The 2011 college football season officially comes to a close tonight as LSU and Alabama square off in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. The game is set to get going just after 5:30pm PT and will be on ESPN. I only hope it is more entertaining than the 9-6 overtime game back in early November. I can appreciated certain defensive battles, but at the college level I'm less inclined to enjoy a strictly defensive battle.
As would be expected, the BCS National Championship Game features a boat load of potential draft talent. SI.com's Tony Pauline breaks down some of the talent on each side. Additionally, you can head over to our own Mocking The Draft for a look at some of the LSU/Alabama underclassmen that could dot this draft, a look at the LSU defensive line, and how Morris Claiborne compares to Patrick Peterson.
This year's first round seems a lock to include LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. While few things are a lock when it comes to the NFL Draft, Claiborne is looking pretty close. On the Alabama side, the list of talent is fairly distinguished. Guys like RB Trent Richardson, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Mark Barron, DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw, and LB Don'ta Hightower all could battle for first round status.
I would suspect we're in for another defensive battle, particularly given some of the talent on that side of the ball. Personally I wouldn't mind at least a little more scoring, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.
For those looking for a little bit more playoff-related info to discuss, I've attached a transcript of Coach Harbaugh's press conference earlier this morning.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - January 9, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
What kind of work was accomplished Saturday night after you knew that you would be playing the Saints?
"Just watching the game. The coaches were working on their individual positions."
Did you put in the game plan pretty much Saturday night and Sunday?
"It's, as it always is, it's a work in progress."
You guys are a three-point underdog to start out with. Does that put you in a role that you like to be in? That hunter role?
"No, I don't think it's relevant really. We really don't pay too much attention. Are you referring to the line?"
"I can honestly say there are weeks where I have no idea what the line is. Or pay much attention to it."
Nationally, no one is giving you much of a chance in this game. That would seem to be right in your wheelhouse, I would think, as far as getting your team prepared for it.
Am I wrong in that?
"You seem to know what my wheelhouse is. To me, it's not relevant. It's not in or out of the wheelhouse. You're expecting a great day today. The players are in. They're throwing iron around in the weight room. They're treating it much like any Tuesday would be for us. We're on our season routine. We'll meet today. There will be a good chunk of the game plan that gets presented to the players today. We'll have an opportunity to walk through that. And away we go."
So Wednesday and Thursday are your practice days? As it would be normally even though the game is on Saturday?
"Tuesday and Wednesday. Today, Monday, will be like a Tuesday. Tuesday will be like a normal Wednesday for us. Wednesday, like a normal Thursday, etc."
How do you view the Saints? They've won nine in a row, most of them by a lot of points. How do you look at them?
"I look at them as a great team. They have the ability to win in a lot of different ways: offense, defense, special teams. Outstanding players. They're playing very well together within the framework of the offense. A very effective running team and a very effective passing team. Both of those phases really compliment the other. They get favorable looks in the running game because they are so good throwing the ball. Their running game compliments their play-action game. It's just a well orchestrated, coordinated offense led by a quarterback that's having arguably the best year in the history of the game. Fine receivers, fine backs. Outstanding offensive line that plays outstanding together. Defensively, they have the ability to make big plays with momentum changing plays. They're a high pressure team. This is the most assortment of blitz and blitz of any team that we'll play. Linebacker looks, secondary looks. The way they go about stopping the run and the pass is a pressure mentality. Best group of linebackers that we've played. They all play and they all play well. They all bring something to the table there. As I said, the secondary is much involved in coverage and in rush. Their leading sacker is a safety. Defensive line that rotates and they play up to nine guys. It's a very formidable challenge for our team on both sides of the ball and special teams this week."
You saw them in preseason in your first game as head coach. How much relevance does that game have to what you're going to see this week?
"Well, some. Both teams have evolved since then. Some, I don't know how much."
You got to see some of their blitzes and blitz packages in that game. Does that help you at all? Help you with the linemen's preparation this week?
"You've seen, and you saw even more as the season went on as you watch each and every game. It's a high volume, no question about it. It's a great challenge for not just our offensive line, but our quarterback, our backs, our receivers. They're a team that will play coverage, too. They'll play a four-down line front. They'll play a three-down line front. Overload pressure. Standard cover-2. They're a coverage team, as well, and do that very well. A lot of things that we're working through right now as we prepare and game plan for this game."
One of the things that came out after that game was the radio guy for the Saints said that the word there was that you didn't call Saints Head Coach Sean Payton about a gentleman's agreement and that's why they blitzed so much. Do you know anything about that?
"No, I don't. I really don't. Don't know anything about that. You hate to deal with hypotheticals. What somebody might have said and what somebody didn't say. It really becomes irrelevant. Certainly not aware of any gentleman's agreement. Even asked my brother. ‘Is there some kind of gentleman's agreement that you call a coach before a preseason game?' And he wasn't aware of any. Even if there was, we wouldn't do it anyway. We ask no quarter, we give no quarter, and that's how we approach things.
I know you had said after that game that, ‘Hey, they can blitz. That's part of it, you can do that."Did it seem excessive that there was that much blitzing going on with an established defense against a team that was just installing stuff and after the lockout as well?
"That's what they do as evidenced by a full season to see what they do. Whether that helped us? It was effective in that game. Made us address it."
There were a couple games this year when QB Drew Brees wasn't as efficient as we normally see him. What did the Rams and the Buccaneers do in those two games, the basic version, against Brees that limited that effectiveness?
"He's been extremely effective. There's been some talk about maybe those were the road games or that kind of talk. But those were early. Talking about the early road losses, were early in the season. This is a good road team. They were 5-3 this year. They were 6-2 the year before on the road. Before that, I think they were one of the best road teams in the league. It's an outstanding offense. This is a high-octane offense that's clicking on all cylinders. It's a great challenge for us and it's going to take our best effort, no question about it."
Given the production of your opposition, does time of possession matter more in this game do you think? Particularly for your offense?
"I think all the things are going to matter. Everybody starts talking about the keys. This is the key; that's the key. Before you know it, you've got 26 different keys to the game. Which is really accurate. All those things will play a part in it. Good, solid, fundamental football. Taking care of the ball. Blocking and tackling are always the keys. That leads to time of possession."
When you look at Drew Brees, what do you see? Quarterback to quarterback.
"Just outstanding. I'm not a quarterback. I'm a coach. You marvel, you really do. First of all, his intelligence. His ability to diagnose defensive schemes - read them very quickly. The accuracy that he has throwing the football to the right receiver, to the right spot. To the weakness in the defense. Over and over with numbing repetition. Just how fast he gets the ball out. He operates faster than everybody that we've seen on tape. It's very impressive. Plays with a lot of confidence. All really good."
Jim, obviously there's more media here. There's going to be more media as the week goes on. First time you guys have made the playoffs since 2002. How do you want your players to address this? Do you want them to kind of feel the emotion of this? Do you want them to just play it like it's a normal game? How do you want them to address it in the locker room?
"It's special being in the playoffs. I want them to feel that. Understand what this is all about. You get one shot. They've earned a right to be here. But understand that we're not trying to get every ounce of pleasure out of this thing. We're focused on what we need to do and that's prepare for the New Orleans Saints. So, like we do everything. A mix of focused and loose, doing both at the same time. Our guys do a good job of that, keeping things light. Having fun on the practice field and in the meetings and getting ready to play. Getting prepared for this ballgame. To me, the only thing that we have to fear is being unprepared. So, take every advantage of getting ready for the game. But not overcook it."
Do you plan on making a roster change this week and making your decision on TE Delanie Walker, or sticking with who you have?
"We've made a decision on Delanie. We're going to keep that spot open. Got great news on him last Wednesday. He is not the normal guy. He is not the average Joe walking around on the street. He's young, he's got great powers of healing apparently. So, he's made tremendous progress."
Is that something that you're looking to the future on that one, Championship game or Super Bowl?
"We'll see. We'll see just exactly when he's back. Right now, to answer the question, and by evidence that we're not making any move, we're leaving that spot open for when he does come back."
So you're not ruling him out this weekend?
"I'm not ruling him out, no."
Jim, you said after the St. Louis game that something was bothering RB Frank Gore. As far as you know is he feeling relatively speaking 100 percent now? Or is that something still bothering him?
"Well, that's just our way of not telling you what it is, what's bothering him. And that's enough information. We don't go into specifically what it is. That's out of respect for Frank and our team. I think he's good. I think Frank's good. Yeah, he's benefited from the rest, mentally, physically. He's good to go."
How big of a weapon can he be to neutralize the Saints, to keep them off the field?
"Well, he'll be one of the 26 keys."
"Yeah, he's a top-ten guy. No doubt about it, all the way. Always, always he's a top-ten guy."
How have you seen the moods of the players change at all this week? Or have they been able to keep it like you said, intense but still relaxed?
"Morale's been really high. Excellent practices last week and every opportunity they've had to be here they've been here. So, you can tell that their focus is here. They're staying extra and got a great jump on this week. So, those are the signs."
How were those ones vs. ones matchups out there? Was it intense? The kind of intensity you wanted to see out there?
"It was. It was good. Good competition. It raises the level of practice from what I can see, and good, beneficial both sides of the ball. And it also kind of helps you troubleshoot and comb through a few new ideas, which we had in."
Did you know New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton when he played for the replacement Bears? Did you cross paths with him at that point?
"No. No I did not. Watched him play, watched him on the T.V., but I'd never met him when he was playing and I was on the Bears."
He'd been somewhat self-deprecating about his performance with the Bears. What was your critique of him when you saw him play?
"I don't remember. I don't remember how he played. I think if I was right there were three games and the Bears won two of them. And I remember that helping us that year because we were in the playoffs and it helped our record, etc. I remember him and Mike Hohensee was the other quarterback. I believe, it's testing my memory here, but Hohensee was from Minnesota maybe? And then I don't remember how the two of them played. I think they both played though in those games."
Do you know him well? Do you have some sort of a relationship with Sean?
"Yes, just been around him. Have great respect for him. I know some of the other coaches that are on the staff there. So, yeah good visits every time I've been around him. Professional."
You've talked about Frank's value as a running back. What about his blocking against a team that blitzes a lot? How important is his ability to pick up blitzes?
"Very important and he does it as good as anybody in the game. That'll be critical in this game. The Saints are a hug-rushing team. And then they're going to send backers to cover and then they'll rush to cover once they see that the back is in protection, they'll continue to rush and add extra heat. So, it'll be very important for Frank to have a great game blocking as it will for all of our guys, including our receivers."
Jim, what are you thinking when you're watching your future opponent put up 646 yards of offense in the playoff game, the one before they play you? Just emotionally what do you think when you're watching that?
"It makes me go to bed and sleep like a baby. Wake up every hour crying."
Jim, tomorrow is an important day in 49ers history. It's the 30th anniversary of The Catch. And I was just wondering, I know a lot of people are drawing parallels between that 1981 season and this season, do you remember watching that game?
And where were you? What did you think about it? Were you rooting for one team or the other?
"My dad had just got hired on at Stanford. So, we were rooting for the 49ers. A lot of the folks over there had known Coach Walsh and some of the other coaches. I remember being at a-we were having a recruiting weekend. So, I tagged along with my dad and they had the game on. I can't remember where it was, maybe a restaurant or a hotel or something like that. It was a big room in there and they had the T.V. screen going and a buffet. And ate and watched the game. It was pretty good. Glad I witnessed one of the greatest plays in the history of the game. That's how I felt."