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In a literal sense, the college football postseason is one meaningful game preceded by 34 exhibitions.

Maybe that’s true to a degree, but the bowl season has a way of setting the storylines for the offseason. After all, this is the only college football anyone is going to see until August, unless you start counting spring games.

Here’s who gained and lost the most through bowl season.

Bowl Season Winners and Losers

Winner: Florida State
Have we seen the beginning of a sea change in the college football postseason. Certainly, switching from the BCS to the College Football Playoff will be a major storyline, but Florida State may be the nation’s top program in the new era. Florida State won the final BCS championship and is likely the preseason No. 1 in the first year of the playoff. Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be a redshirt freshman, and all but 14 players on the depth chart from the title game signed between 2011-13.

Loser: The SEC
Florida State ended the SEC’s streak of seven consecutive national championships, but Alabama’s loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl gave the SEC an 0-2 record in the BCS. The league still finished 7-3 in bowl season, but the SEC doesn’t pride itself on merely winning Capital One Bowls and Cotton Bowls.

Winner: Trevor Knight’s emergence
Oklahoma’s flip flopping at quarterback due to injuries and ineffectiveness cast a shadow over the season for the Sooners up until kickoff in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Trevor Knight’s bowl performance did more than ensure he’ll open 2014 as the starter; it likely makes Oklahoma the preseason Big 12 favorite and Knight one of the country’s rising stars. It’s tough to overstate how shocking Knight’s performance was in New Orleans. Since September, Knight had passed for a total of 260 yards. Against Alabama, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards with four touchdown passes as the Sooners converted 5 of their first 7 third downs. Against a defense that had allowed only three 40-yard pass plays all year, Knight had a pair of touchdown passes for at least 40 yards.

Loser: AJ McCarron’s sendoff
The Alabama quarterback has had one of the great careers in college football history, but forgive him if he never wants to see a redshirt freshman dual-threat quarterback ever again. Knight upstaged McCarron in his final game, but McCarron had his own problems — not that they were all his fault. Protection fell apart all night in the Sugar Bowl as McCarron finished 19 of 30 for 387 yards with two touchdowns, but also three turnovers. The final, a fumble on his last play, yielded the touchdown that put the game out of reach.

Winner: Clemson’s validated season
This is the end of an era for the Tigers with quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins moving on (and perhaps offensive coordinator Chad Morris). Clemson made sure their tenures ended with a meaningful 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Boyd finished with 505 yards of total offense, and Watkins caught 16 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns.

Loser: Ohio State against top teams
The Buckeyes were poised to go to the national championship game into the first weekend of December before the 34-24 loss to Michigan State. By the end of the season, we learned the only thing more suspect than Ohio State’s schedule was the Buckeyes’ defense. Against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, Ohio State allowed an average of 539 yards per game and seven yards per play over the final three games of the season.

Winner: Bob Stoops’ vindication
The Oklahoma coach took a well-earned victory lap after the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Stoops hasn’t been shy about saying he’s not really buying into the depth of the SEC. If Oklahoma lost big to Alabama — an outcome that wouldn’t have been shocking — Sooners fans probably would stop buying into “Big Game Bob.” Instead, Oklahoma upset the Tide 45-31. This wasn’t one of Stoops’ best teams in Norman, but it still went 11-2 and will finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2010. Stoops has earned the right to speak his mind a little more.

Loser: Texas A&M’s paper-thin defense
Texas A&M will need to find a new identity in 2014 if Johnny Manziel heads to the NFL Draft as expected. The Aggies’ defense has been a liability all year but never more than in the first half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke. The Blue Devils scored at will, putting up 38 points and 365 yards on 36 plays before halftime. The Aggies came back to win 52-48, but the offseason will have more questions than answers.

Winner: Bo Pelini’s offseason
The sarcastic remarks were a little too easy as Nebraska entered the Gator Bowl against Georgia with four losses — the mark Bo Pelini has hit exactly in each of his six seasons with the Cornhuskers. Fate, it seems, won’t let Pelini get to five losses. Indeed, such a mark would only help the Cornhuskers to fire him, if they wanted to. Instead, Nebraska’s defense twice stopped Georgia on fourth down inside the 20 in the fourth quarter in the 24-19 win. Including those defensive stands, Pelini’s defense held Georgia to 2.2 yards per carry with four sacks and an interception. Pelini may still enter 2014 coaching for his job, but at least he won’t go into the offseason following his worst year as a head coach.

Loser: Minnesota in crunch time
Minnesota letting a bowl win slip away is getting to be a tradition. After trailing 14-3, Minnesota took a fourth quarter lead on Syracuse in the Texas Bowl before surrendering a long punt return that set up the Orange to win 21-17. A year ago, Minnesota led Texas Tech by a touchdown in the fourth quarter before the Red Raiders scored 10 points in the final 1:10 to win 34-31. And in 2006, Minnesota had one of the biggest bowl collapses in history by giving up a 31-point lead to Texas Tech, ending the tenure of former coach Glen Mason. The Gophers have lost six consecutive bowl games, with the last win coming in 2004.

Winner: The SEC’s returning tailbacks
Bowl performances from LSU’s Jeremy Hill (216 yards, two touchdowns vs. Iowa) and Georgia’s Todd Gurley (183 yards from scrimmages vs. Nebraska) weren’t totally unexpected, but Alabama, even in a loss, showed the depths of their running back talent. Derrick Henry had carried the ball 27 times all season before facing Oklahoma, but he was turned out to be just a dynamic mix of strength and speed as Hill and Gurley. Henry rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries and delivered one of the highlights of the game with his 61-yard touchdown catch, his first career reception, on a swing pass. If 2013 was the year of the quarterback in the SEC, the 2014 season might be a return to form for the league’s tailbacks. Hill, Gurley and Henry will all return.

Loser: The Big Ten’s substitute quarterbacks
Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan all had to go to backup quarterbacks during bowl season with only the Wolverines preparing to play in the postseason without their starting quarterback. The results were not good. Freshman Shane Morris was 24 of 38 for 196 yards with an interception in the 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Making matters worse, he was also the only player to rush for more than 14 yards. Iowa freshman C.J. Beathard was 4 of 7 with a touchdown and an interception after replacing starter Jake Rudock. Badgers backup Curt Phillips threw two picks after Joel Stave left the Capital One Bowl with a shoulder injury

Winner: The Pac-12’s returning quarterbacks
Want to energize a fanbase for the upcoming season? How about a dominant performance by a quarterback followed by the quarterback announcing he’ll return to school. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota returned from the knee injury that hampered his running ability late in the season to rush for 133 yards on 15 carries in a 30-7 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. He also completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown. UCLA’s Brett Hundley may have been even better, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries plus 16-of-19 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion also will return to school after a bowl win over Boise State. Oregon will remain in the title hunt with Mariota back, but UCLA remains a team worth watching with Hundley returning.

Loser: David Shaw’s second-half decisions
The Stanford coach will have two calls that may gnaw at him all offseason from the second half of the Rose Bowl. On a fourth and 3 from the Michigan State 36 with 4:16 left in the third quarter, Shaw opted to roll the dice early, but Tyler Gaffney was stopped for a three-yard loss. Then, with the game on the line on a fourth and 1 in the final moments, Shaw went to fullback Ryan Hewitt, who was stuffed at the line. Two years ago, Stanford lost the Fiesta Bowl when the Cardinal missed a 35-yard field goal on third and 2, preserving a tie and allowing Oklahoma State to win in overtime.

Winner: Connor Cook’s progression
Back in September, three Michigan State quarterbacks combined for one measly offensive touchdown against USF at home. The Spartans will enter 2014 with quarterback one of the team’s top strengths. Cook was 22 of 36 for 332 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as Michigan State put the game in his hands in the 24-20 Rose Bowl victory. The Spartans will need the offense to open 2014 fully formed as the defense will have its share of rebuilding without Darqueze Dennard, Denicos Allen and Max Bullough.

Loser: The MAC
Credit the MAC for being good TV, all the way up to the GoDaddy Bowl on Sunday, but world-beaters MAC teams are not. Northern Illinois may have started 2-0 against the Big Ten, but the MAC went 0-5 in bowl games. Only one of those bowl losses came to a major conference team (Bowling Green to Pittsburgh).

Winner: Louisville’s Sunshine State credibility
The Cardinals aren’t going to contend for the ACC next season with Teddy Bridgewater off to the NFL and Charlie Strong to Texas. But the new Cardinals coach has a nice head start. Even with Bridgewater gone, Louisville has its core of veterans back. And if the new coach continues to recruit Florida aggressively — as Strong and Bobby Petrino did — he can brag about Louisville easily defeating the Gators and Miami in bowl games the last two seasons.

Loser: Paul Johnson’s offseason
Not that Paul Johnson’s disposition will show much difference, but this isn’t going to be a fun offseason for the Georgia Tech coach. The Yellow Jackets collapsed to lose 41-34 in double overtime at home to Georgia, their fifth consecutive loss in the series. Then the Yellow Jackets lost 25-17 to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. Days later, CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported Johnson was unhappy at Georgia Tech, and he had hoped a buyout would be on its way (Johnson denied it). With a 28-25 record since the 2009 ACC title, Johnson might not have to wait long.

Winner: Dan Mullen’s peace of mind
In the SEC, someone has to be the hot seat coach of the year (hello, Will Muschamp). Mississippi State’s Mullen appeared to be headed that way with precious few big wins, but the Bulldogs ended the season in a high note — three consecutive wins including Ole Miss and a Liberty Bowl rout of Rice to ensure a fourth consecutive winning season for Mullen.

Loser: Arizona State’s showing
Every postseason a handful of teams look like they’d rather be home for the holidays or in a better bowl game. Arizona State was that team this year. The Sun Devils, who were playing as well as anyone leading up to the Pac-12 title game, trailed 27-6 to Texas Tech at one point and botched clock management at the end of the first half. An embarrassing episode in an otherwise good year for Todd Graham.

Winner: Texas Tech’s big upset
The Big 12 was involved in the three biggest bowl surprises with Oklahoma defeating Alabama in the Sugar and UCF defeating Baylor in the Fiesta. The third was Texas Tech’s 37-23 win over Pac-12 South champion Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Kliff Kingsbury’s year-long quest to find a quarterback culminated with freshman Davis Webb completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards with four touchdowns. The Red Raiders had lost five in a row entering bowl season.

Loser: Washington State’s collapse
Bowl season began in dramatic fashion, though it didn’t look like it would start that way. Washington State took a 35-13 lead in the second quarter of the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State, but the Rams continued to chip away at the lead. Washington State helped by rushing for minus-10 yards and fumbling twice to lose 48-45.

Winner: Steve Sarkisian’s quarterback situation
Sarkisian inherited Jake Locker when he took the Washington job, and at USC he’ll inherit another incumbent quarterback ready to take the next step. Cody Kessler completed 22 of 30 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-20 win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Kessler completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in his final seven games of the season.

Loser: Charlie Strong’s outlook
The Alamo Bowl served in part to show how far Texas has to go to be a national title contender under new coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorns’ defense played about as well as it possibly could, holding the Ducks to one offensive touchdown in the first half. Yet the Longhorns still lost by 23. Case McCoy was dreadful, completing 8 of 17 passes for 48 yards with two touchdowns. One of Strong’s first jobs will be to groom Tyrone Swoopes or incoming freshman Jerrod Heard for the position.

Winner: January bowl games
The final year of the BCS brought memorable games, especially for underdogs. Oklahoma, UCF, Clemson and Michigan State all defeated favorites in their BCS games. All together, bowls on Jan. 1 or later were decided by an average of 9.2 points. Pulling that average up was North Texas’ 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Loser: December bowl games
A few games were close, but the December bowl games were mostly duds settled by an average of 15.7 points per game.

Teaser:
2013-14 Bowl Season Winners and Losers
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/bcs-championship-game-rapid-reaction-florida-state-34-auburn-31
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The final BCS championship game was billed as a matchup between the team that dominated all year and the team that found ways to win in unlikely fashion.

Florida State proved they can be one in the same in defeating Auburn 34-31 for the BCS championship.

The Seminoles trailed by 18 before staging the biggest second-half comeback in BCS title game history. A game-winning drive from Winston and a 100-yard kickoff return from little-known freshman Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield in the fourth quarter provided all the miracles against the Tigers.

The game, in many ways, summed up the BCS era. The most dramatic title game since Texas defeated USC in 2005 — a game also played in the Rose Bowl — return the national championship to Florida State. The SEC has ruled college football for seven consecutive seasons, but the start of the BCS era was notable for the dominance of the Seminoles.

As the College Football Playoff begins in 2014, Florida State is back on top.

RAPID REACTION: Florida State 34, Auburn 31

Player of the game: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston
Unflappable for most of the season, Winston showed something in the first half we hadn’t seen in the redshirt freshman — panic. Winston went through a 1-of-7 drought at one point as Auburn built a 21-3 first-half lead. Winston completed 9 of his final 10 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns, including the game winner.

Turning point: Chris Davis’ pass interference
With 21 seconds remaining, Florida State was down to its final two plays on third and 3 from the Auburn 5. Winston made the situation tougher with a delay of game penalty. Davis, who ran back the missed field goal to beat Alabama, was flagged for a clear pass inference on the ensuing play to move FSU up to the 2-yard line. Winston completed the game-winning touchdown pass to Benjamin on the next play.

Unsung hero: Auburn punter Steven Clark
More than month of dissecting this game and how often was Auburn’s punter mentioned? With help from his coverage team, Clark twice pinned Florida State inside its own five. The first pinned FSU at its own 2 to set up Auburns’ first touchdown after a three and out and 22-yard punt return from Chris Davis. Clark landed five of his six punts inside the 20 while averaging 43.2 yards per kick.

Needed more from: Auburn’s defense on the final drive
Beyond the pass inference call on Chris Davis that helped set up the touchdown, Auburn’s defense had major lapses on the game’s decisive drive. The Tigers’ secondary missed tackles on Rashad Greene on a 49-yard reception that put FSU in scoring range.

Critical call: Florida State’s fake punt
Winston looked lost for most of the first half as Auburn built a 21-3 lead. In a move close to desperation, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher called for a fake punt at his own 40. The Seminoles converted on the Karlos Williams’ run and scored a touchdown to finish the half. The Seminoles outscored Auburn 31-10 after the fake punt.

Stat that matters: 723
With 723 points in 2013, Florida State broke 2008 Oklahoma’s FBS scoring record of 716 points.

Three snap judgements

• Tre Mason was the best player on the field. Winston was rightfully the player of the game, but Mason may have had the best game of anyone in the title game. Mason rushed for 195 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:19 to go on 34 carries. All this against a run defense that ranked sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry.

• Auburn’s was defense up to the task. Before the lapses on the final drive, the story of the game was Auburn’s defense. Ellis Johnson’s D was considered one of the weak links in this game, but the Tigers flummoxed Winston early. Beyond Rashad Greene, none of Florida State’s talented receivers made a major impact in the first three quarters. Defensive end Dee Ford also finished with two sacks.

• The turnaround by Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin may have had the biggest turnaround of any player in the game. Winston struggled to find him early or tried to get him the ball in traffic. Benjamin also didn’t help his cause with drops. Greene finished with nine catches for 147 yards, but Benjamin has key late. He had a 21-yard touchdown catch to move FSU to the Auburn 11 on one scoring drive in the fourth quarter before catching the game-winning score.

Armchair reaction
The biggest winner, other than Florida State, was ESPN’s Film Room. ESPN used nearly all of its platforms for a Megacast to varying degrees of success. The most welcome feature, at least according to the live-viewing Twitter audience, was the Film Room on ESPNNews. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst and Boston College coach Steve Addazio joined Tom Luginbill, Matt Millen and Chris Spielman to break down the game live using the All-22 camera angle. There were kinks for sure — perhaps too many voices and little of the typical play-by-play you’d get on a typical broadcast — but ESPN took note of the positive chatter. The Film Room was slated to be available on ESPN3.com after the game on ESPNU at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.

Teaser:
BCS Championship Game Rapid Reaction: Florida State 34, Auburn 31
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 00:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/brett-hundley-turns-down-nfl-returns-ucla-2014
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UCLA’s Pac-12 title hopes got a huge boost this week, as quarterback Brett Hundley has decided to return to school for his junior year.

Hundley was projected by some to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he decided to stay at UCLA for one more season. Hundley’s decision to return to campus is huge for the Bruins, as Jim Mora’s team could be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014.

After throwing for 3,745 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Hundley’s numbers dropped just a bit in 2013. He completed a higher percentage of throws (67.2 to 66.6), but threw for only 3,071 yards this year.

Hundley should benefit from another season of working with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, and a solid supporting cast should have the junior quarterback in the mix for preseason All-America honors.
 

Teaser:
Brett Hundley Turns Down NFL; Returns to UCLA for 2014
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 16:04
Path: /college-basketball/notre-dames-eric-atkins-athlons-national-player-week
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Notre Dame had been having enough trouble this season even with Jerian Grant.

The Irish’s normally stout homecourt advantage hasn’t even been in play as the Irish lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State.

Then came disaster: Notre Dame lost an eight-point lead in the final minute against Ohio State and the same week lost Grant for the season to an academic issue.

At least this week, guard Eric Atkins was there to salvage the season. Atkins scored 19 points and added 11 assists in a 79-77 win over Duke on Saturday to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

The win gave Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant, the first win for a Blue Devils assistant over Mike Krzyzewski. But more important, the victory may turn the tide on the season.

"I think it definitely gives us a lot of life," Atkins said. "Everybody's confidence is up now after winning such a big game. I'm really happy for Coach Brey to get that one against Coach K. But for us I think it is going to jump start us."

Athlon Sports College Basketball National Awards: Jan. 6

National Player of the Week: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
Atkins had 19 points, 11 assists and only two turnovers in a shocking 79-77 win at home over Duke on Saturday. Since Grant’s final game of the season, Atkins has shot 17 of 27 from the field in two games.

National Freshman of the Week: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Kansas State has come a long way from the team that lost to Northern Colorado in its opener thanks in part to the development of the freshman Foster. With 17 points and eight rebounds, Forster led the Wildcats to a 74-71 win over shorthanded Oklahoma State on Saturday. Foster had 15 points earlier in the week in a 72-55 win over Atlantic 10 upstart George Washington.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Devin Oliver, Dayton
Oliver hit a 3-point shot with 0.3 seconds left in overtime to give Dayton an 83-80 win at Ole Miss on Saturday. Oliver finished with 26 points on 11-of-14 to go with seven rebounds and five assists in the win over the Rebels. Oliver scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in an 81-47 rout of Winthrop on Wednesday.

Other Primetime Players

Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Thames sealed San Diego State’s 61-57 win Kansas on Sunday with four free throws in the final seconds. The senior guard scored 16 points against KU in the Jayhawks’ first non-conference home loss since 2006. One of the country’s breakout players this season. Thames also had 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and five steals in a 71-61 road win over Colorado State on Wednesday.

Askia Booker, Colorado
Booker went a mere 3 of 10 from the field Thursday in a win over Oregon State, but he and Colorado couldn’t be stopped against Oregon. Booker scored 27 points in an 100-91 win over the Ducks, their first loss of the season. Booker went 8 of 16 from the field with seven rebounds and four assists. He’s also been near-automatic from the line, hitting 19 of 21 free throws in his last three games.

Semaj Christon, Xavier
Xavier’s top postseason awards candidate led the way through the Musketeers’ 2-0 start in the Big East. Christon had 20 points, eight assists and three steals in a come-from-behind 79-68 win over Butler on Saturday. He added 10 points against St. John’s on Tuesday. The most impressive stat: 16 assists, no turnovers for the week.

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Georgetown has dominated the rivalry with St. John’s, and nowhere was it more apparent as Smith-Rivera scored 20 points in the 77-60 win. Smith-Rivera finished with 30 points and six rebounds in the Hoyas’ sixth consecutive win in the series. Smith-Rivera added 12 points and eight rebounds in a 61-54 win over DePaul in the Big East opener.

Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott had his fifth 30-point game of the season with 30 — plus 10 rebounds and five assists — in a 79-66 win at Seton Hall on Saturday. He also completed a streak of 45 consecutive free throws with a miss late in the second half against Seton Hall. The national player of the year contender opened Big East play with 19 points and seven rebounds in a 67-49 win over Marquette on Tuesday.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
In what’s shaping up as a career year for the Lobos’ senior, Bairstow had a career night in an 80-73 win over Colorado State. The Australian forward matched a career high with 29 points and set a career high with 14 rebounds against the Rams. Bairstow also finished 13 of 20 from the free throw line.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
After decisive losses to New Mexico and Xavier, Cincinnati has been in need of a landmark win. Kilpatrick helped the Bearcats deliver on that with 18 points in a 69-53 win over Memphis on the road. Kilpatrick scored 11 of his points late as the Bearcats overcame an early deficit. The senior added 13 points and six points earlier in the week in a 65-57 win over surprising SMU.
 

Teaser:
Notre Dame's Eric Atkins is Athlon's National Player of the Week
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-6-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 6.

• The curtain comes down tonight on another college football season, but our love for the lovely ladies of the sideline will never go out of season.

A little BCS trivia for you as the SEC goes for the eight-peat.

Tat sleeves are the only sleeves that cold-blooded Colin Kaepernick needs.

• Not a surprise that the Niners won given that they got a pep talk from Nature Boy Ric Flair, who came to the s--thole of Appleton, Wis. (Anthony Davis' words, not mine) to pitch a little Woooo at San Fran.

• Tis the season for epic fan meltdowns. Here's an amusing collection. Language warning, of course.

New Year's resolutions that sports fans should (but probably won't) make. Like, put down the phone and enjoy the game.

Johnny Football's SEC brethren probably won't be happy to see that he did the Tomahawk Chop at an LA nightclub. He'll be off consoling himself with the two young ladies who followed him out.

Arkansas State ran a play called "Hide the Midget" in last night's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Off to sensitivity training with you.

• Texas hired Charlie Strong. Pat Forde thinks that's a mistake.

• Nick Saban enters the offseason with a catastrophic two-game losing streak. How can Saban rebuild his crumbling empire?

• And now for something completely different: a fully functional truck made of ice.

• The Knicks' methods are getting more desperate. J.R. Smith entered the game and promptly untied Shawn Marion's shoe.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/grading-hire-charlie-strong-texas-did-longhorns-find-right-coach
Body:

Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in college football, and the first assignment on new athletic director Steve Patterson’s plate was to pick a replacement for Mack Brown. After a three-week coaching search, Patterson hired Charlie Strong away from Louisville to lead the Longhorns back in national title contention.

Strong compiled a 37-15 record in four seasons at Louisville. Over the last two years, the Cardinals were 23-3 and claimed bowl victories over Florida (Sugar) and Miami (Russell Athletic). Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina. He also made stops as an assistant at Ole Miss and Notre Dame.

Although Texas slipped at the end of Brown’s tenure, he guided the Longhorns to nine consecutive seasons (2001-09) of at least 10 wins, including a national title in 2005. In addition to his success on the field, Brown was a perfect fit in Austin. The job demands at Texas are a little different than some other BCS programs, and Brown was able to master the booster glad-handling and television obligations with the Longhorn Network.

With Brown’s tenure and job obligations in mind, it brings us to an evaluation of Charlie Strong. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for Texas, followed by the final grade.

Positives for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong

Strong is simply a football coach
It’s a simple statement, but Strong isn’t particularly keen on media obligations or anything other than coaching football. While there are more responsibilities at Texas other than the X’s and O’s, Strong excels when he’s recruiting, developing talent or getting his players ready to play. Louisville went 15-21 in the three seasons prior to Strong’s arrival. During his four-year tenure with the Cardinals, Strong compiled a 37-15 mark and led Louisville to four consecutive bowl games. The Cardinals also finished No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll in 2012. While Louisville never worked its way into national title consideration under Strong, the program clearly improved under his watch. And given what Strong accomplished at Louisville (a top 25-30 job), he should be able to win at a high level at a program with more resources. Strong isn’t the flashiest coach, but he wins games and knows how to build a program.

Strong is one of the best defensive minds in college football
Before he was selected by Tom Jurich to be Louisville’s coach in 2010, Strong was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation. Strong coordinated South Carolina’s defense from 1999-02 and Florida’s from 2003-09. Both of those units had several highlights under Strong, and Louisville ranked inside of the top four in the American Athletic/Big East in total defense in each of the last four years. The Cardinals finished No. 1 nationally in total defense in 2013, allowing just 4.2 yards per play. Strong could bring Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford (a former Texas defensive back) to Austin, which should ensure the Longhorns own one of the nation’s best defenses under his watch.

Talent developer and toughness
It’s a bit of a cliché, but Strong is going to bring toughness to Austin. While that element is tough to put into statistics, something was missing from Texas over the last few years. Under Strong, the Longhorns certainly won’t be accused of not having a physical team. And while Texas can reel in top-five recruiting classes with ease, that talent has to be developed more successfully. Expect Strong and his staff to do a better job of turning recruiting hype into All-Big 12 talent. According to 247Sports.com, in four years at Louisville, Strong never recruited a top-25 class. He should have no trouble with recruiting at Texas, but to win 37 games (23 in the last two years), with no top-25 recruiting classes shows how much talent development and coaching matters. Expect that to continue for the Longhorns.

Negative for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong

Non-football obligations
As mentioned above, a chunk of Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas was filled with obligations to the Longhorn Network or other media duties. Who knows what Strong and Patterson worked out, but this setup seems a little odd. Strong isn’t crazy about media obligations, yet is taking over a job with a television network and a larger media presence? With the extra resources and staff in place, Strong should be able to have some extra help to ensure he’s not overwhelmed with game preparation and media. In addition to the media, booster glad-handling will be a part of the job. Is Strong ready to give up some of his football time to appease those areas?

Final Analysis

There’s very little to dislike about this hire for Texas. Strong is easily one of the top-25 coaches in the nation, and his recruiting connections in Florida will only add another area for Texas to expand its reach. Strong will add some much-needed toughness in Austin and should develop talent better than the previous staff has done over the last few years. So while this seems to be a good hire for Texas – and one with few negatives – on the surface, this feels like a strange fit. As we mentioned earlier, Strong could have agreements already in place to minimize his obligations with the media, boosters and Longhorn Network, but it’s a concern for a coach who prefers to focus only on what transpires on the football field. Expect Strong to win a lot of games at Texas, and once we see how things transpire with the off-the-field obligations by next year, this hire could be upgraded to an A.

Grading Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong: B+

Teaser:
Grading the Hire of Charlie Strong at Texas: Did the Longhorns Find the Right Coach?
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/25-best-teams-never-played-bcs-championship
Body:

Just ask Auburn fans how much luck it takes to win a BCS National Championship? Certainly, the Tigers are a great team with a great coach and deserve to play in the title game. But the Fightin' War Eagles needed plenty of good fortune to land in Pasadena this season. Just like Alabama the two years prior where a missed field goal in Ames, Iowa and five yards in the Georgia Dome nearly derailed both of the Crimson Tide's championship runs.

Part of the reason the playoff era (besides money) is now upon us is the supposed inequity in the current BCS system. Below are teams that likely think they could have won the crystal ball had one bounce, one penalty, one tipped pass had gone their way. Sometimes, a team did everything it was supposed to and still got left out of the conversation. 

And that is right where the list of the 25 best teams not to play for a BCS National Championship begins...

Editor's Note: USC in 2003 is not eligible since they techincally won a share of the National Championship.

1. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)

Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)

The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.

2. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)

Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)

After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.

3. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficiency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a then BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.

4. Miami Hurricanes, 2000 (11-1, 7-0)

Head Coach: Butch Davis
Championships: Big East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in scoring offense (42.6 ppg) and no. 5 in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) through regular season
Award Winners: Ken Dorsey (Sugar Bowl MVP), Dan Morgan (Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Nagurski Award), Santana Moss (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (20): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Damione Lewis (1st, 2001), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Dan Morgan (1st, 2001), Santana Moss (1st, 2001), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Reggie Wayne (1st, 2001), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)

This is the team that laid the groundwork for the 2001 national championship as the roster featured five All-Americans, 12 first-team All Big East selections and 20 future first- or second-round NFL draft picks. Despite beating then No. 1-ranked Florida State earlier in the season and being ranked higher in the polls, the Hurricanes were prevented a chance to vie for the national championship. Instead, they went to the Sugar Bowl and took their frustrations out on another in-state rival, defeating Florida 37-20 and finishing the season ranked No. 2. That victory also was the last for Butch Davis as a collegiate coach, as he left Miami to become the head coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes, 1998 (11-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: John Cooper
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Buckeyes lost five total turnovers (four fumbles) and surrendered 19 unanswered points in home loss to Michigan State.
Award Winners: David Boston (Sugar Bowl MVP), Joe Germaine (Big Ten Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: David Boston (1st, 1999), Antoine Winfield (1st, 1999), Andy Katzenmoyer (1st, 1999), Joe Montgomery (2nd, 1999), Ahmad Plummer (2nd, 2000), Nate Clements (1st, 2001), Ryan Pickett (1st, 2001),

The most talented team to play under John Cooper had the National Championship rings already sized in the preseason. Ohio State began the year atop the polls and rolled to an 8-0 start before giving away a late 15-point lead to Michigan State — and a chance at the national title. Despite crushing Iowa and Michigan to finish the year with one loss, Ohio State just missed a chance to face Tennessee in the BCS National Championship game. After handling Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the polls.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 8-0)

Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal ball — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.

7. Michigan State Spartans, 2013 (13-1, 8-0)

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Championships: Big Ten, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Michigan State led the Big Ten in total, scoring, passing and rushing defense, No. 2 nationally in total defense
Award Winners: Darqueze Dennard (Thorpe Award), Mark Dantonio (Big Ten COY), Connor Cook (Rose Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

This Spartans team will always be left to wonder what if a few pass interference penalties went their way against Notre Dame. A narrow road defeat to the Irish was the only blemish on an otherwise storybook season for Michigan State. The Spartans never lost a Big Ten game (9-0) and toppled an elite No. 5-ranked Stanford squad in the Rose Bowl. Fans in East Lansing will never forget 2013 but may always be left wondering what could have been had the refs been conservative in South Bend on Sept. 21. 

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)

Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)

The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.

9. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2012 (12-0, 8-0)

Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: Big Ten Leaders
Key Stats: Led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game, Braxton Miller was second in total offense and fifth in rushing in the Big Ten. Carlos Hyde led the league in scoring at 10.2 points per game.
Award Winners: Braxton Miller (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), John Simon (Big Ten Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

In Urban Meyer's first season, the Buckeyes were left to wonder what if after a perfect season. One year after going 6-7 and losing in the Gator Bowl to a mediocre Florida team, the Buckeyes, led by super star Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, won every game they played including road wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State and home victories over Michigan and Nebraska. Was this team an elite OSU roster that would have been able to compete against either Notre Dame or Alabama? Odds are no, however, the current BCS system is set-up to put No. 1 and No. 2 into the BCS title game and if Ohio State had been eligible, there is little doubt it would have faced the Fighting Irish in Miami instead of the Crimson Tide. 

10. Penn State Nittany Lions, 2005 (11-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Championships: Big Ten, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Tamba Hali led the Big Ten in sacks (0.92 pg), PSU finished seventh nationally against the run (93.0 ypg) and never allowed a team to reach 30 points all season.
Award Winners: Michael Robinson (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), Paul Posluszny (Bednarik Award, Butkus Award), Tamba Hali (Big Ten Def. Lineman of the Year), Joe Paterno (AP, Home Depot, Walter Camp, AFCA National Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tamba Hali (1st, 2006), Levi Brown (1st, 2007), Paul Posluszny (2nd, 2007)

Led by star quarterback Michael Robinson and stellar defensive tandem Tamba Hali and Paul Posluszny, the Penn State Nittany Lions were one play from making quite a ruckus in the BCS standings with an undefeated season. After starting 6-0 with convincing wins over ranked Minnesota and Ohio State, the Lions allowed Chad Henne to connect with Mario Manningham on the final play of the game in Ann Arbor - costing PSU a chance to challenge USC and Texas for title game rights. Penn State then rolled through the rest of its schedule including an impressive 35-14 win over top-15 Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl win over Florida State was the school's first BCS bowl win.

11. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),

Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and sophomore quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.

12. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)

Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 in rushing, scoring and total offense as well as turnover margin and passing efficiency. Freshman QB Marcus Mariota led the nation in passing efficiency on the road and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency overall.
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Freshman of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The Ducks boasted the nation's best offense in 2013, averaging over 323 yards rushing per game in the regular season and scoring over 50 points per game — both leading the offense-heavy Pac-12. Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner form one of the most talented and productive backfields ever assembled during the BCS era and featured the last two Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (Thomas and Mariota). Easy wins over bowl teams Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, USC and eventually Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl were extremely impressive. An overtime loss to Rose Bowl Champion Stanford was the only blemish on the nearly perfect resume and it cost Chip Kelly his second shot at a BCS national championship.

13. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)

In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included the aforementioned loaded Miami Hurricanes and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Boilermakers in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.

14. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)

This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.

15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)

Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)

The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina would not have ended the Dawgs' title hopes. However, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Vols, who won the division on a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.

16. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 7-1)

Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)

No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.

17. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2007 (11-2, 5-2)

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Championships: Big East co-champions, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in rushing offense (297.2 ypg), no. 7 in total defense (301.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Pat White (Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP), Reed Williams (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (1): Pat White (2nd, 2009)

Ranked No. 3 in the preseason, the Mountaineers went into the final game of the regular season, the 100th Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh, as the top-ranked team in the Coaches Poll. The unranked Panthers got the best of their bitter rival, 13-9, dashing the Mountaineers’ title hopes in the process. To make matters worse, head coach Rick Rodriguez left to become Michigan’s head coach as the team prepared for its Fiesta Bowl showdown with No. 3 Oklahoma. The team would rally behind interim head coach Bill Stewart as the Mountaineers stunned the nation by dominating the Sooners 48-28. Pat White led the way with 326 total yards of offense and the Mountaineers ran roughshod over the Sooners, gaining 349 yards on the ground alone.

18. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0, 8-0)

Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Championships: Mountain West, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring and total defense, Andy Dalton was fifth nationally in passing efficiency, 
Award Winners: Andy Dalton (MWC Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Off. MVP), Tank Carder (MWC Def. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Def. MVP), Jeremy Kerley (MWC Special Teams Player of the Year)
"First Day NFL Draft Picks: Andy Dalton (2nd, 2011)

The best season in program history culminated with a Rose Bowl Championship over the Wisconsin Badgers in Pasadena. Some of the program's most historic players were stars on this roster as this team rewrote the Horned Frogs record books. Dalton was the only elite pick in the NFL Draft but five players were selected in the 2012 Draft and two more went in the 2012 Draft.

19. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)

Head Coach: David Shaw
Championships: None
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)

It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.

20. Boise State Broncos, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)

Head Coach: Chris Petersen
Championships: WAC, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring at 42.2 points per game and fewest sacks allowed, Kellen Moore was second nationally in passing efficiency, Led the WAC in 10 of the 17 tracked NCAA team stats, 
Award Winners: Chris Petersen (National and WAC Coach of the Year), Kellen Moore (WAC Off. Player of the Year), Kyle Efaw (Fiesta Bowl Off. MVP), Brandyn Thompson (Fiesta Bowl Def. MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Kyle Wilson (1st, 2010), Titus Young (2nd, 2011), Austin Pettis (3rd, 2011), Doug Martin (1st, 2012), Shea McClellin (1st, 2012)

One could argue for weeks about which Boise State was the best: 2006, 2009, 2010 or 2011? Each can make a unique case as the best in Boise history, but the combination of unbeaten record, Fiesta Bowl championship and overall talent on the roster gives the slight edge to the '09 group. This team featured all the NFL talent of the 2011 group (Doug Martin, Shea McClellin, etc) and one of two perfect records.
Honorable Mention:

21. Utah Utes, 2008 (13-0, 8-0)
Kyle Whittingham led the Utes to a perfect reocrd behind Brian Johnson and four second round draft picks.

22. Wisconsin Badgers, 2011 (11-3, 6-2)
Russell Wilson led the best UW offense in history and was two Hail Mary's away from a perfect 13-0 record.

23. Tennessee Volunteers, 2001 (11-2, 7-1)
A loss to LSU in the SEC title game knocked the Vols out of the BCS National Championship game.

24. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2013 (11-2, 7-1)
The flukiest play in SEC history ended the Tide's title hopes in one play on The Plains.

25. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2005 (11-1, 7-0)
Steve Slaton and Pat White lost only once — a 34-17 home defeat to a very good Virginia Tech team.

Best of the Rest:

26. Utah Utes, 2004
27. Stanford Cardinal, 2012
28. Oregon Ducks, 2011
29. Boise State Broncos, 2011
30. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2004

 

Teaser:
The 25 Best Teams That Never Played for the BCS Championship
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/11-reasons-you-will-miss-bcs
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When the confetti canons launch at the Rose Bowl tonight, fans at home may want to launch into celebrations of their own that have nothing to do with Florida State and Auburn.

Goodbye, BCS. Hello, playoff.

Anticipation for the first playoff in college football playoff will dominate the entire season. BCS may as well be a swear word starting Jan. 7.

This is all with good reason. The BCS, for the most part, brought together some of the most ridiculous and cynical aspects of college football since 1998. College football continued to outsource its postseason to the bowls with the BCS organizers hoping a measly two-team, one-game playoff would be enough to preserve the system. The polls still played an outsized role in deciding the national champion, but the system still failed to satisfy fans. Politicking seemed to mean as much as the games.

History may judge the BCS as simply a stopgap between the old game and a new game. Maybe it will be a cultural curiosity worthy of a “30 for 30.”

For today, we think it deserves a tiny sliver of credit.

Reasons you’ll miss the BCS

The BCS finally brought us No. 1 vs. No. 2
For all its frustrations, the BCS was good for college football. The BCS set out to match up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the polls (while preserving the crooked bowl system, but that’s another day). Before the BCS and its precursors the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition, the top two teams in the country met in a bowl game only eight times between 1936-92. Before then, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs went to the Rose, the SEC to the Sugar, the Southwest to the Cotton and the Big Eight to the Orange — the rankings be damned. As flawed as the selection process was, the BCS essentially guaranteed a winner-take-all national championship game.

The BCS (almost) ended split national champions
Split champions decided by competing polls. Ponder the absurdity: These coaches voted one team the best. These writers picked another one. And that’s that. They’re both champions. In two seasons in 1990-91, four teams claimed national championships. Same in 1973-74. Three teams have national championship banners from 1970. Three different teams have banners from 1964. In one 20-year period from 1954-74, 11 seasons featured split national champions. The BCS brought only one split national championship in 16 years when LSU won the BCS title and USC won the AP title in 2003. A bummer that year, but not a bad record overall.

The BCS standings usually got it right for the championship game
Fans often wished for “BCS chaos,” some sort of scenario where five undefeated or one-loss teams in major conferences at the end of the regular season would send the whole system crashing down. Such a scenario never would have guaranteed that result, and it never happened, anyway. The BCS finished its final decade without any major screw-ups for the title game matchup. But what about Auburn in 2004, you say? Three undefeated teams in one season meant someone was going to draw the short straw among the Tigers, USC and Oklahoma. At least Auburn was third in both polls and the computers that year. Feel free to argue about Oklahoma reaching the 2008 title game, but the BCS standings became a factor only because the Big 12 used the rankings as a tiebreaker among OU, Texas and Texas Tech for the South Division crown. Blame the Big 12. The SEC rematch in 2011 wasn’t ideal, but at least No. 2 Alabama delivered on its second chance against LSU.

The BCS intensified college football as a national game
Why would Auburn find it necessary to root against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in 2013? Why would an LSU and Ohio State fans in 2007 suddenly become enthralled with the Big 12 title game and a Backyard Brawl involving a Pittsburgh team with a losing record. The BCS demanded fans take note of conferences, even if the debate usually ended with “my conference good, your conference bad.”

The BCS did have a playoff ... in conference championship games
Granted, this mostly took place in the SEC, but the game in Atlanta became de facto semifinals in 2013 (Auburn over Missouri), 2012 (Alabama over Georgia), 2009 (Alabama over Florida) and 2008 (Florida over Alabama). The Big Ten got into the action one year when a No. 1 Ohio State faced a No. 2 Michigan on the last regular season day of 2006.

The BCS forced the Big Ten to modernize
Speaking of the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game — that matchup was played on Nov. 18 of that season. Michigan was still No. 2 in the BCS the week following the 42-39 loss. No. 3 USC and No. 4 Florida still had two games to play. USC lost its spot in the title game with a loss to UCLA on Dec. 2, but Florida defeated Florida State on the road and Arkansas in the SEC championship game. While Michigan was idle for two weeks, Florida had plenty of time to win (and talk) its way into the BCS Championship Game. The Big Ten decided to abandon its tradition of ending its season before Thanksgiving rather than risk being out of sight and out of mind again.

Conference expansion
An unintended consequence of the BCS was the realignment mess that defined most of the last 10 years, starting with the first ACC raid of the Big East for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College through Louisville landing in the ACC in 2014. We learned university presidents will abandon rivalries, geography and accurately named conferences in pursuit of television money, but a handful of the moves aren’t so bad. Texas A&M and Missouri have been resounding successes in the SEC despite skepticism. Nebraska fits just fine in the Big Ten. And Louisville, TCU and Utah finally got into big-time conferences. Some programs may fall apart in their new conferences — West Virginia and Rutgers the top candidates at this point — but you can’t win them all.

Boise State, Utah and TCU gave upstarts a new goal
LaVell Edwards built one of the most consistent programs in the country in the 1980s, but the best BYU could hope for was the Holiday Bowl, no matter the Cougars’ record. BYU won a national championship in 1984 but lacked for great bowl matchups throughout that run. The major conferences eventually had to have their arms twisted to give non-automatic qualifying teams a chance. Boise State, Utah and TCU took advantage by going a combined 5-1 in the BCS, the lone loss Boise State defeating TCU in the Fiesta. Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar, Boise State beat Oklahoma in a classic Fiesta Bowl and TCU won the Rose Bowl. Sure, appearances by Hawaii and Northern Illinois were duds, but the BCS turned three programs into teams with national intrigue.

The BCS brought accountability in the coaches’ poll
With two-thirds of the BCS formula coming from polls, the BCS era brought greater accountability with the coaches’ poll. USA Today for the first time revealed the individual final regular season ballots for every coach. Accountability and transparency is a good thing, even if we learned coaches (or their surrogates) usually gave their teams a boost while voting for their own conference and coaching pals.

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...and this

Teaser:
11 Reasons You Will Miss the BCS
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/how-auburn-was-built-bcs-national-championship
Body:

This was not a typical year for Auburn.

That much has been well-established. Two improbable finishes and a record-setting SEC championship game landed the Tigers in the final BCS championship game.

Beyond the route to the title game, Auburn built its roster in a way unfamiliar to SEC schools in this recent championship era.

Alabama is a recruiting juggernaut with the luxury of allowing five-star prospects to languish on the roster until the bowl game (see: Henry, Derrick). Florida’s title teams first won titles on national signing day. LSU is routinely among the top five nationally in recruiting.

This year's Auburn team — similar to the 2010 team that won the title — doesn’t fit the profile of the typical SEC championship contender of the BCS.

The Tigers have nine 247Sports Composite top 100 prospects on their pre-game depth chart. Three of them are starters. Of those top 100 players, only three were five-star prospects. Two are freshmen, and none are first-stringers.

Those paltry numbers of high-level recruits are unheard of compared to the Alabama, LSU or Florida teams that won national championships since 2006.

Athlon Sports delved into each national championship depth chart, accounting for every name on offensive and defensive depth charts (plus starting kickers and punters) for the title game.

Related: How Florida State built its 2013 team

We charted their 247Sports Composite star rankings, their signing classes with either Auburn or Florida State and their home state. Here’s what we learned.

How Auburn’s 2013 team was built

• Auburn has only three first-stringers who were ranked in the top 100 as recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings: center Reese Dismukes, offensive tackle Avery Young and wide receiver Quan Bray. Six others are backups.

• The Tigers have three five-star prospects on the depth chart and none of them are starters: Freshman defensive lineman Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and junior wide receiver Trovon Reed. Lawson is the biggest contributor of the three, ranking second on the team in sacks (four) and third in tackles for a loss (7.5).

• Auburn did the bulk of its work in three states: Alabama (14), Florida (12) and Georgia (9). The signees from the state of Alabama, though, had the greatest rate of becoming starters, with 10 of them slated to start in the title game.

• That said, where would Auburn be without its Florida players? Heisman finalist running back Tre Mason is from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Park Vista and Ricardo Louis, hero of the Georgia game, is from Miami Beach Senior.

• Three junior college transfers and 10 players from the signing class of 2013 are on the Tigers’ two-deep. Auburn starts one from each category, and he’s a good one: Quarterback Nick Marshall.

• Auburn has two players on the depth chart from Tallahassee — safety Ryan White and wide receiver Melvin Ray.

• Gus Malzahn is winning with his own players to a degree. Only nine players came from the 2012 class, the only class signed while Malzahn was at Arkansas State. Curiously, seven of those nine play offense, including two offensive line starters.

*First-string players listed in parentheses.
 

Signing Class247 Star Rank247 Class RankState
2008-09:2 (2)3 (0)2009:22nd (9th in SEC)Alabama14 (10)
2010:14 (9)20 (10)2010:6th (3rd)Florida12 (4)
2011:13 (9)17 (11)2011:8th (4th)Georgia9 (5)
2012:9 (2)2 (1)2012:11th (4th)Louisiana2 (1)
2013:9 (1)NR5 (2)2013:13th (7th)Mississippi2 (1)

 

Teaser:
How Auburn was built for the BCS National Championship
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 06:15
Path: /college-football/how-florida-state-was-built-bcs-national-championship
Body:

Florida State gets a lot of good players from Florida. This is no surprise. But Florida State has long been a national brand with the power to recruit anywhere and anyone in the nation. In its heyday under Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles landed classes chocked full of elite prospects from all over the Southeastern United States. And the Noles played in five national championship games between 1993 and 2000, winning two titles in ’93 and ’00.

However, many felt that recruiting in Tallahassee slipped — like the rest of the program — in the final few years under the legendary head coach.

Enter Jimbo Fisher.

Fisher rejuvenated the Seminoles on the recruiting trail in quick order and returned the Florida State brand to its rightful place atop the college football recruiting mountain. The final class Bowden signed for FSU was ranked 12th nationally (2009) and second in the ACC. Since Fisher took over in 2010, Florida State hasn’t been outside of the top 10 nationally in recruiting and has landed the ACC’s top class every single cycle.

Athlon Sports delved into each national championship depth chart, accounting for every name on offensive and defensive depth charts (plus starting kickers and punters) for the title game.

Related: How Auburn built its 2013 team

We charted their 247Sports Composite star rankings, their signing class with Florida State and their home state. Here’s what we learned:
How Florida State built its 2013 team

• Florida is obviously a hot bed for talent and the Seminoles’ 54-man depth chart includes 32 players from instate. This includes 15 of the 27 starters. As expected, the majority of the Noles roster comes from what many believe is the most talented state in the nation. Georgia is the second-most well represented state in Tallahassee with seven players on the FSU roster. Fisher has done an excellent job evaluating Peach State talent as five of those seven from Georgia are starters, including stars Telvin Smith, Rashad Greene and Cameron Erving. Alabama (4), Mississippi (2) and New Jersey (2) are the only other states with more than one player on the Florida State two-deep. That one from Alabama, however, is pretty special as Jameis Winston was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation coming out of Bessemer, Ala.

• Most championship teams in any sport, be it football, baseball, basketball, college or pro, have a heavy veteran presence. Interestingly enough, of the 54 names listed on the Seminoles two-deep, 40 of them come from the last three signing classes — with 18 of the 27 starters signing with Florida State between 2011-12. There is only one starter who is a fifth-year player (Bryan Stork) and there are only eight players from 2010 class on the two-deep. The star quarterback is a redshirt freshman, the defensive line features three sophomores and three-fifths of the starting secondary are underclassmen. However, Fisher has experience in two critical areas: offensive line and linebacker. Including tight end Nick O’Leary, there isn’t a single underclassman on the offensive line and defensive leaders Christian Jones and Telvin Smith are seniors.

• While Auburn boasts just three five-star prospects on its two-deep (two freshman and no starters), Florida State’s roster is loaded with elite talent. The Seminoles boast 13 five-star players on their two-deep. Ten of those 13 are starters, including three defensive lineman, quarterback Jameis Winston and true freshman safety Jalen Ramsey. Florida State has a five-star contributor in every position group on the field — backfield (3), pass-catchers (1), defensive line (5), linebackers (1) and secondary (3) — except the offensive line. The Noles veteran-laden front line has three three-star recruits and two four-star prospects paving the way for Winston and company. In all, Florida State has 33 four- and five-star prospects in its two-deep, including 18 total starters.

• Florida State's national team recruiting ranking average between 2009-13 is 7.2. Comparatively, Auburn's average national ranking over that span is 12.0. For reference, Alabama tops the nation with a 2.0 national team recruiting ranking average. Since 2009, Auburn has had a top-three SEC class only once while Florida State has had the best class in the ACC four straight years.

• At Florida State, even the specialists are big time prospects. Both Robert Aguayo and Cason Beatty were three-star prospects in 2012. Aguayo was the No. 3-rated kicker in the nation and was one of only 13 kickers in the country to receive a three-star rating. Beatty was the No. 6-rated punter in the nation and was one of only six players at his position nationally to get a three-star rating. The Seminoles are one of only three teams in the nation to sign a three-star kicker and punter in 2012. The other two were Georgia and TCU.

There is one walk-on (Jonathan Wallace, LT), one two-star prospect (Austin Barron, OC) and one junior college signee (Desmond Hollin, DT) in the 54-man two-deep.
*First-string players listed in parentheses.

Signing Class247 Star Rank247 Class RankState
2009:6 (1)13 (10)2009:12th (2nd in ACC)Florida32 (15)
2010:8 (7)20 (8)2010:9th (1st)Georgia7 (5)
2011:19 (11)19 (9)2011:2nd (1st)Alabama4 (1)
2012:11 (7)1 (0)2012:3rd (1st)New Jersey2 (1)
2013:10 (1)NR1 (0)2013:10th (1st)Mississippi2 (1)

 

Teaser:
How Florida State was built for the BCS National Championship
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes, News
Path: /college-football/al-golden-decides-stay-miami
Body:

After receiving interest from Penn State regarding its head coach vacancy, Al Golden has decided to remain at Miami. Golden is a former Penn State player, so the Nittany Lions’ interest in the Miami coach was no surprise.

Miami has made steady gains under Golden, recording a 22-15 mark over the last three seasons. Prior to taking over in Coral Gables, Golden led Temple to a 27-34 record in five years.

While Golden is making progress, Miami has yet to play for the conference title since joining the ACC. But with a top 10-15 recruiting class coming to campus next year, the Hurricanes could start 2014 as the favorite to win the Coastal Division.

 

Teaser:
Al Golden Decides to Stay at Miami
Post date: Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 18:03
Path: /nfl/nfc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-san-francisco-49ers-vs-green-bay-packers
Body:

The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, two of the winningest franchises in NFL history, will go head-to-head in the playoffs for the second straight season when their NFC Wild Card game kicks off at 4:40 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers (12-4) tied with Carolina for the second-best record in the NFC, but are the road team this afternoon against the NFC North champion Packers (8-7-1). The Lambeau Field turf will indeed be frozen with temperatures expected to be below zero at the start of the game and to drop further as the night continues.

This represents the fourth meeting between these two teams in the last two seasons, with the 49ers winning the previous three. San Francisco and Green Bay have opened each of the past two seasons against each other and the 49ers also beat the Packers 45-31 in last year’s NFC Divisional Round out in San Francisco in a game that saw Colin Kaepernick rush for a quarterback-record 181 yards and two touchdowns.

4 Things to Watch

Rusty Rodgers?
If there was every any doubt regarding Rodgers’ importance to the Packers, then look no further than how the regular season played out. Entering its Week 9 Monday night matchup with Chicago, Green Bay was 5-2 and in its customary position atop the NFC North. However, a first-quarter sack of Rodgers by the Bears’ Shea McClellin changed everything, as the 2011 NFL MVP left the game with what was eventually diagnosed as a broken collarbone. Not surprisingly, the Packers fell to the Bears at home, 27-20, and then proceeded to go 2-4-1 without No. 12 under center. With Green Bay’s postseason hopes on the line, Rodgers returned last week for the finale in Chicago and after a shaky first half, bounced back strong and connected with Randall Cobb on a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to give the Packers a 33-28 lead with just 38 seconds remaining. The defense picked off Jay Cutler’s desperation heave into the end zone, securing Green Bay’s third straight division title and their fifth consecutive playoff appearance. Now the attention focuses to this matchup with San Francisco, which figures to be a much tougher test than Chicago, especially from a defensive standpoint. The 49ers finished the regular season fifth in the NFL in yards allowed (316.9 ypg) and third in points (17.0 ppg). Rodgers has had success in his career against the 49ers, averaging 319.5 yards passing and posting a 10:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in four regular-season games, but he’s just 2-2 in those contests and also lost to San Francisco in last year’s playoffs. What’s more, Rodgers has played one full game in the past two months and even his practice time has been limited during his recovery. The rust was pretty evident early on against Chicago, and even though he was able to get the job done, Rodgers knows the margin for error is even smaller in the playoffs, especially against a defense like the 49ers. The Packers wouldn’t even be in this position if not for their quarterback. The question is which one will show up this afternoon – the one that threw two interceptions in the first half last week or the one that carved up the Bears in the third and fourth quarters?

Kaepernick’s Track Record vs. Packers
It’s a very small sample size (two games), but Colin Kaepernick has certainly enjoyed playing Green Bay. He’s 2-0 against the Packers and has gotten the job done with both his arm and his legs. In last season’s Divisional Round win, Kaepernick set an NFL single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback when he gashed Green Bay for 181 on 16 carries (11.3 ypc) and two touchdowns. He also threw for 263 yards and two scores as the 49ers overwhelmed the Packers 45-31 on their way to Super Bowl XLVII. The two teams met again to open this season, and this time Kaepernick did the damage with his arm, throwing for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 win. Aaron Rodgers threw for a combined 590 yards and five touchdowns of his own in these two games, but it’s clear that Green Bay’s defense has not figured out how to slow down, let alone stop, San Francisco’s dynamic dual-threat. On the whole, Kaepernick’s 2013 season has been very uneven, as the Week 1 performance against the Packers was far and away his best game. However, he has been playing more consistently lately, as his 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past six games, all wins, will attest. This also will be Kapernick’s first game against the Packers in Lambeau Field, as the previous two took place out in San Francisco. Ironically enough, Kaepernick was born in nearby Milwaukee, but he went to high school in California and starred at Nevada before getting drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft by the 49ers. How will this West Coast product fare in wintry Green Bay? It remains to be seen, but you know just seeing the Packers on the other side will bring a smile to his face.

Backfield Battle
It’s the classic young vs. old matchup in the backfield as Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy and San Francisco’s Frank Gore figure to be the primary ball carriers. Lacy has had quite the debut, as the second-round pick finished eighth in the league with 1,178 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Gore was right behind him with 1,128 yards, making it the third straight time and seventh in his career that he rushed for more than 1,000 in a season. Gore also found the end zone nine times and perhaps most importantly, he has played in five more postseason games than Lacy. Gore boasts a 5.2 yards per carry average in the playoffs and he could find some room this afternoon against a Packers defense that gave up 125 yards rushing per game (25th) in the regular season. Seven different running backs rushed for more than 100 yards against Green Bay, including two such efforts by Chicago’s Matt Forte. Lacy may have the younger legs with considerably less mileage on them, but he’s going up against a San Francisco rushing defense that surrendered just 95.9 yards on the ground per game and no back broke the century mark against this unit. Even with explosive playmakers like Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback to win in the playoffs you have to be able to run the ball successfully. There are seven years and 8,789 career rushing yards separating Lacy and Gore. So which one will gain the upper hand on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field?

Ice Bowl II?
In 1967, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers met on Dec. 31, 1967 to play for the NFL Championship with the winner going to Super Bowl II. This game was played at Lambeau Field and would later be known simply as the Ice Bowl, as the game-time temperature was about minus-15 degrees with an average wind chill around minus-48. The Packers wound up winning, 21-17 on a late rushing touchdown by Hall of Famer Bart Starr, and the Ice Bowl is considered one of the greatest games ever played. Now while there’s no way to tell if today’s contest will even come close to matching up with the Ice Bowl, one way in which it will be similar is when it comes to the mercury, or lack of, in the thermometer. The temperature at kickoff (4:40 p.m. ET) is expected to be well below zero with one forecast projecting the wind chill to drop to as low as minus-51 degrees. In other words, this could be the coldest game ever played in NFL history, so one way or the other; the weather will be a factor. And while Green Bay is certainly more accustomed to playing in wintry conditions than San Francisco, it’s safe to say that few, if any, Packers ever played in sub-zero temperatures like the ones they are expecting. The team needed an extension to make this a sellout, which is all you need to know considering this is Lambeau Field and the Packers we are talking about. Those fans loyal enough to brave these conditions to cheer on their beloved home team should be rewarded, and not just with the 70,000 hand warmers and free coffee and hot chocolate the team has said it will provide. The players meanwhile don’t have an option, although they will have a front-row seat to what could end up being a historic game.

San Francisco Key Player: Vernon Davis, TE
Davis tied his career high with 13 touchdown catches this season, which also tied him for third in the NFL. The big athletic target can be a difference-maker for the 49ers on offense, as he caught a touchdown pass in all but four games of the 15 he played during the regular season. He and Colin Kaepernick clicked in the playoffs last season, connecting on 12 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown in three games. In fact, Davis has been at his best in the postseason with a total of 22 receptions for 546 yards and five visits to the end zone in five games. That’s good for a ridiculous average of 24.8 yards per reception. The 49ers are obviously hoping for similar results in these playoffs, as a productive Davis only makes Kaepernick and the passing game as a whole that much more dangerous.

Green Bay Key Player: Randall Cobb, WR
Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the only welcome sight for the Packers’ offense in Week 17. Cobb, who had been on injured reserve since breaking his shin in Week 6 against Baltimore, also returned against Chicago and caught two passes, both of which went for touchdowns. The biggest was the 48-yarder that gave his team a 33-28 lead with 38 seconds left. The defense picked off the Bears’ desperation heave as time expired, giving Green Bay the NFC North crown and its fifth straight playoff berth. Jordy Nelson may be the Packers’ leading receiver this season, but Cobb’s explosiveness and big-play ability adds another element to this offense. Last season, he led the team in receptions (80) and yards (954) and also posted 1,256 return yards and another 132 on the ground, while scoring nine total touchdowns. He’s yet to really break out in a playoff game, but his mere presence in the lineup deepens a wide receiving corps that’s going up against the NFL’s seventh-ranked passing defense. Rodgers’ return came in just the nick of time for the Packers, but it was Cobb who was on the other end of the eventual game-winning touchdown pass. Can the two repeat this success this afternoon?

Final Analysis

These two teams are pretty familiar to each other, as this is the third time San Francisco and Green Bay will have played in a little more than a year. The 49ers have won the first two, but both games were on their home turf, not the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The Packers also come into this game riding high, as Aaron Rodgers returned from his broken collarbone to lead his team to a third straight NFC North crown in exciting fashion last week against Chicago.

Colin Kaepernick has been a nightmare for the Packers’ defense to contain, as he ran wild against them in last season’s playoff win and carved them up with his arm back in Week 1. Green Bay’s defense has had its issues this season and will be without linebacker Clay Matthews, who is the unit’s heart and soul and one of the NFL’s top sack specialists.

And then there’s the weather. It’s going to be brutally cold at Lambeau, perhaps the coldest game in NFL history. With temperatures this frigid, the condition will be a factor for both teams, so don’t be surprised if the offenses struggle to put points on the board.

That’s why I think defense will be the deciding factor in this one and even though Rodgers certainly makes the Packers a threat, the 49ers’ defense is one of the best in the league, as this is basically the same unit that played in last year’s Super Bowl. San Francisco’s talent and experience on that side of the ball will win out, as Jim Harbaugh’s team tames both the elements and the Packers, setting up a potential Divisional Round showdown in Seattle next week.

San Francisco 23, Green Bay 20

Teaser:
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers
Post date: Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/afc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-san-diego-chargers-vs-cincinnati-bengals
Body:

The Cincinnati Bengals will try and snap a 23-year playoff victory drought when they host the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Wild Card game at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS. The Bengals (11-5) won the AFC North and are in the playoffs for the third straight season for the first time in franchise history. The Chargers (9-7) earned the final wild card spot last week by beating Kansas City 27-24 in overtime at home. These two teams met in Week 13 in San Diego, a game the Bengals won 17-10.

This is the first playoff game Cincinnati has hosted since losing to the Jets in the 2009 AFC Wild Card game. The Bengals haven’t won in the postseason in more than two decades, going all the way back to a 41-14 victory over Houston in the 1990 AFC Wild Card game, which was played at old Riverfront Stadium.

San Diego is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. The Chargers lost to the Jets 17-14 at home in the Divisional Round that season. This is just the second time these two teams have met in the playoffs. Cincinnati defeated San Diego 27-7 in the AFC Championship Game in 1982, as Ken Anderson out-dueled Dan Fouts in one of the coldest games in NFL history. The game-time temperature was minus-six degrees with a 24 mph wind making the wind chill a frigid minus-32.

3 Things to Watch

Week 13 Recap
Cincinnati made the trek west in Week 13 to take on a San Diego team that had just upset AFC West division rival Kansas City on the road. The Bengals brought the Chargers back to reality, however, beating the home team 17-10 in a game that was fairly even, statistically speaking. Only 20 yards separated the two teams (354 for CIN, 334 for SD), as both had the same number of first downs (19) and time of possession was basically split. The Chargers had the edge in passing production (243 to 190), but the Bengals out-rushed San Diego164 to 91 and had one fewer turnover (2 to 3). Andy Dalton hooked up with A.J. Green for a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter that ended up being the deciding score. It put the Bengals up 14-7, as the teams traded field goals in the fourth quarter and Cincinnati ran out the clock to seal the key road victory. With the win, the Bengals moved to 8-4, maintaining a two-game lead in the AFC North. Cincinnati went 3-1 down the stretch, winning its division by three games and capturing the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs by virtue of a Week 14 home win over Indianapolis. San Diego meanwhile sat at 5-7 following the home loss, seemingly out of the postseason chase. The Chargers rebounded strong, however, winning their final four games, including one on the road against Denver. San Diego also needed some help and got it, as teams in front of them like Miami and Baltimore couldn’t take care of business, setting the stage for the Chargers’ dramatic overtime victory over the Chiefs in the regular-season finale, which rewarded them and first-year head coach Mike McCoy with the final wild card spot.

Welcome to “The Jungle”
Cincinnati calls Paul Brown Stadium home, but it’s more affectionately known as the “The Jungle.” Whatever you want to call it, the Bengals have been beastly there this season, posting a perfect 8-0 record. Among the victims this season were division winners Green Bay, Indianapolis and New England, as well as the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and fellow AFC North foes Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Cincinnati outscored opponents 275-134 at home, or an average of 17.6 points per game. The defense, which finished the regular season third in the NFL in yards allowed (305.5 ypg) and tied for fifth in points allowed (19.1 ppg), was even stingier in “The Jungle.” In eight games at home, the Bengals’ D yielded just 289.4 yards and 16.8 points per contest. The offense also did its part, putting up an average of 364.9 yards per game, including five games with at least 390 yards. This is Cincinnati’s third straight playoff appearance, but their first at home in five seasons. Having lost in Houston each of the past two seasons by a combined score of 50-23, this is no doubt what Marvin Lewis’ team has been waiting for. San Diego on the other hand, was 4-4 on the road in the regular season, but three of those four were against playoff teams – Denver, Kansas City and Philadelphia. The Chargers have shown they can beat good teams on their turf, but the Bengals have no intention of letting them feel at home in “The Jungle.”

Quarterback Quality
Philip Rivers enjoyed quite the bounce-back season with first-year head coach Mike McCoy calling the shots. Rivers finished fifth in the NFL in passing with 4,478 yards and led the league with career-best 69.5 completion percentage. He tossed 32 touchdowns passes, his most since 2008, leading his Chargers back to the postseason and earning his fifth Pro Bowl invite in the process. Andy Dalton has taken his Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons as his numbers continue to rise. Dalton posted career bests in completions, yards, touchdown passes and passer rating this season. He was third behind only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees with 33 touchdowns and also was top 10 in yards and completions. Statistically similar this season, these two quarterbacks also share something else in common – a tendency to turn the ball over too much and a lack of success in the postseason. Last season, Rivers led the league with 22 turnovers (15 INTs, 7 fumbles), as the Chargers stumbled to 7-9 resulting in the dismissal of head coach Norv Turner. This season Rivers has just 13 giveaways with 11 picks and only two lost fumbles, but he hasn’t always been at his best come playoff time. In seven postseason games, Rivers is 3-4 with more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8) and averaging just 260 yards passing per game. Cincinnati’s defense was second only to Kansas City in the AFC in takeaways with 31, and 21 of those have come at home. Unfortunately, the Bengals have been careless with the ball at times, as their 30 giveaways are four more than any other team in the playoffs (Denver, 26). Dalton has been the main culprit, throwing 20 interceptions and losing three fumbles. His 20 picks were the fifth-most of any quarterback in the league and he was particularly sloppy with the ball last week, tossing four interceptions against Baltimore. He also has four picks in two playoff games with no touchdowns. Those first two postseason contests were on the road in Houston, so Dalton should feel more comfortable at home. But he still has to make good decisions when he does drop back to throw, especially if the Bengals’ defense does its job by making Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket. Whichever quarterback takes better care of the football this afternoon can at least walk off of the field knowing they did their job.

San Diego Key Players: Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, RBs
The Chargers’ backfield is powered by the duo of Mathews and Woodhead. The leading rusher, Mathews (right) has posted 99 yards or more in each of his last four games, including a season-high 144 in the wild card-clinching, overtime win against Kansas City last week. Mathews has been dealing with an ankle injury, but it didn’t slow him down at all last week and shouldn’t be a factor entering this game. Mathews needs to be at his best considering Cincinnati finished fifth in the NFL in rushing defense at 96.5 yards per game. While Mathews has been the main ground gainer, Woodhead has had a major impact as a receiver in his first season with the Chargers. An all-purpose threat during his tenure in New England, Woodhead is second on the Chargers with 76 receptions, which have gone for 605 yards and six touchdowns. Mathews also is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield (26-189-1), while Woodhead has rushed for 429 yards and two scores. This versatility will be important against the Bengals’ defense, as yards and points have been hard to come against this unit, especially at home. Whether it’s Mathews or Woodhead or a combination of the two, the Chargers need some plays out of their backfield to help take pressure off of Philip Rivers and the passing game.

Cincinnati Key Players: Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RBs
The Bengals feature more of a speed-power combo in their backfield in the form of Bernard and Green-Ellis. The first running back taken in April’s draft (2nd round, 37th overall), Bernard has made a number of highlight-reel plays this season, using his speed and explosiveness to rack up the yards. He scored eight total touchdowns, as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 9.2 yards per reception. Green-Ellis is the veteran and leads the way with 756 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. His job is to get the tough yardage, especially on third down and near the goal-line, as his 48 first downs can attest. Together this duo has accumulated close to 2,000 yards of total offense and 15 total touchdowns. The Bengals have been more of a passing offense this season, but the running game still needs do its part. San Diego fared pretty well against the run (107.8 ypg) during the regular season, so any real estate Bernard and Green-Eillis can claim this afternoon should make Andy Dalton’s job that much easier.

Final Analysis

After decades of futility, Cincinnati has seemingly found its stride under Marvin Lewis. The Bengals won the AFC North and are in the playoffs for a third straight season for the first time in franchise history. All San Diego head coach Mike McCoy did in his first season was lead the Chargers back to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Chargers won their last four games to get here, but have a tall task ahead of them as the Bengals went a perfect 8-0 at home.

Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game in 23 years, but its last two losses came on the road, in Houston. The Bengals’ hard work during the regular season has paid off, and I fully expect this team to be fired up and ready to go on their home turf, Paul Brown Stadium, aka “The Jungle.” Cincinnati’s defense was one of the best in the NFL during the regular season and I think it will be too much for Philip Rivers and company to overcome. Andy Dalton makes just enough plays through the air and minimizes his mistakes, as the Bengals snap their long playoff victory drought with a well-rounded effort.

Cincinnati 27, San Diego 17

Teaser:
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Post date: Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/10-coaching-candidates-replace-charlie-strong-louisville
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After a 37-15 record in four seasons at Louisville, Charlie Strong has decided to leave to take over the top spot at Texas. Strong inherited a program that won just 15 games in the three seasons prior to his arrival and quickly moved Louisville back into bowl contention, playing in four consecutive postseason games.

The Cardinals are 23-3 over the last two seasons and finished 2013 by demolishing Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Although Strong is leaving, the program is still in good shape. Louisville has one of the best athletic directors in college football in Tom Jurich, and the Cardinals are set to join the ACC in time for the 2014 season.

Louisville has good resources and facilities, so this job will garner plenty of interest from coaches around the nation.

Who will replace Strong in Louisville? Here are some possible candidates for the Cardinals:

10 Candidates to Replace Charlie Strong at Louisville

James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Admittedly, it seems unlikely Franklin would leave Vanderbilt for Louisville, especially if he has interest in Penn State or the NFL. But the Cardinals have excellent resources, good facilities and money to throw in Franklin’s direction. In three years with the Commodores, Franklin has a 24-15 record, including back-to-back bowl victories. Considering how difficult it is to maintain success at Vanderbilt, playing in three consecutive bowl games and an 18-8 record from 2012-13 is a testament to how good of a coach Franklin is. Vanderbilt has made facility improvements over the last few years, but Louisville is a better job and it’s easier to win nine games a season in the ACC. It’s a longshot, but Jurich and Louisville would be wise to inquire about Franklin. 

Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 46.3 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. However, is Herman ready to take the top spot at a top 25-30 job in 2014? Or does he want to make another run at a national championship with Ohio State next season?

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth has quietly built an impressive resume from a handful of stops, including the last three years as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette is 27-12 under Hudspeth’s direction, and the Ragin’ Cajuns claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013. The 27 wins under Hudspeth are the most in a three-year span in school history. Prior to taking over at Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth spent two years as a receivers coach at Mississippi State (2009-10) and worked as the head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08. In seven years at North Alabama, Hudspeth recorded a 66-21 mark.

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo doesn’t have the name recognition of a Chad Morris or James Franklin, but he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and has been a successful coach at three different stops. The New York native went 44-14 stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-12 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history. Moving from Ball State to Louisville would be a sizeable jump, but Lembo is ready to lead a BCS program in 2014.

Derek Mason, defensive coordinator, Stanford
Mason has been a key piece of Stanford’s success under David Shaw, and some early reports seem to indicate he will be in the mix at Louisville. Prior to joining Stanford’s staff in 2010, Mason worked in the NFL with the Vikings as a defensive backs assistant from 2007-09. Mason’s first college job was in 1994 at San Diego Mesa College, followed by stops at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico State and Ohio. Under Mason’s direction, Stanford has finished first or second in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three years. Mason also has an important connection for this job. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was at Northern Arizona when Mason was a defensive back with the Lumberjacks.

Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain is a former Louisville assistant, spending 2000-02 with the Cardinals under John L. Smith. And the Montana native has developed a solid resume since leaving the Cardinals, working from 2003-05 at Michigan State and in 2006 in the NFL with the Raiders. In 2007, McElwain coordinated the Fresno State offense to an average of 419.5 yards per game. After one season with the Bulldogs, McElwain was hired by Nick Saban to call the plays for the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s offense improved under McElwain’s watch, finishing 64th nationally in total offense in 2008 and then jumping to 31st nationally in 2011. McElwain has spent the last two years at Colorado State, guiding the Rams to a 12-14 mark. Colorado State won the New Mexico Bowl this season, which was the school’s first postseason victory since 2008.

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and just finished his third season calling the plays at Clemson. Under Morris’ direction, the Tigers have averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three years. Clemson has also averaged at least 40 points a contest in in back-to-back seasons. In one season as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator (2010), the Golden Hurricane averaged 505.6 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. As if it wasn’t obvious by those numbers, Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. However, his only head coaching experience was on the high school level. While Morris may experience a few ups and downs as a head coach, his offensive background is worth the risk.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut, but openings at Penn State or Louisville certainly provide intrigue for the 47-year-old coach. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans finished second nationally in total defense and allowed just 4.0 yards per play this season. Narduzzi’s defense at Michigan State was a key reason why the Spartans claimed the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford this year. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience.

Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Smart’s name has popped up for a few jobs over the last few years, but the former Georgia defensive back can afford to be patient in choosing his first head coaching gig. Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. He followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. As we mentioned earlier, Smart does not have any head coaching experience, which seems to be the only concern on his resume. Is Smart waiting for a job in the SEC to open? Or is he willing to take a job outside of the conference?

Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, Louisville
Watson is no stranger to Louisville fans, as he joined Charlie Strong’s staff in 2011 and served as the team’s offensive coordinator for the last three years. Prior to coming to Louisville, Watson coordinated offenses at Nebraska and Colorado, while also spending time as an assistant at Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern. After averaging 333 yards per game in 2011, Watson’s offenses improved in 2012 and 2013 – largely due to the development of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – as the Cardinals averaged at least 400 yards per game over the last two years. Watson has one previous stint as a head coach, recording an 11-22 mark in three years at Southern Illinois (1994-96).

Other Names to Watch

Vance Bedford, defensive coordinator, Louisville
Bedford is a Texas native and played his college ball with the Longhorns. Even though he’s paid his dues as an assistant and was a key piece to building Louisville’s defense over the last four seasons, Bedford is likely following Strong to Austin.

David Cutcliffe, head coach, Duke
Cutcliffe’s name has popped up in the rumor mill to replace Strong, but it seems unlikely he leaves Duke for another ACC school. Cutcliffe is 31-43 in six seasons with the Blue Devils, including a 16-10 mark over the last two years.

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Gruden is a former Louisville quarterback and has played a key role in developing Andy Dalton for the Bengals. While Gruden is a solid offensive mind, he has no head coaching experience on the college level and may be more interested in NFL jobs. And depending on the Bengals’ postseason success, Gruden may not be capable of taking a job until mid-January.

Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mississippi State is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC, but Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowl games. Mullen has a solid team returning next year, which could be the best of his tenure in Starkville. It seems like a longshot for Mullen to leave, but Louisville’s a better job and it’s easier to win in the ACC than coaching in the SEC West.

Bobby Petrino, head coach, Western Kentucky
Petrino went 41-9 in four years at Louisville from 2003-06. However, it’s hard to envision Petrino returning to a BCS job in 2014, especially since what transpired at Arkansas following the 2011 season. You never say never, but all signs seem to indicate it's a longshot for Petrino to return to Louisville.

Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez seems to be content (and has a pretty good job) at Arizona, but Louisville would be wise to inquire to see if there’s any interest. In two years with the Wildcats, Rodriguez is 16-10 overall. While his stint at Michigan didn’t not go particularly well, Rodriguez has been successful at each of his other stops, including a 60-26 mark at West Virginia from 2001-07.

Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells worked at Louisville in 2009 and did an outstanding job at Utah State in 2013, guiding the Aggies to a 9-5 record despite losing quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a knee injury. Although Wells was the Mountain West Coach of the Year, it’s probably too early to expect him to move to a BCS job.

Teaser:
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Charlie Strong at Louisville
Post date: Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 08:15
Path: /college-football/charlie-strong-leaves-louisville-texas
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Charlie Strong has decided to leave Louisville for Texas, ending a successful four-year run with the Cardinals.

Reports surfaced on Friday night that Strong was Texas’ top pick, but he waited to accept the job until he had a chance to meet face-to-face with athletic director Tom Jurich on Saturday.

In four years at Louisville, Strong compiled a 37-15 record. Over the last two years, the Cardinals were 23-3 and won back-to-back bowl games.

 

Teaser:
Charlie Strong Leaves Louisville for Texas
Post date: Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 02:09
Path: /nfl/nfc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-new-orleans-saints-vs-philadelphia-eagles
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Defensive purists may not want to watch tonight when the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles go at it in the opening NFC Wild Card game at 8:10 p.m. ET on NBC. The Saints (11-5) and the Eagles (10-6) are among the top four offenses in the NFL and combined averaged more than 52 points per game during the regular season.

New Orleans is back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus, but the Saints were unable to hold off Carolina for the NFC South crown, meaning they will have to do something they have never done – win a road playoff game – if they want to return to the Super Bowl. Philadelphia meanwhile won the NFC East in Chip Kelly’s first season, putting the Eagles in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Now Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles will try and win their first career playoff game together by beating the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning duo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

4 Things to Watch

Offensive Fireworks
Philadelphia and New Orleans finished second and fourth, respectively, in the NFL in total offense. Both teams averaged about 400 yards per game and also were among the top 10 teams in scoring. Although their offensive approaches are slightly different, there are numerous similarities between these two teams. Both Nick Foles and Drew Brees completed better than 64 percent of their passes, ranked among the top six in passer rating and top 10 in touchdown passes. The veteran Brees finished behind only Peyton Manning in terms of passing yards (5,162) and touchdowns (39), while first-year starter Foles took over for an injured Michael Vick and wound up leading the league in passer rating (119.2) while posting an impressive 27:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Both signal-callers have legitimate No. 1 receivers that caught at least 82 passes and nine touchdowns, along with a host of other reliable options, including running backs. Neither defenses are terrible by any means, but with offensive masterminds Sean Payton and Chip Kelly calling the plays and the likes of Brees, Foles, LeSean McCoy, Jimmy Graham, DeSean Jackson and others executing them, don’t expect this postseason tilt to develop into a defensive struggle.

Philadelphia’s Backfield Edge
Offensive similarities aside, if there’s one position the Eagles have a significant edge at it’s running back. LeSean McCoy not only led the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards, but he set a new, single-season franchise record and finished with nearly 300 more than the next guy (Matt Forte) on the list. The man known as Shady averaged 5.1 yards per carry and added 52 receptions for 539 yards in his first season in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. McCoy found the end zone a total of 11 times (nine rush, two receiving) and had 17 total plays from scrimmage that went for at least 20 yards. With McCoy leading the way, Philadelphia was tops in the league in rushing offense at 160.4 yards per game. On the flip side, New Orleans, which is known for being a passing team with Drew Brees under center, came in at 25th overall with just 92.1 yards rushing per game. The Saints as a team averaged 3.8 yards per carry and their leading rusher (Pierre Thomas, 549 yards) has already been ruled out for tonight’s game because of a back injury. McCoy had 598 yards rushing in his last five games alone and on the season the Eagles’ first-team All-Pro (Associated Press) has out-rushed the entire Saints team by 134 yards (1,607 to 1,473). To make matters worse for New Orleans, its defense finished 19th in the league against the run, giving up 112.2 yards rushing per game. McCoy has played a huge role in Philadelphia getting this far, so there’s no reason to not expect to see a lot of Shady tonight.

Saints’ Road Woes
For whatever reason, New Orleans is simply a different team away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The results speak for themselves. The Saints went 8-0 at home this season, averaging a robust 34.0 points per game. On the road, they were 3-5 and scored nearly half (17.8 ppg) as many points. New Orleans got off to a good start this season, winning in Tampa Bay and Chicago to open its road slate, but won just one more away game the rest of the way. In their last three (Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina), the Saints were outscored 78-36. And if that’s not enough, New Orleans is 0-5 all-time on the road in playoff games, including 0-3 with Sean Payton as head coach and Drew Brees as quarterback. The last loss came in the 2011 Divisional Round when San Francisco scored late in the fourth quarter to beat New Orleans 36-32. As the No. 6 seed in the NFC bracket, the Saints already have the deck stacked against them, needing three road victories to get to the Super Bowl. Add in that the Eagles have won four in a row at home and are 3-1 in their past four playoff games at Lincoln Financial Field and it’s clear the Saints have their work cut out for them if they want to get this road monkey off of their backs.

Eagles’ Improving D
On paper, New Orleans’ defense has fared considerably better than Philadelphia’s, and it’s not even close. The Saints finished the regular season fourth in yards allowed (305.7 ypg) while the Eagles were near the bottom (29th, 394.2 ypg). That said, Philadelphia’s D has shown signs of improvement recently, meaning this unit may be peaking at just the right time. Outside of a disastrous showing in Minnesota (455 YA, 48 PA), the Eagles gave up an average of 313 yards and 18.5 points per game in their past five games. Three of these games were at home and the Saints’ road woes were documented earlier. If these two trends continue tonight, then Chip Kelly may not need big numbers from his offense in order to win his first career playoff game as an NFL head coach.

New Orleans Key Player: Jimmy Graham, TE
Philadelphia has the big edge at running back in LeSean McCoy. The same can be said for the Saints when it comes to Graham. A near-unanimous first-team All-Pro as voted by the Associated Press, the tight end led the NFL with 16 touchdowns and finished among the top 15 in both receptions (86) and yards (1,215). A matchup nightmare, Graham posted six 100-yard games and caught at least one touchdown in all but five games despite being hampered by plantar fasciitis for much of the season. The Eagles did a good job against opposing tight ends this season, giving up just three touchdowns, but Graham is no ordinary tight end. He will no doubt draw plenty of defensive attention tonight, but even that may not be enough to slow down the 6-7, 256-pound athletic freak of nature. 

Philadelphia Key Player: Nick Foles, QB
Tonight’s game features a matchup of native Texans as Foles followed in Drew Brees’ footsteps when he played quarterback at Westlake High School in Austin. Ten years younger than Brees, Foles now has a chance to beat his Super Bowl-winning idol in his first playoff game. It has already been a dream season for Foles, who took over for an injured Michael Vick and would up going 8-2 as the starter for the NFC East champs. In 13 total games this season, Foles led the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating, as he threw 27 touchdowns, including a record-tying seven against Oakland, and just two interceptions. He also can make plays with his legs (221 yards rushing, 3 TDs), but the key for Foles tonight is to not try and match Brees throw-for-throw. Unlike Brees, Foles has the NFL’s leading rusher (LeSean McCoy) to lean on, but there will still be times when he will need to make something happen either inside or outside of the pocket. Foles grew up idolizing one of the best quarterbacks the game has ever seen, but tonight is this Texan’s opportunity to stand tall and make a name for himself.

Final Analysis

From an experience standpoint, New Orleans has a clear edge over Philadelphia, as Sean Payton and Drew Brees have posted a 5-3 record in the playoffs together, including a win in Super Bowl XLIV to end the 2009 season. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles are both playing in their first career postseason game.

That said, the Eagles are the home team and have won four in a row at Lincoln Financial Field, They also boast one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses with Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and others taking full advantage of Kelly’s up-tempo system. Then there’s also the Saints’ lack of success on the road, not only this season but also in the playoffs. New Orleans went just 3-5 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season and is 0-5 all-time in postseason road contests.

Brees and the Saints are capable of putting up some big offensive numbers of their own, especially with weapons like All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, but the Eagles have much more balance, highlighted by McCoy, the league’s leading rusher. In the end, the Eagles have too much offense for a more one-dimensional Saints attack to overcome, especially one that can’t seem to put it all together when they are the visitors.

Philadelphia 31, New Orleans 27

Teaser:
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Post date: Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/afc-wild-card-preview-and-prediction-kansas-city-chiefs-vs-indianapolis-colts
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The 2013 NFL playoffs will kick off Saturday with a Week 16 rematch when the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts square off in the AFC Wild Card game at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC. Andy Reid’s Chiefs (11-5) should be at near full strength for the first time in more than a month while Chuck Pagano’s Colts (11-5) appear to be peaking at the right time.

After starting out the season 9-0, Kansas City lost five of their final seven games, including a 23-7 setback at home to Indianapolis just two weeks ago. The Chiefs also haven’t won a playoff game since the 1993 Divisional Round, as their seven-game postseason losing streak is tied with Detroit for the longest in NFL history. Included in this streak are three losses to the Colts, the most recent being a 23-8 home defeat in the 2006 Wild Card game.

Indianapolis won the AFC South with a perfect 6-0 divisional record and also defeated Denver and Seattle, the top seeds in the AFC and NFC respectively, as well as San Francisco during the regular season. After playing uneven to open the second half of their schedule, the Colts finished with a flourish, winning their final three games by a combined score of 78-20. Now Andrew Luck will look to keep the momentum going at home, put an end to Indianapolis’ own three-game postseason skid and earn his first career playoff victory in the process.

3 Things to Watch

Round One
Two weeks ago, Indianapolis, 9-5 at the time, entered its Week 16 game against Kansas City (11-3) as the underdog and in the midst of a six-game stretch in which the Colts traded losses and wins. Meanwhile, the Chiefs had seemingly righted the ship after dropping three in a row (two of those to Denver) at home, beating the Redskins and Raiders on the road by a combined score of 101-41. Back at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs jumped out to 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 31-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles, only to watch the visiting team take over from there. Indianapolis scored the final 23 points of the game, as Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers and Donald Brown scored two touchdowns (one rush, one receiving) to supply most of the offense. On defense, the Colts gave up 155 yards rushing, including 106 to Charles, but limited Alex Smith to just 153 yards passing, sacked him five times and forced a total of four turnovers (three by Smith) to hold the Chiefs scoreless for the final 50 minutes of the game.

Indianapolis’ Momentum
The Colts opened this season strong, winning five of their first seven games, including home contests against Seattle and Denver and on the road against San Francisco. Coming out of their Week 8 bye, however, Indianapolis struggled to find any consistency or rhythm. A road wins against Houston was followed up by a 38-8 home shellacking administered by St. Louis, while a victory in Nashville over Tennessee preceded a 40-11 beatdown in Arizona. This win-then-lose pattern continued for two more weeks until the Colts handily defeated the defending AFC South champion Texans, 25-3, in Lucas Oil Stadium. That was the start of a three-game winning streak to end the regular season in which Indianapolis beat Houston, Kansas City and Jacksonville by an average of 19.3 points per game. Both sides of the ball have been clicking lately, as the offense has displayed balance and the defense has stiffened up. The offense has averaged 359 yards per game during this stretch, its best three-game run since early in the season, while the defense held teams to 292 yards per contest and forced a total of seven turnovers. Put it all together and Chuck Pagano’s team appears to be peaking at just the right time and now gets to face a Chiefs squad it just beat two weeks ago. What’s more, this game will be on the Colts’ home turf, on which they went 6-2 during the regular season, including wins over Denver and Seattle, the top seeds in the AFC and NFC playoffs, respectively. There’s little question that Indianapolis comes into this one with plenty of momentum on its side. The question now is can the Colts capitalize on it to produce a fourth straight win?

Kansas City’s Reinforcements
The Chiefs roared out to a 9-0 start, but limped home with a 2-5 finish due in large part to injuries. That’s the main reason why Andy Reid rested 20 of 22 starters in the regular-season finale in San Diego, a game that the Chiefs had a chance to win on a 41-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Succop at the end of regulation. It was not meant to be however, as Succop’s kick just missed to the right (and the referees missed a penalty on the Chargers that would have resulted in another shot from 36 yards away), giving the Chargers a second chance. San Diego made the most of the extra period, winning the game with a field goal in overtime and snatching the final playoff spot in the AFC from Pittsburgh in the process. While the Chiefs’ postseason berth had been secured two weeks prior, it didn’t take away the fact that Kansas City finished the regular season with two straight losses. The good news, however, is that the Chiefs should be back to near full strength for their rematch with the Colts, as linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, along with left tackle Branden Albert are all expected to play. Houston (dislocated elbow) and Hali (swelling in the knee) could be difference-makers for a defense that has struggled for the past two months. After allowing just 12.3 points per game in the first seven games, the Chiefs have given up 27.7 over their last seven contests. Houston, who has missed the past five games, and Hali have combined for 22 of the team’s 47 sacks. In the past five games, Kansas City has collected 10 sacks, but six of those came in one game (at Washington), and the defense had just one of Andrew Luck in the Week 16 home loss to Indianapolis. The pass rush has been one of the signatures of this Chiefs defense and it appears it will be closer to 100 percent for the most important game of the season to date. On offense, don’t underestimate the return of Albert either. He has missed the past four games and his presence is even more important now that fellow tackle Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft, injured his groin in practice on Tuesday, putting his status up in the air. The offense needs Albert to help open up space for Jamaal Charles on the ground and to give Alex Smith enough time in the pocket to make some plays. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe also has been cleared to return after missing last week’s game due to a concussion he sustained in the first meeting against the Colts. Which Kansas City team – the one that started 9-0 or the one that lost five of its final seven games – shows up in Indianapolis remains to be seen, but at least the starting lineup should look more like the former rather than the latter.

Kansas City Key Player: Jamaal Charles, RB
Besides leading the AFC in rushing with 1,287 yards, Charles is the Chiefs’ leading receiver with 70 catches for 693 yards and he led the entire NFL in touchdowns with 19 (12 rush, 7 receiving). Put it all together and Charles is responsible for more than a third (36.6 percent) of Kansas City’s total offense (1,980 of 5,396 yards) and nearly half (46.3 percent) of the team’s offensive touchdowns. Simply put, Charles is the Chiefs’ offense and he needs to put up big numbers against the Colts to take the pressure off of quarterback Alex Smith and the passing game, as well as a defense that’s been reeling lately. In the first meeting against Indianapolis in Week 16, Charles staked Kansas City to a 7-0 lead and finished the game with 106 yards rushing and 38 yards receiving. The biggest problem was that he touched the ball just 18 times, which tied for his second-fewest of the season. Not surprisingly, the Chiefs managed just seven points and posted the third-fewest offensive yards (287) on the season in the home loss. The Colts finished 26th in the league in rushing defense, giving up 125.1 yards per game. Charles averaged 132 total yards per game, so there’s no reason to not expect him to get 20-plus touches this time around, especially if the Chiefs want to put themselves in a position to survive and advance.

Indianapolis Key Player: Andrew Luck, QB
Luck has already done something that his predecessor, Peyton Manning, didn’t accomplish during his tenure in Indianapolis. Luck, the former Stanford star and No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft, has led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, posting 11-5 marks both years. Manning went 3-13 in his 1998 rookie campaign before turning that record completely around and winning the AFC East the following season. Now Luck will try and beat Manning to another milestone by winning his first career playoff game in just his second try. Manning lost his first three postseason contests before taking the Colts to the AFC Championship Game in 2003, where they lost to the Patriots. Luck’s second postseason game will come at home, and he knows better than anyone that he must improve on his first playoff effort to put his team in a position to win. In last season’s AFC Wild Card game in Baltimore, Luck completed just 28 of 54 passes for 288 yards with an interception and he also lost a fumble after a sack. The Ravens, who were the No. 4 seed, went on to win Super Bowl XLVII over San Francisco, a path the Colts would no doubt love to copy. The first step is beating the Chiefs for the second time in three weeks. However, as his predecessor will attest to, regular-season success doesn’t automatically carry over to the playoffs. Luck has already demonstrated he’s a quick study, increasing his completion percentage by more than six points (54.1 to 60.2) and cutting his interceptions in half (18 to 9) from his rookie season to this one. Now’s the time to find out if his maturation process carries over to the games that count the most.

Final Analysis

Indianapolis enters this rematch with Kansas City playing its best football of the season. The Colts are at home, where they have already beaten the Seahawks and Broncos, and also have a road win against the Chiefs under their belt. Kansas City struggled to close the season out, but injuries played a big hand in its 2-5 finish and Andy Reid basically treated the finale against San Diego as a bye week. The Chiefs should be close to full strength for this game, and the defense has already shown on multiple occasions that it’s capable of dominating the opposition.

As well as the Colts have played lately, I think one of the keys in this game will be the Chiefs’ re-energized pass rush. Kansas City had 47 sacks in the regular season, and Indianapolis has had its issues with teams that can pressure the pocket. Andrew Luck had little trouble with the Chiefs’ defense in the first game, but Kansas City wasn’t close to 100 percent on that side of the ball. This time, I am expecting Luck to be under more duress, and the Colts don’t have a running back like Jamaal Charles in their backfield to take the pressure off of their quarterback.

In the end, Kansas City returns to the formula that produced a 9-0 start – a heavy dose of Charles combined with a relentless pass rush and opportunistic defense – and make just enough plays in the second half to keep a scrappy Indianapolis team at bay. The Chiefs put an end to their seven-game losing streak in the playoffs while the Colts’ grows to four in a row, as Luck gets a second taste of the postseason disappointment that his predecessor experienced early in his career.

Kansas City 27, Indianapolis 23

Teaser:
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 16:00
Path: /college-football/2014-under-armour-all-american-game-winners-and-losers
Body:

Seven of the nation's best prospects announced where they intend to play college football, at the seventh annual Under Armour game in Florida on Thursday.

While a verbal commitment is literally worth nothing in the formal sense, many teams got a lot of good news yesterday. Until the paper work — i.e., the National Letter of Intent — is signed on the first Wednesday in February, these announcements amount to little more than a hill of beans technically. But when six of the top 30 players in the nation make a national television decision on where they will be playing their college ball, it is big news.

Here are the winners and losers from Tropicana Field on Thursday night.

Note: All rankings come from 247Sports

Under Armour Winners:

LSU Tigers
The Tigers had eyes on going “5-for-5” at the Under Armour event. While that was highly unlikely, Tigers fans everywhere started to get nervous when it missed out on instate talents Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis, along with Texas product Tony Brown. However, Les Miles and "The University of LSU" capped the day by landing the No. 1 overall player in the nation in tailback Leonard Fournette and the No. 2 safety in the nation in Jamal Adams. Picking up two top 30 prospects in one afternoon is a huge coup no matter who else the Tigers might have missed out on. LSU moved from No. 10 in the team rankings to No. 5 and is third in the SEC behind only Alabama and Texas A&M.

Texas A&M Aggies
The nation’s No. 1 quarterback Kyle Allen is playing in the U.S. Army Bowl on Saturday and will be in line to take over for Johnny Manziel in College Station in 2014. Allen and Kevin Sumlin got a big boost on Thursday from the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation. New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr playmaker Speedy Noil (5-10, 175) picked Texas A&M over instate LSU at the Under Armour event. He then went on to post a team-high 116 all-purpose yards, including three receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. The diminuative dynamo was electric all week in practice. Adding to that, the nation’s No. 2 defensive end in the nation, Myles Garrett, was unstoppable all week in practice and had a strong showing in the event. The Arlington (Texas) James Martin prospect is 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and posted a game-high six tackles, including one sack. Sumlin had a good week in Tampa as the Aggies moved from fifth nationally in the team rankings to third.

Arizona Wildcats
The Pac-12’s biggest win of the day was Arizona landing Washington (D.C.) Friendship Academy cornerback Jalen Tabor. The 6-foot-1, 182-pound athlete is the nation’s No. 4-rated cornerback and the No. 24-rated overall prospect in the 2014 class. Tabor picked the Wildcats over Alabama and he would likely be the biggest recruit of the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson. RichRod also pulled the switcharoo with big-time offensive lineman prospect Jordan Poland, luring the four-star tackle away from USC on Thursday. Arizona made a huge jump in the team rankings, moving from 24th to 15th in the 247Sports team rankings.

Florida State Seminoles
Early in the week, the Seminoles got some big news by flipping Dalvin Cook, the nation’s No. 2-rated running back, from his Florida commitment. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is the No. 12-rated overall player in the nation and hails from Miami (Fla.) Central. But then during the game in Tampa, Florida State snagged West Palm Beach star wide receiver Travis Rudolph. Not only did FSU get a commitment from Rudolph over Miami, Florida, Alabama and Auburn, but also watched Rudolph shine all week. He is one of the most developed players at his position nationally and posted four catches for 48 yards and a TD in the game.

The SEC
Of the seven elite players who announced their college intentions in Tampa, the SEC landed five of them. The No. 1 running back (LSU), No. 1 wide receiver (Texas A&M), No. 2 safety (LSU), No. 2 defensive tackle (Florida) and No. 3 cornerback (Alabama) in the nation all picked to play ball in the SEC. According to 247Sports team rankings, the SEC now boasts the No. 1 (Alabama), No. 3 (Texas A&M), No. 5 (LSU), No. 6 (Tennessee), No. 8 (Auburn), No. 10 (Georgia), No. 11 (Florida) and No. 13 (Ole Miss) classes in the nation.

Under Armour Losers:

LSU Tigers
A team normally cannot win and lose on the same day but that is what happened to LSU on Thursday. A die-hard LSU friend of mine told me after the game on Thursday that the “fence that was once around Louisiana has definitely come down.” Watching two of the top five players in the Pelican State choose rival schools — Noil to Texas A&M and Willis to Florida — had to be painful. And watching Tony Brown, the No. 9-rated player in the nation, pick the rival Crimson Tide over LSU had to sting a bit as well. Landing the top player in the nation in Fournette and another top 10 athlete nationally in Adams obviously means the day was successful. But had LSU landed one or two more, giving them three or four top 30 commitments in one day could have been a historic moment for Miles and the Bayou Bengals. For the record, LSU has just one of the top six players in the state of Louisiana committed.

Florida Gators
The day was saved for Will Muschamp and Florida when Willis decided to “take his talents to Gainesville.” However, the Gators are feeling the blow of a 4-8 record on the recruiting trail. Muschamp’s staff missed on Fournette, Rudolph and Adams to archrivals LSU and Florida State on Thursday. This coming on the heels of losing Dalvin Cook to the Seminoles earlier in the week. Willis is a huge get and keeps the Gators ranked in the top 15 nationally of the team rankings, but right now, Florida is seventh in the SEC team ranks.

USC Trojans
The Trojans dropped from 28th in the 247Sports team rankings to 35th in one day. Not only did USC miss out on landing elite cornerback Tony Brown but the Men of Troy appear to have lost La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School lineman Jordan Poland to a division rival. The four-star 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle decommitted from USC and switched his commitment to Arizona.

Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide claims the No. 1 class in the nation and landed an elite talent in Beaumont (Texas) Ozen cornerback Tony Brown. However, Nick Saban and company missed out on Fournette, Tabor and Rudolph to LSU, Arizona and Florida State, respectively. The other angle to consider is how Cameron Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation, played all week and in the game. Robinson looked overmatched at times and was on his heels for most of the Under Armour event. If Robinson is going to slide inside to play guard, he has no business being ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the nation. All of this on the same day that Bob Stoops whipped Saban’s defense in the Sugar Bowl.

April Justin
The most famous mother in football recruiting had yet another awkward moment on national television on Thursday. Justin, the mother of star defensive tackle Gerald Willis, clearly didn’t want her son to leave the state of Louisiana. Willis picked Florida and his mother responded with “It is what it is. LSU is still No. 1.” It was bizarrely similar to what happened two years ago at the Under Armour event when her other son, Alabama safety Landon Collins, picked Alabama over the instate Tigers. “I feel that LSU is a better place for him to be” was Justin’s response on ESPN when Collins picked Bama. Justin might be the only woman in the nation who could have two sons become All-SEC performers and not really be excited about it.

The Big Ten
Of the seven players who were committing live at the Under Armour All-American Game in Tampa, one player had one Big Ten school listed as a finalist. Tony Brown, the nation’s No. 3 cornerback, had Ohio State listed among USC, Texas, LSU and Alabama (he picked Alabama). But not one other school in the Big Ten was even a finalists for one of these elite prospects — five of which picked an SEC school. Michigan did have seven prospects in the game and Penn State had four but the Midwestern league was noticeably absent from any headlines in Tampa this week.

 

Teaser:
2014 Under Armour All-American Game Winners and Losers
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 13:08
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/art-briles-plans-stay-baylor
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Art Briles was mentioned by many as one of the leading candidates to replace Mack Brown at Texas. And with Baylor’s season complete, the rumor mill has been in full effect over the last few days, as Briles’ name came up in regards to a possible interview with Texas athletic director Steve Patterson.

However, Briles tweeted his support of the school (and his current job) on Friday. And the school also released a statement from Briles, which confirmed his intentions to stay in Waco.
 

With quarterback Bryce Petty returning, Baylor should be one of the frontrunners to win the Big 12 in 2014.
Teaser:
Art Briles Plans to Stay at Baylor
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 11:29
Path: /college-football/godaddy-bowl-preview-and-prediction-arkansas-state-vs-ball-state
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Arkansas State finds itself in familiar territory while Ball State will be looking to make program history in this year’s GoDaddy Bowl. The last bowl before the BCS National Championship Game, the Red Wolves are in Mobile, Ala., in January for the third straight season, while the Cardinals are aiming to cap off this season with their first-ever postseason victory.

Besides playing in its third consecutive GoDaddy Bowl, Arkansas State will be led once again by an interim head coach. Bryan Harsin, who led the Red Wolves to a 7-5 mark in the regular season and a third straight Sun Belt title (co-champions with Louisiana-Lafayette), accepted the head coaching job at Boise State, his alma mater, on Dec. 11. This is the similar path that Harsin’s predecessors, Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn), also took following the 2011 and ’12 seasons, respectively.

The school has hired former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson as the new head coach, but he won’t officially take over until after the bowl game. Defensive coordinator John Thompson is acting as interim head coach, the same role he fulfilled last season after Malzahn left for Auburn. Thompson led his team to a 17-13 win over Kent State in last year’s GoDaddy Bowl, the first postseason triumph for the Red Wolves in three tries.

Ball State (10-2) will have Pete Lembo calling the shots in Mobile, but it remains to be seen if that will be the case once the dust finally settles on the coaching carousel. The Cardinals have posted 19 wins over the past two seasons under Lembo and will try and cap off just the third 10-win season in program history with their first bowl victory. Ball State is 0-6 in bowl games as a FBS member, including last season’s 38-17 loss to UCF in the Saint Petersburg Bowl.

This also represents the first-ever meeting between these two schools.

Arkansas State vs. Ball State

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ball State -7.5

Arkansas State’s Key to Victory: Pound the football
Quarterback Adam Kennedy is fourth in the nation in completion percentage (69.3), but he’s averaging less than 200 yards passing per game. The key to the Red Wolves offense is the ground game, as they are averaging nearly as many yards on the ground (206.0 ypg) as through the air (208.2 ypg). Sophomore running back Michael Gordon is the leading rusher with 717 yards and he’s averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Gordon has scored 10 rushing touchdowns too, but he hasn’t been the only productive ground-gainer for Arkansas State. Two others, including Kennedy, have rushed for more than 500 yards this season, while Kennedy and fellow quarterback Fredi Knighten have combined for nine touchdowns on the ground. All told, the Red Wolves have 30 rushing touchdowns compared to just 13 passing. Arkansas State’s offensive strength has been Ball State’s defensive weakness. The Cardinals are 92nd in FBS in rushing defense, as they have given up 194.8 rushing yards per game. More than half (seven) of the teams Ball State has played this season has posted at least 200 yards rushing, including 363 by Army. In the Cardinals’ two losses, to bowl teams North Texas and Northern Illinois, they surrendered a total of 455 yards on the ground and 5.4 yards per carry. Ball State’s offense has been difficult to stop this season, but Arkansas State’s offense can help out its defense if the Red Wolves are able to run the ball successfully.

Ball State’s Key to Victory: Soar on offense
The Cardinals’ formula for winning 10 games this season has been pretty simple – pile up the yards and points. Ball State enters this game 19th in the nation in total offense with 486.3 yards per game. The Cardinals are just one of 11 teams in FBS averaging better than 40 points per game and the passing attack is ninth in the nation with 333.3 yards per game. Ball State posted at least 420 yards of total offense in all 12 of its games and was held to fewer than 31 points just three times. In those games, the Cardinals still managed 27 points, although they did go 1-2. While much of the damage has been done through the air, Ball State is capable of running the ball and this attack will be a tough test for Arkansas State’s defense. The Red Wolves are 80th in the nation in yards allowed (417.3 ypg), including 234.4 yards passing per game. Against teams that finished with a winning record (Auburn, Louisiana-Lafayette, Missouri, Western Kentucky),  that number jumps to 459.8 yards per game and 6.6 yards per play. For the season, Ball State is averaging 6.7 yards per play. As long as the Cardinals maintain the status quo on offense, it should be another productive night on the field and scoreboard at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Key Player: Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
The key to the Cardinals’ prolific offense is Wenning, who has rewritten the record books during his Ball State career. A senior, Wenning is the school’s all-time leader in virtually every passing category after setting career highs in yards (3,933) and touchdowns (34) this season. He has completed 65.2 percent of his passes and has thrown just six interceptions. Wenning is sixth in the nation with 327.8 yards passing per game and has hooked up with 13 different receivers this season. His main weapons are his wide receiver trio of Willie Snead, Jordan Williams and Jamill Smith, who have combined for 228 catches, 3,300 yards (14.5 ypr) and all but two of Wenning’s 34 touchdown passes. Contrast that to Arkansas State’s passing attack, which has totaled 2,498 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. A four-year starter already with 27 wins, a host of school records and other accolades under his belt, there’s just one thing left for Wenning to do to cap off his impressive Ball State career – lead the Cardinals to their first-ever bowl victory.

Final Analysis

Arkansas State has gone 27-11 over the last three seasons, all of which resulted in a trip to Mobile to play in the GoDaddy Bowl. Ball State has posted 19 wins in the past two seasons, but is still looking for that first postseason victory. Arkansas State is no longer an unknown commodity, as its past three head coaches have left after just one season to take over at Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze), Auburn (Gus Malzahn) and Boise State (Bryan Harsin), respectively. Pete Lembo may not be at Ball State by the time the 2014 season kicks off, but he and the Cardinals have unfinished business to attend to before closing the book on their ’13 campaign. As much success as Arkansas State has enjoyed recently, I think this Red Wolves team will have their hands full, especially on defense, against a potent Ball State offense. The Cardinals have a senior quarterback in Keith Wenning under center, and boast plenty of weapons at receiver and in the backfield. No team has really been able to slow down Ball State’s offense this season and I expect that trend to continue against Arkansas State. The Cardinals just have too much firepower for the Red Wolves to contend with, as Wenning and the rest of the senior class cap off their collegiate careers with a historic win.

Prediction: Ball State 38, Arkansas State 27

Teaser:
GoDaddy Bowl Preview and Prediction: Arkansas State vs. Ball State
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-3-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 3.

 

• It's the New Year, but last night was Christmas for Bama haters. Enjoy this heaping helping of Saban-freude. Another upside: We got a lot of Katherine Webb concern-face in what might have been her last moment in the spotlight. .

 

Greg Doyel takes his medicine from fans for calling Bama the best team in the country.

 

• A weird night in Miami: LeBron left skidmarks on the American Airlines court last night. His teammate, Dwyane Wade, blew an uncontested layup.

 

Ice Bowl II: Game-time temp could be minus-5 in Green Bay this weekend. That's bad news for the game's sideline reporter, Erin Andrews.

 

• College football crowns its champion Monday night. Here's some BCS Championship Game trivia.

 

Who knew that a pooping dog could double as a compass? We're here to educate.

 

• We've brought you several videos of returning soldiers surprising family members. Today, we bring you a dog who's psyched to Skype with his deployed owner.

 

• Because I'm in that kind of mood: 19 GIFs of animals knocking down little kids. Plus, kids who are lousy at hide and seek.

 

• Some enterprising Bills fans spent an otherwise lost season posterizing opposing fans in the Ralph parking lot.

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 10:43
Path: /college-football/bbva-compass-bowl-preview-and-prediction-vanderbilt-vs-houston
Body:

Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the third straight season and will be making its first trip to an out-of-state postseason game since the 1982 Commodores played in the Hall of Fame Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham. James Franklin’s team struggled early in the season — the Dores were 3–3 overall (0–3 in the SEC) after six games — but won five of its last six games, highlighted by victories over Georgia at home and Florida and Tennessee on the road.

Vanderbilt, however, will not have the services of starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. The fifth-year senior had surgery to repair a torn ACL a few days after the season-ending win over Wake Forest. Carta-Samuels injured his knee in a mid-October win over Georgia but managed to start the final three games, wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman who started two games and played significant snaps in three others, will get the nod for the Dores.

Houston is back in a bowl game after missing out on the postseason in two of the last three years. Tony Levine’s first season as a head coach did not go too well — the Cougars went 5–7  in 2012 — but he bounced back with an 8–4 overall record and a 5–3 mark in the new American Athletic Conference. The Cougars lost to BYU by one point in non-conference action and lost to the three teams that finished ahead of them in the AAC (UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati) by an 6.3 points. This is a solid team that doesn’t have any bad losses but doesn’t really have any good wins, either.

Vanderbilt vs. Houston

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Vanderbilt -2.5

Vanderbilt’s Key to Victory: Run the ball
Vanderbilt features one of the elite wide receivers in the nation in senior Jordan Matthews, but the Commodores’ first order of business will be to establish the running game. Vanderbilt’s rushing numbers down the stretch weren’t impressive — the Dores averaged under 3.0 yards per carry in four of the final five games — but there’s no doubt it will be a big part of offensive coordinator John Donovan’s game plan, especially with Robinette at quarterback. The redshirt freshman, a better runner than passer at this stage of his career, rushed for a combined 85 yards on 19 carries in the final two games of the season. The Commodores will also have starting running back Jerron Seymour back in the lineup. The sophomore only carried the ball five times against Tennessee and did not play against Wake Forest while nursing a leg injury. Vanderbilt will look to attack a Houston defense that ranked ninth in the AAC in stopping the run, allowing 143.8 rushing yards per game.

Houston’s Key to Victory: Keep forcing turnovers
Houston has done one thing better than any team in college football in 2013 — force turnovers. The Cougars lead the nation in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (plus-2.08), which is a huge reason why this team improved from five wins in 2012 to eight wins in ’13. Houston has forced at least one turnover in every game and has had three or more takeaways in nine of 12 games. This team can win a game without winning the turnover margin — the Cougars went 1–1 with a margin of zero — but Levine would much prefer to keep this seemingly unsustainable pace going for at least one more game.

Key Player: John O’Korn, QB, Houston
O’Korn, a true freshman from Florida, was thrust into the starting role early in the season when veteran David Piland was forced to retire from the sport due to ongoing issues with concussions. O’Korn responded with a terrific season, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 2,889 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Now, however, he must play his first game without offensive coordinator Doug Meachem calling the plays. Meachem resigned following the end of the regular season to take a similar position at TCU, leaving Travis Bush, formerly the running backs coach, as the play-caller. Bush called plays for the final 11 games of the ’12 season after offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt was fired following a Week 1 loss to Texas State. O’Korn will also be facing an outstanding secondary that features four senior starters, including two All-SEC performers (safety Kenny Ladler and cornerback Andre Hal). The Commodores rank second in the SEC with 16 interceptions and had a total of 11 in their last four games. You can bet that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will do all he can to confuse the true freshman quarterback.

Final Analysis
On paper, you would figure any 8–4 team from the SEC would be quite a bit better than an 8–4 team from the American Athletic Conference. But the boys in Vegas have only made Vanderbilt a 2.5-point favorite. The Commodores, despite winning their last four games, weren’t playing great down the stretch. They played well enough to win but struggled in home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest and had to rally to beat Tennessee late in the fourth quarter. Houston has put up some impressive offensive numbers against some inferior defenses, but has struggled against the better defensive teams on its schedule — scoring 14 vs. UCF, 13 vs. Louisville and 17 vs. Cincinnati. With the possible exception of Louisville, Vanderbilt figures to be the best defensive team Houston will face this season.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 23

Teaser:
BBVA Compass Bowl Preview and Prediction: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/auburn-and-florida-state-bcs-championship-stats-you-need-know
Body:

Florida State and Auburn will do battle in the 15th and final BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 6, in Pasadena, Calif.

It marks the second trip to the BCS national title game for Auburn, both coming in the past four years. The berth for the Seminoles is their fourth trip to the championship game since the BCS’ inception in 1998, but just their first since losing to Oklahoma in 2000.

Florida State boasts Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and an elite, explosive balanced offense. Auburn enters with “Team of Destiny” headlines and a middle of the pack junior college quarterback recruit who has resurrected his career on The Plains. This bout has all the makings of an instant classic  — despite what those in Las Vegas think — with star power both in the huddle and on the sidelines.

Can Auburn’s secondary hold up against that Noles' passing game? Can Florida State find a way to contain Gus Malzahn’s zone-read attack? All will be answered on Monday evening. But before that day comes, here are the facts and figures you need to know before the final BCS National Championship Game kicks off.

14: Florida State’s closest margin of victory
The Seminoles crushed teams in 2013 by an average margin of victory of 42.3 points per game. Only once did the Noles allow more than 17 points in a game and only once did the opponent finish with 27 points against Florida State — both of those coming in a 48-34 win at Boston College. The closest second-half game FSU played all season was when those same Eagles kicked a field goal a few minutes into the second half to cut the lead to 24-20. Florida State then scored back-to-back touchdowns to push the lead to 38-20 with three minutes to go in the third quarter. The point is, Jameis Winston and this team haven’t face one critical fourth-quarter play, series or situation all season long. This has to help Auburn.

335.7: Auburn’s rushing yards per game
In 2012, the Auburn Tigers ranked 118th nationally in total offense at 305.0 yards per game and were 80th nationally in rushing at 148.4 yards per game. In 2013, Gus Malzahn’s team averages more yards rushing (335.7) per game than it did in total offense last season. The Tigers led the nation in rushing and are third nationally in both yards per carry (6.5) and rushing touchdowns (46). Tre Mason led the SEC with 1,621 yards and quarterback Nick Marshall was eighth with 1,023 yards — more than Johnny Manziel or Todd Gurley. Florida State finished the year ranked 13th in rushing defense at 116.5 yards per game and led the nation with just five rushing touchdowns allowed all year. Mason and Marshall combined for 33.

103rd: National ranking for Auburn’s passing defense
Jameis Winston is deadly accurate and has a host of elite weapons to target — wide receivers Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary and running back Devonta Freeman out of the backfield. Auburn’s secondary has had major issues in 2013, allowing an SEC-worst 259.3 yards per game, which ranks 103rd nationally. The Tigers allowed 344 yards passing to Washington State, 272 to Arkansas State, 340 to Ole Miss, 469 to Texas A&M, 415 to Georgia, 277 to Alabama and 303 to Missouri. Good luck stopping the nation’s most efficient passing attack (178.28).

222.7: Average weight of Florida State’s linebackers
Alabama’s four starting linebackers — Adrian Hubbard (252), Trey DePriest (245), C.J. Mosley (238) and Xzavier Dickson (265) — combine to weigh 1,000 pounds at 250.0 pounds per player. Mosley is the smallest at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds. Florida State’s starting trio is dramatically smaller and will be asked to stop Malzahn’s relentless zone-read. Christian Jones (6-4, 235), Terrance Smith (6-4, 215) and Telvin Smith (6-3, 218) combine to average nearly 30 pounds less per player (222.7 pounds) than Alabama's linebacking corps. And the Noles' defensive line isn’t one of the bigger units either with Nile Lawrence-Stample the largest at 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds. How this unit holds up against Auburn’s rushing attack remains to be seen.

29.0: Sacks allowed this year by Florida State
The Seminoles have allowed 29.0 sacks this season, ranking 87th nationally and 10th in the ACC. Auburn was third in the SEC in getting after the quarterback with 28.0 QB takedowns. The Tigers got to Missouri 3.0 times in the SEC title game but failed to get to AJ McCarron (1.0) or Aaron Murray (1.0) in their two previous games that, frankly, Auburn was very lucky to win. Comparatively, Auburn ranked 18th nationally and third in the SEC with just 16.0 sacks allowed. Some of that are the two totally different offensive styles each team plays, but if Auburn can pressure Jameis Winston into a few mistakes, it could be the difference in the game.

1.31: Florida State’s No. 2-ranked turnover margin
The Noles finished third nationally with 34 turnovers created while only giving the ball away 17 times this fall. The Tigers, who ranked 114th nationally in 2012 with just 13 takeaways, didn’t fare much better this fall, ranking 95th nationally with just 18 turnovers forced all season. Auburn finished dead even in the turnover battle this season with 18 giveaways and 18 takeaways. Florida State has a distinct advantage in the turnover game heading into this bout with Auburn and few stats in the box score indicate victory more so than turnovers.

7.81 and 7.03: Florida State and Auburn yards per play on offense
Florida State led the nation with 7.81 yards per play on 881 offensive snaps. Auburn was seventh nationally and one of only seven teams to average over 7.0 yards per play with 7.03 yards per snap on 934 offensive plays. Florida State (2012 and '13) is the only ACC team to reach the 7.0 level of efficiency since 2007. During that same span, only six SEC teams had reached the 7.0 yards per play benchmark before this season and two of those — Florida in 2008 and Auburn in '10 — went on to win the national title. When both offenses get rolling they can be impossible to stop, so common logic would indicate high-scoring and big numbers.

6: Nation’s longest active bowl winning streak
It is fitting that either Auburn or Florida State will tie Ole Miss for the nation's longest active bowl winning streak on Monday night. The Rebels topped Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, moving their streak to six — their lost postseason loss coming in the 2000 Music City Bowl. The winner of the final BCS National Championship Game will likewise push their bowl winning streak to six straight postseason wins. A fitting footnote for a game of this magnitude and intrigue.

7: Consecutive times the SEC has covered the spread in BCS title games
Yes, we all know about the seven straight national titles by the SEC. But did you know that the SEC has covered the spread in all seven of those games as well? Alabama was the biggest favorite of the bunch as a 10-point pick to beat Notre Dame last year and handled that feat with ease. Auburn is an 8-point underdog, joining only Florida in 2006 (+7) and Auburn in '10 (+1) as SEC underdogs to another conference in the national title game (LSU was a slight underdog to Alabama).

Jan. 6: Jameis Winston's birthday
Yes, every one knows that the final BCS national title game is on Monday, Jan. 6. But did you know that the youngest Heisman Trophy winner in history will turn 20 on the very same day? Winston was born Jan. 6, 1994 (yeah, how old do you feel now?). Emotion is such a huge part of the college game but will it help or hurt Winston that he is trying to win a national championship on his birthday?

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The 14th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC live from the Alamodome in San Antonio. This game has been around twice as long as the Under Armour event in Florida and has an excellent track record of luring the nation’s top talent to the heart of Texas every January.

Former MVPs of the Bowl include Vince Young, Chris Leak, DeSean Jackson — despite his hilarious and embarrassing touchdown gaffe — Beanie Wells, Terrelle Pryor, Tajh Boyd and Dorial Green-Beckham. Potential NCAA (and maybe even NFL) Hall of Famers like Haloti Ngata, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh and Tim Tebow have graced the Alamodome with their presence — before they became the collegiate superstars.

Which team wins or loses is irrelevant. Getting to study these players in head-to-head situations all week in practice is critical to the evaluation process. Fans get a chance to get to know some of these unknown personalities. And, most importantly, live announcements impact future depth charts from across the nation. Jalen Ramsey (pictured above) played in this game a year ago and is now starting for Florida State at safety in the BCS National Championship game.

What about your favorite team?

Ohio State and Georgia fans will have the most to watch this weekend as both Urban Meyer and Mark Richt boast six prospects respectively. Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, LSU, Oregon, Texas and North Carolina each have commitments from four prospects in San Antonio. Clemson, UCLA, Stanford and Alabama have three each verbally committed. In all, there are 108 prospects on display this weekend — 54 on each team — and 23 have yet to make an announcement on where they will play their college football. There are 37 different college football teams with at least one future prospect to watch, including Western Michigan, Iowa State, Kentucky, Minnesota and Cal.

Who is under center?

While the Under Armour event featured 10 different highly-touted quarterback prospects, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is much more exclusive when it comes to signal callers. Each team has just three quarterbacks on the roster and all six should get plenty of playing time. Four of the top six pro-style quarterback prospects in the nation will be in attendance and two of the top four dual-threat quarterback prospects. Overall, five of the top eight QB recruits — and six of the top 11 — will showcase their talents this weekend.

The West Team will feature Kentucky’s Drew Barker, Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen and Texas’ Jerrod Heard. Allen is widely regarded as he No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation and his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame should be fun to watch on Saturday. Barker is the No. 11 overall QB prospect in the land and Heard is the No. 8-rated QB talent.

The East Team boasts the No. 3 overall signal caller in Florida’s Will Grier. The dual-threat talent is undersized but has tremendous ability and also should be fun to watch. North Carolina’s Caleb Henderson is the sixth-best QB prospect in America and Georgia’s Jacob Park is No. 7.

This is an excellent group of elite level quarterbacks, and all six will face the most talented defense they have ever seen in their careers to date on Saturday.

Announcement Watch:

A big part of every U.S. Army event each year is the live announcements. Message boards buzz all morning with who will pick which hat throughout the event. Here is a list of who might be making their selection tomorrow during the 14th U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Note: Rankings by 247Sports

Joe Mixon, RB (6-2, 195)
Oakley (Calif.) Freedom
Ranks: No. 18, No. 1 APB
Schools: Oklahoma, UCLA, Wisconsin

Marshon Lattimore, CB (6-0, 175)
Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville
Ranks: No. 36, No. 5 CB
Schools: Ohio State, Alabama

Nyles Morgan, LB (6-1, 225)
Crete (Ill.) Crete-Monee
Ranks: No. 54, No. 3 ILB
Schools: Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Florida

Frank Iheanacho, WR (6-6, 220)
Houston (Texas) Westside
Ranks: No. 86, No. 11 WR
Schools: Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Oregon and Missouri

Bryce Dixon, TE (6-4, 220)
Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure
Ranks: No. 116, No. 2 TE
Schools: UCLA, USC, Texas, Miami

Brian Wallace, OL (6-6, 305)
St. Louis (Mo.) Christian Brothers
Ranks: No. 118, No. 14 OT
Schools: Alabama, Arkansas

Jamil Kamara, WR (6-2, 210)
Virginia Beach (Va.) Bishop Sullivan
Ranks: No. 125, No. 10 ATH
Schools: Virginia, Wisconsin Pitt

Matt Elam, DT (6-5, 350)
Elizabethtown (Ky.) John Hardin
Ranks: No. 166, No. 16 DT
Schools: Kentucky, Alabama

Elisha Shaw, DL (6-4, 295)
Tucker (Ga.) High
Ranks: No. 216 overall, No. 19 DT
Schools: Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn

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At the beginning of the season, Auburn and Florida State were considered longshots to play for the national championship. Fast forward to Jan. 6 in Pasadena, and that’s the unlikely, yet highly anticipated matchup to determine college football’s 2013 champion.

In addition to crowning the No. 1 team in the nation, this game is also the final matchup in the BCS era. Next year – for better or worse – college football’s postseason shifts to a four-team playoff format.

The BCS era has been kind to both Florida State and Auburn. The Seminoles opened the BCS era with an appearance in the national championship, losing 23-16 to Tennessee after the 1998 season. But Florida State won the national title the next year and played for it again after the 2001 season. Auburn has only one previous appearance in the BCS title game, a 22-19 victory over Oregon to claim the championship for the 2010 season.

Auburn’s ascension into the national championship game was more of a surprise than Florida State, but the Seminoles didn’t have an easy path to their 13-0 record. Florida State had to replace six assistant coaches, and 11 players from last year’s team were selected in the NFL Draft. But coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well, and the Seminoles’ roster was able to quickly reload in time for 2013. And Fisher’s hires on the coaching staff were outstanding, including the additions of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri. 

After a 3-9 record last year, Auburn parted with Gene Chizik and brought former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn back to the Plains as head coach. Recruiting talent hasn’t been an issue for the Tigers, so it was no surprise the Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation. However, no one could have expected what transpired at Auburn in 2013. Sure, the Tigers caught a few lucky breaks, but this team improved throughout the season and finished the year on a nine-game winning streak.

Auburn and Florida State have 18 previous meetings. The Tigers own a 13-4-1 series edge over the Seminoles. However, these two teams have not played since 1990. There are some current ties between the two programs, as Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig worked under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State from 2010-12. And Fisher worked at Auburn from 1993-98 under Terry Bowden.

Auburn vs. Florida State

Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -7.5

Three Things to Watch

Florida State’s run defense vs. Auburn’s offense
The Seminoles are loaded with talent on defense. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a new scheme to Tallahassee, but the production didn’t drop from 2012. Florida State ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense last year and led the nation in fewest yards allowed per play (3.9). Despite seven new starters, the Seminoles were dominant once again, holding opponents to 10.7 points per game and just 3.9 yards per play in 2013. Florida State’s defense held Clemson’s high-powered offense to just 14 points and only one opponent scored more than 20 points in 2013. But the Seminoles’ defense will be tested by an Auburn offense that finished the regular season on a tear. The Tigers averaged 47.8 points per contest over their final four games, largely due to their rushing attack. Quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason combined to rush for 2,644 yards this season, and both players averaged at least five yards per carry. Marshall is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s spread attack, as he is adept at carrying out the fakes and reads to run Auburn’s offense. Of course, no offense is successful without a good offensive line, and the Tigers have a solid front five. Left tackle Greg Robinson is the headliner, but center Reese Dismukes is one of the best in the nation. Can Auburn’s offensive line continue to win the battle in the trenches against Florida State? The Seminoles have held their last six opponents to under 3.3 yards per carry, and the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is one of the best in the nation, but end Mario Edwards Jr. is stout against the run and is a key piece for Florida State’s defense on Jan. 6. Which unit will win the battle at the point of attack? If Auburn’s rushing game has success, it will help to keep the Seminoles’ offense on the sidelines and control the tempo of the game. However, Florida State wants to put the Tigers into long-distance situations and force Marshall to beat the defense with his arm.
 
Auburn’s secondary vs. Florida State’s passing attack

On paper, this is the biggest mismatch in the national championship. Auburn’s pass defense ranked last in the SEC, allowing 259.3 passing yards per game. The Tigers did manage to pick off 13 passes and limit opponents to a completion percentage of 57.9, but the secondary also ranked 61st nationally in pass efficiency defense. A late bowl game is always tough for high-powered offenses. The long delay between the end of the regular season and a national championship can lead to some early rust for an offense, which is something to watch for Florida State on Jan. 6. Auburn’s secondary allowed eight passing scores over the final three games, and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel torched the Tigers for 454 yards and four touchdowns in mid-October. As defenses have found out this year, there’s simply no easy way to stop Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner has completed 70.6 percent of his throws and tossed 20 touchdowns when he was blitzed in 2013. And while Winston can get a bit impatient at times and try to force the big play, he has been nearly flawless this year (67.9% and just 10 interceptions on 349 attempts). The redshirt freshman is surrounded by a deep group of weapons, starting in the receiving corps with Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. Greene leads the team with 67 catches, while Benjamin has grabbed 14 touchdown passes. Tight end Nick O’Leary is another valuable piece in the passing attack, catching 33 passes (16.9 ypc) and seven touchdowns this year. Auburn doesn’t have the pieces to match the individual talent the Seminoles have in the secondary. And with that in mind, the Tigers have to be able to generate pressure with their defensive line. End Dee Ford is the anchor, but senior Nosa Eguae is a solid player on the interior. If Florida State’s line protects Winston, the receivers should win the one-on-one battles with Auburn’s secondary. But if the Tigers can generate pressure with their front four, it will significantly help their odds of slowing the Seminoles’ offense. And one other factor to watch for Auburn will be red zone defense. The Tigers are allowing a good chunk of yards to opposing offenses, but this unit has been tough inside of the red zone. Auburn ranks eighth nationally in red zone defense, limiting opponents to 23 touchdowns on 48 attempts this year. Once Florida State gets inside the 20, can the Seminoles score touchdowns instead of field goals?

Turnovers and special teams
We could talk about several areas in this section, but in the national championship, every area of the game is magnified. One small mistake could be end up as a game-changing play, which is why turnovers and special teams should be monitored throughout Monday night’s matchup. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo is one of the best in the nation, connecting on 19 of 20 attempts in 2013. And the Seminoles are set on returns with Kermit Whitfield (kickoffs) and Kenny Shaw (punts). Punter Cason Beatty was average this year, managing 40.8 yards per kick. Much like Florida State, Auburn’s special teams have been solid. Kicker Cody Parkey has connected on 14 of 19 attempts, and punter Steven Clark averaged 42.5 yards per punt, while placing 23 inside the 20. The Tigers are also in good shape on returns, with Chris Davis averaging 20.1 yards per punt return (with one touchdown), while Tre Mason and Quan Bray take the lead on kickoff returns. In the turnover department, Florida State has an edge. The Seminoles have forced 34 turnovers this year, creating a margin of +17. Auburn is even in turnover margin, forcing only 18 turnovers in 2013.

Key Player: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Marshall is the x-factor in this game. Florida State will load up to stop Auburn’s rushing attack, which should leave Marshall with opportunities to make plays through the air. The junior made progress as a passer in his first season with the Tigers, finishing 2013 with 1,759 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 60.4. Marshall’s rushing ability is a perfect fit for this offense, but his arm will be a critical aspect on Monday night. Auburn doesn’t have the standout playmakers like Florida State has in the receiving corps, but Sammie Coates (22.1 ypc), Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis and Quan Bray form a solid group of options for Marshall. If the Seminoles jump out to an early lead, the Tigers won’t be forced to abandon the run, but more will be placed on Marshall’s arm. If Auburn does fall behind by two or three scores, is Marshall up to the task to pass his team back into the game? And on the flipside, the junior averages 6.6 yards per carry and will be a key cog in the rushing attack on Monday. Marshall has thrown only five interceptions this year. He needs to another mistake-free game on Monday night for Auburn to claim another national championship.

Final Analysis

Last year’s BCS Championship between Notre Dame and Alabama was a total dud. Expect things to be different on Jan. 6. Florida State and Auburn should provide an entertaining game, with two teams bringing contrasting, but still high-scoring offenses to Pasadena. The Tigers are a run-first team, while the Seminoles are balanced and capable of hurting opposing defenses in a variety of ways. A key question to watch on Monday night: Can Auburn get pressure with its defensive line? Or will the Tigers have to blitz? If Auburn has to blitz, Winston and Florida State’s receivers will hit on several big plays. But if the Tigers can control the battle in the trenches by getting pressure on Winston with their front four, Auburn will be in good shape. When the Tigers have the ball, they have to stay out of long-distance yardage situations. Although Auburn can throw the ball effectively, its offense just isn’t built to rally from a three-score deficit. Florida State has simply dominated this year. Will the Seminoles pickup where they left off in the ACC Championship? The Tigers navigated the SEC with one loss but seemed to get better each week. Will Auburn once again find a way to win a close game?

Staff Predictions
 

EditorPredictionMVP
Steven LassanFlorida State 38-34Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
Mitch LightFlorida State 37-34Devonta Freeman, RB, FSU
Mark RossFlorida State 35-27Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
Braden GallAuburn 41-38Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Nathan RushFlorida State 42-33Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
Rich McVeyFlorida State 45-35Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
David FoxAuburn 38-35Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

 

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