Good news, Alabama , Stanford , Texas A&M , Ohio State , Oregon and South Carolina : you've each made one of the regional covers of Sports Illustrated's annual college football preview issue! Here's the Gamecock version, starring a certain Mr. Clowney:
Unfortunately, though, I have some bad news as well: being on one of these SI covers isn't actually good news at all. It's kind of terrible news. Because these covers, see, are absolutely, totally CURSED.
It's true. The past two Augusts I've looked back at the history of teams who've appeared on the SI regional preview covers, which began in 2005, and by and large that history ain't pretty. Entering the 2012 season, 20 of the 32 teams that landed one of the regional covers had endured a disappointing season (as measured by my own highly scientific and not at all completely subjective review process), with a whopping 13 of 18 teams from 2007 to 2011 ending up unhappy at year's end -- a span that included such notable CURSE victims as 2007 Michigan (lost to Appalachian State), 2008 Georgia (preseason No. 1 before being bludgeoned by Alabama and Florida) and 2010 Texas (went from BCS title game to 5-7).
But the curse was only semi-effective in 2011, unable to stop Alabama from winning a national title or Stanford or South Carolina from winning 11 games apiece (though neither team claimed so much as a divisional title in their conference races). How would it fare in 2012? Read this team-by-team breakdown, and weep:
West Virginia (QB Geno Smith): The Mountaineers were the most buzzed-about team in college football after their first five games, sporting a perfect record, a top-five ranking, and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in cover boy Smith. That's when the CURSE struck: back-to-back losses by a combined 76 points, a 7-5 finish to the regular season, and a 38-14 whipping from old Big East rival Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. Smith didn't emerge unscathed, either, becoming the subject of a controversial (and unfair) pre-draft scouting report and sliding out of the first round. Disappointed? Terribly so.
USC (QB Matt Barkley): Trojans in August: preseason consensus No. 1, the team to finally break up the SEC's BCS hegemony. Trojans in January: unranked 21-7 losers to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Oh, and Barkley went from being the likely No. 1 overall pick to a fourth-round selection. Disappointed? As much as any team has ever been.
Michigan (QB Denard Robinson): The Wolverines fell behind 31-0 in their opener to Alabama and it was all ... well, OK, it wasn't all downhill from there, but it wasn't dramatically uphill, either. Robinson committed five turnovers in a loss to Notre Dame, injured a nerve mid-season, and moved to running back as Devin Gardner started under center for the final five games of Robinson's career ... including a bitter 26-21 loss in Columbus. Disappointed?At 8-5? Yep.
Oklahoma (QB Landry Jones): The Sooners blasted Texas again and edged past Oklahoma State, so that was good. They also lost the Big 12 title to Kansas State, losy by 17 at home to Notre Dame, and got run off the field by Johnny Football and Co. in the Cotton Bowl to finish as national afterthoughts. Jones went in the fourth round, though at least his stock started slipping back in 2011 ... after his first SI cover appearance. Disappointed? The Sooners started the season No. 4 and finished it No. 15.
Alabama (QB AJ McCarron): OK, so robots appear to be impervious to CURSES. Disappointed? No.
FINAL VERDICT: That's four out of five cover victims that would call the 2012 season a disappointment, bringing the total eight-year tally to 24 of 37 teams that appeared on an SI regional preview cover and failed to meet expectations, a CURSE rate just under 65 percent.
Don't like the "disappointment" metric? How about the fact that even with Alabama's triumph last fall, only 2 of the past 18 SI cover teams have won an outright league title? That over that same four-season timespan, last year's Tide team was the only one of 12 teams from a league with a divisional split to advance to its conference's title game*? That only five of the 14 teams spotlighted across 2010-2011-2012 went over their Vegas season win total (with eight unders and a push)?
I'm telling you: CURSED. Which then begs the question: if the CURSE strikes approximately two out of every three SI cover teams, which four of the six from 2013 are due for dissatisfaction?
That's a hard call, personally speaking, since five of SI's six also happen to be five of my top six. The one that isn't is Texas A&M, which has seemed destined for a comedown from 2012's highs for months. Ohio State also seems likely to disappoint, since many would argue that anything shy of a second-straight perfect regular season -- and a 24th consecutive win -- won't cut it. Though I'm a believer in Steve Spurrier's bunch, South Carolina also fits the profile as a team who could fall short of expectations, since the buzz surrounding Jadeveon Clowney may be drowning out real concerns about the running game and linebackers. And though it seems silly to bet against Stanford as long as David Shaw's around, the Cardinal were an unsustainably fortunate 8-2 in one-possession games last year. (You could also argue that truly elite teams don't play 10 one-possession games in a season.)
Those fouf falling short of their cover hype would, hypothetically, leave Oregon and Alabama unscathed. But this is a CURSE we're talking about; Duck and Tide fans should consider themselves warned all the same.
*Yes, yes, Alabama wasn't exactly a curse victim in 2011. But they still didn't win the SEC West.