Once again we're gobsmacked by the routine passage of time: Ten years has passed like that, and to commemorate the artificially grouped events therein, the Doc Sat team is counting down the best of 2000-09. Today's category: Best Innovation.
Matt Hinton: The jump-ball receiver. What I've most enjoyed with the increasing sophistication of passing offenses is the formerly spectacular catch made somewhat routine. It's to the point that I would say most games now feature at least one acrobatic grab that a decade ago would have been considered one of the highlights of the week, or of the year, and a major aspect of that is the emergence of the physical, small forward-type who can go up and come down with balls almost regardless of the coverage or the throw.
The All-American receivers of a decade ago were almost exclusively short, quick types prized for their speed, guys like Peter Warrick, Troy Walters, Dennis Northcutt, Torry Holt, Troy Edwards, Bobby Engram, David Palmer, Desmond Howard and pretty much anyone who played for the most sophisticated passing offense of the era at Florida (Jacquez Green, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, et al). There have still been plenty of great receivers in this mold. (See Mark Clayton, DeSean Jackson, Jarrett Dillard, Percy Harvin and Jeremy Maclin.)
But the guy who really changed the deep passing game in retrospect was Randy Moss, whose high-wire act on a couple dominant Marshall teams in 1996-97 forecast the rise of the tall leapers that have made the last 10 years hell for secondaries: David Terrell, Charles Rogers, Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green are a very new kind of species, derived from the Moss branch as a natural adaptation to better quarterbacks and more aggressive passing philosophies. They're practically uncoverable, and they've changed the nature of the deep passing game both strategically -- they don't necessarily have to be open to be in a position to make the catch, because they're always in position to out-jump smaller DBs or otherwise contort themselves to make the catch -- and aesthetically, just by being the slinky-like physical absurdities they are.
If nothing else, Larry Fitzgerald (2003) and Calvin Johnson (2006) both should have won the Heisman Trophy, which I contended during those seasons and only become more convinced of as they continue to light up the next level.
Holly Anderson: SkyCam.
There's not a whole lot to say about it beyond the obvious -- it flies overhead and shows pretty pictures for a rapt home viewing audience -- but its benefits to students of the game have been immeasurable.
Pair it with a knowledgeable announcer and you'll learn more than you cared to know about, say, offensive line play in the span of an afternoon. And even with a blowhard in the booth, it's a lot easier to see the inner workings of a particular scheme on your own. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel obligated to point out that the SkyCam looks just a little too much like those probe droids from the opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back, and as such scares the bejeezus out of me. Such is the essence of progress.
Doug Gillett: Fan culture thrives on the Web.
I know this is a more recent development, but can I say Erin Andrews in glasses? No? Then I'll go with the general proliferation of CFB blogs and fan-run Web sites, which -- and I know I'm biased here -- have provided an outspoken, creative, and (for the most part) very witty point of view independent from the usual mainstream-media sources. They've also been pretty fearless in pushing back against, or at least BS-checking, the "narratives" that the mainstream outlets so often seem preoccupied with prematurely constructing and then forcing down our throats. At first those mainstream sources were openly disdainful of the blog trend -- and you still see a few pompous diehards like Tim Brando and Buzz Bissinger kvetch about it every chance they get -- but more and more the big movers like ESPN and CBS have been buying into what the little guys have to offer. For example, you can now find Brian Cook's BlogPoll -- a fascinating and worthwhile innovation in its own right -- featured on the CBS Sports' Web site with CBS's official imprimatur. And I think this trend has gathered enough steam to have solidified itself as an integral part of the CFB experience.
Runner-up would be the Wildcat formation. When you've invented something that can break into an institution as monolithic (and homogenized) as the NFL, that qualifies as an important innovation in my book.
Chris Brown: The games (all of them) at our fingertips.
Broadband Internet, YouTube, ESPN360, expanded Cable channels, and DVR. This might appear to be similar to Doug's point but I'm not talking about all the commentary around, I'm talking about the simple fact that there is more football available to the average fan on a Wednesday afternoon than there ever was on game day.
Now, none of it is live football, but entire games can be watched after they've been played; highlights can be rewatched, redigested, and repackaged at the viewer's whim; and games from recent years or even eras gone by live perpetually on hulu, ESPN Classic, the Big 10 Network, and a bunch of other sources around the web. The 2000 Michigan upset by Northwestern? Why, hulu has a rebroadcast of it on right now. How did Danny Wuerffel avoid FSU's rush to light them up to win a national title? The highlights are there to see. What did Bear Bryant's wishbone look like in practice? Let me show you, not tell you. Yes, the greatest innovation in college football over the last decade is college football, more of it than ever.
[Editor's note: I can't believe nobody said the superimposed first down line. Or instant replay. And if anyone takes the "Improvement by Glasses" prize, man, it has to be Wendi Nix. But that's just an opinion]