Few recent Bulldogs have enjoyed the kind of success, both on and off the field, that Matt Stinchcomb has. Stinchcomb came to Athens as a USA Today All-American out of Parkview High School. He left the Classic City as a two-time first team All-American and a winner of the National Football Foundation's Draddy Trophy, which goes to the single college football player who best combines onfield excellence with community involvement and academic achievement. Stinchcomb was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, and played parts of 7 seasons in the league.
In 2009 Stinchcomb was elected to the Circle of Honor, the highest honor afforded former Bulldog student athletes. He's now the managing partner of Seacrest Partners, an Atlanta insurance services firm, managed to study business and entrepreneurship at the Harvard Business School, and also finds time to serve as a college football analyst for both ESPNU and the SEC Network. I had a chance to talk with him recently about his favorite memories of his time in Athens, what he expects from this weekend's SEC Championship Game, and a lot more.
MaconDawg: Matt, before we get into the football talk, I know you're working with the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team and you have a project in the Atlanta area that went on Thursday. Tell us a little bit about your involvement with that.
Matt: I was honored to be a part of the national Good Works Team as a player, and when Allstate came on board along with the AFCA I was asked to be a part of the selection committee that determines who some of the guys are that warrant this recognition to be a part of the team. The "good news/bad news" of the situation is that it's a really hard job. But that's just because there are a lot of great candidates out there playing college sports. It's been a fantastic initiative to be a part of, where you get to recognize some of the great things that these kids that are playing college football these days are doing. It's pretty remarkable what they are accomplishing on behalf of others around them, from other countries, back to their hometowns, and in the communities where their schools are.
MaconDawg: We've got the finale of the SEC football season coming up Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.If you had to pick one aspect of the game that will determine the winner of the SEC Championship Game between Auburn and Missouri, what would that one thing be?
Matt: Turnovers. That's what it comes down to in most every game where you've got a couple of teams that are closely matched. And incidentally there's no better way to flip the momentum and upset a team with a distinct competitive advantage in other areas of the game. Turnovers are the great equalizer.
I guess you could throw in special teams play. You look at these two squads. Auburn is an incredible rushing football team, and Missouri's not that bad either. In fact they're as good as anybody in the SEC outside of Auburn at running the football. But they're also a distinct threat in the passing game. So when you look at all of it and add up the pros and cons for each team it comes down to the errors, forced or unforced errors, and the biggest error you can make in the context of any football game is turning it over.
MaconDawg: Of course Auburn and Missouri are both teams that came from having losing records to now being a win and an Ohio State loss away from playing for a national title. Are there any teams that you see in either the SEC or nationally who could make that same kind of turnaround in 2014?
Matt: You want to say maybe Florida. (Editor's note: I'm just assuming Stinch was being polite here by not mentioning Georgia. Or cooly ironic by going with Florida. No one expects the hipster Stinchcomb inquisition!). But they've got to make a big hire in replacing their offensive coordinator, and they've got to figure out what they want to be at the quarterback position, and really just offensively. But we've seen it happen before where, in year two, whether under a new head coach like Gene Chizik or Urban Meyer you find yourself in a national championship game. You could say the same for Nick Saban. It just doesn't take very long for these programs to bounce back anymore.
You look at Missouri, in year two in the SEC, I don't think we got a very fair picture of what they were last year because of injuries. Then this year they're in the SEC Championship, and they did it without their starting quarterback for four weeks. So there's opportunity out there in this conference. I don't think Tennessee's going to be there, still rebuilding from losing their entire offensive front. Kentucky still has a big hill to climb. Arkansas was a disappointment this year. But you look at them, you want to talk about a culture change! They're in need of a total roster overhaul to do what Bret Bielema wants to do. And I'm just not sure about A&M without Manziel.
So I'm just not sure if there's another team out there that's ready to make that leap. Of course, if you'd asked me at this time last year, I would not have said either Auburn or Missouri were poised to win their divisions. So my insight is probably not a great indicator of who to look out for. Of course I would challenge anybody else to be accurate in that assessment either. But that's the fun part of it.
MaconDawg: Fair point. Let's get down to brass tacks: who wins on Saturday?
Matt: I think Missouri, but that's really just an idea. I've become a believer in the Tigers, having covered them earlier this season, and getting an up close appreciation of what they've done, and what I believe they were trying to do last year. The difference is they've got a healthy football team this year, they run the football well. Henry Josey is a legitimate running back, and he was coming into the SEC, the problem was he trashed his knee and didn't play last year, so nobody really knew about him. But he was the Big XII's leading rusher for a reason. And he's a nice baseline to what they're trying to do offensively, then you throw in what they're doing at receiver. When you've got a 6'4, 210 lb. receiver like L'Damian Washington who can get behind the secondary, or if he does't just throw it high and he'll go up and get it, and a 6'6', 220 guy in Dorial Green-Beckham, those are two bookends to a receiving game that any quarterback in the country would covet. So I like those particular Tigers a lot.
But then you look at Auburn and it's very simple: just stop the run. Well . . .the best team in the country at stopping the run, Alabama, couldn't do that. So that's the thing that kind of gives you pause when you look at this game. Missouri on paper looks pretty. And they've got a good defense and can really get after the passer. But if Auburn does what they want to do, there won't be a passer to get after. There's really nothing but running backs in that backfield.
MaconDawg: You mentioned watching Missouri earlier this year and seeing a lot of good things out of them. Are there any college football teams that you just purely enjoy watching, whether based on coaching strategy, scheme, or the players on the field?
Matt: Oh yeah, there's a bunch right now. I've always been a fan of the pro-style offense.And I've had a chance to watch a lot of LSU this year and to me that's a fun offense to watch, just because of the binds that it can put a defense in. And while it could;the more different from what LSUdoes, we watched a couple of Baylor games this year, and they are really just as much fun to watch. There's just so many different ways to skin it in the college game right now that I would really hate to be a defensive coordinator trying to match up with these offenses. You see the option one week then you see the zone read the next week. Then you're seeing a pro-style and the next week it's the spread, or somebody with a strong vertical passing attack. It's crazy. But it's a lot of fun to watch from my seat.
MaconDawg: You mentioned some of the things that teams are doing offensively that are relatively new, in terms of scheme and player development what do you see as the biggest changes in the college game since you were playing at Georgia?
Matt: Speed. And not necessarily the speed on the field, although I'm pretty sure that's gotten faster too. You hear that players have gotten bigger and faster and that's definitely true. But the thing that's most distinct from when I was playing is the pace at which these offenses move, and the fact that the rules have afforded these offenses the latitude to move that fast. I mean in the Big XII they added an official and part of that was to foster the pace at which their teams want to play. And I think that's the biggest difference, that before you were only in the two minute drill out of necessity right before the half, but now teams come out of the locker room in the two minute drill.Teams don't huddle anymore, and I'm not so sure that they should. But you look at it and I think that is by far the most graphic change from when I was playing, even in the pros. You just didn't see the pace the way they're doing it in college.
MaconDawg: One more quick question. Is there one infield memory from your time in Athens that still sticks out to you as a favorite?
Matt: Definitely the 4 overtime victory in '96 over Auburn. They were ranked and I think we finished up as a 5-6 football team. It was the first overtime game in SEC history and we were able to upset the Tigers in Auburn. That was a pretty sweet one.
MaconDawg: Yeah, I was a freshman that year and I hate Auburn, so that one's a favorite of mine as well.
Matt: Yeah that was a pretty good year. No, scratch that, it was a pretty good game. It was a lousy year.
MaconDawg: No argument here. Matt thanks for taking the time to talk with Dawg Sports.
Matt: My pleasure.
Again, we'd like to thank Matt Stinchcomb for taking time out of his busy schedule (which really served to remind this blogger of how little he's actually accomplishing on a daily basis, but whatever . . . ) to talk with us. Until later . . .