The 2012 BCS championship game should be required viewing for all college football fans, but in particular Colorado St. Rams fans should pay attention to the Alabama offense since their new head coach is Jim McElwain is going to be their next head coach.
This past season McElwain has the Alabama offense humming along by averaging 36 points per game, and Colorado State fans would love to see that type of production next season. However, it will take time for McElwain to get his system in place and the athletes to get to that type of production. Having Trent Richardson helps quite a bit and Colorado State will have an experienced back with Chris Nwoke returning.
Those two players are not even near the same caliber of player, however in the Mountain West McElwain will not need a Trent Richardson to make his offense click.
McElwain's mentor was the fiery and quixotic John L. Smith, under whom McElwain coached at Louisville and Michigan State. Smith was an early adopter of the spread offense, but more specifically he was an aficionado of the "one-back offense," whose roots go back to Jack Elway (John's father, himself a coach) and Dennis Erickson. McElwain also coached with another one-back offense guru, current Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Under Saban's direction, McElwain has based his one-back attack on a version of power football that uses multiple tight ends. With these versatile blockers and receivers, McElwain can confuse and distort defenses while keeping the game simple for A.J. McCarron and the rest of the offense, just as Saban likes.
Players like Smelley are the key. This ex-quarterback turned tight end is the fulcrum of Alabama's offense. Smelley's numbers won't jump off the stat sheet at you, but if you watch the Tide on offense, you'll see him everywhere on the field. Smelley provides the subtle wrinkles that open up the field for Richardson; his movement creates the slight changes in assignment that can take a simple play and turn it into a game-breaker.
Alabama's base run play is the inside zone. The Crimson Tide run this play over and over again. In fact, the inside zone - also known as the "slant" or "belly" play, or the "tight zone" - is essentially the foundation of the modern running game at every level, from the NFL to college. Its lineage dates back decades, but only in the last 20 years or so has the zone running game supplanted man blocking schemes. Of course, this doesn't mean that no one uses man blocking schemes anymore, but it's beyond argument that most every team - pro-style, spread, I-back, or one-back - begins with the zone, and more precisely the inside zone.
That is just a sample so go read the whole thing, and it is not one of those 4,000 word pieces on Grantland.
So, McElwain was a spread guy with John L. Smith and had to compromise with Nick Saban, so his offense at Colorado State is somewhat of a mystery. It probably will be more spread, but with a back like Nwoke and uncertainty at the quarterback position it may look like Alabama's offense.
Tonight's game also will be huge for recruiting because throughout the game the announcers will mention how McElwain will be the head coach for Colorado State. That was a theme in bowl games with departing coaches, so a way to snag an extra recruit or two would be for the Alabama offense to actually put up some points to impress recruits watching.
A poor showing may not do much damage for Colorado State recruiting, so it is a win-win for Colorado State since they will be getting some extra exposure for their team tonight in the title game.
So to get a first glimpse of what Colorado State might be running, tune into this game tonight.