ATVS was able to interview Rece Davis of ESPN late last week, and we discussed a variety of topics with the host of ESPN's College Football Live.
On the Alabama-Notre Dame game
Deniz Koray: I'm sure everyone is interested in talking about the national championship on Monday night. I was wondering if before the game you had any expectations that the game would be such a blowout? That before the first half was even over, we would know who won the game?
Rece Davis: In Alabama's three close games this year, those games were close and in the Texas A&M game lost, in significant part because of some self-inflicted mistakes that kept the other team in the game.
With all due respect to your LSU audience, if McCarron and Yeldon don't botch off that hand-off, it's a two score game in the second half, and we're probably not talking about needing the last drive. Yeldon had a key fumble in the A&M game. There was the interception in the end zone and another interception early in the game that got them behind. In the Georgia game, you had three breakdowns in the kicking game, but they still found a way to win.
You could make the argument that while Notre Dame was clearly the most deserving team in the country in terms of being in the championship game, and an excellent team defensively, I'm not sure they were quite as talented as the three teams Alabama played in their SEC schedule.
So my feeling was if Alabama played their "A game" and eliminated their unforced errors, they would control the game. What did surprise me was that the Notre Dame defense didn't wear out over time. Rather, it was apparent they were no match for Alabama's offensive line, running backs, and receivers for that matter, from the outset.
They were completely over-matched. Some people who regularly cover Notre Dame said they didn't play well on Monday. From the looks of that game, it looks like they could play a hundred times, and the outcome would be the same every time, barring Alabama playing a B-/C game.
I was surprised thought that it happened so quickly. I thought that Alabama would assert itself as the game went along, and that early on, Notre Dame's defense would be pretty solid and have enough energy to neutralize the Alabama offensive front for a while.
DK: Did you think there was another team out there that could have given the Tide a more competitive game? Maybe a team like Florida or Oregon?
RD: I think Notre Dame absolutely deserved a spot in the championship. They didn't lose a single game. They earned that. Their schedule might not have had the ultra-elite teams on it, but there were some very good teams they played. They deserved to be there more than Alabama did based on their body of work.
But if you apply the standard of subjectivity, from watching the teams since the beginning of August, I thought the two best teams were Alabama and Oregon. In the pre-season, I picked Oregon to win the national championship. It was a little bit of a leap of faith since Marcus Mariota was red-shirted last year, but from doing games at Oregon though, I knew there was quite a buzz about him even when he was sitting out. I didn't anticipate he would be quite as good a passer, but I knew he would be very good.
So I thought those were the two best teams. Certainly Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M were really good teams. And there were others. Kansas State was probably more like Notre Dame. Good team, not sure if across the board they were quite as physically gifted as some of the other teams.
DK: I agree with you. There's no way you can take Notre Dame out of the championship. They played a strong schedule with teams like Stanford and didn't lose a single game. But in my mind, I thought Oregon would have made a more compelling match-up because they bring something totally different to the table.
RD: It would have been a contrast in style for sure. And as you alluded to, I think a lot of things in college football are about match-ups. And when you have a unique talent like Johnny Manziel, Alabama doesn't have that one gifted pass rusher who could neutralize his scrambling and play-extending impact.
When LSU played A&M, LSU had a couple of guys who could do that. They have Mingo and Montgomery on the outside, and they certainly elite-level individuals. Along those same lines, I think South Carolina could match-up very well against A&M. A&M has the best left tackle in college football, Luke Joeckel, but South Carolina has a guy who can line up against him in Jadeveon Clowney.
A lot of it is about match-ups. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, they were in a position where their strengths were similar to Alabama's strengths, but Alabama was just better and stronger.
On LSU's upcoming season and a surprising number of juniors declaring for the NFL draft
DK: It's interesting that you brought up Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, and I'm sure you've noticed that LSU has lost 10 juniors to the NFL draft. This is an unprecedented number. What's your reaction to this mass exodus? Do you think LSU has any chance at being competitive with Alabama and A&M next season?
RD: I look at it differently. You can say mass exodus and it's a bad thing. I look at it as Les has done a great job recruiting. When you have players good enough to leave early for the NFL, that's a good problem. It's much worse to have a bunch of guys sticking around because they aren't good enough to play in the NFL. It's better to have good players.
And LSU has plenty of good players waiting in the wings, who want to prove their worth. It's tough on the fans to have a class where so many players leave at the same time. It's a little bit of a jolt, but you have to remember that LSU is able to pitch a lot of things to recruits.
Not only do we give you the opportunity to get an education, play for championships, run into Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night and enjoy the spine-tingling moments that provides, but we can also get you ready to play in the National Football League.
And when guys leave to pursue that dream, I look at it as a positive. It creates an expectation among people on the team that if you work and do your job, that avenue is out there for you. Recruits see guys that are following the path they aspire to follow. So I don't look at it as a big negative.
In terms of whether they can compete with Alabama and A&M next year, I would suggest that Les Miles has done a better job than anyone when it comes to competing with Alabama and they beat Texas A&M last year. I don't have many doubts about LSU remaining competitive in the SEC West.
DK: What about the struggles on offense? Do you think LSU's offense will be more wide open next year, with a weaker defense than we've been accustomed to? Or at least a less-experienced defense?
RD: That's hard to say because people look at things in a vacuum sometimes. Look at the defense LSU has put on the field the past few years. The first order of business for the offense is "don't get us beat." That's not a passive way of looking at it. That's a smart, total picture way of looking at it. Don't turn the ball over, don't do anything to lose the game, take advantage of good field position and those opportunities.
Now, you do probably want to be in the position to have some more explosive plays. I do think Mettenberger with another year in the system will be a guy who will be well-equipped to do that. They've had a bevy of running backs for the last few years, most of whom will be back. So, I think you'll see more productivity on offense next year because the quarterback position will be better than in recent years.
In my judgment, there was a personnel upgrade this year in getting Mettenberger, and now you want personal involvement. He has the tools, but now he needs consistency and the energy to lead the entire offensive unit.
Rece's early predictions for the 2013 SEC West title race
DK: I know it's very early on in the off-season. Obviously Alabama's guys have not declared yet since they are coming off the bowl game (Note: since the interview, D.J. Fluker, Dee Milliner, and Eddie Lacy have all declared for the NFL draft), but LSU's guys have declared, Luke Joeckel has declared for A&M. I think we all know who the top 3 teams are, but what would your order be for next season?
RD: Prior to Joeckel's declaration, I would have gone A&M, Alabama, then LSU. A&M gets Alabama at home, Johnny Manziel is back, and Alabama is going to break in three new offensive linemen because I'm anticipating DJ Fluker is going to head to the NFL. He's a great young man but his family has lived through natural disasters with Katrina and then some issues in Mobile, so I think he'll go.
With Joeckel gone, and that's important because he gave Manziel such great security, I might give a slight edge to Alabama. In either case, I would have LSU in third, but by November, when they play Alabama, it could be an entirely different story.
DK: Unfortunately, I'm on the same page as you. I think the Tigers will actually be a somewhat distance third next year.
RD: The schedule, TCU will be a challenge. Georgia will be tough but you have a month to break in your players for that game. The schedule isn't overwhelming. There's a week off before Alabama and a week off before A&M.
DK: There's also the Florida game
RD: That'll be a tough one. That's the toughest consecutive stretch. At Georgia, at Mississippi State, Florida at home, and then at Ole Miss. That's the toughest stretch, I think
DK: Yeah, that sounds brutal.
And his involvement in the Capital One Cup
DK: Rece, I know you're involved with the Capital One Cup, and I saw Alabama is now tied for the lead on the men's side along with Indiana and North Dakota State.
RD: North Dakota State was the FCS champion. The Capital One Cup covers all 39 sports the NCAA awards championships in. Throughout the year, when a team finishes in the top 10 nationally, they get points for those finishes. Alabama and North Dakota State are both coming off national championships in football. But national championships in major-weighted sports get the full 60 points.
It's not just an award that pops up at the end of the season. It's something that we try to get fans involved in since fan involvement is one of the coolest things about college athletics. (Facebook and Twitter)
Capital One provides $400,000 in scholarship money to the winning schools. Florida and Stanford have won on the men's and women's sides, respectively, in each of the first two years.
DK: Thanks for all of your time and all of the detailed answers.
RD: You bet. Take care.