March Madness? Not quite yet, according to Sports Illustrated, which put Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney on this week’s regional magazine covers for the spring college football preview. It’s a huge honor but a risky one: teams and athletes gracing the cover often don’t live up to the hype and pressure of the nation’s preeminent sports magazine, falling victim to the notorious ‘SI Cover Jinx’.
Before the 2012 college football season, the magazine distributed five different regional covers showcasing five of the preseason’s most promising quarterbacks: Alabama‘s A.J. McCarron, USC‘s Matt Barkley, Michigan‘s Denard Robinson, West Virginia‘s Geno Smith, and Oklahoma‘s Landry Jones.
With one National Championship-winning exception, that’s a list full of underwhelming performances and disappointing senior seasons.
Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, threw more interceptions than at any other point in his career, ended the season on the sidelines nursing an injured shoulder, and faces questions about his arm strength and decision-making that he would not have if he’d left school after his junior year.
Robinson didn’t finish the season as his team’s starting quarterback, either. Nerve damage from a midseason shoulder injury forced him to shift to wide receiver in order to stay on the field, but fortunately for him, he’s fast enough and tough enough to make the transition. He could have a great future in the NFL as a receiver, returner, or even defensive back, but his 2012 season was a bust after he landed on the cover of SI.
Smith had the Heisman all but locked up at the season’s halfway point, when he had 25 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions. He still finished with his best stat line of his WVU career – 4,205 yards, 42 TDs, 6 INTs, and a 71.6% completion rate – but his team’s utter inability to play defense made him more or less irrelevant by December. His draft stock won’t be affected, and he may end up being the first quarterback off the board, but he could have had a more memorable senior season. Was it his defense’s fault, or just that infamous cover jinx?
Jones made his second straight appearance on SI‘s College Football Preview in the fall, with similarly lackluster results. He has talent, and he has all of OU’s passing records, but he hasn’t been able to lead the Sooners to a BCS bowl since before his first cover appearance. He (smartly) skipped the draft after a fairly unimpressive 2011 season, but his stock didn’t improve much in his senior season. Maybe he’s just not as good as advertised – or maybe that’s what the curse wants us to think.
McCarron’s the only one who escaped seemingly unscathed, aside from getting a boot on his illegally parked SUV and being overshadowed by his model girlfriend while picking up his second BCS title, and most people would give more credit to Nick Saban‘s coaching than McCarron’s quarterbacking.
What does all this mean for Miller and Clowney? Perhaps nothing.
Miller made headlines in 2012, but he hasn’t reached the peak of the quarterbacks who preceded him on last year’s preview covers. He’s only had one year under Urban Meyer, and he was a little rough around the edges last season. Another year to polish up his incredible talent and skills, and he’ll be more apt to speed away from a potential jinx like it’s an opposing lineman than succumb to a rumored curse.
It’s also possible that the jinx isn’t potent enough to have an impact this far in advance of any game action – but if anything happens to Miller or Clowney, I think we all know who/what to blame.