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The emergence and development of young talent can play a critical role in any team’s position in the race to win a college football national championship or conference title. And unpredictability of finding the next star or breakout player is also what makes preseason predictions difficult.
The 2014 college football season ended on Monday night with Ohio State’s 42-20 win over Oregon, but it’s never too early to look at what’s ahead in 2015. The Buckeyes and Ducks had the obvious star players entering the 2014 campaign. However, the emergence of linebacker Darron Lee (Buckeyes) and running back Royce Freeman (Ducks) helped to answer two key question marks for their team over the course of the season.
Spring practice is still a month or two away for some teams, but let’s take a look at 10 potential breakout stars for 2015.
10 Early Picks for CFB’s Breakout Players in 2015
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
New coordinator Kevin Steele certainly isn’t hurting for young talent. Adams is one of the SEC’s top young defenders after recording 66 tackles (five for a loss) and five pass breakups as a true freshman in 2014. The Texas native ranked as the No. 31 overall prospect in the 2014 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and should be in the mix for a full-time starting job with the defense slated to lose one starting safety (Ronald Martin) and a cornerback (Jalen Collins). Look for Adams to become one of the top players in the LSU secondary and contend for All-SEC honors next season.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Apple started 14 of 15 games in Ohio State’s run to the national championship this season, and the New Jersey native is poised for even bigger things in 2015. The Buckeyes aren’t losing much on defense, but standout cornerback Doran Grant expired his eligibility after the national title. With Grant moving to the NFL, Apple is expected to become the No. 1 cornerback for Ohio State. And the rising sophomore is ready for the promotion. In 15 games this season, Apple recorded 53 tackles (5.5 for a loss), three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Apple should emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top cornerbacks next year.
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker was pegged as the top recruit in Washington’s 2014 signing class, and the true freshman certainly lived up to the hype. Baker recorded 80 tackles (fourth on the team), one interception, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The Washington native earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be a key cog in the rebuilding effort on defense next season. The Huskies had two freshmen and two sophomores listed as starters for the Cactus Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State. Although youth in the secondary can be problematic, the early experience and playing time should pay off for Baker and the other Washington defensive backs in 2015.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon was the best running back in college football this season, but Wisconsin’s rushing attack is in good hands with Clement. As Gordon’s backup in 2014, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores (6.5 yards per carry). He rushed for 105 yards in the bowl win over Auburn and recorded 164 yards on 13 attempts against Illinois. Clement averages seven yards per rush through his first two seasons in Madison and is due for a breakout campaign with the opportunity to record 250-275 carries next season.
Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA
The Bruins had to replace their top three statistical players in generated sacks from 2013, and the pass rush just wasn’t the same early in the 2014 season. UCLA ended the year with 29 sacks – tied for eighth in the Pac-12 – and improved over the course of the 13-game slate. Hollins came on strong over the final few weeks of 2014, recording six of his nine sacks in the final four games. Hollins was dominant at the line of scrimmage against Kansas State (three sacks) and recorded four tackles and a sack against USC.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
With two starts already under his belt, Johnson is the heavy favorite to replace Nick Marshall as Auburn’s starting quarterback in 2015. In 2014, Johnson completed 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards and three scores, including a 12 of 16 performance for 243 yards against Arkansas in the season opener. The Montgomery native also started as a true freshman in 2013 and completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and four scores. Johnson isn’t as dynamic as Marshall was on the ground, but he is more advanced as a passer heading into the 2015 season. Coach Gus Malzahn is one of the top offensive minds in college football, and Johnson should thrive as the full-time starter in an offense that’s capable of averaging 35-40 points a game.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Clemson’s defense led the nation by limiting opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables has his work cut out for him in 2015, as the front seven has to be revamped with the departures of ends Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes, along with defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson. Lawson is a key piece in the rebuilding effort and played in all 13 games in 2014. The South Carolina native recorded 34 tackles (11 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. With the departure of Beasley, the Tigers need Lawson to generate around 10 sacks in 2015.
Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas
The Longhorns ranked second in the Big 12 by limiting opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014. Coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have holes to fill in order for this defense to perform at a high level next season, with the biggest departure coming at defensive tackle. Malcom Brown was arguably the top defender in the Big 12 this season, recording 72 tackles (a high number for an interior lineman), 6.5 sacks for a loss and two forced fumbles. Ridgeway started the final 10 games at nose tackle in 2014 and recorded 43 tackles (11 for a loss) and six sacks. The Texas native had a significant jump in terms of production and playing time from 2013 to 2014. Expect Ridgeway to anchor the defensive line for Strong and Bedford next year.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a significant amount of roster turnover prior to the 2014 season and regressed in the win column to a 7-6 finish. However, the future looks bright in Stillwater, as quarterback Mason Rudolph (a true freshman in 2014) gave the team a spark in the final three games of the season. Rudolph completed 49 of 86 passes for 853 yards and six touchdowns and guided the team to a road win over Oklahoma and a bowl victory over Washington. After struggling with injuries and inconsistency at quarterback this season, the Cowboys have a future star in Rudolph ready to take a step forward next year.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
With the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary and four offensive line starters, Florida State’s offense is in transition for the 2015 season. While there are new faces cracking the starting lineup, there’s no shortage of talent available for coach Jimbo Fisher. Rudolph caught 38 passes for 555 yards and four scores as a true freshman this year. The Florida native grabbed 11 of his 38 receptions over the final two games, including a 96-yard performance in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. Rudolph and Ermon Lane were two of the top receiver prospects in the 2014 signing class, and both players looked like future stars in Tallahassee in their freshman debut.
Flop of the year? Possibly. Hairston’s bad dance is an act of comic brilliance (intentional or not), reaching high into the stratospheres of fraudulence and silliness. Teammate Lance Stephenson might still take the cake for any number of flop jobs, however — especially this bit from November, when he slapped himself in the face against the Golden State Warriors:
Hairston may have a learned a thing or two from his senior Born Ready, but he’s still a ways away from the delirious heights enjoyed by basketball’s reigning clown prince. Keep pushing, P.J.
South in Orlando, sophomore Magic guard Victor Oladipo was enjoying the opposite side of viral memehood. The fresh-singing 22-year-old jumped into the NBA’s heart with a 360 degree dunk. The moment was made all the richer by its context, as Oladipo delivered his hammer late in a 120-113 Magic victory, an upset over the Houston Rockets, featuring former Magic All-Star — and current Orlando pariah — Dwight Howard.
It’s nice to see central Florida turning the page past Howard in such style:
Oladipo had 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting to go with six assists and six rebounds — whoa. This, two nights after he dropped 33 on the Chicago Bulls, in a 121-114 victory — also a sizeable upset. Young Victor has led the charge for some of the best offense the Magic have played in years, embracing an uptempo attack that’s just run amok on two of the league’s best defenses. Keep your eyes peeled for this intoxicating new version of Orlando basketball.
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. The new four-team playoff was a success, and the new postseason format resulted in Ohio State claiming a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship. While the title celebration won’t stop in Columbus anytime soon, there are a handful of teams examining what’s next after key personnel departures.
Florida State and Oregon were playoff teams in 2014, but both programs have to overcome a lot of personnel question marks to reach that mark next year. The Seminoles and Ducks are due for a small step back in the win column in 2015. However, don’t expect either to disappear as a national contender in future years. There’s enough young talent and a track record at both programs to suggest any dip in the win total will be short-lived. On the flipside, Iowa is a program that seems stale. Can Kirk Ferentz find the right answers to get the program back on track?
While kickoff for the 2015 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to fall in the rankings or struggle to match their 2014 win total next year.
5 CFB Teams Likely to See Their Win Total Decline in 2015
File Florida State and Oregon in this column as obvious mentions. It’s simply hard to maintain a high level of success with significant personnel departures, especially after losing the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. The Seminoles have 39 victories over the last three seasons and have won at least nine games in each of coach Jimbo Fisher’s five years in Tallahassee. There’s little doubt Florida State will be back in contention for a playoff bid in the future, but without Jameis Winston, four new starters on the line and receiver Rashad Greene, there’s a transition period coming for the Seminoles on offense next year. And the Seminoles have work to do on defense, as this unit took a step back on the stat sheet in 2014 and must replace tackle Eddie Goldman, end Mario Edwards Jr. and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Florida State is Athlon’s early favorite to win the ACC Atlantic next year. However, the Seminoles will take a small step back in the overall landscape and miss out on a playoff bid with the turnover on the depth chart.
Bill Snyder is one of college football’s top coaches, and it’s always risky to count out the Wildcats in any preseason prediction. But as we turn the page from 2014 to 2015, Kansas State has some major personnel losses. The prolific combination of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett have expired their eligibility, and the offense also must replace standout center B.J. Finney and receiver Curry Sexton. The defense loses All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans. Mueller led the team with 11 tackles for a loss, while Truman paced all defenders with 128 stops. Evans picked recorded four picks and defended 14 passes in 2014. There’s still a solid core of players returning to Manhattan next season but winning at least eight games for the fourth consecutive year might be too much to ask with the departure of a handful of key seniors. Don’t count out Snyder’s team, but K-State is set for a small regression in wins next year.
There was plenty of optimism in Iowa City coming into the 2014 season. The Hawkeyes returned 11 starters from a team that won four out of its last six games in 2013. Additionally, the offensive and defensive lines were pegged as two of the best in the Big Ten, and quarterback Jake Rudock was coming off a solid performance (2,383 yards, 18 TDs). The schedule featured home dates against Wisconsin and Nebraska, and coach Kirk Ferentz’s team missed Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State in crossover play. Instead of capitalizing on a favorable slate, Iowa backtracked in 2014. The Hawkeyes finished 7-6 and lost five out of its final seven games. None of Iowa’s seven victories came against a FBS team with a winning record, and Tennessee thoroughly dominated the Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl (45-28). While the Hawkeyes have surprised when low expectations surrounded this team, Ferentz and this staff have to replace standout left tackle Brandon Scherff, receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and defensive standouts Carl Davis (DT), Louis Trinca-Pasat (DT) and safety John Lowdermilk. Improving from the seven-win mark isn’t unrealistic with a favorable schedule, but it’s also hard to expect a significant jump in wins after finishing with just one winning mark in Big Ten play since 2010. Has this program simply gone too stale under Ferentz?
As we mentioned with Florida State, it’s almost too obvious to mention Oregon here. No, the Ducks aren’t going to drastically fall off in 2015, but it’s going to be difficult to contend for a playoff spot with quarterback Marcus Mariota leaving for the NFL. Coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost will spend most of the preseason identifying a favorite under center and retooling a line that loses standouts Jake Fisher (OT) and center Hroniss Grasu. The defense played better in the second half of the season, but coordinator Don Pellum has a few areas to address this spring. The line loses end Arik Armstead, and the secondary must replace cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, linebacker Tony Washington and safety Erick Dargan. The Ducks should be the favorite in the Pac-12 North next season, but this team likely slides from playoff contention into the 7-15 range in most preseason polls.
The Gamecocks were considered by some to be the favorite in the SEC East in 2014, but this program backtracked after recording three consecutive seasons of at least 11 wins. A win over Miami prevented South Carolina from its first losing record since 2003. While coach Steve Spurrier is one of the nation’s best, this program has a ton of personnel issues heading into 2015 and a turnaround in the win column may have to wait a year. Quarterback Dylan Thompson, running back Mike Davis, and offensive linemen Corey Robinson (LT) and A.J. Cann (LG) leave big shoes to fill on offense. The defense struggled mightily, giving up 6.2 yards per play and allowing 36.8 points per game in SEC contests. Youth played a part in South Carolina’s defensive struggles in 2014 and most of the depth chart returns next season, providing hope for a turnaround on the stat sheet. On the positive side, the Gamecocks are set to ink their fifth consecutive top 20 signing class – with a few critical defensive prospects – in early February. It’s hard to count out a Spurrier-coached team. But with Tennessee and Florida improving, South Carolina’s road to another East Division title (and improvement in the win column) just got tougher.
Let’s get this out of the way — Tim Raines is not Rickey Henderson.
You know that and I know that. But 45 percent of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America hold “not being Rickey Henderson” against Tim Raines.
This is backwards.
Henderson is unquestionably the best leadoff man in baseball’s history, but that fact should not count against Raines’ career and his case for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Is the BBWAA going to hold it against Trevor Hoffman for not being Mariano Rivera on the 2016 vote? I doubt it.
So allow me to explain why Raines deserves to be in Cooperstown, even as “the second greatest leadoff man.”
The 5-foot-8, 160 pound, switch-hitting Raines became an everyday player with the National League’s Montreal Expos in 1981, turning heads with his basepath dominance and noticeable bat skills for a player just 21 years of age.
Raines spent 13 seasons north of the border as the Expos' offensive impetus and everyday left fielder. Of those 13 seasons, it was in his first full one in Montreal that Raines began to turn heads. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Raines led the NL with 71 stolen bases, posting a slash line of .304/.391./438, an OPS of .829, 135 OPS+, and piling up 137 total bases in just 88 games.
The first seven years of Raines' career would be nothing short of exemplary. From 1981 to 1987, Raines would post a slash line of .310/.396./448 with an OPS+ of 135, and would average 172 hits, 31 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, 79 walks, and 72 stolen bases. During that seven-year run, Raines would make the NL All-Star team each year and receive MVP votes in six of those seven seasons.
Raines made his living on the basepaths, leading the NL in stolen bases four years in a row (1981-71SB, ’82-78SB, ’83-90SB, ’84-75SB) and stealing 70 or more bags six times, and 50 or more bags eight times. Raines' seven-year average from 1981-87 of 72 stolen bases is more than seven MLB teams had in all of 2014. Raines' 808 career steals rank fifth all-time, and his 85.1 stolen base percentage is first all-time for players with at least 300 attempts, making him arguably the most efficient base thief ever.
In his 13 seasons as an Expo, Raines amassed 2,355 total bases, 793 walks, 635 stolen bases, 281 doubles, 947 runs, a .829 OPS, an OPS+ of 131 and a slash line of .310/.391/.497.
According to baseball-reference.com, Raines’ career numbers compare closest to Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Max Carey, Enos Slaughter, and Fred Clarke. When compared to Brock, a first-ballot inductee, Raines has more home runs, RBIs, and walks, along with a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, with 764 fewer strikeouts, a higher OPS+ and WAR rating, and was caught stealing 161 fewer times.
When compared to Carey, Slaughter, and Clarke, Raines’ case is even more concrete. Raines has more doubles, home runs, stolen bases, walks, and a higher WAR rating than all three.
Using the JAWS metric (created by Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe), Raines should have been put in the Hall long ago. JAWS uses career and seven-year peak WAR totals to show the worthiness of a player’s candidacy compared to those players who are of the same position and already in the Hall.
Raines is eighth in JAWS for left fielders, behind the likes of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Ed Delahanty, and Al Simmons. Aside from Bonds and Rose, all of those players are in the Hall. Raines’ 55.8 JAWS rating is better than 14 other Hall of Fame left fielders, making his vindication all the more definite.
Raines’ career totals feature a slash line of .294/.385/.425, an .810 OPS, 123 OPS+, 3,771 total bases, 1,571 runs, 1,330 walks, 2,605 hits, and 430 doubles over 23 seasons and six teams.
It’s unfair that Raines’ career is often overlooked in comparison to Rickey Henderson’s. It’s also unfair that many voters withhold their votes for Raines because of his admitted cocaine use. Raines has acknowledged usage prior to and during games, and sliding head first for fear of breaking the packages kept in his back pocket of his baseball pants. Sadly, the use of drugs in the 1980s was not limited to only Raines, as use was rather widespread. Thankfully, Raines was able to ditch his habit early on in his career.
While the admitted drug abuse has seemingly hurt Raines, voters have also been shy about Raines’ lack of any major-season awards, and career milestone achievements aside from stolen bases. Raines lacked any raw power, never hitting more than 20 home runs in a season, and missed the 3,000 hit mark by 395. His resume is simply missing the pretty power numbers that voters crave.
Tim Raines has just two years remaining on the Hall of Fame ballot before his candidacy expires with the BBWAA and is brought before the Veteran’s Committee. Raines' highest vote percentage was in 2013 when he received 56.2 percent, but that declined to 55 percent after this past year’s election due to a loaded ballot.
Votes won’t come much easier for Raines on the 2016 ballot with newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman garnering votes with growing support for Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Raines’ best bet might be with the Veteran’s Committee, but that doesn't take away from his fantastic career that is undoubtedly worthy of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- By Jake Rose
College football’s 2014 season is over, and it’s time to take a look back and review the teams, players and coaches before predicting what’s to come in 2015. The coaching carousel is always one of the hot topics every offseason. And as expected, the 20 new coaches from the 2014 season had a mixed bag of success.
Washington’s Chris Petersen and Penn State’s James Franklin were the two coaches getting the most preseason buzz as the top first-year hires. But Petersen and Franklin had their share of struggles in 2014, as the Huskies and Nittany Lions combined for an 15-12 mark. Both coaches are still a great fit for the long run at their respective programs, but the two coaches earning the highest marks in our eyes for their 2014 performance are Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz and UAB’s Bill Clark.
Let’s take a look at how the first-year coaches performed and grade their debut:
Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches from 2014
1. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
2014 Record: 9-3 (8-0 Sun Belt)
Georgia Southern made a splash in its FBS debut, finishing with a perfect 8-0 mark in the Sun Belt and 9-3 overall. The Eagles were close to even bigger things in the win column, as this team held its own against NC State (lost by one point) and was lost to Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech by just four points. Fritz came to Georgia Southern after a successful stint at Sam Houston State and didn’t deviate from what made this program successful on the FCS level. The Eagles pounded away on the ground with their option attack on offense, leading the nation with an average of 379.9 yards rushing per game. Georgia Southern also finished first nationally with 55 rushing scores and lost only 12 turnovers all season. Due to the transition to the FBS ranks, the Eagles were ineligible for a postseason game. However, Georgia Southern is primed to become one of the top programs in the Sun Belt, and Fritz (146-65 as a head coach) is the right coach for the job.
Final Grade: A+
2. Bill Clark, UAB
2014 Record: 6-6 (4-4 C-USA)
Clark transformed a UAB program that won five games in its two previous years to a competitive squad and one that reached bowl eligibility (6-6) for the first time since 2004. The Blazers were significantly more competitive under Clark than previous coach Garrick McGee. UAB battled against Mississippi State (47-34), nearly defeated Marshall (23-18) and recorded a .500 mark in C-USA play for the first time since 2009. Both sides of the ball showed marked improvement, as the Blazers averaged 33.2 points per game (up from 26.3 in 2013), and the defense held opponents to 5.7 yards per play (vs. 7.2 in 2013). Despite a positive long-term outlook with Clark at the helm, UAB’s program was (wrongly) eliminated at the end of the year.
Final Grade: A+
3. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
2014 Record: 12-2 (7-1 Mountain West)
As a former player and assistant with the Broncos, Harsin is the perfect fit at Boise State. And if the first year was any indication of what’s to come, the Broncos are going to be a consistent top-25 team and play in major bowl games on a yearly basis. Boise State improved its win total by four games after finishing 2013 with an 8-5 mark and capped the year by winning the Mountain West Championship and the Fiesta Bowl over Arizona. The Broncos’ only losses came against Ole Miss in the opener (35-13) and a bizarre seven-turnover performance against Air Force. Harsin and coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. brought a spark to the offense, averaging 39.7 points per game (up from 37.5 in 2013), while Boise State’s defense held opponents to 5.2 yards per play. Harsin has to replace standout running back Jay Ajayi, but it’s hard to pick against the Broncos as the early favorites to win the Mountain West in 2015.
Final Grade: A
4. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Bobby Petrino’s return to the Louisville sideline went as expected. The Cardinals finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play in their ACC debut. The 23-21 loss to Virginia was the only puzzling defeat on the resume, with Louisville’s other three losses coming at the hands of Florida State, Clemson and Georgia – teams that combined for a 33-7 record. Petrino has room to grow the Cardinals’ offense in 2015 after averaging only 5.5 yards per play (eighth in ACC). However, the defense was among the best in the nation under the direction of first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. Louisville limited opponents to 4.8 yards per play and generated 30 turnovers (tied for 11th nationally).
Final Grade: A-
5. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
2014 Record: 8-5 (4-4 C-USA)
Brohm was promoted to head coach after Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky for Louisville. Prior to 2014, Brohm had no experience as a head coach on the FBS level. However, the Louisville native had an impressive debut. The Hilltoppers went 8-5 and lost four games by eight points or less. Brohm and coordinator Tyson Helton installed a wide-open offense and averaged 44.4 points per game behind quarterback Brandon Doughty’s 49 touchdown passes. The defense allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2014, which is one area for Brohm to address in the offseason if WKU is going to make a run at the C-USA title.
Final Grade: A-
6. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
2014 Record: 8-6 (5-3 MAC)
Babers was considered by Athlon Sports to be one of the top hires in the new coach cycle for 2014, and the former Eastern Illinois coach and long-time assistant didn’t disappoint. Bowling Green went 8-6 overall and won the MAC East despite losing starting quarterback Matt Johnson after the opener and dealing with a handful of injuries on defense. The Falcons lost their final three games but rebounded to win the bowl matchup over South Alabama. Babers wants to implement a “Falcon Fast” approach on offense, and Bowling Green’s passing attack should be better in 2015 with Johnson back under center.
Final Grade: B+
7. Steve Sarkisian, USC
2014 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12
Sarkisian’s first season at USC wasn’t perfect. But the Trojans won nine games, including a 49-14 pounding of Notre Dame and 28-26 win over Pac-12 South champ Arizona in early October. A 9-4 mark in Sarkisian’s debut certainly wasn’t awful, but USC lost three games by six points or less and was soundly defeated 38-20 by rival UCLA. Of particular concern were the Trojans’ losses to Boston College and Arizona State, games where USC was favored by double digits. Depth in the program has been a concern with scholarship sanctions, but the Trojans are finally able to sign a full class in 2015. With quarterback Cody Kessler and a solid group of young players returning on both sides of the ball returning, USC could be the favorite in the Pac-12 South next year.
Final Grade: B
8. Charlie Strong, Texas
2014 Record: 6-7 (5-4 Big 12)
Strong is trying to change the culture of the program, and it’s evident through roster attrition he’s trying to eliminate some of the weak links and bad apples. Although Texas and Strong want to finish better than 6-7, the Longhorns overcame the loss of starting quarterback David Ash and a shuffled offensive line due to suspensions and injuries to get to a bowl. Strong’s specialty is on defense, so it was no surprise Texas limited opponents to just 4.7 yards per play. Defense should always be a strength in Austin under Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford’s watch, but the offense has to take a step forward. Is Tyrone Swoopes the right answer at quarterback? This program is trending in the right direction. However, it may take another year or two before Texas is ready to contend for a Big 12 title again.
Final Grade: B
9. James Franklin, Penn State
2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten)
Much like USC’s Steve Sarkisian, Franklin is trying to juggle a roster through NCAA sanctions. According to Franklin, Penn State had only 41 scholarship players available for the Pinstripe Bowl. Most teams have around 85 scholarship players on the roster. The Nittany Lions started 4-0 but slipped to 4-4 and lost three out of their final five regular season games. A bowl win over Boston College gave Franklin’s team momentum heading into the offseason, and improved scholarship numbers should help the team address one of its glaring concerns – the offensive line. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was constantly pressured all season, and the line surrendered 44 sacks. After losing four games by seven points or less, it’s reasonable to expect Penn State to improve by a game or two in the win column next season. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Nittany Lions’ 2015 outlook that coordinator Bob Shoop was retained after interest from LSU.
Final Grade: B
10. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
2014 Record: 7-6 (5-3 Sun Belt)
Anderson was Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five years, yet the Red Wolves continued to have success by recording their fourth consecutive winning record. Considering the recent coaching transition and personnel losses heading into 2014, it’s no surprise Arkansas State took a small step back in the win column (8-5 in 2013 to 7-6 in '14). However, two of this team’s defeats came at the hands of Power 5 opponents (Tennessee and Miami), and the Red Wolves lost by five to an Appalachian State team that caught fire in the second half of the year. Anderson’s background on offense was showcased, as Arkansas State ranked second in the Sun Belt by averaging 36.7 points per game. Quarterback Fredi Knighten earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2014, and his return should make the Red Wolves one of the front-runners for the conference title. Based on the 2014 season, all signs suggest Anderson is the right coach to keep Arkansas State as one of the top programs in the Sun Belt.
Final Grade: B
11. Mark Whipple, UMass
2014 Record: 3-9 (3-5 MAC)
Whipple’s return to Amherst generated a two-game improvement in the win column and a team that was significantly more competitive in the MAC. The Minutemen gave Colorado (41-38) and Vanderbilt (34-31) a scare and lost three conference games by a touchdown or less. The loss of quarterback Blake Frohnapfel against Toledo prevented UMass from having a chance at winning its final two games (Akron and Buffalo). Whipple’s return also helped the Minutemen improve an offense that averaged just 4.3 yards per play in 2013. UMass averaged 5.8 yards per play in 2014, and Frohnapfel led the MAC by recording 334.5 passing yards per game. Whipple is clearly the right coach for the Minutemen, and his return comes at a critical time for a program that does not have a conference home slated for 2016 and beyond.
Final Grade: B-
12. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
2014 Record: 2-10 (2-6 MAC)
Martin inherited a mess and a team coming off an 0-12 record, but the RedHawks showed improvement in 2014 and finished with two wins. And with a few breaks here and there, Miami (Ohio) could have won a few more games, as Martin’s team lost five games by eight points or less. To provide an immediate boost in the win column, Martin turned to a few graduate transfers, and quarterback Andrew Hendrix (27 total TDs) and tight end Alex Welch (former Notre Dame players) were two of the team’s top offensive weapons. And the coaching staff also unearthed cornerback Quinten Rollins (a RedHawk basketball player), and the senior emerged as a NFL prospect. Martin has a lot of work to do in 2015, as Hendrix must be replaced, and the RedHawks have to find answers for a defense that allowed 33.9 points per game in MAC contests.
Final Grade: B-
13. Chris Petersen, Washington
2014 Record: 8-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
High expectations surrounded Petersen after he left Boise State for Washington. In eight years as the Broncos’ head coach, Petersen went 92-12 and led the program to two BCS bowl wins. The Huskies were optimistic Petersen was the right coach to elevate the program after Steve Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons in Seattle. But things didn’t go according to preseason expectations. Petersen finished his Washington debut at 8-6, which included a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and a last-minute defeat against Arizona. The Huskies were loaded with talent in the front seven on defense, and even with a young secondary, this unit limited Pac-12 opponents to 24 points per game. The main area of focus for Petersen this offseason should be on offense. Washington averaged only 5.4 yards per play and needs more production from the quarterback position. Finishing 8-6 isn’t necessarily a disappointment, but Petersen’s debut was a little underwhelming after most considered him to be one of the offseason’s top hires.
Final Grade: B-
14. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
As expected, 2014 was a struggle for Wake Forest in Clawson’s first year. The Demon Deacons had major question marks at quarterback, running back, receiver and on the offensive line. Considering all of the personnel concerns, Clawson knew 2014 was a rebuilding year and handed the keys to the offense to freshman quarterback John Wolford. Wake Forest averaged only 3.4 yards per play and a paltry 14.8 points per game. The defense was the team’s bright spot and was better than the numbers showed in 2014. Clawson is a proven winner as a head coach, enjoying success at three different programs prior to coming to Wake Forest. Although 2014 was a struggle, most of the team’s problems weren’t going to be fixed in one offseason. Expect the Demon Deacons to take a step forward in 2015.
Final Grade: B-
15. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
2014 Record: 4-8 (2-6 Mountain West)
Bohl is going to win at a high level at Wyoming, but it’s going to take the former North Dakota State coach a few years to build the program into a consistent winner. The Cowboys started 3-1 but finished the season with just one victory over the final eight games. Three of the defeats came by 10 points or less, so there’s hope for a few more wins next year with small improvement on both sides of the ball. Wyoming struggled to find consistency in the passing game, recording only nine touchdown tosses during Mountain West play. And despite eight returning starters, the defense allowed 6.8 yards per play in conference action. Considering the scheme changes on both sides of the ball, a year of transition was expected. However, Bohl has a track record of success, and Wyoming should be in contention for a bowl in 2015.
Final Grade: C+
16. Jeff Monken, Army
2014 Record: 4-8
Winning at West Point is no easy task. Army has just one winning season since 1997 and has lost at least eight games in four consecutive years. With a background in running the option offense, Monken should be a good fit with the Black Knights over the long haul. And this program took a small step forward by winning four games in 2014, which was the highest mark since recording seven in '10. Army beat UConn, yet lost to Yale in overtime. The Black Knights were competitive (lost by seven) against Navy, so there are signs of optimism for Monken heading into spring practice. Tough job, but Monken’s the right coach.
Final Grade: C+
17. Charlie Partridge, FAU
2014 Record: 3-9 (2-6, C-USA)
Partridge was a highly-regarded assistant prior to his hire as FAU’s head coach, and the Florida native was known as an excellent recruiter within the state of Florida. Partridge’s ties to the high school ranks should help the Owls on the recruiting trail, and FAU is set to sign one of the top classes in C-USA for 2015. Partridge’s first season as the Owls’ head coach resulted in a three-game regression in the win column. FAU went from 6-6 in 2013 to 3-9 and won only two conference games. The Owls did lose four games by three points or less, so a couple of breaks the other way could have resulted in a 6-6 or 5-7 mark. If Partridge continues to recruit at a high level, FAU will be one of the annual contenders in C-USA’s East Division.
Final Grade: C+
18. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
The bar was set high for Mason after James Franklin guided Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games. And the Commodores were due to regress in the win column after returning only eight starters for 2014. However, Mason’s debut was a bigger struggle than most anticipated. Vanderbilt failed to win a SEC game for the first time since 2009 and its only wins came against UMass, Old Dominion and Charleston Southern. After the three-win season, Mason isn’t sitting idle. The staff has been revamped, starting with both coordinator positions. Andy Ludwig (formerly of Wisconsin) replaces Karl Dorrell as the offensive play-caller, and Mason will handle the defensive signals. According to Vanderbilt’s game notes, the Commodores played 31 true or redshirt freshmen in 2014. That’s a good sign for the future, and Mason’s staff shuffling should be a positive for this program. Winning at Vanderbilt isn’t easy, and Mason was faced with a tough task to begin with given Franklin's three-year run. Mason needs a little time to develop some of the program’s young players before contending for a bowl.
Final Grade: D
19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
2014 Record: 2-10 (1-7 MAC)
Eastern Michigan is the toughest job on the FBS level. This program has only one winning season (1995) since 1990. Considering the difficulty of winning at Eastern Michigan, it’s unfair to judge Creighton based on one year. As expected in 2014, the Eagles didn’t have much success in the win column. Eastern Michigan recorded only one win in conference play and narrowly defeated Morgan State (31-28) for its only other victory of the season. Prior to taking over in Ypsilanti, Creighton went 42-22 at Drake (FCS), 63-15 at Wabash (Div. III) and 32-9 at Ottawa (NAIA). That experience should pay off in rebuilding Eastern Michigan, as it’s going to take Creighton another year or two to get this program competitive in the MAC West.
Final Grade: D
20. Bob Diaco, UConn
2014 Record: 2-10 (1-7 American Athletic)
Diaco was a highly-regarded assistant coach prior to taking the top spot in Storrs. The New Jersey native won the 2012 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant and helped to coordinate one of college football’s best defenses when Notre Dame played in the national championship game in 2012. Despite his success as an assistant, it was a tough go in Diaco’s first season as UConn’s head coach. The Huskies won only two games – Stony Brook (by three points) and a 37-29 victory over UCF – and finished the year on a four-game losing streak. During that late-season skid, UConn dropped its finale to SMU, arguably one of the worst teams in the nation in 2014. In fairness to Diaco, he didn’t inherit much to work with. The Huskies had major offensive line issues, uncertainty at quarterback and a defense with just five returning starters. It’s hard to find improvement in UConn’s 2014 season. But Diaco inherited a mess and needs more than a year to right the ship.
Final Grade: D
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is leaving Eugene for the NFL after three seasons as the Ducks’ starting signal-caller. The Heisman Trophy winner declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday and finished his career at Oregon as arguably the top player in school history. With Mariota moving onto the NFL, there are big shoes to fill under center for the Ducks in 2015.
During his three-year run as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards and 105 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,237 yards and 29 scores. While those numbers are impressive, the biggest asset of Mariota in the Ducks’ offense was his efficiency. He finished his career with just 14 interceptions on 1,167 attempts and completed 66.8 percent of his throws. Mariota also averaged 13.9 yards per completion over the last three years.
With Mariota gone, the focus shifts to the next crop of quarterbacks in Eugene. Coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost have done a nice job of picking up where Chip Kelly left off, and now it’s up to the staff to find the next star quarterback. While Mariota’s production is impossible to replace, the Ducks have one of the nation’s top offensive systems and an array of talented skill players. Frost is also a bright play-caller and Oregon’s offense will again be one of the best in the Pac-12 in 2015.
Let’s take a look at what’s next for the Ducks at quarterback next year:
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Lockie has to enter the spring as the favorite to replace Mariota. He was listed as the backup on the depth chart in 2014 and completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards and one score over the last two seasons. Lockie was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and has 32 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in his Oregon career.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Alie is a walk-on from Eugene and has yet to attempt a pass in two seasons with the Ducks. A longshot to win the job.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Mahalak was rated as a four-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite (No. 228 nationally) in the 2014 signing class. After a year learning the offense as a redshirt, Mahalak should be ready to compete for the starting job. The California native completed 61.5 percent of his throws and rushed for 575 yards as a high school senior in 2013.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Griffin was recruited as an athlete to Georgia Tech and transferred to Eugene after one season. The sophomore is a talented athlete and spent 2014 working with the scout team. Griffin’s brother (Taj) is a top-100 recruit as an all-purpose back in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled early with the Ducks for spring practice.
The wild card: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Miller has one year of eligibility remaining, and there are plenty of rumblings the senior will transfer for an opportunity to start in 2015. With J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones likely entrenched as the top quarterbacks in Columbus, playing time could be limited if Miller returns to Ohio State. If Miller decides to transfer, LSU, Florida State and Oregon have been mentioned as potential landing spots. There’s some risk involved with the senior, as he is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and may not participate in practice until the fall. Despite the shoulder concerns, Miller would be a good fit in Oregon’s offense. Will he transfer to Eugene or stick in Columbus? Miller’s home for 2015 should be a hot topic over the next few months.
Oregon has one quarterback committed for the 2015 signing class (as of Jan. 14)
4-Star by 247Sports Composite, No. 77 recruit nationally
When Waller arrives on campus, he’s the quarterback with the highest rank among recruiting experts. The California native committed to Oregon over Alabama in July. Here’s a good scouting report on the incoming freshman.
The Supporting Cast
Three key starters are gone on the offensive line – Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu and Hamani Stevens – but the skill talent is among the best in the nation. The Ducks return Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner at running back, while the receiving corps is loaded with Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington, Byron Marshall, Bralon Addison and Devon Allen coming back in 2015.
Lockie has to be the slight favorite based on his experience over the last two years and practice time running the Oregon offense. While the guess here is Lockie takes the first snap of 2015, Braxton Miller’s decision could alter this outlook. If Miller transfers to Eugene, he would replace Lockie as the favorite as the Ducks’ No. 1 quarterback. Waller and Mahalak are talented, but both players may be a year away from winning the starting job. Let’s go with Lockie as the favorite, but keep a close watch on Miller’s transfer destination this spring.
But the continued escalation of their visible, nearly comic dysfunction keeps bringing the Cavs back to the front pages. Nothing grabs our attention quite like a car crash, and that’s what seems to be happening in Cleveland.
After LeBron James returned from a two-week absence against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, all things Cavs jumped to a whole new level of acrimony. James shoved head coach David Blatt aside during a dispute with a referee, while assistant Tyronn Lue — the man most famous for being stepped over by Allen Iverson, during an iconic NBA Finals performance in 2001 — was caught calling timeouts behind Blatt’s back. Many speculate that if Blatt is about to be fired (a prospect his front office has said is not looming), Lue is next in line.
Lmaoooo pic.twitter.com/NopgVnIVP4— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) January 14, 2015
While general manager David Griffin has recently called the idea of Blatt being on the hot seat “truly ridiculous,” it’s hard to completely believe him. LeBron’s shove aside, Lue’s presence aside … things are simply combustible between Blatt and his team.
There’s no denying that they’ve played an offensive style well removed from the Princeton playbook Blatt is known for, opting instead for a swath of isolation ball and pick-and-roll action. The roster has also clearly coasted through large portions of the season, including their current 1-9 slide — a mark that’s unacceptable for a team this talented, with or without their best player. The Cavs are adrift, and they’re tuning their coach out.
Some Cleveland players, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, are even advocating for Blatt’s removal. “Cavs players [are] openly talking about coaching issues with opposing players and personnel. Not once, not twice, but frequently over the past several months,” Windhorst reports.
In this man’s opinion, the Cavs’ seemingly sinking ship is something of a temporary illusion, and Blatt's job is safe at least until the summer. While the mud is certainly hitting the fan right now, there’s more than enough time and talent to clean it up, even if Cleveland can’t get themselves quite as shiny as the Larry O’Brien championship trophy in year one.
— John Wilmes
The ink is barely dry on the 2014 season and Athlon Sports is continuing its too early look at what is assured to be another stellar season of upsets, broken records and historic storylines.
Considering Marcus Mariota became the first preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in more than a decade, here is a quick look at the potential frontrunners for the stiff-armed trophy in 2015:
Championship Signal Callers
Generally, quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. In fact, only twice since Ron Dayne in 1999 has a non-quarterback (aka, running back) won the Heisman Trophy (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram). Of those 13 signal-callers, nine of them played in the national championship game in the same year. Odds are, the '15 Heisman winner will be in this category.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
'14 Stats: 3,901 yds, 33 TD, 10 INT, 707 rush yds, 8 TD
With revamped play-calling and coaching on offense, the former wide receiver blossomed into one of the nation's most dynamic players. He nearly led TCU into the college football playoff and will return with a team that's expected to be the favorite in the Big 12 next year.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
'14: Stats: 3,449 yds, 27 TD, 11 INT, 986 rush yds, 14 TD
Prescott announced his intentions to return to school in 2015 and has a chance to lead Mississippi State to an SEC West title. He already owns every major school single-season record and could easily be the best player in the best league next fall.
Someone, Ohio State
A quarterback is going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at Ohio State but who that might be is still up in the air. Cardale Jones just led his team to a national championship, J.T. Barrett set school and Big Ten records before getting hurt and don't forget about Braxton Miller.
Cody Kessler, USC
'14 Stats: 3,826 yds, 39 TD, 5 INT, 2 rush TD
The USC passer quietly posted one of the best seasons in college football and did it surrounded by freshmen and injuries. He plays a premium position at a school known for producing Heisman winners and Trojans could be a playoff team and Pac-12 frontrunner.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
'14 Stats: 3,214 yds, 24 TD, 8 INT, 2 rush TD
The top challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten in the third-year starter. He's an NFL prospect for a reason. He's efficient, he's a winner and he's a leader. He's 24-3 with 49 total touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in the last two years.
Other QBs to Watch:
Deshaun Watson, Clemson; Anu Solomon, Arizona; Brad Kaaya, Miami; Josh Dobbs, Tennessee; Christian Hackenberg, Penn State; Jared Goff, Cal; Seth Russell, Baylor; Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech; Marquise Williams, North Carolina; Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Year of the Running Back
The only non-QB to win the Heisman since '99 was Bush in '05 and Ingram in '09 — both of whom played in the national championship game on the best team in the nation. But with one of the greatest freshman running back classes in recent memory — especially, for elite teams — this could be the year a RB takes home the coveted Heisman Trophy. One look at the top returning rushers makes it easy to see why a RB could break through in '15:
Never Appreciated Wide Receivers
Individual Defensive Players
A few nights after Pau Gasol dropped 46 points on the Milwaukee Bucks, a far more unsung player has trumped the Spaniard. In a consummate heat-check performance, journeyman Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mo Williams scored 52 points against the Indiana Pacers last night.
"You are just in a zone, you don't really see anybody," Williams told reporters after the game. "You just go back to the places when you are in the gym by yourself with your own trainer. You are just shooting shots and it doesn't matter where the defense is at.”
Williams shot a scintillating 19-for-33 from the field, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The performance harkened back to when Corey Brewer — another journeyman — poured in 51 for the ‘Wolves last year.
For Minnesota, Williams’ show in a 110-101 road victory stands as a shiny spot in a dim year. Starters Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic have missed a combined 60 games, and Minnesota has been an unanchored mess of young prospects without them. Andrew Wiggins has surged into the lead spot of the Rookie of the Year race with Jabari Parker sidelined, but otherwise the 6-31 Wolves have been hard to watch, looking more like a farm team than anything nearing a playoff contender.
For the Pacers? It’s a speed bump in a long row of them in 2014-15. Losing Paul George for the year was bad enough, but the team has also had Rubio-esque health from the rest of their roster, to go with the rapid decline of power forward David West. Coach Frank Vogel is one of the best in the business, and the Pacers are seriously scrappy; but there just aren't enough talented, functional bodies around Indy these days.
Williams, the star of a Tuesday night on which former teammate LeBron James returned to action against the Phoenix Suns, has just put out a hell of an audition tape for contenders looking to trade for more firepower.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 14:
• Here's a slideshow of Ohio State fans in Zeke Elliott-style crop-top jerseys. Warning: Most of them are dudes.
• What is it with British royals and NBA royalty? Now it's Melo rubbing shoulders with Harry.
• Kurt Busch says his ex-girlfriend is a trained assassin. If that's the case, probably not smart to slam her head into the wall, as Busch is accused of doing.
• John Elway opened his press conference by thanking John Elway for his service. Rickey Henderson approves this message.
• Ryan Suter delivered a nasty elbow to Steve Downie's face.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
A little more than a month ago, Detroit was 3-18, and ranked dead last in Athlon’s power rankings, among others. Now winners of nine of their last 10 games, they’re nipping at the heels of East playoff teams, rapidly digging themselves out of the hole they dug with an improving 14-24 record.
By waiving underperforming forward Josh Smith, head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy did a lot to change the Pistons’ culture; a power move like that will surely garner the troops’ attention.
But sending Smith out the door is ultimately just one facet of Detroit’s turnaround, with the rest of their roster stepping up their games considerably. Point guard Brandon Jennings, more than anyone on his squad, has hit heights many doubted he had in him.
The 6’1” dynamo is playing the best basketball of his life, making true on much of the potential flashed just more than four years ago, when he was 21 years old and scored 55 points in one game while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Freed up in the offensive gaps left by the jettisoned Smith, and making the most of Van Gundy’s tutelage, Jennings is on fire.
In January, Brandon’s averaging 22.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting, to go with 7.2 assists. If he keeps numbers like that up — a dubious prospect, to be sure — there won’t be any denying that Jennings has become an elite NBA point guard.
And while such scintillating numbers probably aren’t sustainable, it’s clear that he’s taking a big step up with his game, and deserves more than a little respect in the race for the Most Improved Player trophy.
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. The new four-team playoff was a success, and the new postseason format resulted in Ohio State claiming a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship. The Buckeyes are the favorites to repeat next season, but winning back-to-back college football national championships isn’t easy. While kickoff for the 2015 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to make a jump in the rankings next year.
With a few months to dissect rosters, opinions can change on teams – perhaps a couple of times in the offseason.
What teams have our attention for 2015? Arizona State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Tennessee get the nod as our top five teams on the rise, but keep a close eye on Arkansas and Michigan next year.
College Football’s Top Five Teams on the Rise for 2015
With only eight returning starters (and just two on defense), most considered 2014 a rebuilding year for Arizona State. The Sun Devils ranked No. 19 in the first Associated Press poll but finished one win away from playing for the Pac-12 Championship for the second year in a row. The Sun Devils have recorded back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories for the first time since 1972-73, and this team could rank among the top 10-15 in the nation in preseason polls. Quarterback Taylor Kelly will be missed, but Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has played well when called upon. Outside of getting Bercovici acclimated to being the full-time starter, the offense has to replace top receiver Jaelen Strong and left tackle Jamil Douglas. Strong and Douglas are big losses, but the Sun Devils have a deep stable of running backs, and talented junior college recruit Eric Lauderdale is ready to contribute after a redshirt year. Despite returning only two starters on defense, Arizona State ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in sacks generated (39) and held opponents to 27.9 points per game. There’s plenty of optimism about this group for 2015 with two just senior starters departing. The Sun Devils also have a favorable path to a South Division title, featuring home games against USC, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
Since reaching the national championship in 2012, Notre Dame is 17-9 in the last two seasons and finished 2014 by losing five out of its last seven games. While those two numbers are reason to doubt the Fighting Irish, there’s a lot to like about this team in 2015. Most of the depth chart is intact on both sides of the ball, and the return of end Ishaq Williams and cornerback KeiVarae Russell should bolster a defense that struggled in the second half of the season. Malik Zaire’s performance (12 of 15, 96 yards, 1 TD and 96 rush yards) in the Music City Bowl was promising, and the young quarterback should enter spring practice as the favorite to take the opening snap of 2015. Regardless of whether it’s Zaire or Everett Golson under center, the supporting cast will be solid. Notre Dame returns its top four statistical receivers, Tarean Folston (889 yards) is back running back, and the offensive line has four starters in place, including standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Fixing the defense will be coach Brian Kelly’s top priority this spring, as the Fighting Irish gave up at least 30 points in seven out of their last eight games. On the positive side for Kelly, Notre Dame’s defense was hit hard by injuries and is due for better luck in that department next season. The schedule is tough, but the Fighting Irish has the personnel to be a darkhorse contender for a playoff spot next season.
Under coach Mike Gundy’s watch, Oklahoma State has won at least nine games in five out of the last seven seasons. The Cowboys are coming off a 7-6 mark in 2014, which was no surprise considering the team entered the year with just seven returning starters and lost around 30 seniors from the 2013 squad. After a 5-1 start, Oklahoma State lost five in a row and needed an upset win over Oklahoma in the regular-season finale to reach the postseason. The Cowboys won their bowl game over Washington to finish with a winning record for the ninth consecutive year. While 2014 was a step back in the win column, the arrow is pointing up on Oklahoma State next season. True freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph was pressed into action due to injuries and passed for 853 yards and six touchdowns over the final three games. Rudolph should benefit from a full spring to work as the starter, and the young signal-caller is surrounded by talent at receiver, including five of the top six statistical options from 2014. The biggest concerns on offense remain up front (40 sacks allowed last year) and at running back. The defense has to replace tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau and linebacker Josh Furman, but end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Ryan Simmons lead a unit that returns largely intact. And with a team that will be developing and improving as the season progresses in 2015, Oklahoma State should benefit by playing its three toughest games (TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma) at home in Stillwater in November next year.
Georgia is the early favorite in the SEC’s East Division next year, but is Tennessee the biggest threat to the Bulldogs’ championship hopes? It’s certainly possible. The Volunteers are making steady progress under coach Butch Jones, improving their win total by two games from 2013 to 2014. And Jones was able to move the program forward in the win column despite playing 23 true freshmen – the most in the nation – this season. Recruiting is going well for Tennessee, so there’s another group of talented players headed to Knoxville to replenish the roster in time for the 2015 season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd lead the way on offense, and the receiving corps should benefit from a healthy Marquez North. The offensive line was an inexperienced group in 2014 and struggled with five new starters. However, this unit only loses tackle Jacob Gillam and should improve with an offseason to jell as a group. The defense allowed 27.1 points per game in SEC contests last season, but there’s reason to believe this could be one of the most improved groups in the conference next year, especially with the continued development of end Derek Barnett.
Texas A&M’s win total under coach Kevin Sumlin has dropped in back-to-back years after recording an 11-2 mark in 2012. But there’s still plenty to like about the direction of this program, starting with the changes to the coaching staff. Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M has struggled mightily on defense and needs to fix that group to contend in the division. The Aggies took a big step forward on defense with the addition of veteran coordinator John Chavis. “The Chief” engineered some of the SEC’s top defenses in his tenure at LSU, and his experience in developing talent should pay dividends for Texas A&M with a front seven that’s littered with youth. In the first season without Johnny Manziel, the Aggies averaged 35.2 points per game. That number could climb in 2015 with Kyle Allen’s development at quarterback, as well as the return of a talented receiving corps featuring Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. With another top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the talent level and depth at Texas A&M is only going to get better.
Eight Teams on the Rise - The Next Tier
The Razorbacks nearly made the cut as one of our top five teams on the rise for 2015. In coach Bret Bielema’s second season, Arkansas may have been a year ahead of schedule. The Razorbacks used a powerful ground attack and improved defense to reach the postseason, elevating expectations for eight or nine wins next year. Coordinator Robb Smith has his work cut out on defense with the departure of talented linemen Darius Philon and Trey Flowers. The formula for success on offense won’t change much, but Arkansas will have a new play-caller after the departure of Jim Chaney to Pittsburgh. The offensive line is among the best in the nation, and a healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback made a difference for the Razorbacks in 2014. This team could finish seventh in the SEC West next year, yet rank among the top 20-25 in the nation based on the strength of the division.
The Golden Bears just missed out on a bowl (5-7) after struggling to a 1-11 record in coach Sonny Dykes’ first season (2013). Taking the next step and reaching a bowl should be a reasonable goal for California in 2015, especially since talented quarterback Jared Goff returns after throwing for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns. Chris Harper left for the NFL, but the receiving corps isn’t hurting for talent. Running back Daniel Lasco might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. Fixing the defense remains a work in progress for Dykes and an instant fix after allowing 44.1 points in nine Pac-12 games is unlikely.
Tom Herman was one of the top hires of the 2014-15 coaching carousel, and his background on offense should pay dividends for Houston next season. Junior quarterback Greg Ward recorded at least 350 total yards in back-to-back games to close out the year, and Herman thrived at Ohio State by coaching dual-threat options like Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Herman has to restock the receiving corps with the departure of Deontay Greenberry to the NFL, but 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Farrow is back next year.
The Wildcats fell one win short of reaching the postseason in coach Mark Stoops’ second year. However, optimism is running high in Lexington. Kentucky lost its final six games, but Stoops and his staff have closed the gap between the Wildcats and the rest of the East. Recruiting has improved since Stoops’ arrival, and Kentucky returns a handful of key offensive contributors, including quarterback Patrick Towles, running backs Boom Williams and Braylon Heard, along with receiver Ryan Timmons. The biggest personnel issues for Stoops to address in the spring are on defense. Ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith must be replaced, and safety Ashely Lowery expired his eligibility after recording 48 stops in 2014.
Make no mistake: Michigan has its share of personnel concerns to address for 2015. However, Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor should be worth a couple of victories for the Wolverines. Harbaugh hired an outstanding staff, including former Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Linebacker Jake Ryan must be replaced, but Durkin’s arrival (and keeping Greg Mattison on staff) should help Michigan field one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. The offense is a work in progress, but this is Harbaugh’s area of expertise. Expect to see some improvement from the Wolverines on that side of the ball in 2015.
The Wolfpack improved their win total by five games from 2013 to 2014. With quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running back Shadrach Thornton returning, NC State could take another step forward in the win column in 2015. There are personnel concerns for coach Dave Doeren, as both starting offensive tackles (Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler) and key defenders (end Art Norman, tackle Thomas Teal and linebacker Rodman Noel) must be replaced. The receiving corps needs a new go-to target to emerge after Bo Hines transferred after a standout freshman campaign.
With a favorable schedule in place, there was hope in Blacksburg for Virginia Tech to contend for the Coastal Division title. But perhaps those title hopes were a year ahead of schedule. The Hokies were a young team in 2014 and suffered two huge injury setbacks on defense with the loss of cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Luther Maddy early in the season. There’s promising talent at the skill positions, but the offense won’t improve unless Michael Brewer cuts down on interceptions (15) and the line provides more protection. A key schedule note for Virginia Tech next season: The Hokies won’t have to play Florida State, Louisville or Clemson in crossover play.
With Marshall losing several key players, Western Kentucky could be the team to beat in C-USA’s East Division. The Hilltoppers went 8-5 in coach Jeff Brohm’s first season and return prolific quarterback Brandon Doughty (49 TDs) and receivers Jared Dangerfield and Taywan Taylor in 2015. The defense allowed 39.9 points per game last season, but only two seniors were listed as starters on the Bahamas Bowl depth chart.
Generally, any championship in any sport is a long, arduous tale of adversity and perseverance filled with unpredictable success and joy.
Ohio State's journey to the first college football national championship via a playoff is improbable and well deserved all at the same time. But the dominating championship in which Ohio State lost the turnover battle (minus-three) but still totally controlled the game didn't just fall into Urban Meyer's lap. It was well earned throughout an entire season of hard work, difficult decisions and brutal injuries.
Had any of the following moments not taken place, who knows, maybe Ohio State wouldn't be the '14 National Champions. Here are the 10 biggest moments of one of the most historic seasons in college football history.
Aug. 18: Braxton Miller is lost for the season
This injury cannot be overstated. Miller was a Heisman Trophy front-runner who had totaled 2,094 yards passing, 1,068 yards rushing, 36 touchdowns and just seven interceptions the year before. Miller and Meyer were 24-0 in the regular season together and the Buckeyes' expected starting QB was lost for the year before it even got started.
Aug. 30: J.T. Barrett's first TD
In his first career start and the season opener for the team many considered the favorite in the Big Ten, J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes were trailing Navy 14-13 with just 4:10 minutes left. But the redshirt freshman then found Devin Smith for an 80-yard, go-ahead touchdown. It was Barrett's first career touchdown and it led to an eventual 34-17 win.
Sept. 6: The Pick-Six
In just his second start behind an offensive line that had yet to gel, Barrett is harassed all night long by the Virginia Tech Hokies. Down by seven with a minute to play, Barrett and the Bucks still had a chance to come back. However, the OSU quarterback was intercepted by Donovan Riley, who returned the pick for a game-clinching touchdown with 46 seconds left. Most (myself included) left the Buckeyes for dead.
Oct. 25: The overtime sack
Joey Bosa, who would go on to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, made his presence felt with 3.5 sacks against Penn State in front of a sold-out "White Out" home crowd in Happy Valley. With the season hanging in the balance in double overtime, Bosa recorded his third and final sack to clinch the win on the game's final play.
Nov. 8: Barrett's final blow
In the biggest game of the year and with the East Division title hanging in the balance against then-No. 8 Michigan State and one of the best defenses in the land, Barrett put on a show. The QB threw for 300 yards, rushed for 86 yards and scored five touchdowns — the last of which was a seven-yard TD toss early in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. The Bucks won 49-37.
Nov. 15: Wintry record-breaker
In what appeared to be the slowest 86-yard touchdown run in the history of football, Barrett outran the Minnesota secondary to give the Buckeyes a critical road win over a ranked opponent. It was one of three records Barrett broke in the game — long run by a QB, rushing yards in a game by a QB (189) and most TDs in a season (38). It was OSU's second straight and second overall win over a ranked foe at the time.
Nov. 29: First play of the fourth quarter
An emotional week that featured the tragic loss of teammate Kosta Karageorge ended with a costly victory in "The Game" over archrival Michigan. On the first play of the fourth quarter of a one-score game, Barrett broke his ankle putting an end to his breakout season. Cardale Jones takes his place and in his first full drive as a starter, led OSU to a touchdown when Ezekiel Elliott broke a 44-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down call. The Bucks go on to pull away and easily defeat the school from up North.
Dec. 6: Jones adds a new dimension
Less than two minutes into the Big Ten Championship Game, Jones, making his first career start, connects with Devin Smith for a 39-yard touchdown. The throw shows off Jones' arm and his ability to stretch the field vertically. Ohio State would score 52 more points in the title game rout that would eventually land the Buckeyes in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Jan 1a: Evan Spencer-to-Michael Thomas trickery
After falling behind 21-6 halfway through the second quarter Ohio State made it a one-score game after a short Elliott TD run. Then with 12 seconds left in the half, Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman dialed up the best trick play in the history of the Sugar Bowl. An apparent end-around with an added wrinkle resulted in wide receiver Evan Spencer throwing a dart to Michael Thomas to make the score 21-20 at halftime.
Jan. 1b: Zeke seals the deal
Nursing a scant six-point lead with just over three minutes left in the game on a critical third down, Elliott breaks through a stacked box and rumbles 85 yards to seal a trip to the national title game.
Jan. 12: Final 11:33 of the third quarter
After a solid start to the first drive of the second half, Jones is picked off by Oregon's Danny Mattingly with 11:33 left in the third quarter. The Ducks promptly score on the next play, as Marcus Mariota finds Byron Marshall for a 70-yard score. Six plays into the ensuing drive; Jones does his best Jameis Winston impersonation by gifting the Ducks the football on the OSU 32-yard line. The Ducks use five plays to eventually kick a field goal and cut the lead to 21-20. But Ohio State finishes the heated third quarter with a dominating 12-play, 75-yard, drive that eats up 6:39 on the clock and ends with Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run on the final play of the quarter. The exchange gives Oregon every chance to take control but the Buckeyes survive two turnovers and answer back with a heavy-weight counterpunch.
The rest is history.
Less than 48 hours after the crowning of the 2014 national champion — congrats to the Ohio State Buckeyes by the way — we are already looking ahead to 2015.
Why not? After one of the most entertaining football seasons in history, why shouldn’t we be fired up about another year of upsets, records and overtime?
Here is a really, really early look at the top 25 games to look forward to in 2015:
|1.||Nov. 28||Auburn, AL|
|Iron Bowl could decide SEC West, SEC and playoff bid... again.|
|2.||Nov. 27||Ft. Worth, TX|
|Rivalry has blossomed into one of the best after dramatic '14 edition.|
|3.||Nov. 21||Eugene, OR|
|Elite programs in the Pac-12 offer a potential title game preview.|
|4.||Oct. 3||Athens, GA|
|Dawgs host the Tide Between the Hedges for the first time since '08.|
|5.||Sept. 12||E. Lansing, MI|
|The Spartans return Connor Cook and will be out for revenge at home.|
|6.||Nov. 28||Ann Arbor, MI|
|Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer in The Big House? Yes, please.|
|7.||Sept. 19||Baton Rouge, LA|
|A trip to the bayou could be Auburn's toughest road test of the year.|
|8.||Nov. 7||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|SEC West heavyweight match never disappoints.|
|9.||Nov. 21||Norman, OK|
|Epic rematch could carry Big 12 title implications. This time, in Norman.|
|10.||Sept. 19||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|Is Ole Miss ready to challenge? Will Bama get revenge?|
|11.||Oct. 31||Auburn, AL|
|Two road trips into the Yellowhammer State will be nasty for the Rebels.|
|12.||Oct. 10||Dallas, TX|
|Already elite rivalry getting better as the Horns develop under Charlie Strong.|
|13.||Nov. 21||Oxford, MS|
|Late-season rivalry could have SEC West title implications.|
|14.||Nov. 21||Columbus, OH|
|Bucks-Sparty still top two teams in the Big Ten?|
|DeShaun Watson at home against rebuilt Seminoles for the division crown?|
|16.||Nov. 14||Starkville, MS|
|Tide top the long list of huge home games for HailState in '15.|
|17.||Oct. 17||South Bend, IN|
|Historic rivalry could be back to featuring two top 10 teams.|
|18.||Nov. 14||Auburn, AL|
|Deep South's Oldest Rivalry once again features two national title teams.|
|19.||Oct. 29||Tempe, AZ|
|Another potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview matchup.|
|20.||Sept. 5||South Bend, IN|
|First meeting since '96 for these two bluebloods.|
|21.||Nov. 28||Starkville, MS|
|Egg Bowl will again be one of the most important games in the SEC West.|
|22.||Sept. 12||Knoxville, TN|
|Awesome non-conference barometer test for two power programs.|
|23.||Nov. 21||Tempe, AZ|
|Territorial Cup decided the South in '14, could happen again in '15.|
|24.||Nov. 7||College Station, TX|
|One of the fastest developing rivalries in college football.|
|25.||Sept. 5||Arlington, TX|
|May not be close but a great Big Ten-SEC showdown to kickoff the season.|
Best of the Rest:
26. USC at Arizona St (Sept. 26)
27. Arizona St vs. Texas A&M (Houston, Sept. 5)
28. UCLA at USC (Nov. 28)
29. Auburn at Arkansas (Oct. 24)
30. Florida St at Florida (Nov. 28)
31. Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 17)
32. Oklahoma at Oklahoma St (Nov. 28)
33. Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)
34. LSU at Mississippi St (Sept. 12)
35. Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 14)
36. Arizona at USC (Nov. 7)
37. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 31)
38. Arizona St at UCLA (Oct. 3)
39. UCLA at Arizona (Sept. 26)
40. Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta, Sept. 5)
41. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Sept. 26)
42. Georgia at Tennessee (Oct. 10)
43. Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 21)
44. Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 28)
45. Florida at LSU (Oct. 17)
46. Michigan St at Michigan (Oct. 17)
47. Wisconsin at Minnesota (Nov. 28)
48. Miami at Florida St (TBA)
49. Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Oct. 24)
50. Arkansas at Alabama (Oct. 10)
For better or worse, Oklahoma will not be a victim of what we’re going to call the Oklahoma Effect.
This is the trend in which a lopsided bowl win leads to a team facing unattainable expectations the following year.
Why the Oklahoma Effect? The Sooners finished 2013 with a 45-31 win over then-No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl behind the play of quarterback Trevor Knight.
OU’s win over the powerhouse Crimson Tide led to almost everyone putting the Sooners into their playoff projection for 2014. As it turns out, that bowl win was fool’s gold. Oklahoma finished 8-5 and was out of the mix by early October. The 2014 calendar year began with such optimism for Bob Stoops and ended with the worst season of his career in Norman.
And we’re not just picking on Oklahoma. This could have been the West Virginia Effect only two seasons ago. And another team before that.
Bowl results are weird. Maybe one of these days we’ll learn our lesson and view a bowl result with more even-handed judgement.
This is our attempt to temper expectations for teams that might start 2015 in the overrated category because of one bowl result.
The result: Defeated Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Why we might overrate Clemson: The Tigers were one of the great stories of bowl season as senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, a longtime backup who eventually lost his starting job to a freshman, completed 26-of-36 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Stoudt is gone, but the quarterback of the future is here in Deshaun Watson. The Tigers, though, enter 2015 missing a few key pieces. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is off to SMU, and six of the top eight leading tacklers, not least of which linemen Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, were seniors. The string of four consecutive 10-win seasons may be in jeopardy.
The result: Defeated Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia: Rising sophomore Nick Chubb will be on the Heisman short list to start next season after a 266-yard effort against the Cardinals’ steady defense. Beyond Chubb, though, Georgia is starting over on offense with Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park entering a quarterback competition under a new offensive coordinator. The defense made major strides last season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but four key seniors depart the front seven. The SEC West crossover schedule against Alabama and Auburn won’t be very forgiving.
The result: Defeated Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia Tech: Give the Yellow Jackets credit. They finished strong with wins over Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State. A two-point loss to Florida State was the Jackets’ only loss in the final seven games. Hopes will be high for returning quarterback Justin Thomas and a defense with only four senior starters at the end of the year. A major question will be the departure of standout offensive guard Shaq Mason and the top four running backs.
The result: Defeated Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl.
Why we might overrate Missouri: Call this one a market correction. After two seasons of underestimating Missouri only to watch the Tigers win the SEC East, Mizzou is sure to get the benefit of the doubt in 2015. Missouri might burn that leap of faith. The Tigers’ pass rush is going to take a hit without end Markus Golden and tackle Matt Hoch, who played alongside both Golden and Michael Sam. Quarterback Maty Mauk never really developed last season, including a 12-of-19 performance for 97 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the bowl. His top four receivers in 2014 were all seniors, leaving Nate Brown’s five catches as the most among returning wide receivers.
The result: Defeated Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Why we might overrate Tennessee: To be clear, Tennessee is on an upward trajectory. The Volunteers won four of their last five, the only loss by eight to Missouri, and they’re a player again in SEC recruiting. It may be tempting, then, to look at Tennessee as a top 25 team or SEC East contender. The backfield of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd will be the headline names for Tennessee, but let’s pump the brakes on Tennessee until the 2014 and 2015 signing classes rebuild the offensive and defensive lines.
The 2014 college football season just ended, but the upcoming 2015 campaign isn’t that far off. Bovada is getting a start on 2015 by releasing early championship odds for next season.
Ohio State is a favorite to repeat, with TCU and Alabama just behind the Buckeyes in the overall odds.
Check out Bovada’s early national championship odds for 2015:
Ohio State: 5/1
Florida State: 16/1
Michigan State: 16/1
Notre Dame: 20/1
Mississippi State: 28/1
Texas A&M: 33/1
Arizona State: 40/1
Boise State: 40/1
Ole Miss: 40/1
Georgia Tech: 50/1
Kansas State: 50/1
Oklahoma State: 50/1
South Carolina: 50/1
Penn State: 75/1
West Virginia: 75/1
North Carolina: 100/1
Oregon State: 100/1
Virginia Tech: 100/1
Boston College: 200/1
Texas Tech: 200/1
Oregon fell short of claiming its first national championship with a 42-20 loss to Ohio State on Monday night. The Ducks have played in college football’s title game in two out of the last five years but lost both matchups. The lack of a championship trophy shouldn’t minimize the run Oregon has been on in recent years. The Ducks have won at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons, including a 24-4 start to coach Mark Helfrich’s tenure in Eugene.
As the Ducks turn the page from 2014 to 2015, Helfrich and his staff have some significant question marks to address. Will Marcus Mariota return? If Mariota doesn’t return, who steps up to fill the void under center? Can Oregon replace a few key contributors on defense?
Let’s take a look at what Oregon returns in 2015 and a few question marks for this team to address before the opening kickoff next year:
QB Marcus Mariota (may leave early for NFL)
RB Royce Freeman
RB Thomas Tyner
RB/WR Byron Marshall
WR Devon Allen
WR Darren Carrington
WR Dwayne Stanford
WR Bralon Addison
TE Pharaoh Brown
OT Tyler Johnstone
RG Cameron Hunt
OT Tyrell Crosby
WR Keanon Lowe
LT Jake Fisher
LG Hamani Stevens
C Hroniss Grasu
DE Arik Armstead (may leave early for NFL)
DE DeForest Buckner (may leave early for NFL)
NG Alex Balducci
LB Rodney Hardrick
LB Joe Walker
LB Tyson Coleman
LB Christian French
LB Torrodney Prevot
CB Chris Seisay
S Reggie Daniels
S Tyree Robinson
LB Tony Washington
LB Derrick Malone
CB Troy Hill
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
S Erick Dargan
Three Offseason Storylines to Watch
Will Mariota return to Oregon next season? If he doesn’t, coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost will have big shoes to fill under center. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been rumored as a possible transfer, but if the Ducks lose Mariota and fail to land any additions in the offseason, Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak, Ty Griffin, Taylor Alie and incoming freshman Travis Waller will compete for the starting job.
Fill the Voids Up Front
The Ducks are loaded with skill talent next season, but the offensive line has a few holes to fill. The unit’s top players – left tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu – have expired their eligibility. There’s some experience coming back, and this group will get a boost from Tyler Johnstone’s return from a knee injury. A major drop in production would be a surprise, but this unit has some significant work to do in the offseason.
Considering Oregon’s style of play on offense, it’s unreasonable to expect the defense to be a shutdown unit. However, the Ducks were an opportunistic group in the first season under coordinator Don Pellum and navigated the loss of standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in a Rose Bowl win over Florida State. But Pellum could have some major holes to address in the offseason if defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bolt to the NFL. Additionally, the secondary loses standouts in cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, along with safety Erick Dargan. If Mariota leaves for the NFL, the Oregon offense will take a small step back on the stat sheet. While the defense could suffer a few significant losses, the Ducks will need more out of this group, at least until a quarterback is found to replace Mariota.
Ohio State is back on top of the college football world after a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship on Monday night. The run to the title was a surprising one for coach Urban Meyer’s team, as the Buckeyes were down to their third quarterback and had to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the playoff committee rankings. However, no obstacle was too tough for Ohio State to overcome. Even though the 2014 season just finished, it’s never too early to think about next year. The Buckeyes should be the favorite to repeat with most of the depth chart returning, but like every team in college football, there will be issues for Meyer and his staff to iron out in the spring.
Can Ohio State repeat in 2015? Let’s take a look at the key returners, departures and some of the questions facing this team next year:
QB J.T. Barrett
QB Cardale Jones
QB Braxton Miller
RB Ezekiel Elliott
HB Dontre Wilson
HB Jalin Marshall
WR Michael Thomas
TE Nick Vannett
LT Taylor Decker
RG Pat Elflein
LG Billy Price
C Jacoby Boren
WR Devin Smith
TE Jeff Heuerman
RT Darryl Baldwin
DE Joey Bosa
DT Adolphus Washington
LB Darron Lee
LB Joshua Perry
LB Raekwon McMillan
CB Eli Apple
S Tyvis Powell
S Vonn Bell
DB Armani Reeves
P Cameron Johnston
DE Steve Miller
DT Michael Bennett
LB Curtis Grant
CB Doran Grant
Three Offseason Storylines to Watch
Crowded QB Depth Chart
Urban Meyer and the offensive staff have a good problem on their hands this offseason. The Buckeyes have three proven options at quarterback – Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett – and each player is slated to return to Columbus for 2015. Of course, that outlook could change if Miller transfers (as rumored). Miller is recovering from shoulder surgery, and there’s no guarantee he’s 100 percent by the end of spring practice. Even if Miller leaves, the battle between Jones and Barrett would be one of the top quarterback battles of the offseason. And it’s not out of the question for the coaching staff to rotate between Jones and Barrett next season if those two are the top options in the fall. Having three proven quarterbacks presents an interesting dilemma for Meyer in 2015.
Shuffled Coaching Staff
When you have success at a high level like Ohio State has experienced under Meyer, the assistants are going to be hot commodities for programs looking for a new head coach. And the Buckeyes are already experiencing the staff turnover, as offensive coordinator Tom Herman was hired by Houston to be the program’s next coach. Meyer hasn’t officially announced the new staff assignments, but it’s expected Ed Warinner will be promoted and former Nebraska assistant Tim Beck will be hired to work as the co-offensive coordinator. Herman won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant in 2014. Will the revamped staff have the same results in 2015?
More Development on Defense
The addition of assistant Chris Ash as the team’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach made an impact on the Buckeyes in 2014. This unit returns largely intact for 2015, but there are a few key departures. The line was thin on proven depth throughout the season and will miss end Steve Miller and tackle Michael Bennett. The return of tackle Adolphus Washington and end Joey Bosa should alleviate some of the (small) concerns up front, and this unit won’t miss a beat if young players like end Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes take the next step in their development. In the secondary, Ohio State will miss cornerback Doran Grant. The senior was a key cog in the improved play by the defensive backfield in 2014, and the Buckeyes need more from young cornerbacks like Gareon Conley, Eli Apple, Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore. There’s no shortage of talent on this defense. But Ash and co-coordinator Luke Fickell have some work to do up front and in the secondary this offseason.
The 2014-15 college football season concluded with Ohio State’s 42-20 win over Oregon on Monday night in Arlington, Texas. Although the on-field game action is over until next August, spring practice and offseason workouts will start for some teams in February. And with Signing Day just around the corner, there’s no shortage of college football news to fill the offseason void.
While the 2014-15 season is fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. The second college football playoff schedule has a few tweaks from this season’s version, as the Cotton and Orange host semifinal games on Dec. 31, with the national title game slated for Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
Early College Football Title Favorites for 2015
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 1
Defending a national title is no easy task, but Ohio State is equipped to return to the championship game in 2015. The quarterback battle will dominate the offseason in Columbus, as coach Urban Meyer returns three standouts (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones) ready to compete for the No. 1 job. Regardless of who starts under center, expect to see plenty of running back Ezekiel Elliott. The defense will miss tackle Michael Bennett and cornerback Doran Grant. However, end Joey Bosa and linebacker Darron Lee are two of the top defenders in the nation.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 2
The Crimson Tide has their share of offseason question marks to answer. Is Jake Coker ready to assume the starting job at quarterback? Who steps up to replace receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins? Until those questions are answered, Alabama can lean on a ground attack anchored by Derrick Henry (990 yards in 2014) and a tough front seven on defense.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 3
The Horned Frogs were one of the nation’s most improved squads in 2014. After finishing 4-8 in 2013, TCU jumped to 12 victories and dominated Ole Miss 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Most of coach Gary Patterson’s squad returns intact, starting with quarterback Trevone Boykin and a talented group of skill players. Defense is always a strength in Fort Worth, but Patterson will have a few voids to fill, including standout defensive backs Kevin White (CB), Chris Hackett (S) and Sam Carter (S), along with linebacker Paul Dawson and tackle Chucky Hunter.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 4
Until quarterback Marcus Mariota declares for the NFL or announces he is staying in college for another year, the Ducks are the hardest team to rank in early polls for 2015. Even if Mariota leaves, Oregon has a solid foundation for next season. The backfield of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman can carry the offense until a new quarterback emerges. The defense needs to reload up front - if Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner leave for the NFL - and in the secondary, but the Ducks should remain the favorite in the Pac-12 North.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 5
TCU is the favorite in the Big 12 next season, but the Bears aren’t too far behind. Art Briles continues to elevate the talent level in Waco, and even though quarterback Bryce Petty departs, there’s a track record of developing signal-callers at Baylor (under Briles). The Bears received some good news around the draft deadline, as offensive tackle Spencer Drango and end Shawn Oakman both decided to return for their senior season.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 6
In Mark Dantonio we trust. In four out of the last five seasons, Michigan State has won at least 11 games. Dantonio has to replace defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and there’s a handful of personnel concerns to address. Receiver Tony Lippett, cornerback Trae Waynes and running back Jeremy Langford won’t return, but the Spartans can ride veteran quarterback Connor Cook until the rest of the pieces fall into place.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 7
Fixing the defense was the top priority for coach Gus Malzahn this offseason, and he addressed the team’s biggest question mark by hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp to call the defensive signals. Muschamp inherits a defense that returns most of its starting unit, and end Carl Lawson is back from a torn ACL that forced the rising star to miss all of 2014. The transition from Nick Marshall to Jeremy Johnson should be seamless at quarterback.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 8
The Bulldogs have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four seasons. And with the question marks surrounding the rest of the SEC East teams, coach Mark Richt’s squad is the early favorite to win the division in 2015. New offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was an interesting hire, but the formula for Georgia’s offense shouldn’t change much with running back Nick Chubb leading the way. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was one of the top assistant hires from 2014. Pruitt should help the defense take another step forward in 2015.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 9
The Pac-12 South is loaded with good teams next year, but a slight edge as the favorite – for now – goes to USC. The Trojans need to find a way to close out games better, as coach Steve Sarkisian’s team lost three games by a touchdown or less. Receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen are off to the NFL, but quarterback Cody Kessler and talented freshmen receivers JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson return. End Leonard Williams is a significant loss on defense.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 10
Over the last five years, the only team in the nation that has a better recruiting rank average than Florida State is Alabama. While the Seminoles have to replace quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Rashad Greene, four starters on the offensive line and find a few answers on defense for a unit that allowed 25.6 points per game in 2014, there’s a ton of promising talent in place. Of course, the Seminoles will be a young team next year, but running back Dalvin Cook is a good place to start the rebuilding effort.
Under-the-Radar Teams to Watch for the Top 10 in 2015
The Yellow Jackets should be the favorites in the Coastal Division. Quarterback Justin Thomas returns, but the skill talent must be restocked with running backs Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins and receiver DeAndre Smelter expiring their eligibility.
Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Baton Rouge. However, the Tigers need to develop a passing game to pair with standout sophomore running back Leonard Fournette. How much will LSU miss veteran coordinator John Chavis?
The Rebels need to retool in the secondary, but the front seven should be among the best in the nation. Can Hugh Freeze find a quarterback this spring?
It’s a close call between USC, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Utah for the early nod as the favorite in the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils host USC, Oregon and Arizona next year, and Mike Bercovici is ready to step in at quarterback to replace Taylor Kelly.
The Fighting Irish started 6-0 but finished 2-5 over their last seven games. Injuries and turnovers were largely to blame for the second-half struggles, but most of the team’s core is set to return for 2015. Malik Zaire is a promising option at quarterback, and the defense should take a step forward with the return of cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams from suspension.
2015-16 College Football New Year’s Six Bowl Schedule
If the top 10 looks like this at the end of the year, here’s a (very) early projection on the top bowls for 2015:
Chick-fil-A Bowl – Dec. 31
Projection: Georgia vs. Florida State
Fiesta – Jan. 1
Projection: Boise State vs. Arizona State
Rose – Jan. 1
Projection: USC vs. Michigan State
Sugar – Jan. 1
Projection: Baylor vs. Auburn
Cotton – Semifinal – Dec. 31
Projection: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Orange – Semifinal – Dec. 31
Projection: Alabama vs. TCU
National Championship – Jan. 11
Projection: Ohio State vs. Alabama
Ohio State has won the first College Football Playoff national championship, and Athlon Sports college football writers Braden Gall and David Fox are here to break down how it happened and what it all means.
On the championship edition of the Cover 2, we discuss:
• What does Ohio State’s run to the championship as a No. 4 seed say about the new playoff era and what it means for future selection committees.
• Why Ohio State is built to make another run at a championship.
• Where Cardale Jones’ story places among the great storylines in college football and what we’re looking for next out of Ohio State’s embarrassment of riches at quarterback.
• Where Urban Meyer stands among college football coaches. Has he overtaken Nick Saban as the best in the game? We’re not sure, but we say he’s the most transformative coach of the era.
• Where does Marcus Mariota’s legacy stand with the great quarterbacks of the era.
Does he rank with with Vince Young and Tim Tebow?
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 13:
• Sorry, Oregon. At least you still have the best cheerleaders in college football.
• Patrick Reed won the Hyundai TOC with an epic comeback, but it was his hat tan that was truly epic.
• This story says that Urban Meyer has closed the gap on Nick Saban. I think he passed St. Nick last night as the nation's best college football coach, and his Buckeyes look like they have staying power.
• I agree with this: Cardale Jones should turn pro. His stock will never be higher, and he didn't come to Columbus to play school anyway.
• I haven't linked to the Onion in a while. I'll rectify that error now.
• Feel-good video of the day: Leah Still does the Dougie.
• Watch Kevin Garnett head-butt Dwight Howard.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Many consider the modern era of college football to be 1998-present — when the Bowl Championship Series went into effect.
Every team that wins the season’s final game is historically great in its own unique way, but trying to figure out who would win among those champs is a fun exercise.
Here is our best shot at ranking the national champions in the modern era of college football (1998-present):
1. Miami, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
This team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl.
Sept. 1: Miami 33, Penn St 7
Sept. 8: Miami 61, Rutgers 0
Sept. 27: Miami 43, Pitt 21
Oct. 6: Miami 38, Troy 7
Oct. 13: Miami 49, (#14) Florida St 27
Oct. 25: Miami 45, W. Virginia 3
Nov. 3: Miami 38, Temple 0
Nov. 10: Miami 18, B. College 7
Nov. 17: Miami 59, (#14) Syracuse 0
Nov. 24: Miami 65, (#12) Wash. 7
Dec. 1: Miami 26, (#14) V. Tech 24
Jan. 3: Miami 37, (#4) Nebraska 14
2. USC, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White and Reggie Bush made it virtually impossible to stop these Trojans. Eighteen different players from this team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft.
Aug. 28: USC 24, V. Tech 13
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado St 0
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona St 7
Oct. 23: USC 38, Wash. 0
Oct. 30: USC 42, Wazzu 12
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon St 20
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19
3. Texas, 2005 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game. Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS title game history to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans for this Texas team — which produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 3: Texas 60, La-Lafayette 3
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio St 22
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Okla. 12
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colo. 17
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) T. Tech 17
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Okla. St 28
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colo. 3
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38
4. Florida State, 2013 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
The Noles rolled through its 2013 schedule with surprising ease, beating 13 regular season opponents by more than six touchdowns per game (42.3). Elite defensive players at every level compliment a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, a veteran offensive line and big-time playmakers at the skill positions. Even the special teams were elite and decorated with the Groza winner kicking field goals. This team is one of only four 14-win, unblemished BCS championship teams — and is the highest scoring team in FSU history (723, 51.6 ppg). The '13 Noles will go down as one of the most dominant, decorated and successful teams in college football history after erasing the biggest deficit in BCS title game history (18).
Sept 2: Florida St 41, Pitt 13
Sept. 14: Florida St 62, Nevada 7
Sept. 21: Florida St 54, Beth-Cookman 6
Sept. 28: Florida St 48, B. College 34
Oct. 5: Florida St 63, (#25) Maryland 0
Oct. 19: Florida St 51, (#3) Clemson 14
Oct. 26: Florida S 49, NC State 17
Nov. 2: Florida St 41, (#7) Miami 14
Nov. 9: Florida St 59, W. Forest 3
Nov. 16: Florida St 59, Syracuse 3
Nov. 23: Florida St 80, Idaho 14
Nov. 30: Florida St 37, Florida 7
Dec. 7: Florida St 45, (#20) Duke 7
Jan. 6: Florida St 34, (#2) Auburn 31
5. Alabama, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in SEC title game rematch. This Bama team featured 11 first round NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 5: Alabama 34, (#7) V. Tech 24
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, N. Texas 7
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, (#20) Ole Miss 3
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, (#22) S. Carolina 6
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, (#9) LSU 15
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Miss. St 3
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tenn-Chatt. 0
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, (#1) Florida 13
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, (#2) Texas 21
6. Florida, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights, giving one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by outlasting Oklahoma 24-14. These Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).
Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7
Oct. 11: Florida 51, (#4) LSU 21
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5
Nov. 1: Florida 49, (#8) Georgia 10
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14
Nov. 15: Florida 56, (#24) S. Carolina 6
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19
Nov. 29: Florida 45, (#23) Florida St 15
Dec. 6: Florida 31, (#1) Alabama 20
Jan. 8: Florida 24, (#2) Oklahoma 14
7. Tennessee, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin and a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run came late in the Arkansas game. Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.
Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, S. Carolina 14
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Miss. St 14
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida St 16
8. Alabama, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but special teams cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep, the Tide held the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the '09 Alabama title squad. This team featured nine first round NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent St 7
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn St 11
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, N. Texas 0
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Miss. St 7
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Ga Southern 21
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0
9. Oklahoma, 2000 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season in the title game. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners would battle with Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception, took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.
Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Ark. St 7
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas St 31
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, T. Tech 13
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Okla. St 7
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas St 24
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida St 2
10. Florida State, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
This team claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the third-highest scoring Noles team in school history at the time (fifth now). Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.
Aug. 28: Florida St 41, La. Tech 7
Sept. 11: Florida St 41, (#10) Ga. Tech 35
Sept. 18: Florida St 42, (#20) NC State 11
Sept. 25: Florida St 42, N. Carolina 10
Oct. 2: Florida St 51, Duke 23
Oct. 9: Florida St 31, (#19) Miami 21
Oct. 16: Florida St 33, W. Forest 10
Oct. 23: Florida St 17, Clemson 10
Oct. 30: Florida St 35, Virginia 10
Nov. 13: Florida St 49, Maryland 10
Nov. 20: Florida St 30, (#4) Florida 20
Jan. 4: Florida St 46, (#2) Va. Tech 29
11. Alabama, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top 10. It rolled up 529 yards of offense and 42 points in one of the more impressive title game performances against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Sept. 1: Alabama 41, (#8) Michigan 14
Sept. 8: Alabama 35, W. Kentucky 0
Sept. 15: Alabama 52, Arkansas 0
Sept. 22: Alabama 40, FAU 7
Sept. 29: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 14
Oct. 13: Alabama 42, Missouri 10
Oct. 20: Alabama 44, Tennessee 13
Oct. 27: Alabama 38, (#13) Miss. St 7
Nov. 3: Alabama 21, LSU 17
Nov. 10: (#15) Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
Nov. 17: Alabama 49, W. Carolina 0
Nov. 24: Alabama 49, Auburn 0
Dec. 1: Alabama 32, (#3) Georgia 28
Jan. 7: Alabama 42, (#1) N. Dame 14
12. LSU, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense (252 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg) — Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, Justin Vincent and Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.
Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13
Sept. 13: LSU 35, W. Illinois 7
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Miss. St 6
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7
Oct. 18: LSU 33, S. Carolina 7
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7
Nov. 1: LSU 49, La. Tech 10
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14
13. Auburn, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history (577 pts).
Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Ark. St 26
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Miss. St 14
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) S. Carolina 27
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tenn-Chatt 24
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) S. Carolina 17
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19
14. Ohio State, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.
Aug. 24: Ohio St 45, T. Tech 21
Sept. 7: Ohio St 51, Kent St 17
Sept. 14: Ohio St 25, (#10) Wazzu 7
Sept. 21: Ohio St 23, Cincinnati 19
Sept. 28: Ohio St 45, Indiana 17
Oct. 5: Ohio St 27, N'Western 16
Oct. 12: Ohio St 50, San Jose St 7
Oct. 19: Ohio St 19, Wisconsin 14
Oct. 26: Ohio St 13, (#17) Penn St 7
Nov. 2: Ohio St 34, (#19) Minn. 3
Nov. 9: Ohio St 10, Purdue 6
Nov. 16: Ohio St 23, Illinois 16
Nov. 23: Ohio St 14, (#12) Michigan 9
Jan. 3: Ohio St 31, (#1) Miami 24
15. Ohio State, 2014 (14-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Much like the 2002 Buckeyes squad, this Ohio State team was never considered the best team in college football until the final whistle. With a cult-hero third-string quarterback, Urban Meyer won his third national championship and returned not only the Buckeyes to national prominence but the Big Ten conference as well. The Buckeyes won their three final games of the season as underdogs, making this as unlikely a run to a national championship as any in college football history — and one of the most impressive season finale showings in college football history. Cardale Jones was 3-0 as a starter against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to cap the magical season. This is the only champion is history to have played 15 games.
Aug. 30: Ohio St 34, Navy 17
Sept. 6: Virginia Tech 35, Ohio St 21
Sept. 13: Ohio St 66, Kent St 0
Sept. 27: Ohio St 50, Cincinnati 28
Oct. 4: Ohio St 52, Maryland 24
Oct. 18: Ohio St 56, Rutgers 17
Oct. 25: Ohio St 31, Penn St 24 (2OT)
Nov. 1: Ohio St 55, Illinois 14
Nov. 8: Ohio St 49, (#7) Mich. St 37
Nov. 15: Ohio St 31, Minnesota 24
Nov. 22: Ohio St 42, Indiana 27
Nov. 29: Ohio St 42, Michigan 28
Dec. 6: Ohio St 59, (#11) Wisconsin 0
Jan. 1: Ohio St 42, (#1) Alabama 35
Jan. 12: Ohio St 42 (#2) Oregon 20
16. Florida, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU to 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine players into the 2007 NFL Draft and their only loss came at No. 11 Auburn.
Sept. 2: Florida 34, S. Miss 7
Sept. 9: Florida 42, UCF 0
Sept. 16: Florida 21, (#13) Tenn. 20
Sept. 23: Florida 26, Kentucky 7
Sept. 30: Florida 28, Alabama 13
Oct. 7: Florida 23, (#9) LSU 10
Oct. 14: (#11) Auburn 27, Florida 17
Oct. 28: Florida 21, (#25) Georgia 14
Nov. 4: Florida 25, Vanderbilt 19
Nov. 11: Florida 17, S. Carolina 16
Nov. 18: Florida 62, W. Carolina 0
Nov. 25: Florida 21, Florida St 14
Dec. 2: Florida 38, (#8) Arkansas 28
Jan. 8: Florida 41, (#1) Ohio St 14
17. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
By definition, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game.
Aug. 30: LSU 45, Miss. St 0
Sept. 8: LSU 48, (#9) Va. Tech 7
Sept. 15: LSU 44, MTSU 0
Sept. 22: LSU 28, (#14) S. Carolina 16
Sept. 29: LSU 34, Tulane 9
Oct. 6: LSU 28, (#7) Florida 24
Oct. 13: (#18) Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3 OT)
Oct. 20: LSU 30, (#19) Auburn 24
Nov. 3: LSU 41, (#18) Alabama 34
Nov. 10: LSU 58, La. Tech 10
Nov. 17: LSU 41, Ole Miss 24
Nov. 23: Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT)
Dec. 1: LSU 21, (#15) Tennessee 14
Jan. 7: LSU 38, (#1) Ohio St 24
1. Golden State Warriors (29-5)
The Warriors might be due for a slump, but even without starting center Andrew Bogut they’ve been pillaging through the league — right now, they’re on pace to win exactly 70 games. They’ve been the best team of the 2014-15 season by virtually every measure.
2. Atlanta Hawks (29-8)
Can anyone in the Eastern Conference beat the red-hot Hawks? They’re 23-3 since some small struggles at season’s beginning, establishing a sharp, selfless offensive system with perhaps the best passing and off-ball motion in all of basketball.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (30-8)
Robin Lopez is out, but the Blazers just keep winning. Damian Lillard is due for some MVP attention soon, especially if he keeps doing things like this:
4. Chicago Bulls (26-12)
Despite Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah still not looking like themselves with any consistency this season, the Bulls have been rolling. A lot of that has to do with Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler — two players who, respectively, were seen as done and never capable of playing this well.
5. Houston Rockets (26-11)
James Harden continues to lead the Rockets, bolstering his MVP résume daily as Houston still finds the best role for newcomer Josh Smith. And, outside of everyone’s attention, Dwight Howard has been back to playing elite ball at center.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (26-11)
The Grizzlies trading for Jeff Green gives them some serious scoring depth on the wings, and the return of Zach Randolph from injury should vault them back into the league’s highest echelon.
7. Toronto Raptors (25-11)
DeMar DeRozan’s return came last night against the Detroit Pistons, and it couldn’t have come any sooner. The Raptors have been just 12-8 without him, after starting 13-3 and taking seize of the Eastern Conference to open the season.
8. Dallas Mavericks (26-12)
As Rajon Rondo adjusts to life in coach Rick Carlisle’s offense, one of the league’s new giants begins to take shape. If these Mavs stay healthy, they’re more than capable of coming out of the Western Conference.
9. Washington Wizards (25-12)
The Wizards continue to be an enigma, falling somewhere between playoff fodder and true title contender. John Wall is a breakout superstar, and Paul Pierce’s presence has made for positive change — but something still seems missing in D.C.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (25-13)
The Clippers, more than ever, are facing title-or-bust expectations. Optimists may suggest that’s why they’ve had a rocky 2014-15 season; they’re just waiting until the stakes are raised before they play their best ball. If not’s the case, though, then there’s cause for heightened concern in Lob City.
11. Phoenix Suns (22-18)
The Suns are on the fringe of the loaded Western Conference playoff picture, and they’ve decided to push more chips to the table’s center by trading for big man Brandan Wright. This unusual roster is one of the NBA’s most exciting, for the second year running.
12. San Antonio Spurs (23-15)
The Spurs have seen Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard miss 16 games this season. DNP’s have long been par for the course in San Antonio, but for a 23-year-old? Until Leonard looks right and the Spurs snap out of their championship hangover, we’re hedging on them.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (20-19)
The young Bucks are one of the surprises of the season, forming one of the best defenses in the NBA despite accruing injuries all year. Head coach Jason Kidd is proving himself as an effective culture changer.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-19)
The reeling Cavs have more questions than answers, and the questions grow with every day. LeBron James is due to return soon — but even he can’t solve the litany of issues plaguing Cleveland.
15. Oklahoma City Thunder (18-19)
The Thunder have a lot left to prove. Things haven’t been as smooth and easy as the return of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook might have made them, with OKC playing just .500 ball over their last ten contests. If they don’t put their foot on the pedal soon, they could risk missing the playoffs.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (18-18)
Anthony Davis might be the best player in the league, and Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday round out a solid core of talent around him. But the dropoff after those five is too dramatic for the Pelicans to be a real playoff contender in the West. New Orleans is more than one move away.
17. Miami Heat (16-21)
Hassan Whiteside is a breakout, mid-season star in the vein of Jeremy Lin. Considered a bust or a never-was by most scouts, Whiteside is now making tons of teams slap their foreheads after waiving him. The bright spot of the Heat’s sagging season, Whiteside is a story to keep your eyes on.
18. Detroit Pistons (13-24)
Stan Van Gundy’s squad could easily climb much higher in the next installment of these rankings. Winners of eight of their last nine, the Pistons simply need to get to ground level after digging themselves so deep — then, they’ll be playoff contenders in the thin East.
19. Brooklyn Nets (16-21)
The Nets stink. With a collection of overpaid, unhappy players, general manager Billy King is wondering if he can ship off enough of his roster to avoid more harsh luxury tax penalties, and keep owner Mikhail Prokhorov from giving him some nasty parting words.
20. Denver Nuggets (17-20)
Trading Timofey Mozgov to the Cavaliers could mean the beginning of a Nuggets fire sale — alternately, it could not. Denver is deep down low, so Mozgov (despite being arguably their best big man) was somewhat expendable. Time will tell if he was the first domino in a larger trend.
21. Sacramento Kings (16-21)
The firing of head coach Mike Malone isn’t looking any smarter today. Troublesome-but-mega-talented big man DeMarcus Cousins is still destroying his defenders in the paint, but his attitude has taken a visible turn for the worse, and the future in Sacramento is more foggy than ever.
22. Utah Jazz (13-25)
An injury to starting center Enes Kanter has been a silver lining in Salt Lake City — it’s made way for the arrival of Rudy Gobert, a 7’1”, 22-year-old Frenchman who’s quickly building a reputation as one of the best rim-protectors in basketball. The future is bright in Utah.
23. Indiana Pacers (15-24)
Frank Vogel has proved himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA this year. With a terrible roster and even worse injuries, these Pacers have had no business entering double-digits in the win column. Vogel’s intensity and preparation have taken them there.
24. Charlotte Hornets (15-24)
The Hornets have been playing a better, more team-first game without the injured Lance Stephenson in the lineup. Too bad they’re still struggling to make the playoffs in the East, and making it harder to trade Stephenson away in the process.
25. Boston Celtics (12-23)
Let the rebuild begin in earnest. After sending out Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, Boston has made it as clear as can be that they’re sellers, looking to collect more and more draft picks as they glance toward tomorrow.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (12-26)
Kobe Bryant’s tempered his game to fit more into what the Lakers are doing — finally. The question is whether winning some extra games is good for their draft prospects and overall future.
27. Orlando Magic (13-27)
The Magic still aren’t expected to crack the playoffs, but this is a year in which more growth should be visible. It’s definitely time to wonder whether Jacque Vaughn is the man for the job at head coach.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-31)
Andrew Wiggins has started to soar and look like a real No. 1 overall pick, providing the only germ of watchability in an awful, injury-plagued season in Minnesota.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (7-29)
The Sixers’ tank rolls on, and until it stops and takes the course toward competition, we’ll just have to keep enjoying their dance moves more than anything they do between the whistles:
30. New York Knicks (5-35)
Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith are out the door, and one wonders if Carmelo Anthony would be too, if not for his no-trade clause and shaky knees. The Knicks are scorching the earth around ‘Melo and seeing what they can do to rebuild around him. How long will it take?
— John Wilmes
Regular season college basketball is going to have a tough time pulling eyes away from the NFL and college football playoffs.
Credit the sport for making a good effort during the weekend.
Two undefeated teams, Kentucky and Virginia, played games down to the wire, including one in double overtime.
The hammer finally fell on an undefeated team when NC State upset Duke with surprising ease. The surprises continued into Sunday evening when Oregon State defeated Arizona for the Beavers’ first win over a top 10 team since 2000.
With shorthanded Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers, four of the AP top seven lost this week and two of the winners had to battle tooth and nail to stay undefeated.
Indeed, the second full weekend of conference play rewarded both the hardcore basketball fans and the channel-flippers.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Kentucky survives in overtime … twice
The Wildcats are 15–0 and will be favored in every game the rest of the way. Last week, though, proved that Kentucky will have a difficult time making it through the regular season without a loss. Days after an overtime home win over Ole Miss, Kentucky needed two OTs to beat Texas A&M, 70–64 — and the Aggies were playing without leading scorer Jalen Jones. Conventional wisdom suggests that Kentucky is only beatable if it’s not hitting shots from the 3-point line. We might need to change our thinking; against Ole Miss, the Wildcats connected on 11-of-20 from the arc yet still almost lost at home, and they went a respectable 9-of-28 from 3 in the win in College Station. Kentucky is still the best team in the nation and the favorite to win the national championship, but the first week of conference play was far more challenging than anyone could have imagined.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy probably had the best summation of where Kentucky is right now: “They're young," he told reporters. "They're going to have moments like that. They're going to be challenged. They're going to second-guess things. They're going to throw the ball away. ... They're going to get upset when the coach gets on them.”
2. Duke is vulnerable on the road
Most would agree that Duke boasts the second-best roster in the nation, but we must remind ourselves that the Blue Devils still start three freshmen. And like most teams that rely heavily on freshmen, this team will struggle to play well consistently on the road. Duke passed its first true road test of the season, beating an outstanding Wisconsin team in Madison in early December, but struggled to win at Wake Forest last Wednesday and then lost by 12 points at NC State on Sunday. After a home date with Miami on Tuesday, the Devils play four of their next five games on the road, including grueling trips to Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia.
3. Virginia has the killer instinct
Playing with an identity is great. Virginia certainly has built one under Tony Bennett with a stifling defense and an efficient — if not overly exciting — offense. What shouldn’t be ignored is that the no-name Cavaliers are going to be tough to beat anytime, anywhere. Virginia had the most impressive win of the week, a 62–56 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend to stay undefeated. Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton got his shots, but the Cavs limited Jerian Grant to six points, his lowest total since Dec. 17, 2012. Notre Dame led by as many as eight in the second half, but Virginia took over late. In the final five minutes, Notre Dame was 3-of-10 from the field with a turnover. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers went 3-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. That’s how you win games on the road.
4. Marcus Paige is a battler...
Marcus Paige, a preseason All-American, has struggled as a junior. His scoring is down by more than four points per game, and his shooting percentage has plummeted from .440 to .366. Paige’s team, North Carolina, has also underachieved, carrying an 11–4 record into Saturday’s home game against Louisville. The Heels were on their way to a fifth loss — and a second straight defeat at home — before rallying from 13 down in the second half to edge Louisville in dramatic fashion. Paige, nursing a foot injury, delivered the decisive play, hitting a driving layup with 8.5 seconds remaining to give North Carolina the lead for good.
5. ...And so is Marcus Foster
A return to the NCAA Tournament is in doubt for disappointing Kansas State, but the Wildcats do have a bit of life left thanks to guard Marcus Foster. Against Oklahoma, the sophomore returned to the starting lineup after being banished to the bench in the previous two games. Starter or not, Foster certainly was the finisher. He hit the game-tying basket to force overtime and then hit the game-winning 3 with a man in his face to give the Wildcats a 66–63 victory. The win might be too little, too late for a team that has already lost seven games, but a road win over a good OU team could serve as a nice springboard for K-State.
6. Tinkle is the man in Corvallis
For the past half-dozen years, Oregon State basketball was relevant for one reason: Its coach, Craig Robinson, was the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama. Now, however, the Beavers are making headlines for their actual play on the court. First-year coach Wayne Tinkle inherited a program that lost its top five scorers from a team that went 16–16 in 2013-14. Tinkle coaxed a 9–3 record from this group in non-conference action and has followed up with a 2–1 start in league play. Sunday night, Oregon State recorded its biggest win in years, knocking off Pac-12 favorite Arizona 58–56 in Corvallis. The Beavers’ leading scorer is Gary Payton II, the son of the former OSU star and NBA Hall of Famer.
7. Texas needs Isaiah Taylor at full strength
Point guard Isaiah Taylor is back in the Texas lineup, but the Longhorns need him to return to form. Taylor, who missed 10 games with a wrist injury, returned in time for the Big 12 season. Having him on the floor clearly wasn’t a cure-all for Texas, which dropped games to Oklahoma (70–49) and Oklahoma State (69–58) last week. Taylor was a combined 7-of-25 from the field with eight assists and four turnovers in the two losses. The Big 12 offers few breaks, so Taylor’s progress will need to be quick. The good news, though, is that Texas doesn’t play again until Jan. 17 at home against West Virginia.
8. Iowa State escaped a dramatic week
The Cyclones’ 2–0 start in the Big 12 hasn’t been easy, but after a 64–60 loss to South Carolina in the final non-conference game of the year, Fred Hoiberg will take it. Iowa State’s first two conference games, wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, both came down to the final possession. Admire Iowa State’s gumption to win late, but Hoiberg has to be concerned about his team’s inability to put teams away. The Cyclones led Oklahoma State by as many as 11 in the second half and twice led West Virginia by eight in the second half.
9. Michigan is figuring it out
Michigan limped into Big Ten play with a 7–5 record that included losses at home to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines, a combined 26 games over .500 in league play the previous three seasons, didn’t figure to be much of a threat in conference play. Well, it’s never a good idea to count out a John Beilein-coached team. The opening schedule hasn’t been overly taxing, but Michigan is 3–1 in the Big Ten after beating Minnesota on Saturday. We’re not quite ready to label this team a contender — the other wins are against Illinois and Penn State, and the loss came against Purdue — but Beilein has to be encouraged that his inexperienced team is finding ways to win games.
10. Indiana can play a little defense after all
It’s safe to say Indiana is not Kentucky or Virginia in the defensive end. The Hoosiers rank 175th nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com. That’s why Indiana’s result Saturday came as a bit of a surprise. The Hoosiers held on to beat Ohio State 69-66 to inch IU closer to being an NCAA Tournament team. Sophomore forward Troy Williams (15 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman James Blackmon (18 points) were fantastic, but don’t ignore the defensive adjustment. Ohio State started 4-of-9 from the field and shot 32.7 percent the rest of the way. Buckeyes star freshman D’Angelo Russell was off his game, shooting 3-of-15 from the field with 13 points.
• Rutgers is not a great basketball team. Wisconsin, when healthy, is a Final Four contender. How much should we read into even a shorthanded Wisconsin team losing at Rutgers? Frank Kaminsky missed the game with a concussion, and point guard Traveon Jackson missed most of the second half with a knee injury. If both are healthy, Wisconsin is fine, and benches should be short enough in the NCAA Tournament to ignore the Badgers’ nine bench points against Rutgers.
• What a rude awakening for Washington. The Huskies started 11-0 with wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State. The Huskies are 0-4 since, including three losses to teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Stony Brook, Cal and Washington State).
• Maybe we should have remembered that Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte have played a ton of college basketball. Both of them scored 20 points in Oklahoma State’s win over Texas. They combined for another 40 points in the 63-61 loss to Iowa State on Tuesday. If Travis Ford can get the rest of the roster going, Oklahoma State could start to look awfully dangerous.
Athlon Sports executive editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Just like that, the 2014 college football season is over.
Weekends are about to feel pretty empty as the national champion has been crowned in Arlington to cap the first College Football Playoff.
Thirty-nine bowl games in 23 days has produced its share of highlights, disappointments and conversation starters for the 2015 season.
Even if the crowds turned out to be scant in some places, we all tuned in for the our regular holiday programming.
Sure, there are 39 winners and 39 losers (or technically 38 winners since the national champion won twice), but bowl season told a much more interesting story from temper tantrums to a brawl to fat guy touchdowns.
The SEC was turned on its head without a team playing for a title and most of the powerful West division licking its wounds. Oregon and Ohio State’s appearance in the national title game will redefine the discussion heading into 2015.
WINNER: The Playoff bonanza
This should come as no surprise, but people love the playoff. They really love the playoff. The Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State on ESPN grabbed the biggest audience in cable TV history at 28.2 million viewers ... until the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State’s win over Alabama drew 28.3 million viewers. These are numbers that beat an NFL Wild Card playoff the same weekend. A novel concept: More games that matter draws more viewers even as college football’s championship moves onto basic cable.
LOSER: The rest of the “New Year’s Six”
In the BCS era, the New Year’s Bowls had the holiday to themselves with the two teams in the championship game playing at least a week later. Having the playoff overlap with the traditional bowl games seemed to diminish the attention on the other major bowl games, especially the rest of the bowls attached to the playoff (the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton). Maybe it was the newness of the playoff that took eyes off the rest of the top games. Maybe it was three of them being played on New Year’s Eve instead of Jan. 1. Maybe it was TCU’s 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl in the first game that took the energy out of the rest of the day. At least competitive Cotton and Outback bowls — the latter is not part of the playoff — helped add some energy to the non-playoff bowls.
WINNER: A new offseason conference storyline
Florida State ended the SEC’s seven-year championship game run a year ago, and Ohio State ended the SEC’s run in the final two. When the conversation turns to the 2015 season, we’ll be talking about the return of Ohio State as one of the predominant national powers. The SEC’s not going to be out of the title game for long, but it’s nice to go into the offseason talking about something other than SEC predominance.
LOSER: Jan. 2
For several years, college football had bowl games after New Year’s Day, and not all of them were great matchups. The schedule, though, was especially jarring in the playoff era. Think about it: Fans went to bed one night watching a Sugar Bowl thriller and woke up to interim coaches at Houston and Pittsburgh playing in the Armed Forces Bowl, followed by a Tennessee rout of Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl.
WINNER: The SEC East
Three SEC East teams entered bowl season with six wins (Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina), and three entered the postseason after a loss to in-state rivals (Georgia, Florida and South Carolina). In other words, the division needed bowl season to save face even if they were playing in some of the SEC’s lesser bowl games. The division swept bowl season at 5-0. Granted, only two of those teams were ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings and neither in the top 20 (No. 21 Louisville and No. 25 Minnesota), but after a year in which the East’s champion lost at home to Indiana, any progress is a good sign.
LOSER: The SEC West
For most of the first two months of the season, the SEC West looked impenetrable. Which two SEC West teams would reach the playoff was a real question in October. First, this was not a mirage: The division sent all seven members to the postseason and went undefeated against non-conference opponents during the regular season, including wins over Wisconsin, West Virginia and Boise State. Yet by the end of New Year’s Day the only West teams left standing were the last two teams in the league (Arkansas and Texas A&M). Alabama, Auburn and LSU lost competitive games, but the Mississippi schools, both of which spent time in the top three this season, lost by a combined score of 91-37.
WINNER: The Pac-12
The most impressive conference from the first day of the season through the bowls may have been the Pac-12, at least as far as non-conference records go. The Pac-12 went 6-2 in bowl season, including 5-2 against the Power 5 conferences. That wrapped up a season in which the Pac-12 went 13-5 against the Power 5 and Notre Dame.
LOSER: Big Ten West teams not named Wisconsin
Good thing Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It was the only thing that prevented the postseason from being a total loss for the Big Ten’s weaker division. The tally for the West included an Illinois loss to Louisiana Tech, a defensive no-show and puzzling play calls from Nebraska against USC, and Minnesota’s 16-point loss to Missouri. They were all outdone by Iowa’s performance against Tennessee in which the Hawkeyes trailed 42-7 in the third quarter.
WINNER: TCU’s 2015 playoff hopes
The Horned Frogs had the biggest gripe about the postseason after dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final week, but TCU didn’t show it in a 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. In the long run, this might not be a bad thing. TCU outgained Ole Miss by 294 yards despite turning the ball over four times. That’s not a bad way to build legitimacy for a program that may be viewed in some circles as an outsider. Better yet, quarterback Trevone Boykin returns in 2015 as a senior.
LOSER: Texas’ offense
Whatever modest gains Texas made during the season on offense bottomed out in the Holiday Bowl against Arkansas. The Longhorns’ 59 total yards on 43 plays was one of the worst outputs in program history. Tyrone Swoopes managed only 25 yards of total offense, and in his last game of the regular season, he threw four interceptions against TCU. Charlie Strong’s program will enter 2015 with few answers.
WINNER: Arkansas’ bright future
The other side of Texas’ flop in the bowl was the overwhelming performance of Arkansas, which won as many games in Bret Bielema’s second season (seven) as it did in the previous two seasons under Bielema and John L. Smith. Arkansas returns quarterback Brandon Allen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined rushing yards) and a defense that started more freshmen and sophomores at the end of the season than juniors and seniors.
LOSER: Bob Stoops’ summer
The remake of Oklahoma’s offense has already begun as the Sooners hired Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to replace Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Replacing Heupel, Stoops’ championship quarterback, is of particular note as Stoops tries to get his program back on track after a 40-6 embarrassment against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Oklahoma went 4-5 and didn’t beat a bowl team after Oct. 1 — and this was a team pegged as a playoff contender.
WINNER: Fat guys
Fat guy touchdowns are great. Fat guy touchdowns in big bowl games? Even better. LaQuan McGowan, whose Baylor profile begins with the word “enormous,” caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Baylor up 41-21 against Michigan State (Baylor wouldn’t score again in a loss to Michigan State). A day later, Oklahoma State’s 300-pound lineman James Castleman scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, but the real highlight was his 48-yard catch on third down.
LOSER: Jim L. Mora’s ‘tude
Who doesn’t like Kansas State coach Bill Snyder? Apparently not UCLA coach Jim L. Mora in the moments after an Alamo Bowl win over the Wildcats. Mora was huffy with Snyder in the postgame handshake after Kansas State jumped over the offensive line while UCLA was trying to take a knee in a 40-35 win.
WINNER: Quarterbacks getting head starts on 2015
Bowl season tends to be a good time for quarterbacks to build momentum into the next season, particularly those who didn’t start until late in their year. Malik Zaire traded snaps with Everett Golson in Notre Dame’s 31-28 win over LSU, but he finished 12-of-15 for 96 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 96 yards. West Virginia’s Skyler Howard completed 20-of-45 passes for 346 yards and three touchdown in a shootout loss to Texas A&M. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen, two freshmen who claimed starting jobs late in the year, further solidified their positions with bowl wins.
LOSER: Kirk Ferentz’s offseason
Ferentz is the ninth-highest paid coach in college football. Ferentz is not producing top-10 results. Not even close. Iowa was outclassed by a 6-6 Tennessee team down in Jacksonville for a third consecutive bowl loss for the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s record since 2010? 34-30 overall and 19-21 in the Big Ten.
WINNER: Bryan Harsin’s first season at Boise State
Maybe the departure of Chris Petersen isn’t the blow to Boise State’s program we once thought it was. Like his predecessor, Harsin started his tenure at Boise State with a win in the Fiesta Bowl marked by a little trickery. All Harsin did in his first season was win 12 games, win the Mountain West and knock off the Pac-12 South champion in a bowl game.
LOSER: Chris Petersen’s first season at Washington
Meanwhile, Petersen is off to a forgettable start in Seattle. His season began with a suspended quarterback and close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington and ended with a 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State. Washington, a team expected to contend in the Pac-12 North, finished 8-6. According to the Sagarin ratings, the best win was over No. 81 Oregon State.
WINNER: Frank Beamer’s winning record streak
The season didn’t go as planned for Virginia Tech, and Frank Beamer ended up watching the Military Bowl from the press box while recovering from throat surgery. The Hokies, though, sealed a 22nd consecutive winning season in with a 33-17 win over Cincinnati. Two of those last three seasons have just made it at 7-6.
LOSER: Prolific passers
The bowls produced six 400-yard passers. They went a combined 1-5. The only winner, Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, beat another 400-yard passer in Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush.
WINNER: Prolific runners
The top 10 runners in the bowls went a combined 10-0. Moreover, they gave us an idea of what we need to watch next season and probably a few names that will be in the Heisman race. Freshman Nick Chubb rushed for 266 yards against Louisville, giving him the fifth-best rushing season in Georgia history despite playing behind Todd Gurley for parts of the season. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott finished his season with a flurry, highlighted by 230 yards against Alabama. And Paul Perkins showed there’s life at UCLA after Brett Hundley with 194 yards against Kansas State.
LOSER: Fresno State
The last time Fresno State won a bowl game, the WAC was still a viable conference and Ryan Mathews was in the Bulldogs' backfield. In 2014, Fresno State lost 30-6 to Rice for Fresno State’s sixth consecutive bowl loss. Only one of those, the 45-20 loss to USC in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, was to a Power 5 team. The last four losses have come by an average of 26.3 points.
WINNER: Conference USA
Realignment has picked apart Conference USA over the years, but the league responded with a 4-1 bowl record, including a win over the MAC champion (Marshall over Northern Illinois) and a Big Ten team (Louisiana Tech over Illinois). The lone loss was by 7-6 UTEP to a 10-4 Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.