Watson featured on cover of ESPN the Magazine


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With the College Football Playoff fast approaching, ESPN The Magazine’s Championship Drive Issue looks back at where each of the four playoff teams—Clemson, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Alabama—stood week by week throughout the season. Beginning with Week 1’s look at what we thought we knew going into the season and ending with a Week 14 breakdown of the matchups, The Mag digs into how these four teams wound up in the College Football Playoff. Each of the four covers, on newsstands Dec. 25, features a player from one of the semifinalists: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, MSU’s Connor Cook, OU’s Baker Mayfield and Alabama’s Derrick Henry.

Issue Highlights:

Week 1: What we thought we knew
Sometimes we were right; sometimes we were … super wrong (thanks a lot, Ohio State and Leonard Fournette). We reflect on how it all played out. Also includes a graphic look at how the preseason Top 25 got it right or wrong, mapping the eventual path of the final four through the rankings. By Ryan McGee

Week 2: Baker Mayfield arrives
Entering spring practice, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops had no idea whom his QB would be, and few in Norman truly thought it would wind up being Baker Mayfield, a walk-on transfer from Texas Tech who, despite being named 2013 Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, wasn’t awarded a scholarship until the following year. But it was. And he brought the Sooners back from 17 points down to beat Tennessee on the road in double-OT in Week 2. Since then, OU has gone as Mayfield has gone, which has resulted in a playoff berth for the Sooners, who haven't been to a national title game in seven years. By Elizabeth Merrill

Week 5: Dabo mania!
Finally, the nation learned what folks in Clemson, South Carolina, have known since Dabo Swinney took over as head coach in 2008: The man's a hoot—and a hell of a football coach. Once thought to be someone who could never replace Tommy Bowden at Clemson, Dabo is now the coolest coach in college football, which has helped him keep Clemson front and center on signing day. Look no further than Deshaun Watson, the No. 1 QB in the 2014 class, who has the Tigers’ offense clicking and the program in position to win its first national title since 1981. By Ryan McGee

Weeks 10/11: Derrick Henry emerges
Against LSU, Alabama running back Derrick Henry emerged from Leonard Fournette’s shadow, rushing 38 times for 210 yards and three TDs. That game bolted him to the front of the Heisman race, and he hasn’t looked back. Life in Tuscaloosa couldn’t be better for the Tide and Henry. But just two years ago, Henry considered transferring from Alabama, disgruntled that he wasn’t getting enough carries. Henry’s family held an intervention, pleading for him to stay at Alabama, fearing that Henry would return to his hometown of Yulee, Florida, and potentially fall victim to the hard-luck past he’d left behind. The story focuses on his time in Tuscaloosa since then and what makes him such an explosive back. By David Fleming

Week 12: Mark Dantonio will wait you out
Since taking over in East Lansing in 2007, Mark Dantonio has quietly built a national powerhouse with underheralded recruits and a commitment to defense and no-nonsense playcalling. That patient, ground-and-pound philosophy was never more apparent than this season. And MSU’s final nine-minute, 22-play drive to beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game was classic Dantonio—methodical but efficient and effective. He’s waited and waited and waited (winning all the way), and he has finally earned his due respect. Now the question: Can Dantonio beat his mentor Nick Saban in the semifinals and give Michigan State a shot at its first national title in 50 years? By Brett Forrest

Week 14: Playoff preview
We tell you everything you need to know before the two national semifinals games: a QB breakdown, offensive vs. defensive efficiencies and FPI’s projected winners. By Hallie Grossman and Sharon Katz

A "making of" the ESPN The Magazine Championship Drive Issue will air on Monday, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.

Also in this issue:
In the Name of the Fathers: Russell Wilson is one of the most talked-about figures in the NFL, and not just for his play. He’s been called robotic and is often mocked for his religiosity—even Aaron Rodgers got in on the act. Writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner looks at Wilson through the lens of what we expect of athletes, taking into account the religious bigotry at the forefront of many of Wilson’s issues.

The Prosecution of Thabo Sefolosha: On April 8, the Atlanta Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha was dragged down to the pavement outside a Manhattan night club by the police, suffering a fractured right fibula and significant ligament damage. The injury ended his 2014-15 season. Though Sefolosha was arrested at the scene, he was fully exonerated in October, and two weeks later he announced his intent to sue the NYPD. This is the behind-the-scenes story of that night, featuring dozens of witness accounts (and never-before-seen footage on ESPN.com). We learn exactly what happened that night and explore the explosive cultural context in which this story lives. By Scott Eden

Greater Heights: Colten Moore lost his brother, Caleb, in January 2013 at X Games Aspen. Alyssa Roenigk talks to him about how he’s handled the loss, what it took to get back on the snowmobile and whether anything has changed in the sport, among many other topics.

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