World Cup Counterparts for College Football's Top 2014 Teams

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured Columnist IVApril 9, 2017

World Cup Counterparts for College Football's Top 2014 Teams

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    Summer is a difficult time for college football fans. The days are long and the news cycle is short, and it feels like an eternity stands between the middle of June and fall practice.

    This year, though, the summer is a little less difficult—or at least it can be with an open mind. The FIFA World Cup, which is played every four years, has taken to Brazilian shores and is already in its infant stages. It is a spectacle like few (if any) in the sporting world.

    It can make your summer go by faster.

    Fans of the sport of soccer already understand this and are grateful for the World Cup's presence. Fans of college football alone do not and are not, which is why we have put together this list.

    Not every World Cup nation has a close college football analogue, but many of them do. Drawing such comparisons—while far from a scientific exercise—can help put some of the games into context and, if all goes well, add a little intrigue for casual soccer viewers.

    Sound off below, and chime in with any suggestions!

Germany: Alabama Crimson Tide

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    In the past, this was all about the defense.

    Germany and Alabama are two of the most storied programs in soccer and football, respectively, and both are current powerhouses. It would come as little shock if the Germans won the World Cup or if Alabama won the College Football Playoff in 2014.

    However, these teams are also similar in their departure from the defensive style. Both can still play defense at a high, best-in-their-sport level, but it is no longer the defining trait of either program as it was for Alabama in the late 2000s and Germany in 2002.

    Instead, both teams have learned to rely on a high-scoring offense—a pair of units that are bolstered by big, strong and powerful players. No longer must they "ugly it up" to win; they are creating aesthetically pleasing scoring chances up and down the field instead of merely bowling over their opponents.

    (Although they are still also capable of doing the latter.)

Australia: Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas might be better in Bret Bielema's second season. A lot better. Bielema is one of the best coaches in America, so that would make sense.

    Of course, it is also irrelevant.

    For even if the Razorbacks make giant leaps from last year's team that went 3-9 and winless in the SEC, they will still finish with a similar-enough record. Just like Australia, which drew the unlucky group against Spain, the Netherlands and Chile, Arkansas has the most difficult schedule in college football—and in truth, it isn't all that close.

    In SEC play, the Razorbacks play road games against Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri, a neutral-field game against Texas A&M and home games against Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and LSU. Depending on how those teams come together, Arkansas might be a touchdown-or-greater underdog in every conference game it plays.

    That is a phenomenon that's usually reserved for Kentucky.

The Netherlands: Auburn

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    Both Auburn and the Netherlands are the reigning national (or international) runners-up, returning another year (or four) older and wiser in 2014.

    Plus, y'know, the whole "orange" thing.

    Auburn and the Netherlands are both carried by a dominant offense, the likes of which can nary be found throughout the sport. They are fast and explosive and talented, which makes them a threat, at all times, to not just beat but embarrass an opponent.

    For reference, see the Netherlands' 5-1 rout of Spain in the first Group B game of the World Cup and Auburn's 677-yard, 59-point outburst against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

Chile: Baylor

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    Neither is a traditional powerhouse.

    Baylor has spent most of its life as the fourth or fifth fiddle in the state of Texas, looking up at established programs such as the Longhorns in Austin and the Aggies in College Station. In much the same way, Chile—which has not been past the round of 16 since 1962—has spent the better part of its life looking up at Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

    But now, Chile and Baylor are ready to compete. On the strength of exciting offensive attacks, they are coming off a pair of respective successes—Chile made the Rrund of 16 in 2010; Baylor won the Big 12 and made the Fiesta Bowl in 2014—and are hoping to reach even greater heights this year.

    Both of these teams are easy for casual fans to root for.

Spain: Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State is Spain circa 2010...or, if you prefer, Spain circa less than a week ago. It is not the Spanish team that got humiliated in front of the masses against the Netherlands in the Group B opener last Friday.

    The Spanish and the Seminoles like to beat teams in similar ways. It is a slow burn on both fronts, demoralizing in its thoroughness and its efficiency. It's a possession-oriented game of "keepaway."

    Florida State finished No. 10 in the country in first downs per game last season and No. 3 in third-down conversion rate. It is difficult to get Jameis Winston off the field, which limits the opponent's chances of getting the ball for itself and scoring.

    Spain—when it's on—can complete passes ad infinitum, frustrating its opponent by not letting it ever touch the ball. This possession eventually leads to a breakdown and, slowly, a multi-goal lead.

    Same thing, different sport.

Portugal: Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia is not a one-man show the same way Portugal is not a one-man show. There are many important pieces on each side.

    It doesn't hurt, though, that the Portuguese and the Bulldogs both have one of the two best players in their respective sports, striker Cristiano Ronaldo and running back Todd Gurley.

    If either club wants to reach its goals in 2014—and both have lofty aspirations—Ronaldo and Gurley will need to be more than just great.

    They will need to be dominant.

USA: North Carolina Tar Heels

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    North Carolina and the USA are traditional basketball powerhouses. The former has not been a football school the same way the latter has not been a soccer country. Their best athletes play something else.

    In 2014, though, each is a potential dark horse capable of making a surprise run. Team USA had its most successful qualifying year of all-time under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and North Carolina finished last season with six wins in its final seven games.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote the following of UNC in mid-January, calling it one of the best value bets to win next year's title:

    The rest of the schedule features winnable games, although that depends on which UNC team shows up. If it’s the one that lost 55-31 to East Carolina, this long shot won’t last long. If it can build on its strong second half and win a few coin-flip games, then perhaps 75/1 will look like a fascinating steal as November approaches.

    That is not dissimilar to the United States, which can beat anybody if it shows up with the team that bested Italy in a friendly two years ago but can lose to anybody if it shows up with the team that got spanked at Costa Rica. The ceiling is very high, but the basement is pretty low.

    That defines both of these programs.

France: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    France isn't Notre Dame because of the Catherdrale of Notre Dame de Paris. That is what we, in America, like to call a coincidence.

    Sometimes things just work out perfectly.

    Instead, France is Notre Dame because of what has happened the past two World Cups and college football seasons, respectively. 

    In 2006, Les Bleus lost to Italy in the final, just like Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game (albeit by a far smaller margin). In 2010, off-field malfunction led the French side to a disappointing group-stage exit, much like Everett Golson's academic suspension helped lead the Irish to the Pinstripe Bowl in December 2013.

    Now, both squads are looking to redeem their previous outing and return to the top of the sport, and they both have the talent—on paper, at the very least—to get there.

    We shall see how it works out.

Argentina: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    There are not many weapons in college football like Braxton Miller, who can beat you in multiple ways despite his size (or lackthereof).

    Sound like anyone you know?

    No, Miller is not an undisputed top-two player in his sport the way Lionel Messi is in his—this is true. But he's close, having won the past two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards, and their aesthetic style is similar. Low to the ground and agile is the way both Miller and Messi like to play, and if you watch them for long enough, you are bound to see something amazing.

    Despite their individual aplomb and the way opponents must game-plan around stopping them, neither Miller nor Messi's team has won anything of importance (at least with regard to international soccer). With both in their physical primes, 2014 is the year they must finally turn stats and highlights into wins and a championship run.

    Otherwise, their legacies might feel a little thin.

Brazil: Oregon Ducks

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    If your friend from another country came to visit and wanted to see his first college football game, and you wanted to make sure he liked what he saw, you would probably have him watch Oregon. The Ducks are one of the best teams in the sport, but more than just that, they are consistently one of the most entertaining to watch.

    The same goes for Brazil, which you would show to a friend who wanted to start watching soccer. The Brazilians play with a culturally appropriate brio, a flair that only they have been able to perfect.

    Despite this, though, and despite both teams' perennial status as "favorite," neither has been able to reach its goals the past decade. Brazil won the World Cup in 2002 but hasn't reached the semifinals since, while Oregon has always been BCS fodder but lost to Auburn during its only trip to the national title game.

    Perhaps 2014 will be the year...for both of them!

England: Texas Longhorns

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    The annual "paper champions," Texas and England have disappointed during each of their last four go-arounds. This despite playing in one of the most fertile areas for attracting and developing talent.

    The Longhorns and the Brits are historical powerhouses that have fallen on hard times recently. But with a young group of stars gracing the English roster and the new Charlie Strong era beginning in Austin, each has reason to be hopeful for the immediate future.

    Either way, though, Texas and England will receive as much press as (if not more press than) any other team in the tournament or during the college football season. Win or lose, they are always the lead story.

    That just comes with the territory.

Belgium: UCLA Bruins

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    Trendy, trendy, trendy.

    According to Vegas Insider, Belgium has the sixth-highest odds to win the World Cup at 14-to-1, and UCLA has the seventh-highest odds to win the College Football Playoff at 18-to-1.

    This despite the fact that Belgium hasn't even made the World Cup since 2002, and UCLA hasn't made a major bowl game—heretofore known as the "BCS bowls"—since losing the Rose Bowl in 1999.

    But the stars seem to be aligning for the both of them. Belgium has a golden generation of talent with players such as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini, and UCLA has one of the most loaded, complete rosters in all of college football.

    This might be the year for a dark horse to actually win.

Greece: Virginia Tech

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    The opposite of Oregon and Brazil, Virginia Tech and Greece are teams that you would hide from your friend if he wanted to learn a new sport.

    However, despite their ugly style, both are teams that no opponent envies playing. Neither is a powerhouse at the current moment, but both are physical and capable of yielding into a defensive shell (sort of like an opossum) and playing a close game with anybody.

    Just ask Alabama how much fun it is to play Virginia Tech. Yes, the Tide beat the Hokies 35-10 at the start of last season, but the final score belies how evenly matched that game was. Alabama finished with just 206 yards of total offense, six less than Virginia Tech.

    "We've got too good of skill players not to give them an opportunity to make plays in the game," groaned Alabama head coach Nick Saban after the victory, per The Associated Press.

    That's the kind of thing VT does.

    Greece didn't fare so well in its World Cup opener, falling to Colombia 3-0. That sort of result defeats this comparison, but it was only a one-game sample. The Greeks are still a harrying opponent to draw.

    And so is Virginia Tech.