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College Football Top Players, Coaches as Superheroes and Villains

Brian LeighFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 9, 2017

College Football Top Players, Coaches as Superheroes and Villains

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    When you're younger, and even sometimes when you're older, athletes can seem like superheroes.

    They run faster and jump higher and act braver than mere mortals should. They're idolized and bickered about by the masses, and they show up in the papers almost every single day.

    There comes a point of time, though, in every child's life when the charade of superheroes ends. The notion of caped crusaders gets filed away as imaginary, taking its spot next to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

    But that doesn't mean we can't still pretend.

Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): Peter Parker

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    On IGN's list of the 100 Greatest Superheroes, Spiderman's entry begins with the following description:

    Peter Parker is the everyman. He’s the common, average, middle-of-the-road guy that just happens to be endowed with amazing powers when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. 

    Sound kind of familiar?

    Johnny Manziel is a common, average, middle-of-the-road-looking dude who just happens to be endowed with amazing powers on the football field. He's the everyman among a group of superhuman athletes, the guy who looks like the rest of us, a reminder that we could have made it past one year of JV basketball had we cared enough to try.

    Maybe he wasn't bitten by a radioactive spider (as far as we know), but like Peter Parker, his skills seemed to have come out of nowhere. One day he was just another 5'11'' loser, fighting for a shot, however unlikely, to start at quarterback for Texas A&M. Then, in the blink of a mystifying eye, he morphed into the mutant we saw play last season: The Amazing Johnny Football.

    His descent into "club life" has been hard to watch this offseason. But it isn't unlike those asinine, emo, "Spiderman! at the Disco" scenes from Spiderman 3

    And just like Peter Parker when real danger beckoned, Manziel should snap out of it in time to save the Aggies.

Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina): The Incredible Hulk

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    Clowney is a jovial, laid-back, fun-loving guy off the field. He towers over normal people, sure, but he doesn't seem the type to decapitate an innocent man.

    In-between the lines, though, Clowney is a different creature entirely; not even a man, but a monster; an uncontrollable force with no regard for anybody or anything in his way.

    The goal of any football team, in any game, is to score more points than its opponent. But if you have the ball and a fourth-quarter lead against South Carolina, you run the risk of making Clowney angry.

    And take Vincent Smith's word for it: You don't want to see him when he's angry.

    In simple-as-possible terms: there is, and perhaps never has been, and perhaps never will be, a physical specimen quite like Mr. Clowney. 

    ...Unless you're counting the Marvel universe. 

AJ McCarron (Alabama): Batman

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    McCarron is the quarterback Alabama deserves.

    He cares more about the win than the credit, less about the accolades than the legacy of Tuscaloosa. He would have (and has had) his name dragged through the mud so long as it meant good things for his city.

    A "game manager" they called him, just like Batman was a "rogue vigilante." His team thrived in spite of him, not because of his heroic, understated skills.

    Batman was the most divisive hero among his community, constantly creating a dissonance between his actions and his reputation. Gotham couldn't decide if he was good or evil, friend or foe, light or dark, or both.

    The jury is also still out on McCarron: Is he a true Heisman candidate and legitimate NFL prospect? Or is he just some generic rube who mooched his way to glory, a barnacle on the underbelly of Nick Saban's killer whale?

    His play this season should provide some concrete answers.

Jake Ryan (Michigan): Wolverine

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    First there's the obvious. Ryan is literally a Wolverine of Michigan, adorned in the same maize and blue color scheme as Wolverine of "X-Men."

    But this analogue goes deeper. Wolverine's main superpower is a "regenerative healing factor," the ability to mend injuries—even serious ones—in record time.

    Ryan, in like manner, tore his ACL this spring, leading most in the football world to swear him out for the season. But with Wolverine/RGIII-esque healing powers, his rehab is way ahead of schedule, and Ryan might be able to play by October.

    Plus, they're both, like, super jacked.

Lane Kiffin (USC): Daken

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    Daken is "Dark Wolverine," the thought-to-be-dead son of actual Wolverine. He will never be as fine or talented or well-liked as his famous father.

    Lane Kiffin is "Dark Monte," the thought-to-be-gifted son of actual Monte. He will also never be as fine or talented or well-liked as his famous father.

    Beyond that, when Daken is most ready to emerge from his father's shadow, he leaves the east coast to expand his evil empire in sunny Los Angeles. He has little-to-no emotion and is willing to break any rule necessary if it means achieving his goal.

    Sound like anyone you know?

     

David Fales (San Jose State): Hawkeye

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    Just like Hawkeye in The Avengers, Fales didn't get enough air-time to become a household name last year. Bigger, sexier, more marketable heroes like Iron Man took headlines away from Jeremy Renner's character, just like bigger, sexier, power-conference quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel took headlines from Fales.

    But in their respective next installments, Hawkeye and Fales could both be poised for a breakout. And both will fuel that breakout with the same, incomparable skill: precision.

    Comic Vine describes Hawkeye's most famous power as the ability "to hurl or fire projectiles with extreme speed and accuracy." That's exactly what has guided Fales to the brink of superstardom; he led the NCAA in completion percentage last year (72.5 percent) and finished third—behind just in Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron—in adjusted yards per attempt.

    In simpler terms: He completed three out of every four passes despite getting the ball downfield.

    Fales also won the accuracy competition at this summer's Elite 11 camp, besting fellow counselors like Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd and Teddy Bridgewater. His 2013 season, just like Hawkeye's arc in the 2015 Avengers sequel, should finally force people to take notice.

Dr. Doom: Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky

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    Petrino used to be on the inside, a head coach in the SEC, a member of the Fantastic Fourteen. And he was every bit as brilliant as some of its most esteemed members.

    With a little more heed and a little less conceit, he might have been a shining member of that organization. But instead, just like Victor von Doom, an ego-driven occurrence left him physically disfigured and ostracized from that Fantastic group. 

    Now he's been banished to some galaxy called "Sun Belt," a far-off-the map region where black means white, and pass means rush, and Arkansas State means two-time reigning champ. The only thing that might quell him is revenge on his former peers.

    Fortunately, with Kentucky and Tennessee on the schedule in Weeks 1 and 2, Mr. Petrino—or, as he's known in the motorcycle community, Dr. Vroom—might not need to wait too long.

De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon): The Flash

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    The Flash doesn't beat you with brute force or power. He beats you with blinding, electric, other-worldly speed. One moment he's standing in your cross-hairs doomed for defeat, the next he's attacking you from behind after circumnavigating the globe.

    Thomas is the same exact way. One moment you're kicking off to start your first BCS bowl game since 1997, the next you're somehow down eight points.

    Want to see Thomas score on your defense? Want to see him do it agai— Wait, what's that? You don't want to see Thomas score on your defense?

    Too late. He just did it twice.

Nick Saban (Alabama): Hal Jordan

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    Hal Jordan's career can be split into phases: pre-Green Lantern and post-Green Lantern.

    Before his endowment with superpowers, Jordan was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He rose quickly through the ranks, but when his dying mother refused to see him (she was irked he joined the military), he vowed to leave the Air Force as quickly as possible. So he punched a commanding officer and earned himself a dishonorable discharge.

    Nick Saban's career can be split into phases, too: pre-Alabama and post-Alabama.

    After a solid stint at Michigan State, Saban was enjoying massive success as head coach at LSU. He even won a BCS National Championship in 2004. But the allure of the NFL was too hard for him to resist, so he left the following season.

    In many ways, Saban's two discharges (from LSU and Miami) were even more dishonorable than Jordan's: both times he got caught in a web of his own lies. And by the time he returned to the college ranks, just like Jordan when he was gone from the Air Force, his name was regarded as tattered goods.

    But both men have thrived in the second half of their respective binaries—Jordan as the universe's greatest Green Lantern, and Saban as the world's greatest college football coach. Though it once seemed unthinkable, both men have earned back (at least part of) their reputation.

Louis Nix III (Notre Dame): Bane

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    Twenty months ago, Bane and Louis Nix were both somewhat anonymous.

    The former was always known by comic book nerds, but until The Dark Night Rises, he had yet to reach a mass audience. Just like Nix was always known to football scouting nerds, but until Notre Dame's breakout season, he was off the national radar.

    They both broke out in 2012, though, and perhaps to celebrate that kinship, Nix recently dressed up like Bane and took this amazing picture.

    That about clinches it. 

Les Miles (LSU): Tony Stark

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    Tony Stark makes media-types swoon. He's good for a pithy, charismatic quote every time a mic is shoved in his face, and despite the seriousness of his job, his calmness always makes people laugh.

    Les "Mad Hatter" Miles is the real-life analogue of that, keeping reporters on their toes whenever he takes the podium. Even (and sometimes especially) after a gut-wrenching loss, he knows how to turn a good phrase.

    For God's sake, there's a real website out there called TheQuotableLesMiles.com

    Before becoming Iron Man, Stark made his name and his fortune as a United States defense contractor. Through his own genius, he could turn any mess of raw material into a defensive weapon.

    Miles churns out defensive products in much the same way.

Antonio Morrison (Florida): Underdog

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    Because how could he not be?

    Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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