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ESPN The Magazine 12.22.14

ESPN The Magazine is for the NEXT generation of sports fans who want to stay on top of the athletes, teams, topics and upcoming events in their own sports world. The Magazine celebrates not only sports, but the cultures and lifestyles that are an integral part of them - all with ESPN's unique personality and authority.

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insider spotlight

He takes requests! Since Rion Loisel made his first championship-ring hat in 2010—a replica of his beloved New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl bling, fleur-de-lis and all—the 48-year-old Metairie, Louisiana, native has offered his services to fans across the country (and some across the border … we see you, Saskatchewan Roughriders). All it takes is 10 hours of Styrofoam sanding and carving, rhinestone gluing and painting. But it’s not just fans who appreciate Loisel’s craft. In July, Drew Brees tweeted a photo of his son, ring hat on head, captioned, “Get me one of these, Daddy!” Sure, the Saints quarterback meant another Super Bowl win. We think. Still, those hats are pretty sweet. HOW TO BECOME AN ESPN INSIDER! 1 Turn back to the cover and find your account number on the mailing…

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the numbers

[I] always loathed the BCS for its false use of analytics, how it swizzled half a dozen clashing formulas, almost none of which took margin of victory into account, into a concoction it called “computer” rankings that didn’t actually overcome flaws in human voting. Still, I feared the College Football Playoff might move from bad to worse. The new system drops any pretense of tapping silicon consultants to determine contenders for the national championship. Instead, it trusts 12 members of a committee to choose the best teams in the country, without specifically defining what “best” means. So here’s a shocker: The numbers say the selection committee has done a fine job of incorporating statistical insights into its work. So far, anyway. Committee members won’t say precisely how they’re weighing factors such as…

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WHO Texas A&M University undergrads WHAT Student Bonfire, an unsanctioned revival of the Aggies tradition that was canceled by the university in the wake of its deadly 1999 collapse WHEN Sept. 14 through Nov. 26 WHERE Private ranch land 30 miles northwest of College Station, Texas When Texas A& canceled its annual Bonfire following the 1999 collapse that killed 12 Aggies, people figured the most notorious ritual in college football was finished forever. They were wrong. Unsanctioned by the university, a group of A&M undergrads restarted the tradition off-campus in 2002. And over the past decade, it has grown. Today’s fire pales in comparison to those previous Bonfires, in sheer size and student participation. Fewer than 2,000 students now take part each fall, down from an estimated 8,000 a year back in the 1990s. But it remains a massive…

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fighting chance

For a moment this season, you might have thought the Colts were the best team in football. Or maybe the Bengals, when they stormed out of the gate 3–0, or the Cowboys, when nobody could pull down DeMarco Murray, or the Cardinals when, until a few weeks ago, they simply couldn’t lose. And man, that Lions defense has been stout. But just when you think these teams look like Super Bowl challengers, they go out and play as if the Jets could beat them (well, OK, let’s not get crazy). So are these five borderline contenders for real? We polled our Insiders and ran the numbers to find the fatal flaws each will have to overcome to make it to Glendale. COLTS TIME TO GET DEFENSIVE The 2014 Colts are on pace to…

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catch him if you can: eddie lacy on how he dupes defenders with his spin move.

During their University of Alabama days, Trent Richardson claimed backfield partner Eddie Lacy had “the nastiest spin move ever.” Lacy hatched the move as an undersized 6-year-old who didn’t want to get hit, and he features it as his go-to NFL move now, despite being 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds. “Defenders expect most backs my size to run straight into them,” says Lacy, who led the Packers with 770 rushing yards through Week 13. “But I have the ability to spin or run over a defender, so that keeps them guessing.” Here, Lacy, 23, shows how he turns the tables on a tackler. —ANNA KATHERINE CLEMMONS 1 “As I’m running toward the defender, I’m looking at his feet. If he’s coming at me with a full head of steam, I’ll slow down…

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odd men out

BOISE STATE ARE IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY: OUT IN THE COLD. On paper, the College Football Playoff did not forget the little guys. A bid to one of the New Year’s Six bowls and a chunk of the reported $470 million TV deal megahaul are earmarked for the so-called Group of 5. So nothing to see here, right? At least according to the selection committee. “I’ve said all along that the playoff creates more opportunities for those teams,” says CFP executive director Bill Hancock. “Human beings making the decisions means those teams are now truly watched and evaluated fairly.” Fair? That depends on whom you talk to. Those humans’ reverence for strength of schedule has rendered much of the Group of 5’s success immaterial. So Marshall wins 11 straight before losing 67-66 in…