, Florida State RB

Weatherford will always have to battle the schematic limitations with Florida State's offense, but based on camp reports it sounds like he's cured his penchant for interceptions.  He has a good head about him and is well-liked by teammates.

Smith is a bit like Spiller, in that he shocked everyone by spurning Miami for the Seminoles.  Lorenzo Booker is the starter, but 1)Florida State's coaching staff has never gotten comfortable in how to utilize him and 2)Smith is a much better complete back.  Smith ran wild in the spring, and he looked like he was ready for many more carries last year in limited action.  He should take off this time around, especially with FSU's coaches promising to run the ball come hell or high water.

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Reader Comments (11)

I think you are vastly underrating Darius Walker. He doesn't have the flashy speed of other running backs, but he is an extremely talented running back. Aside from his abilities as a dependable, productive runner, he is a tremendous blocker and that alone will keep him in the game. You may have noticed he had an excellent game against a very tough Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes let up 12 rushing touchdowns all season and Walker had 3 of them. His 5.6 yards/carry average against them wasn't too shabby either.
May 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPat
Not in the least.

He's a workhorse, and a slow one at that.

I don't doubt he won't finish his senior year as the starter, but his physical gifts just aren't there. He knows what he can do, and that's get the tough carry.

He had a good game against Ohio State, but against a more suspect USC rush defense he had what, 3 yards/carry and ND's rushing touchdowns actually came from Travis Thomas and Brady Quinn.

One game does not a player make, and I've watched his entire career. He's the equivalent of the quarterback who is told to not screw things up. He's a conservative, safe, but limited choice.

For example, Georgia can go with Joe Tereshinski this year and then he can do ok and someone can say something critical and then the same defense can be brought up---underrated. Thing is, he doesn't GET you somewhere.

The sooner Aldridge can recognize his gifts and ability to play at this level, the sooner Notre Dame's offense jumps two giant leaps. That in turn will make Walker a more useful back, one who can compliment something that may be missing (for now) in Aldridge.

There's nothing wrong with Walker, but there's not much great about him either.
May 16, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
Darius was also playing with a leg injury in the USC game. His right leg had a huge wrap for the middle part of the season and it drastically slowed him down. He got healthy during the Bowl break and showed what he can do in the Fiesta. I don't expect him to ever start in the NFL, but he is a high quality college back.
May 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPat
Pat is right...Walker had a leg injury for much of the season. He never has had the home run speed of a Reggie Bush or some of the other flashy backs being listed, but has been fast enough and is shifty at the line. I would prefer that he be less "shifty" and be more decisive at the point of attack, but he's also only a sophomore with quite a bit of time to improve his skills. My only other complaint is that ND has not had the runner that can get you the single yard when everyone in the stadium knows you're going to run and Walker might not be that back, but I'm also not convinced yet that Aldridge will be that back, either. Frankly, there should be enough touches for two or three backs to get plenty of work in the ND offense, especially in 2007.

I think the players don't need to "recognize their skills and ability to play at the D-I level". For players recruited to USC and ND, especially in the last couple of years, they have had people telling them for years that they were special and they were going somewhere. These kids are all supremely talented and believe in their abilities. Their true test is realizing how their abilities can best be utilized and finding their place in an offense, working within a system. For some of these high school running backs, they were able to get their yards purely on their own ability without the help of a great line. They just have to realize that to get their yards at the collegiate level, they might have to rely on others to help them.
May 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
I don't understand the Walker fandom.

By the time Weis is through, there will have been a great handful of backs who were all better and more productive and useful than him.

If you saw HP's list yesterday of the best backs in CFB it's clear Walker really has a lot of guys in front of him in running ability.

Leg injury or not, he's not a special back, he's someone that holds a great offense back.

He has his set of skills and nobody's ignoring that, but to be as excited as some of us are about him is beyond me.
May 17, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
The fandom sorrounding Walker is that he is the feature back of ND and there hasn't been anyone on the team better than him the last two years. ND hasn't had a great running back since Julius Jones and he was misused for much of his career, often sitting behind Ryan Grant (I have called him the worst 1000 yard rusher in NCAA history). Walker has come through and performed well his first two years in an Irish uniform.

The crystal ball might foresee some great backs in Charlie Weis's offense in the near future, but as of today, Notre Dame has Walker as their number one running back until someone can prove that they're better. Maybe that player is Aldridge, but he is still a freshman and has not proven anything yet to the Irish fans. If Aldridge becomes the home run hitter that the Notre Dame offense has lacked in the backfield these last couple of years, then I am sure you'll see him on the field.

That said, I don't think you'll find too many Irish fans that will not acknowledge Walker's faults. He has not proven himself in short yardage situations, nor is he a guy that is a threat to score a touchdown on any given touch. But to dismiss him by saying that a pre-freshman (what do you call guys that enroll early?) is "only back with any measurable talent and playmaking skill" is going too far.
May 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
I think the frosh to watch in the LSU backfield is Keiland Williams rather than Charles Scott.
May 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjack
I have to agree with the site author. Darius is medicore. He is fairly elusive, but is very,very slow both in terms of top end speed and quickness.So many times I instictively think, oh man that's big opening, he is gonna get 40+ yards, and then he gets tracked down after 15. I have learned to suppress those instincts when Darius is running


What he does seem to do pretty well is pick the right spot to run and is elusive in a short area.

Does anyone remember Randy Kinder -- 6 foot 205lbs and fast. I dont think there ever was a less elusive runner. Its like he was iron filings and line backers were magnets.

Ryan Grant was a similar story.
May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdoubledomerw/cheese
I liked Randy Kinder...Ryan Grant was the worst 1000 yard rusher in NCAA history. Couldn't find a hole and went down on first contact. And also didn't seem to improve from year to year. While I agree completely that Walker doesn't get the long run, watching him doesn't frustrate me nearly as much as Ryan Grant did. It only got worse when Julius Jones returned from his academic hiatus and everyone in the stadium knew that Jones was the better running back but Grant kept getting carries. The night that Jones broke ND's record for most yards in a game, Grant actually received more carries. Explain that one to me.
May 19, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
I always liked Lee Becton.

I think Kinder, Grant, Fisher and Co. will be vaguely remembered as an old guard of so-so TB's, much as Walker will.

Jones and Denson will be more fondly remembered.

The ND TB situation has never fixed itself since Holtz left.
May 19, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
My all-time favorite, while technically not a tail back, was Marc Edwards. The guy would get you three yards no matter what.

Randy Kinder was actually a Holtz guy who was overshadowed by Denson when Denson arrived at ND. And at the time, they were still giving the ball consistenty to the fullback, so a single back wasn't putting up ridiculous numbers. Ryan Grant was a Davie/Willingham product who really made his name because of Jones absence for a year. If Julius Jones had stayed eligible all four years, Ryan Grant would have been a backup getting less than 300 yards a season his entire career backing up Jones and Tony Driver.

The ND tailback/running back position hasn't been completely dry the last ten years or so. Denson and Jones were the special ones, but there were a couple of other backs that were good college backs that haven't made names for themselves in the pros, such as Tony Fisher and Tony Driver. If you look at the all-time ND rushing leaders, you don't see any eye-popping numbers, even under Holtz. Then, there were usually about three guys that got alot of touches and they all ended the season with 600 to 800 yards. There was always another good running back to put on the field. Heck, Dorsey Levens transferred because of a lack of opportunity behind some of those horses. Good times for ND fans.
May 19, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc

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