North Carolina coach Mack Brown instituted the press this season and also replaced his option offense with a pro-style passing game, in large part to get better players to Chapel Hill. "Defensive recruits were being told by opposing programs, 'You'll be working against the option [in practice], you won't be playing man-to-man coverage, the pro scouts can't watch you in a pro system,' " says Brown. "We're trying to recruit the best corners in the country and play nine in the box. We feel like this is the way for the program to move up."
The popularity of the press won't last, of course. No formation or strategy remains dominant for long. Offenses will find holes in the press and exploit them. "It's an extreme defense, and extreme defenses eventually give up big plays," says USC's Robinson.
The 66-year-old Bowden, who has seen the ebb and flow of dozens of trends, imagines the likes of former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier stretching the press wide and then cutting upfield or pitching. "The option," says Bowden. "The option might hurt this thing real bad, with those corners turning their backs and running up the field." He laughs at the prospect of reverting to an offense thought dead in most precincts.
"Everybody responds to a trend," says Robinson, as if pulling a watch from his vest pocket and charting the life span. "It won't take long. The cycle goes very fast." Not so fast that it won't decide another national championship.