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After a five-year run as Washington’s head coach, Steve Sarkisian is headed home, as the 39-year-old coach is Pat Haden’s pick to lead USC back to national prominence.
Sarkisian was a logical choice to be USC’s next coach. The California native served as an assistant under Pete Carroll and coached for the last five seasons in the Pac-12 at Washington.
Did USC make the right hire? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives before grading Sarkisian’s hire.
Positives for USC in hiring Steve Sarkisian
In the press release announcing Sarkisian’s hire, Pat Haden indicated Sarkisian “understands the heritage and tradition of USC.” Sarkisian is off the Pete Carroll coaching tree, spending 2001-03 and 2005-08 as an assistant with the Trojans. It doesn’t guarantee success, but Sarkisian – a California native – understands what it takes and the culture needed to win at USC.
Taking Washington from 0-12 to 8-4
Washington is one of the top 25-30 jobs in college football, but Sarkisian inherited a mess. In five years prior to his arrival in Seattle, the Huskies compiled a 12-47 mark, including a horrendous 0-12 record in 2008. Sarkisian brought a five-game improvement to Seattle in 2009 and has led the Huskies to four consecutive winning years. While 7-6 may not seem like much of an improvement, Washington has made small gains each year, and Sarkisian had a winning record over the last four seasons in Pac-12 games. Again, the overall record isn’t particularly overwhelming, but it’s clear Sarkisian is leaving Washington in better shape than how he inherited the program in 2009. Sarkisian also went 4-1 at Washington against rival Washington State. A similar record at USC against UCLA and Notre Dame would certainly help add support in Sarkisian’s corner.
Winning and style points aren’t related, but Sarkisian’s background on offense should work well in the Pac-12 and at USC. There’s no shortage of skill players and quarterbacks on the recruiting trail, and Sarkisian should help draw some of that talent to USC. At Washington, Sarkisian’s offenses posted finishes of sixth (twice), seventh, tenth and second in total offense (conference-only games). There’s room to grow in those numbers, but Sarkisian started to put all of the pieces together in 2013, including the emergence of one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps and running backs in Bishop Sankey.
Recruiting to USC shouldn’t be a problem for any coach. But if there was any doubt about Sarkisian’s recruiting ability, one look at the rankings should change those opinions. According to 247Sports, Washington has four consecutive top-25 recruiting classes, including the No. 18 overall haul in 2013. Now with the USC brand and an excellent staff in tow, Sarkisian is only going to reel in more talent to Los Angeles. And Sarkisian should be able to develop that talent better than Kiffin did in his tenure.
Negatives for USC in hiring Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian isn’t the “big-name hire”
Good coaches can come from anywhere and a variety of coaching positions. However, USC is one of college football’s premier jobs, and it seems like the Trojans didn’t have a lengthy list of interested candidates. Did USC inquire about Vanderbilt’s James Franklin? It seems Pat Haden at least asked about Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but he wanted to remain with the Broncos. Sarkisian is a good coach and should do well at USC. However, with a 34-29 record at Washington, Sarkisian will need to win over some fans and boosters. An elite coaching job like USC should be able to attract plenty of interest among candidates. Did the Trojans want to move quick and Sarkisian was the only coach willing to jump now? Or was the list of interested candidates shorter than most expected? It’s an interesting storyline to watch as the rest of college football’s coaching carousel takes place this offseason.
Lack of a breakthrough season at Washington
There’s no question Washington improved under Sarkisian’s watch. But the Huskies never finished above third place in the Pac-12’s North Division. Considering where the program was prior to Sarkisian’s arrival, it’s no surprise it took a few years to get Washington in a position to challenge for a top-three finish in the North Division. Stanford’s recent rise also hurt Washington’s ability to climb in the Pac-12. However, the Huskies never closed the gap on Oregon and lost by at least 17 points in each of Sarkisian’s five meetings against the Ducks. In 2013, Washington’s four losses came against UCLA (10 points), Oregon (21 points), Arizona State (29 points) and Stanford (three points). The resources are in place for Washington to win Pac-12 titles. Why was Sarkisian unable to shrink the gap between the Huskies and the rest of the top teams in the conference?
Who will comprise USC’s staff?
Ed Orgeron did an admirable job as USC’s interim coach, but he won’t return to the staff for 2014. Sarkisian had an outstanding staff at Washington, which included defensive line coach and top-notch recruiter in Tosh Lupoi. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon are also held in high regard in coaching circles. Can Sarkisian bring some of his Washington staff to Los Angeles? Will Wilcox take over for Sarkisian? Will Sarkisian keep Tee Martin on staff? Considering USC’s willingness to pay, Sarkisian should be able to surround himself with an outstanding staff – perhaps one of the best in the nation.
Final Analysis and Grade
Sarkisian is a good fit and solid, safe hire for USC. Considering his time under Pete Carroll, Sarkisian knows what it takes to win in Los Angeles. And while Sarkisian is friends with former coach Lane Kiffin, all signs point to the 39-year-old coach as a better leader and program builder.
But can Sarkisian go from a good coach at Washington to a great one for the Trojans? Coaching at USC has more advantages than Washington, so it should be easier to recruit elite talent. Sarkisian shouldn’t have to face much of an adjustment period, as he isn’t far removed from coaching as an assistant at USC and has spent the last five years at Washington.
While this is a solid hire, it does seem a little underwhelming. USC – one of the top-five jobs in college football – hired a coach with a 34-29 overall record at Washington.
Again, Sarkisian should win plenty of games at USC. But it’s a little surprising the Trojans didn’t land a splashy name like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.
Grading USC’s Hire of Steve Sarkisian: B-
Someone in the Big 12 scheduling office must have had an idea how the season would turn out.
The season is over for all but four Big 12 teams, but this week’s two games will feature three teams who still have a shot at the Fiesta Bowl. The fourth team, Oklahoma, is looking to win 10 games in a season for the fourth consecutive year.
Most of the other eight teams already wrapped up disappointing years. Kansas, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia have all been out of bowl contention for weeks. And Texas Tech is limping into its postseason with five consecutive losses.
At least the Big 12 season promises to end on a high note with the a Big 12 championship still in play for Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas.
Key Numbers around the Big 12 for Week 14
37. Consecutive games Baylor had 400 yards in a game, a streak ended Saturday
Baylor defeated TCU 41-38 and remained in BCS contention, but the victory wasn’t easy for the Bears’ offense. Baylor amassed 370 yards, the first game since Nov. 20, 2010 against Oklahoma in which the Bears failed to gain 400 yards of offense. Quarterback Bryce Petty had his second lowest passing total of the season (206 yards) and lowest yards per pass (5.4). The touchdown record held by 2008 Oklahoma (96 TDs) is probably secure. Baylor has 73 offensive touchdowns with two games to go.
Plus-25. “Sack margin” for Texas in Big 12 play
Texas came back from no sacks a loss against Oklahoma State to nine in the win over Texas Tech. The Longhorns’ nine sacks was tied with four other teams for the most in a game this season, but the most interesting stat may have been one sack of Texas quarterback Case McCoy. Since Big 12 play began, Texas has picked up 33 sacks while allowing only eight, giving Texas a “sack margin” of plus-25 in conference games. No team in the Big 12 is better than plus-10 in that category (Oklahoma).
8. Most loses for TCU since 1997
With a 41-38 loss to Baylor, TCU wrapped up a 4-8 season. That’s the most losses for the Horned Frogs since 1997, a 1-10 season in Pat Sullivan’s last year. The following year, TCU hired Dennis Franchione. TCU’s 14 losses in two seasons in the Big 12 is one more than TCU had in seven seasons as a Mountain West member.
8. Most losses for West Virginia since 2001
TCU’s partner in expansion fared no better with a 52-44 loss to Iowa State in triple overtime. The back-to-back defeats to Iowa State and Kansas to finish the season gave West Virginia eight losses, the most since the Mountaineers went 3-8 in the first season under Rich Rodriguez.
15. Consecutive field goals made by Texas’ Anthony Fera
The Longhorns’ kicker extended his streak of made field goals to 15 with a 37-yarder and 49-yarder against Texas Tech. Fera has the fourth-longest streak of made field goals in the country after Boston College’s Nate Freese (23), Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez (18) and Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien (17).
294. Rushing yards allowed per game during Texas Tech’s final five games
The reasons Texas Tech’s 7-0 start collapsed into a five-game losing streak to finish the season are many. Near the top of the list will be the run defense. Texas ran for 281 yards on 61 carries against the Red Raiders as Texas Tech allowed 294 rushing yards per game during its five-game losing streak. The Red Raiders allowed 123.4 rushing yards per game during the undefeated start.
51. Run by punter Ryan Erxleben, longest run of the year for Texas Tech
Another sign of why Texas Tech’s season crashed to a 7-5 year, punter Ryan Erxleben took a fake punt against Texas to run for a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was Texas Tech’s longest run of the season and the first of more than 40 yards.
0. Kansas State’s turnover margin to finish the regular season
Bill Snyder teams tend to excel in turnover margin. Every season since Snyder returned to the bench in 2007, the Wildcats have been on the plus side of that statistic, including plus-20 last season. In the 31-10 rout of Kansas, Kansas State was plus-four in turnover margin with six takeaways (four interceptions, two fumbles) and two turnovers (a fumble and an interception). That move Kansas State to even in the turnover margin with a bowl game to go. A Snyder-coached team hasn’t been on the negative side of the turnover margin since 2002, a team that still finished 11-2.
3. Big 12 road wins for Baylor
Baylor’s road woes are well-established. It wasn’t always easy, but Baylor set a mark with three Big 12 road wins for the first time in school history. Baylor defeated Kansas State, Kansas and TCU away from Waco.
223. Yards Kansas State allowed to Kansas
Many records in the Big 12 have been set against Kansas in the last few years, including one for Kansas State. The Wildcats held Kansas to 223 total yards, the lowest total for the Kansas State defense since holding Nebraska to 222 in 2004.
17. Largest fourth-quarter deficit overcome to win in Iowa State history
Iowa State has had a forgettable season, especially after the Cyclones lost 31-30 to Texas on Oct. 3. If there’s a silver lining, though, it’s the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Rohach. Iowa State trailed West Virginia 31-7 at one point and 31-14 going into the fourth quarter. Rohach led the comeback to give the Cyclones a 52-44 win in overtime for only the second fourth-quarter of 17 points or more in school history. Iowa State’s only other 17-point comeback came in a 39-38 win over Northern Iowa on Oct. 10, 1987.
Just one week remains for college football’s regular season, and the bowl picture is starting to come into focus.
Week 14 brought significant changes to the BCS, as Ohio State has now replaced Alabama as our projected opponent for Florida State for the national title. While the SEC is out of the national championship in this week’s projections, an Ohio State loss to Michigan State would create a spot for Auburn, Missouri or Alabama.
In addition to the BCS bowl matchups, there is some intrigue about which teams might get left out of the postseason.
The Pac-12 has nine bowl-eligible teams but only seven tie-ins. Could Oregon State or Washington State spend the bowl season at home?
San Jose State’s upset bid of Fresno State creates seven bowl-eligible teams in the Mountain West, but the conference has only six tie-ins. Will the Spartans, San Diego State or UNLV spend the bowl season at home? Or can the Mountain West find a way to get all seven teams in a bowl game?
One other conference to watch over the next week is the ACC. With 11 bowl-eligible teams, the ACC is searching for a home for a few extra spots. Syracuse’s win over Boston College added the Orange to the postseason mix, while Pittsburgh is also fighting for a spot at 6-6.
With bowl announcements expected throughout the week, Athlon Sports will update these projections with the latest information to provide the best outlook on where teams will spend the postseason.
College Football's Post-Week 14 Bowl Projections for 2013
|New Mexico||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||San Diego State vs. Arizona|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 21||MAC vs. MWC||Ball State vs. Colorado State|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||Fresno State vs. USC|
|New Orleans||Dec. 21||Sun Belt vs. CUSA||UL Lafayette vs. Tulane|
|Beef 'O' Brady's||Dec. 23||American vs. CUSA||Western Kentucky* vs. MTSU|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||MWC vs. CUSA||UNLV vs. Rice|
|Little Caesars Pizza||Dec. 26||MAC vs. Big Ten||Toledo vs. Pittsburgh*|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 26||Army vs. MWC||Utah State vs. Buffalo*|
|Military||Dec. 27||CUSA vs. ACC||E. Carolina vs. Maryland|
|Texas||Dec. 27||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||Texas Tech vs. Minnesota|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 27||BYU vs. Pac-12||BYU vs. Washington|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 28||American vs. Big 12||Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame*|
|Belk||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Houston vs. North Carolina|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Louisville vs. Miami|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||Texas vs. Nebraska|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||MWC vs. Navy||Navy vs. Boise State|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss|
|Alamo||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Oklahoma vs. Oregon|
|Holiday||Dec. 30||Pac-12 vs. Big 12||Arizona State vs. Kansas State|
|AdvoCare V100||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Boston College vs. Oregon State*|
|Sun||Dec. 31||Pac-12 vs. ACC||UCLA vs. Virginia Tech|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||SEC vs. CUSA||Vanderbilt vs. Marshall|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||SEC vs. ACC||Texas A&M vs. Duke|
|Gator||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Georgia vs. Michigan|
|Heart of Dallas||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs. CUSA||North Texas vs. Washington State*|
|Outback||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Missouri vs. Iowa|
|Capital One||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Wisconsin vs. South Carolina|
|Rose||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Stanford vs. Michigan State|
|Fiesta||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Northern Illinois vs. Oklahoma State|
|Sugar||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Auburn vs. UCF|
|Cotton||Jan. 3||SEC vs. Big 12||LSU vs. Baylor|
|Orange||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Clemson vs. Alabama|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 4||SEC vs. American||Mississippi State vs. Rutgers|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 5||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Bowling Green vs. Arkansas State|
|National Title||Jan. 6||BCS vs. BCS||Ohio State vs. Florida State|
* Indicates conference is not expected to fill its alloted bowl slots, leaving an at-large spot available.
Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
Related College Football Content
ACC Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Big 12 Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Big Ten Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Pac-12 Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
SEC Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Stats to Know from Week 14
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 13 of the NFL season:
13: Peyton Manning's NFL-record 4,000-yard seasons
Many believe that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time. He is setting all types of Denver records and is on pace to top both the NFL single-season yards mark (Drew Brees, 5,476) and passing TDs (Tom Brady, 50). But after 403 yards and five touchdowns in the road win over Kansas City, Manning posted his NFL-record 13th 4,000-yard season. It was also his NFL-record eighth career game with at least five touchdown passes (tied with Drew Brees). What makes the 4,000-yard record so impressive is Drew Brees is a distant second with just seven such seasons. Barring injury, Brees will easily get his eighth such season this year but Manning is head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL world with 13 4,000-yard seasons.
1: Players in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games
In the long and storied history of the NFL, a Cleveland Brown has done something no player in NFL history has ever done. On a team that can’t seem to find a quarterback, Josh Gordon recorded at least 200 yards receiving in back-to-back games — the first time the feat has ever happened in NFL history. Gordon caught 14 passes for 237 yards and a TD last week against Pittsburgh and caught 10 passes for 261 yards and two scores this week against Jacksonville. But in true Cleveland fashion, the Browns lost both games.
3: NFL games with a 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver
Adrian Peterson rushed 35 times for 211 yards in the upset win over the Bears on Sunday. On the other side of the field, Alshon Jeffery caught 12 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the crushing loss for Chicago. It marked only the third time in NFL history that a game boasted both a 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver. Cleveland’s Jamal Lewis (216) and Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson (209) did it on Sept. 16, 2007 while Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (259) and Denver’s Jabar Gaffney (213) did it on Jan. 3, 2010. Jeffery’s 249 yards were a Bears single-game franchise record, breaking his own record set early this season against the Saints (218). It was Peterson’s fifth career 200-yard rushing effort, tying him with Tiki Barber for second all-time. Only O.J. Simpson (6) has more 200-yard rushing games than All-Day. The Vikings are 4-1 in such games and 6-1 when Peterson tops 190 yards.
20: Career games Cam Newton has thrown and run for a TD
Cam Newton was at his finest in a blowout win over the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs this Sunday. He threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns in the air while rushing for 68 yards and scoring another time on the ground. It was the 20th time in his career in which he has thrown and run for a touchdown in the same game. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Newton is leading the NFL by a wide margin as Tom Brady (6) is second and Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton and Mark Sanchez (5) are tied for third. More importantly, the Panthers won a franchise-record eighth consecutive game. In those eight games, Newton has done the pass-run touchdown combo five times.
39.2: Geno Smith's completion percentage over the last four games
The Jets have lost three straight after falling in ugly fashion to the Dolphins 23-3 in Week 13. And Geno Smith might be playing himself out of a starting job. He completed just 4 of 10 passes for 29 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, continuing a very disturbing accuracy trend for the rookie passer. Smith hasn’t topped 42.1 percent in any of the Jets' last four games and has completed just 39.2 percent of his passes over the last four games (29-of-74). He has a total of 374 yards, six interceptions and not one touchdown pass during this span. The Jets are 1-3 during the last month and have played themselves out of the playoff picture.
28-15-1: Dallas’ record on Thanksgiving
Some would say it is an unfair advantage that the Cowboys get a home game on a short week every single season during the Thanksgiving holiday. And some would be right. Dallas topped Oakland 31-24 in comeback fashion thanks to three DeMarco Murray rushing touchdowns for the ‘Boys 28th Turkey Day win. Dallas trails only the Lions (34) for the most wins on Thanksgiving — Detroit also has the most Thanksgiving losses as well (37). Only the Ravens (2-0), Texans (1-0), Saints (1-0) and Colts (2-0-1) have played but never lost on Thanksgiving and only the Panthers and Jaguars have yet to play a single game on the November holiday. Of the teams that have played at least five times on Thanksgiving, only the Vikings (5-1), Eagles (4-1), 49ers (3-1-1), Dolphins and Titans (both 5-2) have a better winning percentage than Dallas’ .636 on Thanksgiving.
19:0: Nick Foles' 2013 TD:INT ratio
Nick Foles has started six games this year. After going 21-of-34 for 237 yards and three touchdowns passes without an interception in a 24-21 win over Arizona, Foles moved to 5-1 as the starter and has led Phily to four straight wins. More impressively is how he is doing it. Foles has 19 touchdown passes and hasn’t thrown an interception yet in 196 pass attempts this year. The only player in NFL history to start a season with more TD passes without an interception is Peyton Manning… this year… with 20. Chip Kelly’s squad is No. 4 in the NFL in scoring offense and is tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East.
185.2: Packers' rushing yards allowed per game over the last five
At the end of the season, Packers fans will point to a broken collarbone if Green Bay doesn’t make the playoffs. However, the defense needs to join not having Aaron Rodgers as a primary culprit behind the Packers' 2013 demise. Entering the Week 8 Monday night game against the Bears, Green Bay was 5-2 and was allowing just 83.6 yards per game rushing on defense. Since (and counting) the Bears game, the Packers' defense has been gashed on the ground for 185.2 yards per game and is 0-4-1 during that span. The Green and Gold gave up a season-worst 241 yards rushing in the holiday blowout loss to the Lions — this just four days after allowing 232 yards to the Vikings. Rodgers may be back soon and he certainly helps all that ails Green Bay, but No. 12 doesn’t play linebacker. If the Packers want to win the division, the front seven will have to play better football.
0: Times Andrew Luck has lost back-to-back games
The Colts bounced back after an ugly 40-11 loss in Arizona to sweep the division series with the Titans 22-14 in Indianapolis on Sunday. According to Elias, he has started the second-most games by an NFL quarterback since 1970 without losing back-to-back games to start a career (28), behind only Dan Marino (33). He is currently tied with Kordell Stewart but will obviously pass him in his next start. With the win, the Colts have all but locked up the AFC South title as Indy has a three-game lead and the tiebreaker over Tennessee. The Colts' magic number is one.
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we scoured the Big Ten to put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers from around the conference in Week 14:
226: Carlos Hyde's rivalry-high rushing yards against Michigan
No Ohio State running back has ever rushed for more yards in "The Game" than Hyde did against the Wolverines on Saturday. He rushed 27 times for 226 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in what might have been the best game between "Ohio" and "That Team Up North" in the long and storied history of the rivalry. Quarterback Braxton Miller accounted for five total touchdowns, rushed for 150 yards and played electric football all game long as well. Urban Meyer has won 24 straight games to start his OSU coaching career, tying Larry Coker for fourth all-time in NCAA history (Pop Warner, 30; Fielding Yost 29; Walter Camp, 28). Michigan and Ohio State have played 110 times and 2013 might have been the best version to date.
603: Yards allowed by Ohio State to Michigan
The Game featured 1,129 yards of offense, three fighting ejections and the biggest two-point conversion attempt since Tom Osborne went for it in the 1984 Orange Bowl. But the most startling number is the 603 yards of offense from Michigan. The Wolverines were ranked 96th nationally in total offense but went up and down the field on the Buckeyes defense. The Wolverines had one scoring drive of at least 70 yards in its previous five games but had five such drives against Ohio State. The 603 yards, 451 passing yards and 41 points were the most allowed by the Buckeyes defense this season.
1966: The last time Michigan State was unbeaten in Big Ten play
With an ugly but convincing win over Minnesota at home, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans finished the year unblemished in Big Ten play. The 8-0 record is just the third such perfect Big Ten record for Michigan State and the first since 1966. The Spartans have allowed six points or less in five of their last six games and are leading the nation in total defense. Dantonio now has his sights set on the Rose Bowl, as his Spartans take on an Ohio State team that has won 24 straight games in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1987 — when Nick Saban was the defensive coordinator. The 1965 season is the only other perfect Big Ten record in MSU history.
208.92: Christian Hackenberg’s QB rating against Wisconsin
The true freshman phenom saved his best for last against the ranked Badgers on the road in the regular-season finale. He went 21-of-30 for 339 yards — one shy of his career high — and a career-high four touchdowns with nary a turnover in the 31-24 win over Wisconsin. His 208.92 passer rating was by far by the best of his brief career, topping his 165.38 against UCF. What’s more impressive is the defense he was facing was ranked in the top six nationally in total yards and points allowed per game. Hackenberg is a special talent with elite NFL upside. With a full offseason to continue his development and maturation following a successful freshman campaign, the sky could be the limit for the Nittany Lions in 2014. With two winning seasons in the face of heavy-handed NCAA sanctions, few coaches in the nation have done a better job over the last two years than Bill O'Brien.
297: Total tackles by Iowa’s starting linebackers
James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey are a big reason why Iowa went from 4-8 to 8-4 in 2013. The trio is fifth (Hitchens, 102), eighth (Morris, 98) and ninth (Kirksey, 97) in the Big Ten in tackles and has combined for 297 total stops. All three were preseason Butkus Award candidates and all three delivered in a big way. In 2013, the group combined for 297 tackles, 31.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles. And they might have saved Kirk Ferentz’ job.
10: Quarters Minnesota’s offense hasn’t scored a TD
You have to go all the way back to Nov. 9 to find an offensive touchdown for the Golden Gophers. Yes, Minnesota’s eight-win season is one of the better stories nationally considering all that the Gophers' community has had to deal with,. However, the storybook ending simply didn’t happen. Minnesota lost its final two games of the regular season to Wisconsin and Michigan State without scoring an offensive touchdown. And since it was held scoreless in the second half of the Penn State victory, that makes 10 straight quarters without an offensive touchdown for Goldie. The bowl game can’t get here fast enough.
6: Straight seasons with four losses for Bo Pelini
Nebraska and its head coach finally melted down in the 38-17 drubbing to Iowa to end the already bizarre 2013 season. Pelini didn’t handle himself well during or after the game and there is a reason he should be concerned. Pelini does have three trips to the conference championship game in six season but has now lost four games in all six of his seasons in Lincoln. There is still a bowl game left but even a win won’t change the strange run of solid but mediocre four-loss teams for the embattled Pelini.
2: Combined Big Ten wins for Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue
Illinois defeated Purdue for its only conference win of the season and that was an ugly 20-16 affair in which the Illini broke a 20-game Big Ten losing streak. Not much was expected of Purdue either. So a combined 1-15 record for those two isn’t all that surprising. But Northwestern was picked by many as a dark horse candidate to win the Big Ten Legends Division and was a top-25 team as late as Week 5. Certainly, injuries were a problem, but Pat Fitzgerald has to be concerned with his team's 1-7 performance in Big Ten play this fall. His team played well against Ohio State but wasn’t that competitive in blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. For the Wildcats, 2013 was a major reality check.
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we examined the ACC Championship between Duke and Florida State to put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers about the conference title game.
Stats to Know for the 2013 ACC Championship
4: Duke and Florida State have four common opponents this season
On the road to the ACC championship, Duke and Florida State have faced four common opponents in 2013. Pittsburgh, NC State, Miami and Wake Forest were all on both teams’ schedules. The Seminoles went 4-0, outscoring the four 47.5-11.8 for a 35.7 PPG margin. The Blue Devils went 3-1, losing to Pitt for their last defeat (Sept. 21), outscoring the four 43-31.5 for an average margin of 11.5.
13.6 Duke’s average winning margin is just under two touchdowns per game at 13.6; FSU’s is above six
Duke and Florida State have reached double-digit wins and the ACC championship game in a much different way. The Blue Devils are outscoring opponents by 13.6 points per game, including the last two by 4.5 PPG. Florida State has only had one game decided by two scores or less (48-34 over Boston College) and is outscoring its opponents by 42.6 PPG.
20.5: The combined spread of the other six FBS conference title games is 20.5; the ACC’s in 29
Duke is clearly the biggest underdog in any of the seven FBS conference championship games this week, sitting as a 29-point underdog to Florida State as of Tuesday morning. Ohio State is a 5.5-point favorite over Michigan State in the Big Ten, Marshall is a 4.5-point favorite against Rice in C-USA, Northern Illinois is a 3-point favorite over Bowling Green in the MAC, Fresno State is a 3-point favorite against Utah State in the Mountain West, Arizona State is a 3-point favorite against Stanford in the Pac-12 and Auburn is a 1.5-point favorite over Missouri in the SEC.
162: Florida State can put this one to bed early if it continues to score like it has in the first quarter — 162 points this season
The Seminoles are 12-0 for a number of reasons, but outscoring opponents nearly 5:1 in the first 15 minutes sure is making it easier. FSU has racked up 162 points to just 35 allowed in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Duke has only been cumulatively outscored in one quarter all season and it’s the first — 82-70. If Duke can get it to the fourth quarter, its chances obviously increase. But limiting opponents to 37 points in the final 15 minutes this season is four points better than the 41 FSU has surrendered.
62: FSU’s 62 red zone scores are 10 more than Duke has red zone attempts
Both Duke and FSU are solid when they get inside the opponent’s 20, but FSU gets there more often and does more when they arrive. The Seminoles have scored on 62-of-64 attempts inside the red zone, including 50 touchdowns. Duke has reached the red zone 52 times, scoring 44, including 36 touchdowns.
3: FSU will be third ranked team Duke has played this season; Seminoles have wins over three ranked teams
No. 20 Duke has faced two ranked teams this season, defeating both in the last five games. The Blue Devils knocked off host and then-ranked No. 14 Virginia Tech 13-10 on Oct. 26 and followed three weeks later with a 48-30 win over then-ranked No. 23 Miami. Top-ranked FSU defeated all three ranked teams it played — 63-0 over then-No. 25 Maryland, 51-14 over then-No. 3 Clemson and 41-14 over then-No. 7 Miami.
6: Duke leads Florida State in six team offensive and defensive categories
The Blue Devils are not in front of the Seminoles in many categories within the ACC, but there is a handful. They lead Saturday’s opponent in total offense plays (861-806), rush attempts (476-431), pass attempts (385-375), first downs rushing (120-119), fourth-down conversion percentage (68.4-66.7) and sacks against (14-28). Duke is in front of Florida State in 19 team categories altogether, adding in special teams and penalties: net yards per punt, average yards per punt, number of punts, yards punted, punt return average, punt return yards, punt return touchdowns, kickoff returns average, kickoff returns, kickoff return yards, kickoff return touchdowns, penalties, opponent penalties average yards per game and kickoff coverage average.
4: The Atlantic and Coastal Divisions have each won four ACC championship games
The Atlantic Division has bookended the first two conference title games and last two with victories, while the Coastal Division won four straight from 2007-10. Three times has the lower or unranked team won the ACC title — Florida State in the inaugural 2005 game, Virginia Tech in 2008 and Clemson in 2011.
0: Duke is 0-18 all time against Florida State
This will be the 19th meeting between Duke and Florida State since 1992. The Blue Devils are 0-18 against the Seminoles, have not scored over 16 points in the last three meetings (2007, 11-12), and the average margin of defeat is 34.6 PPG (50.1-15.5).
10: Duke pits first 10-win season against an accomplishment FSU has reached 21 times since 1977
Duke arrives in Charlotte for the ACC title game off of its first 10-win season in program history, and an eight-game winning streak. FSU has posted 21 seasons of at least 10 wins, the first in 1977, and 14 straight from 1987-2000. The Blue Devils’ best record prior to this season was 9-1 four times — 1933, ’36, ’38 and ’41 — losing the last game three of those four seasons.
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers for the two teams in the SEC title game, Auburn and Missouri.
Stats to Know about the SEC Championship
Average yards per game that Auburn outgained its eight SEC opponents in 2013 — a very low number for a team that went 7–1 in the league. The Tigers averaged 461.3 yards of offense vs. league foes to rank third in the SEC but gave up an average of 458.1 yards per game (11th). Last year, en route to an 0–8 SEC record, Auburn was outgained by 214.3 yards per game, by far the greatest yardage deficit of any team in a BCS conference.
Sacks recorded by the Missouri defense in eight SEC games this season, second-most by any team in the league in the last seven seasons. Only Georgia, with 30 in eight regular-season games in 2011, had more than Mizzou during this span.
Auburn Tigers with at least 500 yards rushing — Tre Mason (1,317), Nick Marshall (922), Corey Grant (585) and Cameron Artis-Payne (573). Oregon is the only other team in the nation to have four 500-yard rushers.
Games in 2013 in which Missouri lost the turnover battle — at Kentucky, in a 48–17 victory. The Tigers led the league in turnover margin, with plus-1.25 per game overall and plus-1.38 per game in league play. Mizzou recovered nine fumbles and intercepted a league-best 18 passes while only committing 12 turnovers (six lost fumbles, six INTs).
Touchdowns scored by Auburn in its eight SEC games this season. Last year, the Tigers scored a total of nine touchdowns in SEC play. Auburn has scored at least five touchdowns in seven straight games.
Losing conference seasons for Gary Pinkel in 23 years as a head coach. Pinkel went 53–23–3 in the MAC in his 10 seasons at Toledo and is 56-49 in conference games (47–42 in the Big 12, 7–9 in the SEC) in 13 seasons at Missouri. Three of those five losing records came in his first four seasons at Missouri.
Times in the past seven seasons that a Gus Malzahn-coached offense has either finished first or second in the league in total offense. The 2011 Auburn Tigers, who ranked eighth in the SEC in total offense, are the only team to buck this trend. Auburn (2013), Arkansas State (’12) and Auburn (’09) ranked second in the league, and Auburn (’10), Tulsa (’08) and Tulsa (’07) ranked first.
Average national recruiting rank by Rivals.com for Missouri over the last five seasons. The Tigers’ highest-ranked class during this stretch was 21st in 2010 and lowest was 48th in 2011. Auburn’s average rank is 9.6, with a high of fourth in 2010 and 19th in 2009.
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we examined the Pac-12 Championship between Stanford and Arizona State to put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers about the conference title game.
2: Home team has won both Pac-12 championship games
Arizona State has a small sample size of history on its side when it plays host to Stanford and the Pac-12 championship game Saturday. The home team has won the first two conference title games. Stanford defeated UCLA 27-24 last season, and Oregon defeated UCLA 49-31 in the first championship in 2011.
8: Arizona State has won its last eight home games
Being at home is certainly an advantage for the Sun Devils after having won their last eight games in Tempe. This season, they are 7-0 at Sun Devil Stadium, outscoring opponents 344-146 (49.1-20.9 PPG). Both Cardinal defeats have come on the road this season, while they have won their last 16 at home. One of those seven wins at home this season was a 42-28 victory against Arizona State.
1: Saturday’s Pac-12 title game will be the first time both teams enter on a winning streak
The third Pac-12 Conference championship game will feature both teams arriving after a win for the first time in the three-year history of the game. Arizona State and Stanford are both 10-2, ASU on a seven-game winning streak and Stanford on a two-game upswing. In 2011, Oregon arrived on a two-game win streak and won the title, while UCLA was 6-6 having just lost to USC. Last year, Stanford arrived on a six-game winning streak and won the title, while the Bruins were 9-3 and had just lost to Stanford in the regular-season finale.
17 and 39: ASU going for its first Rose Bowl in 17 years; Stanford looking for first consecutive trips in 39 years
On the line in Saturday’s Pac-12 title game is a trip to the 100th Rose Bowl. It is a game the Sun Devils have not been to since Jan. 1, 1997 — a 20-17 loss to Ohio State, which handed them their first loss (11-1). Stanford is looking to make back-to-back appearances in Pasadena on New Year’s Day for the first time since 1972. The Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972 with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin last season. They also won the 1971 game. USC is the last team to win consecutive Rose Bowls (2006-09). Stanford has appeared in 13 Rose Bowls, ASU two.
64: Arizona State has the most scores of any FBS team inside the red zone
Arizona State is sixth in the nation in red zone offense with 64 scores on 69 trips — 32 rushing TDs, 13 passing and 19 field goals. Stanford is tied for 31st in the nation in red zone defense. The Cardinal have allowed 29 scores on 37 trips inside the 20 — six rushing TDs, 13 passing and 10 field goals. Stanford’s offense is tied for 20th in red zone offense with 40 scores on 45 trips — 18 rushing scores, eight passing and 14 field goals. The Sun Devils are tied for 71st in red zone defense — 32 scores in 38 trips (12 rushing, 12 passing and eight field goals).
13: Arizona State is plus-13 in turnover margin
The Sun Devils will have to find a way to shake up the balanced Stanford offense, and turnovers could be that way. Arizona State is ninth in the nation at plus-13 in turnover margin, and it is tied for sixth in turnovers gained (30). Stanford is tied for 63 with a zero turnover margin. Both ASU and Stanford are tied for 38th in turnovers lost (17).
29: Stanford led 29-0 in this season’s meeting before ASU scored
The scoreboard showed a 14-point final margin for Stanford in the Sept. 21 conference-opening win over visiting Arizona State, but that game was well in hand in the first 30 minutes. The Cardinal scored the game’s first 29 points — all coming in the first half — and 39 of the first 46 before ASU clawed back with three fourth-quarter TDs. Stanford bookended conference play with 29-point halftime leads. The Cardinal also led California by 29 (42-13) on Nov. 23.
7 for 20: ASU’s Foster and his seven scores will likely be called upon to replace Grice and his 20 touchdowns
D.J. Foster (pictured right) has four rushing touchdowns this season — all four have come in the past three games. The sophomore had two and 124 yards in a blowout win of Arizona last week, and will be called upon heavily again with starter Marion Grice (leg) likely out. Grice leads ASU with 14 touchdowns, 966 yards rushing, and also has 50 catches for 438 yards and six receiving scores. Foster has appeared in all 12 games, rushing 65 times for 307 yards, and is second on the team with 54 catches for 550 yards and three scores. He appeared in all 13 games, starting once, as a freshman.
189: While ASU might be without its workhorse, Stanford’s Gaffney is coming off career-high 189 yards
Tyler Gaffney, FBS’ 10th-best rusher at 123.8 yards per game, arrives in Tempe off a career-best day. The senior carried 33 times for a career-high 189 yards and one score in a 27-20 win against Notre Dame last week. Gaffney is averaging 146 yards on the ground over the last seven games and has only gone below 100 once — 95 yards on just 16 carries.
13: Will ASU have an answer for Stanford’s Murphy and his FBS-best 13 sacks?
Trent Murphy leads the FBS with 13 sacks and is seventh in tackles for loss (19.5). Arizona State’s Carl Bradford is not too far behind with 16 sacks (T18 FBS), and he and teammate Davon Coleman each have 7.5 sacks. (T42). As a team, ASU is 90th in the FBS in tackles for loss allowed (6.67 per game) and 103rd in sacks allowed (2.75 per game).
Between the empty arenas for made-for-TV tournaments and the diversions of football and food, fans can be forgiven for paying little attention to the basketball attention of the weekend.
The selection committee will be paying attention, though. Coaches, too, have an idea of which teams will be more dangerous than they thought and which players are breaking out.
The Thanksgiving tournaments are over and the conference challenges are already beginning, so now is a good time to take stock of a few things we learned in the last week.
From the national powers that are up (Arizona, Villanova) to the ones that are down (North Carolina, Kansas) to the mid-majors who impressed, here were the big winners from the Maui Invitational, Battle 4 Atlantis, Old Spice Classic and more.
Thanksgiving Week Winners
The Wildcats established themselves as one of the front line teams this season with a 72-66 win over Duke in the NIT Season Tipoff thanks to more than just star freshman Aaron Gordon. Against Duke, every one of Arizona’s starters scored between 10 and 15 points, and the top two players off the bench scored seven points apiece. The Wildcats played a sound all-around game with veteran Nick Johnson leading the way with 16 points, Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell contributing eight assists to one turnover and a big frontcourt helping to limit Jabari Parker to 7 of 21 shooting.
Maybe it’s time to rethink those Big East projections. Marquette is 5-3, Georgetown is 4-2 with one of those losses to Northeastern, and Creighton dropped two games in the Wooden Legacy. Meanwhile, Villanova had the most impressive win of the Thanksgiving weekend by defeating Kansas 63-59 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis and then handing Iowa its first loss of the season in the final. Ryan Arcidiacono was captain clutch for the Wildcats, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer against Kansas after missing his first five shots and then hitting 4 of 9 from long range against Iowa. Villanova held Kansas to 2 of 11 from 3-point range and 38 percent from the field and then turned around to beat Iowa 88-83 in an up-and-down game in overtime.
Josh Pastner, Memphis
Memphis found redemption in the Old Spice Classic, transforming from another team with more big-time players than big-time wins to a team with a chance to contend in the American. Most important, coach Josh Pastner can go into the conference season with his first win over a ranked team. Less than two weeks after an embarrassing 101-80 loss at Oklahoma State, the Tigers won a rematch with the Cowboys 73-68 on a neutral court in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It’s hard to find an area where Memphis didn’t have a major reversal in the second time around: After being a one-man wrecking crew in the first meeting, Marcus Smart wasn’t himself with 12 points and five turnovers. The Tigers' Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford combined for 27 points after scoring 13 in the first meeting. Memphis’ Michael Dixon went from 1 of 10 from the field to 5 of 8, and forward Shaq Goodwin had perhaps his best game of the year. The Oklahoma State game was a headline, but Memphis also picked up another nice win over LSU in the semifinal.
Ron Baker, Wichita State
So much for a Final Four hangover for Wichita State. The Shockers remain undefeated after picking up a pair of nice wins last week against Saint Louis on the road and against BYU. Baker, who missed parts of last season with a foot injury, did a bit of everything against Saint Louis with 22 points on 7 of 10 shooting with two 3-pointers, six rebounds, four steals and two assists in a 70-65 comeback win. Baker has topped 20 points in each of his last four games.
The departures of Xavier, Butler and Temple haven’t hurt the A-10 so far this season thanks to teams like UMass, Dayton and George Washington making major leaps. UMass is 6-0, adding a win over New Mexico in the Charleston Classic to wins over Boston College, LSU, Nebraska and Clemson. With four double-doubles this season, forward Cady Lalanne has been a revelation for the Minutemen. Dayton was one of the stories of the Maui Invitational with an 84-79 win over Gonzaga and a narrow loss to Baylor. The Flyers bounced back to drill Cal in a consolation game. And George Washington needed overtime to beat Miami, but Isaiah Armwood held Doug McDermott to seven points in a 60-53 win over Creighton in a consolation game.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Thames has proven himself the post-Jamaal Franklin leader for the Aztecs with a standout performance in the Wooden Legacy. Thames averaged 27.5 points against Marquette and Creighton, shooting 14 of 26 from the field, 9 of 11 from 3-point range and 18 of 21 from the free throw line. With struggles by UNLV and New Mexico early, San Diego State is looking like an early favorite in the Mountain West.
Thanksgiving Week Losers
So this is how it’s going to be for North Carolina this season? Lose to Belmont at home. Beat Louisville on neutral court. Lose to UAB on the road. In other words, watch out, Michigan State. Without P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels look like a team that’s going to limp its way into the NIT. North Carolina had many reasons to be embarrassed by losing to UAB: Former assistant Jerod Haase coaching the Blazers, a Charlotte native scoring 25 points, but more than anything, the Tar Heels should hide from 21 offensive rebounds from the Blazers.
The loss to Villanova on a late 3-point shot might not be as troubling as a narrow 67-63 win over UTEP in the third-place game. Andrew Wiggins shot 36.7 percent from the field and averaged 11 points per game in the three games in Atlantis, bottoming out at six points against the Miners. Wiggins had the flu when he arrived, but now that he’s back in Lawrence, the nation’s top freshman will continue to be under the microscope.
At least Tennessee was able to avenge its 67-63 loss to Xavier to start the season, but the Volunteers had to lose to UTEP in the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis to get the opportunity. Alabama has had much worse non-conference losses in the past, but losing to mid-majors in November is a recipe for missing the NCAA Tournament. The Tide lost in triple overtime to Drexel, picked second in the Colonial, in the third-place game of the NIT. Alabama still has Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA in the non-conference. And LSU got Jarell Martin back but needed overtime to beat a Butler team that’s probably going to finish in the bottom third of the Big East.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
The Jahii Carson vs. Doug McDermott matchup in the Wooden Legacy never really materialized as Carson shot 5 of 12 in the 88-60 loss to the Bluejays. The bottom fell out against Miami when Carson sustained an ankle injury and shot 2 of 14 as the Sun Devils lost to a Miami team that lost to St. Francis (N.Y.) and UCF.
Xavier started last season 7-6 and missed the postseason. This team was supposed to be able to avoid such a start after the Musketeers made a late push in the A-10 season. Instead, the Musketeers lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis to Iowa, Tennessee and USC. Xavier shot 57.8 percent from the free throw line in the tournament.
The Boilermakers are hoping to get into the NCAA Tournament mix, but the performance in the Old Spice Classic was not encouraging. Purdue trailed by as much as 24 in a loss to Oklahoma State — understandable since Memphis did the same earlier this season. But the worst came in a 69-54 loss to Washington State the next day. Purdue led by 10 at halftime but let Washington State score 52 in the second half.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has decided to resign, ending a successful 13-year tenure in Winston-Salem.
Grobe’s final record with the Demon Deacons is 77-82. During his 13 years in Winston-Salem, Grobe led Wake Forest to one conference championship and five bowl appearances.
Grobe is tied for the most wins in Wake Forest school history.
Wake Forest is one of the toughest BCS jobs in the nation, but there should be quality candidates interested in this position.
One name to keep in mind is Ball State coach Pete Lembo. The former Elon coach is 25-12 in three seasons with Ball State.
With Steve Sarkisian leaving for USC, Washington’s search for a new head coach is already underway. The Huskies went 34-29 under Sarkisian’s watch, including an 8-4 mark in 2013.
Washington is a program that’s capable of winning Pac-12 titles, and a renovated Husky Stadium certainly doesn’t hurt the appeal of the coaching job.
Sarkisian isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, and the Huskies should have a core capable of winning eight games once again in 2014.
Washington should have no shortage of interested candidates. Here’s a look at 10 possible replacements for Steve Sarkisian.
10 Candidates to Replace Steve Sarkisian at Washington
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is a longshot, but the 41-year-old coach has a track record of success at Eastern Washington and will get a chance to move up the coaching ladder in coming seasons. Baldwin played at Central Washington, coached there as an assistant in 1994-2002 and spent one year as the head coach in 2007 (10-3). Baldwin is 54-21 in six seasons as Eastern Washington’s head coach, including a 2010 FCS Championship. In seven years as a head coach, Baldwin does not have a losing record and has been to the playoffs in four of those seasons.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
In two years with Fresno State, DeRuyter is an impressive 19-5, with a win over Boise State in 2013 and a chance to win a conference title against Utah State on Dec. 7. Prior to taking the top spot at Fresno State, DeRuyter went 1-0 as an interim coach at Texas A&M and served as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy. DeRuyter wouldn’t be a “name hire,” but the California native is ready for a chance to run a BCS program.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
If Franklin wasn’t interested in USC, it’s unlikely he would take the Washington job. However, as one of the rising stars among head coaches, Franklin has to be mentioned for BCS job openings. The 41-year-old coach is 23-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt – arguably the toughest job in the SEC. The Commodores have played in back-to-back bowls and will be invited to a third this year. Franklin has guided the program to an 11-13 mark in the SEC and finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll last season. The third-year coach has also increased Vanderbilt’s profile on the recruiting trail, improving from a No. 56 national rank in 2011 to No. 26 in 2013. Franklin also has one year of NFL experience and spent one season in the Pac-12 at Washington State (1998).
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain just finished his second year as Colorado State’s coach, guiding the Rams to an 11-14 mark in that span. The Rams have made significant improvement from 2012 to 2013 and should play in a bowl this year. Before taking over at Colorado State, McElwain was Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and spent time in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain also has experience from stops at Louisville, Michigan State and Fresno State. While the overall record at Colorado State will raise some eyebrows, McElwain clearly has the Rams on the right track and would be a good fit anywhere on the West Coast.
Jim Mora, head coach, UCLA
Mora already has a good job at UCLA. However, Mora played at Washington and has said before this (Washington) is his dream job. In two seasons with the Bruins, Mora is 18-8. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in 2012 and finished second in the division in 2013. Mora also coached with the Seahawks from 2007-09, but his one-year tenure as head coach resulted in a disappointing 5-11 mark. Mora has surrounded himself with a good staff at UCLA, which has helped to reel in back-to-back top-20 recruiting classes. Washington has excellent facilities, and a renovated Husky Stadium has added to the appeal for this job.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is considered one of college football’s top assistants and is due for a shot to run a program. Even though Morris is an excellent offensive coordinator, but he has no collegiate head coaching experience. Under his direction, Clemson averaged 518.3 yards per game in ACC contests this year. Morris' background on offense would fit in well with the Pac-12, especially with the talent that is already accumulated in Seattle for next season.
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator, Alabama
Nussmeier is a rising star in the assistant ranks and is a name familiar to many around Seattle. The Oregon native played at Idaho and coached for three years at Washington under Steve Sarkisian. Nussmeier has spent the last two years coordinating Alabama’s offense, which ranks second in SEC games in 2013 in yards per game (491.4) and first in yards per play (7.4). Nussmeier does not have head coaching experience.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State
Petersen’s name always comes up in connection with BCS jobs openings, but the California native has been reluctant to leave Boise State. In his eight years with the Broncos, Petersen compiled a 92-12 record, including seven years of at least 10 wins. Boise State finished 8-4 in 2013, but injuries and youth played a large role in the final record. Prior to taking the top job at Boise State, Petersen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh, UC Davis and Oregon. Petersen reportedly pulled his name out of the mix at USC, but perhaps he would be willing to listen at Washington, especially since it would keep him in the Pacific Northwest. And coaching at Washington is a lower-profile media market than coaching at USC.
Gary Pinkel, head coach, Missouri
Pinkel is a longshot to be in the mix, but it’s worth noting his mentor is former Washington coach Don James, and he worked as an assistant in Seattle from 1979-90. Pinkel has been successful at two coaching stops, recording a 73-37-3 mark at Toledo and a 101-62 record at Missouri. The Tigers are 11-1 this season and in the mix for a BCS bowl pending the outcome of the SEC Championship. Coaching in the SEC is the pinnacle for any college football coach. However, Missouri could be the No. 5 job in the East Division, which makes winning consistently against Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee a difficult task.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Washington
Wilcox could follow Steve Sarkisian to USC, but the 37-year-old coach should be in the mix to take the top spot at Washington. Wilcox does not have head coach experience, but the Oregon native has worked as a successful defensive coordinator at three different programs (Boise State, Washington and Tennessee). Wilcox would ease the transition from Sarkisian, but does Washington want to hire a proven head coach?
USC’s coaching search is over. According to Realdawg.com, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is leaving Seattle for Los Angeles.
Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons with the Huskies, including an 8-4 mark in 2013.
Sarkisian worked at USC under Pete Carroll from 2005-08.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is just 6-18 in his first two seasons, but athletic director Mike Thomas has indicated he will return for 2014.
Beckman’s debut in 2012 was a disaster, which resulted in a 2-10 record and a winless mark in Big Ten play.
Illinois made small progress in 2013, recording a 4-8 overall mark and a 1-7 record in conference games.
Hiring Bill Cubit as the team’s offensive coordinator was a huge step in the right direction for Beckman, and the offense will gain a potential standout at quarterback in Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt in 2014.
While the offense should be in good shape next year, Illinois has to address its defense, which finished 2013 ranked 11th in the Big Ten (allowed 6.7 yards per play and 481.5 yards per game).
Illinois’ 2014 schedule is challenging, including non-conference games against Washington and Western Kentucky, while featuring road trips in Big Ten play against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
I just finished an interview with #Illini AD Mike Thomas. He told me Tim Beckman will return as coach next season.— Matt Wettersten (@WCIA3Matt) December 2, 2013
By winning a sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, Jimmie Johnson has crept into the “greatest NASCAR driver” conversation with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. It’s hard to argue with Johnson’s stats: six titles in eight years; never finishing lower than sixth in the standings since his full-time arrival in 2002; one title away from tying Petty and Earnhardt; 66 career wins, which currently find him eighth all-time — trailing Earnhardt’s 76 and within striking distance of Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.
While I am not among the “haters” who decry Johnson’s accomplishments and rue the day Chad Knaus graduated from Evernham University, I believe Johnson’s coronation as the greatest ever is a bit premature — and here are five reasons why:
5. Numbers Game
As renowned 20th and 21st century laureate Ric Flair once noted, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Simply put, no one is going to come close to touching Richard Petty’s 200 career Grand National/Cup Series wins.
It’s physically impossible. Just isn’t happening. Ever.
In fact, Johnson would need to get on his horse, even after all he has accomplished thus far, to get to David Pearson’s 105-win total. Many thought it a sure thing that Jeff Gordon would match Pearson after reeling off 10- to 13-win seasons with regularity in the late 1990s — but now even that’s off the table.
Petty has the record for consecutive victories in a season (10), NASCAR’s modern era record for consecutive wins at four (though several drivers have tied that mark, including Earnhardt and Johnson), most wins in a season all-time (27), and is tied with Gordon for most wins in a season during the Modern Era (1972-present) at 13. Of note, Petty’s 13 wins in 1975 were in a 30-race season; Gordon’s came during a 35-race slate.
Petty also has seven Daytona 500 wins, while Johnson “only” has two. Among active drivers, Gordon alone has a legitimate shot at Petty’s Daytona record, as his four wins in the “Great American Race” are at least within striking distance.
4. Persona Non Grata
For as unflappable as he appears and with all that he has accomplished in a short period of time, Johnson does not have the swagger that Earnhardt carried. Earnhardt’s litany of nicknames says it all: “One Tough Customer,” “The Intimidator,” “The Man in Black,” and “Ironhead.” Johnson has been known as “Four-Time,” “Five-Time,” and now will be upgrading his business cards to “Six-Time” (“Six Pack” just doesn’t work as a moniker, because the only “Six-Pack” I recognize is the one led by Brewster Baker, or those atop a 440 or 340 Mopar mill).
Johnson has been accused of being “vanilla” simply because he doesn’t embarrass himself by cussing out reporters or getting into fights with other drivers. He goes about his business in as cool and calm a manner as any in the sport. When Greg Biffle horse-collard him after Martinsville just a few weeks ago in front of a dozen cameras, Johnson calmly said, “Hey, let’s talk about this …”
“Ice Man” is already taken by Terry Labonte (and Chuck Liddell), so I’m not sure what else would work here. Maybe just hit him with “Drago” … because he must break you. And he will.
3. Pain & Gain
Those who make the case for Johnson being the best ever cite his dominance in an era where more cars are able to win within the parameters of a shorter schedule. Fair enough, but have you ever poked your head inside any of the machines that Petty or Earnhardt drove early on? They were called bucket seats for reason, since they offered all of the lateral support and protection of a five-gallon pail. Crumple zones? Sure, those old Chargers and Montes had those; they were known as “legs” and “shoulders.”
Back in the muscle car heyday of the ‘60s you could order a body-in-white from Chrysler with a Hemi, and carbon monoxide poisoning came as a no-cost option. They also came equipped with Armstrong power-steering, meaning your arms provided the power for the steering. Watch any old in-car camera shot of men like Petty, Yarborough or Buddy Baker, constantly sawing a half-turn on the steering wheel in the middle of the draft at Talladega (on 40-year old bias-ply tires) for 500 miles, hanging halfway out of the seat with no head rest.
Oh, and I bet those chinsy open-faced helmets provided all sorts of protection — about as much as the overalls soaked in deer urine or whatever the hell they used to treat them so they’d catch fire just a little bit slower than if otherwise doused in a gallon of leaded Unocal 76.
Earnhardt raced with a broken leg, broken shoulder and his mustache burned off. He won the pole at Watkins Glen in 1996, setting a track record in the process, after breaking his clavicle two weeks prior following a hit in Talladega’s frontstretch wall at a 90 degree angle — then getting t-boned in the roof.
Petty raced with a broken arm, shoulder, fingers, a few concussions and half his stomach missing following surgery for an ulcer. And the topper: he raced with a freakin’ broken neck. Two safety innovations were implemented after he nearly perished: the window net and a roll cage bar known as the “Petty Bar.” Earnhardt’s Talladega wreck prompted the installation of the “Halo Bar” and another rigid bar that runs the center of the windshield — to say nothing of SAFER Barrier technology and mandating of head and neck safety devices following his fatal accident at Daytona in 2001.
Longevity was not something drivers of the first four generations of NASCAR could count on. Quite the contrary.
2. Stylin’ & Profilin’
To play off the persona piece a bit, both Petty and Earnhardt have become pop-culture icons with their respective styles, which evolved through several decades.
Petty’s 1970 look consisted of Dirty Harry Baloramas and a Fu-Manchu, as well as his trademark cowboy boots with which he also drove in. As the decade drug on he mixed it up with a pseudo-fro and his now trademark mustache, Charlie 1 Horse Hat, cigar and that massive marquee belt buckle announcing him as a Seven-Time Winston Cup Champion and Seven-Time Daytona 500 Winner. Undoubtedly, the coolest hardware in all of racing.
Earnhardt was rocking Wranglers before Junior, Brett Favre and Drew Brees were out of Pampers. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have put Gargoyles on the map in “Terminator,” but Big E took them mainstream. Before Garth Brooks got on the black jeans bandwagon, “The Man in Black” had already gone through a few pair.
Besides, the true measure of a man is whether or not you can successfully pull off the mustache while not looking like a total creep. Both Petty and Earnhardt made them macho, long before hipsters in skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors ruined it for state cops and IROC owners nationwide.
Clothes may make the man, but what says more about an individual than his ride? When you say NASCAR, the first images that pop in your mind are a menacing black No. 3 Chevrolet and a Plymouth, Dodge, or Pontiac emblazoned with the No. 43 and finished with Petty Blue paint and an oversized STP logo on the hood.
What other car company has gone so far as to create a model for sale to the public with the express intent of recruiting a star driver back into the fold? Chrysler did that with the 1970 Plymouth Superbird after Petty left to drive a Ford prior to the ’69 season. The 426 Hemi became a production engine after Petty sat out the ’65 season as part of a corporate boycott when it was banned by NASCAR the year following his first championship; had Petty the opportunity to defend the title, his records would have been even more gaudy.
When GM Goodwrench came aboard as Earnhardt’s primary sponsor in 1988, a star was instantly born. Suddenly everyone needed a black Monte Carlos SS Aerocoupe, and the Lumina that followed was legendary in its own right. It was the sight of that black angular nose in the rearview mirror, with only Earnhardt’s blacked-out bubble goggles and mustache visible above the tiny spoilers of the day, that created “The Intimidator” mystique.
Chevrolet was quick to cash in on the images, offering special black and silver Earnhardt-themed editions of the Monte Carlo. In 2012, Lionel Racing Collectibles released its top 10 best-selling racing collectibles; Earnhardt’s cars ranked in positions 2 and 4 despite the fact that the No. 3 has been absent from Cup competition for over a decade — save for the small stylized version that has adorned the B-pillar of Kevin Harvick’s No. 29. It will make a return in 2014 with Austin Dillon at the wheel, however Richard Childress has opted not to have the car clad in black. So far as we know.
Johnson’s No. 48 is a recognizable logomark, but has yet to register on the level as Earnhardt’s 3 or Petty’s 43. NASCAR (and General Motors) haven’t helped his cause, either, as the California native has been forced to drive something with Monte Carlo headlight stickers, as well as a replica of a rental car — the Impala — the last few seasons. The new Gen-6 car was upgraded to a Chevrolet SS … which if someone has actually seen on a dealer lot, they can probably also claim to have been riding a unicorn at the time.
1. Iconic vs. Bionic
They always say to never meet your heroes, because you’ll end up disappointed. Having had the opportunity to meet both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, I can confidently say that the statement couldn’t be more wrong.
Everyone’s heard the stories of how Petty would hang out after a race and sign his iconic autograph for every fan who wanted one — admittedly a bit easier when there were 5,000 people who’d show up rather than 80,000 today. I first met Petty when I was 10 years old at a retail store grand opening. Our local NBC affiliate sports anchor was waiting in line behind us to get an autograph and shake hands with a legend as well — not daring to pull his press card; he was as wide-eyed and nervous as Ralphie telling Santa about his Red Ryder wish.
I was able to meet Earnhardt twice during his championship seasons of 1990 and ’94. He would come to Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Mich., to sign autographs for up to four hours. One time the line was so long, he had one of his associates call down to Michigan International Speedway to find a driver to practice his car on race weekend because there were still 1,000 people waiting in line.
This isn’t to discount Johnson’s interaction with the fans. As an enamored female fan rushed towards him at MIS this summer with a gigantic novelty golden horseshoe, Johnson laughed and willingly signed it. After a late-race brush with the wall in 2011, I was surveying the damage on his car when I glanced over and saw him next to me looking at it as well. I grimaced a bit, like I accidentally whacked it with my truck door.
Johnson fumed a bit, looked at me and said, “Well that f----in’ sucked, huh?”
Different drivers, different eras. All three are remarkable in their own right and time, and have a legion of loyal fans that will gladly cuss out anyone who disagrees with them on the topic. Johnson’s achievements and success are certainly something special in this day of hyper-competitive teams, technology-run-amok and stringent rules-enforcement.
Johnson, however, is here because of Petty and Earnhardt. Richard Petty propelled racing into the national consciousness from a Wide World of Sports oddity to a live flag-to-flag national broadcast in 1979; he landed stock car racing on the front page in 1984 with President Ronald Reagan. Dale Earnhardt made fans of people who never knew racing existed, the last of his breed before corporate sponsorship attributes determined who got rides and who didn’t. Upon his passing in 2001, flags were lowered to half-staff at the White House, an honor typically reserved for the passing of heads of state, dignitaries, war heroes or victims of tragedies.
Regardless of how many wins and championships Jimmie Johnson ends up with, Earnhardt will always be “The Intimidator” and Petty will always be “The King.” Therefore, speaking ill of the standard any of the three greats has set is disrespectful to the sport of stock car racing. Ranking three drivers born of three different generations is not only impossible to accurately do, but immaterial. Honor each for his excellence and respect the accomplishments for the style and class with which they have been achieved.
(STORY UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
USC finished its regular season with a 35-14 defeat to UCLA, which moved the Trojans’ record to 9-4 overall. USC isn’t sure which bowl game it will play in, but there’s an even bigger question in Los Angeles: Who will be the next head coach?
After Lane Kiffin was fired, USC was a team in disarray and just getting to a bowl game would have been a good outcome for the Trojans. However, interim coach Ed Orgeron guided USC to a 6-2 record over the final eight games, allowing the former Ole Miss head coach to throw his name into the discussion for the top spot.
While Orgeron brought USC back into the mix for a spot among the top-25 teams and secured an upset win over Stanford, it’s unlikely he will keep the full-time job for 2014.
USC is one of the top jobs in college football. The resources, money and tradition are there to win big. But the next head coach for the Trojans will inherit some problems. USC’s roster is shorthanded with scholarships due to sanctions, and receiver Marquise Lee is expected to declare for the NFL Draft.
However, USC can still recruit among the best in the nation, and this roster has enough talent to be in the Pac-12 South title discussion in 2014.
Top Candidates to be USC’s Next Head Coach
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
Del Rio would be a curious hire, but UCLA followed a similar path by picking Jim Mora, which has worked out well for the Bruins. USC has reportedly already interviewed Del Rio, and as a former USC player and California native, he would be a good fit for the Trojans. Del Rio worked as Jacksonville’s head coach from 2003-11 and has served as Denver’s interim coach with John Fox sidelined in 2013. If USC decides to hire Del Rio, his biggest move could be finding a way to keep Orgeron in Los Angeles as his top recruiter and assistant coach.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Two of the top priorities for USC’s next head coach will be to energize the fan base, as well as recruit head-to-head with Pac-12 foes UCLA, Oregon and the top programs in college football. Doesn’t that sound like something Franklin would excel at? The 41-year-old coach is 23-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt – arguably the toughest job in the SEC. The Commodores have played in back-to-back bowls and will be invited to a third this year. Franklin has guided the program to an 11-13 mark in the SEC and finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll last season. The third-year coach has also increased Vanderbilt’s profile on the recruiting trail, improving from a No. 56 national rank in 2011 to No. 26 in 2013. Franklin also has one year of NFL experience and spent one season in the Pac-12 at Washington State (1998).
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State
Petersen’s name always comes up in connection with BCS job openings, but the California native has been reluctant to leave Boise State. In his eight years with the Broncos, Petersen has compiled a 92-12 record, including seven years of at least 10 wins. Boise State finished 8-4 in 2013, but injuries and youth played a large role in the final record. Prior to taking the top job at Boise State, Petersen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh, UC Davis and Oregon. Although Petersen would be a good fit at USC, reports have indicated he is no longer a candidate. And if Petersen does pass on the opening at USC, will he ever leave Boise State?
Steve Sarkisian, head coach, Washington
Sarkisian is one of the frontrunners to be USC’s next head coach, and he reportedly already interviewed with athletic director Pat Haden. The California native is 34-29 in five seasons with Washington, which includes an 8-4 record in 2013. And with a win in a bowl game, the Huskies would top eight victories for the first time since recording 11 wins in 2000. Sarkisian coached at USC under Pete Carroll from 2005-08 and is regarded as an excellent recruiter, reeling in four consecutive top-25 classes at Washington. (UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is a California native and attended St. John Bosco High School, which is less than 30 minutes away from the Los Angeles Coliseum. In two years with Fresno State, DeRuyter is an impressive 19-5, with a win over Boise State in 2013 and a chance to win a conference title against Utah State on Dec. 7. Prior to taking the top spot at Fresno State, DeRuyter went 1-0 as an interim coach at Texas A&M and served as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy. DeRuyter wouldn’t be a “name hire,” but the California native is ready for a chance to run a BCS program.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is considered one of college football’s top assistants and is due for a shot to run a program – perhaps as early as this offseason. Even though Morris is an excellent offensive coordinator, he has no collegiate head coaching experience, and it’s unlikely USC would hire an unproven commodity as its next coach. Clemson averaged 40.2 points a game in 2013.
Ed Orgeron, interim coach, USC
Orgeron had a nice run as USC’s interim coach, recording a 6-2 mark over the final eight games. However, Orgeron seems best suited as a top assistant and would only be considered a candidate for the top spot should coaches like James Franklin or Steve Sarkisian drop out of the running. Keeping Orgeron on the next staff could be awkward for the new coach, but the former Ole Miss coach is a good recruiter and could help ease the transition for the players.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Much like Chad Morris, Roman is due for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has interviewed for college head coaching jobs in recent years but has remained a coordinator. Most of Roman’s experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Roman will be a head coach, but it’s unlikely USC will hire an assistant with no experience at the top spot.
Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears coach
Smith had a successful nine-year run as Chicago’s head coach, recording a 81-63 mark and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season. The Texas native last coached in college in 1995 and spent 2013 out of football. Smith reportedly interviewed for the USC opening, but he later denied any interest in the position. Even though Smith seems like he would be a good fit on the college level, all signs point to a return to the NFL at some point.
Nebraska’s regular season ended in disappointing fashion, as the Cornhuskers were dominated in a 38-17 loss to Iowa.
The loss certainly isn’t sitting well in Lincoln, and coach Bo Pelini only added to the drama by commenting “if they want to fire me, go ahead,” when asked about his job status for 2014.
But athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini on Saturday, which should ensure the embattled coach returns for a seventh season.
Even though Eichorst’s statement seems to indicate Pelini will be back for 2014, is that the right decision for Nebraska?
Is Nebraska making the right decision to keep Bo Pelini for 2014?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
If Nebraska wins its bowl game, the Cornhuskers will have claimed at least nine victories in each of Pelini’s six seasons. But is that good enough at Nebraska? Championships and BCS bowls are expected in Lincoln, and Pelini has fallen short. Nebraska has lost its last three bowl appearances and barely cracked the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll in each of the last two years. However, I do think it’s fair to wonder if the job expectations are too high at Nebraska. The college football landscape has changed dramatically since the 1990s, and the Cornhuskers aren’t going to reel in top-10 recruiting classes on a consistent basis. Winning nine games a year isn’t bad, but there’s also plenty of room for Pelini to improve. The West Division of the new Big Ten alignment should be easier than the East, which should allow Nebraska to make a run at the division title in 2014. And even though the Cornhuskers didn’t win the division in 2013, recording eight wins with a rebuilt defense and two backup quarterbacks isn’t awful. I think both parties would benefit from a split, but Pelini’s record at Nebraska should allow him one more season to get the program back into championship contention.
Coach Tom Osborne, former head coach of Nebraska and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I think Shawn made the right decision. You don't get rid of a coach after an 8-4 season, and five straight 9 or 10 win seasons and three division championships. I am looking forward to seeing them improve and have a good year next season.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
From a numbers standpoint, Pelini has probably done enough to stay. The Cornhuskers will be in position for another nine-win season if they can win what’s probably a New Year’s Day bowl game despite injuries to his entrenched starting quarterback and more. From an administrative standpoint, Nebraska is probably making a calculated move to keep Pelini for at least another year rather than wade into a coaching carousel with USC and possibly Texas. Nebraska, despite its history, can’t compete with those two schools for top coaching candidates. But I’m sure Nebraska knows what it’s in for next season. During his postgame diatribe after the Iowa loss, Pelini complained that talk about his job affected his team this season. We can argue how much of a role Pelini could play in keeping that pressure away from his team, but it’s not going to stop in 2014. If anything, the talk about Pelini’s job is going to be worse. And his behavior Saturday — spouting off in his press conference and coming within inches if smacking an official with his hat — only amplifies the discussion. Besides, should we really believe this team is going to get any better? Nebraska’s probably making the right move to set up the coaching search, but it’s going to come at the cost of a sideshow of a season in 2014.
Fiery temper, sideline antics and numerous foot-in-the-mouth instances aside, Pelini should get credit for doing one other thing he has consistently done since taking over at Nebraska in 2008, which is win. If the Cornhuskers claim victory in their bowl game, it will mean Pelini's teams have won at least nine games in all six of his seasons at the helm. I know he hasn't won a conference title yet, but he does have at least a share of four division titles and has led his team to the championship game in two different conferences. He's 33 games above .500 as a head coach, has won more than 70 percent of his conference games and finished lower than a tie for second in his division only once. Nebraska has won five* national championships in its rich history, but it's not like the bottom has exactly dropped out in Lincoln. Are there things that Pelini needs to "fix?" Obviously, but that doesn't mean the Cornhuskers' program is "broken" either. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst apparently thinks Pelini has done enough to keep his job, which in the end is all that really matters.
*Editor's Note: When this was originally published, the number of national championships won by Nebraska was incorrectly stated as four. We regret the error.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It's time for an amicable divorce between Nebraska and Bo Pelini. That doesn't mean that Bo Pelini is a bad coach or that he failed in Lincoln — in fact, he did things his predecessor could not. But both parties appear to be better off going their separate ways. On the positive, Pelini won three division titles and appeared in three conference championship games. And not having the most productive player in program history under center for the entire Big Ten season (Taylor Martinez) must be taken into consideration. On the negative, he has lost four games in all six seasons during his time at Nebraska and his specialty, the defense, has had major struggles over the last few seasons. Pelini hasn't helped himself either, with the way he handles the media or his players in public. There appears to be some sort of behind the scenes disconnect between the coach and the program and that usually never results in success.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 2.
• To ease your transition back to work, and your transition into the Christmas season, here's a rundown of the November sports women who tickled our fancy, including hockey WAG Elisha Cuthbert (pictured).
• By now, you've seen a million replays of the Iron Bowl finish. But here it is again, captured in Tecmo Bowl form.
• If you've been in a turkey coma and still haven't seen it, and even if you have, here's a handy roundup of everything you need to know about arguably the greatest ending in college football history.
• Gus Malzahn got his visor snatched right off his head by an exuberant fan. Let's hope it's not his magic totem.
• One last bizarre Iron Bowl footnote: The guy from the "Punt, Bama, Punt" miracle game went to the same high school as latter-day Tiger hero Chris Davis.
• The Iron Bowl wasn't the only great game of the weekend. Ole Miss-Mississippi State has even given birth to a meme, thanks to some clever State fans. And here are 19 takeaways from the weekend in the SEC.
• The debate commences in earnest: Does Ohio State deserve a shot at the national title? John Feinstein says no.
• Spygate 2.0? The Texans' Antonio Smith is suspicious of the way the Patriots were able to adjust to Houston's defense. I'm suspicious that anyone would waste time spying on the Texans.
• Vernon Davis is an insane athlete. That is all.
• The Teddy Bear Toss is apparently some sort of AHL holiday tradition that I wasn't aware of. Enjoy this video of 26,000 teddy bears being tossed onto the ice in Calgary.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The battle for the NFC is on as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints travel to Seattle to face Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in front of the 12th Man on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" at 8:30 p.m. ET. Both teams have had plenty of time to rest and study up for this game. Sean Peyton's Saints (9-2) haven't played since their 17-13 win two Thursdays ago against Atlanta. The win moved New Orleans to a perfect 3-0 in NFC South play.
Meanwhile, Pete Carroll's Seahawks (10-1) enjoyed a week off, as they had won six straight games heading into their bye. The Seahawks and Saints are the clear frontrunners in the NFC and it is highly likely that this game could go a long way in deciding who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Saints and Seahawks have evenly split their 12 all-time contests. The last game between these two franchises was a 2011 NFC Wild Card game in which the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints on the back of a miraculous 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.
3 Things to Watch
The 6-foot-and-under club
Drew Brees and Russell Wilson belong to an elite group of signal-callers that have succeeded in the NFL despite their stature. Brees, standing right a six feet tall, has swayed many minds about what a prototypical NFL quarterback should look like. Wilson, at 5-11, has followed in his footsteps by supplanting himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. Each has had to overcome significant challenges in their careers. Brees was given up for by nearly the entire league after a shoulder injury in San Diego, while Wilson was a third-round afterthought set to be a backup for Matt Flynn. This season, both quarterbacks rank among the most efficient in the NFL, as both are among the six possessing a quarterback rating of 100 or better. Wilson has completed 64 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Wilson already has the highest quarterback rating, highest completion percentage and best touchdown-to-interception ratio among all quarterbacks shorter than six feet in NFL history. With the return of head coach Sean Payton, Brees has been even more impressive as he is third in the NFL with 3,647 passing yards and second with 28 touchdown passes. Brees currently ranks fifth on the all-time list for career passing yardage with 49,556 yards and fourth all-time in touchdown passes with 352. The NFL's two smallest quarterbacks will be on display tonight and fans will get a look at how these two passers have bucked the trend in professional football.
Saints' Pass-Catchers vs. Seahawks' Secondary
The Seahawks rank second in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game at 180.4. A big part of the reason for their success are their big corners. Starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-3) and Brandon Browner (6-4) have routinely shut down opposing receivers, while safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas clean things up on the back end with six combined interceptions and 138 tackles. Over Seattle's six-game winning streak, the Seahawks have held five of six quarterbacks under 200 yards passing. The most they allowed was Carson Palmer's 258 yards; however, Seattle intercepted him twice. Additionally, during this streak only two receivers (John Carlson and Jairus Wright) have over 59 yards receiving. The Saints will look to tight end Jimmy Graham early and often. Expect Seattle to be prepared as they have only allowed one touchdown reception to a tight end this season. They have been successful in shutting down Tony Gonzalez, Jared Cook, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen and Vernon Davis. None in this list had more than five catches for 56 yards. Together the Seahawks have held these five tight ends to an average of three catches for 30 yards. It will be especially interesting to see how and who the Seahawks choose to match up against Graham. While Graham is in for a challenge, Brees is not afraid to spread the ball around the field. Ten different Saints have receiving touchdowns this year, with five different receivers posting over 400 yards receiving this year. If his primary options are covered Brees will look to Kenny Stills, as well as, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas out of the backfield. The Saints may catch a slight break with Browner sidelined because of a groin injury, but the Seahawks secondary will still be a tough test, even for New Orleans' prolific passing attack.
Beast Mode vs. Saints' Defensive Line
New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has invigorated a unit that was statistically the worst in NFL history just a season ago. Ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan, along with linebacker Junior Gallette are all playing at an extremely high level. Jordan leads the team with eight sacks, while Gallette's six sacks provide a book-end threat from the opposite side. In their last three games, New Orleans hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher among the likes of Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and DeMarco Murray. The Saints will face their biggest test of the season with Marshawn Lynch waiting in the wings. Lynch, aka Beast Mode, is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 925. He also ranks second in the league with nine rushing touchdowns and third with six rushes of more than 20 yards. Tonight Lynch looks to clinch his third straight and fifth overall 1,000-yard season.
Key Player for New Orleans: Jimmy Graham, TE
Short of Calvin Johnson, Graham is the toughest cover in the NFL. Currently, he is second only to Johnson (12) in the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 11. In addition, he leads all tight ends in receptions, yardage and catches of more than 20 yards.
Key Player for Seattle: The 12th Man
CenturyLink Stadium could be the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL. The last time New Orleans played here, the fans registered a reading on the Richter Scale. If the Seahawks get an early lead, there could be another reading as Seahawk fans could be responsible for a few false start penalties.
Seattle has the home-field advantage and is the hotter team, but you can't argue with what quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints have done this year. For the first time in his career, it appears that Brees and Sean Payton have a legitimate defense. Rex Ryan will dial up some vicious blitzes for quarterback Russell Wilson and stack the box against running back Marshawn Lynch. Make no mistake, this game will live up to its billing and remain close throughout. How the Seahawks choose to guard tight end Jimmy Graham could factor big during red zone situations.
New Orleans 24, Seattle 23
During yesterday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams, tight end Vernon Davis was tackled by T.J. McDonald in the most painful way any man can imagine in the history of the universe—BY. HIS. CROTCH. Davis, who's around 6'3" and 250 pounds of muscle, was reduced to writhing in pain on the ground after the tackle.
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
1: Second it takes to win the SEC West
The officials put one second back on the clock — much to Auburn's chagrin — giving Alabama a 57-yard field goal attempt to win the SEC West. Except, the kick was short and Chris Davis returned it 109 unofficial yards for the win and the SEC West title in arguably the most dramatic finish to a college football game ... ever. One is also the number of times Nick Saban and Alabama have lost when rushing for at least 140 yards since the start of the 2008 season, a span of 61 games. Alabama gained 218 yards rushing while Auburn rushed for 296 yards — or 131 more yards than Alabama had allowed all season (165, Arkansas). It was just the fourth time in 77 games that Alabama has lost under Nick Saban while leading at halftime. Auburn now has wins over nine bowl teams and is 5-1 against teams ranked in the Sagarin Top 35.
42: Active record consecutive games with a turnover forced
Missouri forced a turnover against Texas A&M but that one forced fumble kept alive the nation's longest active streak of consecutive games with at least one turnover forced. For the 42nd straight game, the Tigers have taken the ball away from the opponent, and its a big reason why they finished 11-1. With an SEC East, SEC and BCS title hanging in the balance, Mizzou held Johnny Manziel and the Aggies to 379 yards and 5.4 yards per play — both of which would be season lows if not for LSU's performance against the reigning Heisman winner last weekend. In 2013, Gary Pinkel's team led the SEC in sacks (37), interceptions (18), takeaways (27), turnover margin (1.25) and tackles for loss (95).
2-14: Auburn, Missouri SEC record last year
According to @LVSuperBook back in August, Auburn was a 50-1 longshot to win the SEC while Missouri was 60-1. That's because these two programs went a combined 2-14 in SEC play last season. For all intents and purposes, these two Tigers were the 12th and 13th worst teams in the conference. Now, they will meet in Atlanta for an SEC crown and potential BCS national championship berth, depending on the Big Ten and ACC title games. Missouri wasn't supposed to be able to compete in the big, bad SEC and the 2-6 season last fall only strengthened the durability doubts of the Tigers. However, not only has Missouri bounced back to win the SEC East, but it did it in true SEC style — with a nasty, playmaking defense. Auburn, a team with a first-year head coach following a 0-8 campaign in the league, is rushing for more yards per game (318.3 ypg) than the entire offense averaged a year ago (305 ypg). On Saturday, a traditional SEC power that employs a zone-read spread option will face a former Big 12 team boasting the SEC's most physical and athletic defensive line.
49.1: Home scoring average for Arizona State
In crushing in-state rival Arizona 58-21 in the Territorial Cup on Saturday night, the Sun Devils clinched the best record in the Pac-12 (8-1) and earned the right to host the Pac-12 Championship Game. Not only does Arizona State avoid having to visit Palo Alto for the second time this year — a place where Stanford hasn't lost in 16 games — but it gets to play in Sun Devil Stadium — a place where ASU has been virtually unstoppable. The Sun Devils are sixth in the nation in home scoring average at 49.1 points per game. In six home games this year, Todd Graham's squad has scored at least 53 points five times.
226: Carlos Hyde rivalry-high rushing yards against Michigan
No Ohio State running back has ever rushed for more yards in "The Game" than Carlos Hyde did against the Wolverines on Saturday. He rushed 27 times for 226 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in what might have been the best game between "Ohio" and "That Team Up North" in the long and storied history of the rivalry. Quarterback Braxton Miller accounted for five total touchdowns, rushed for 150 yards and played electric football all game long as well. Urban Meyer has won 24 straight games to start his OSU coaching career, tying Larry Coker for fourth all-time in NCAA history (Pop Warner, 30; Fielding Yost 29; Walter Camp, 28). Michigan and Ohio State have played 110 times and 2013 might have been the best version to date. The Game featured 1,129 yards of offense — 603 from Michigan's 96th ranked offense — three fighting ejections and the biggest two-point conversion attempt since Tom Osborne went for it in the 1984 Orange Bowl.
1966: The last time Michigan State was unbeaten in Big Ten play
With an ugly but convincing win over Minnesota at home, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans finished the year unblemished in Big Ten play. The 8-0 record is just the third such perfect Big Ten record for Michigan State and the first since 1966. The Spartans have allowed six points or less in five of the last six games and are leading the nation in total defense. Dantonio now sets his sights on the Rose Bowl as his Spartans take on Ohio State that has won 24 straight games in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1987 — when Nick Saban was the defensive coordinator. The 1965 season is the only other perfect Big Ten record in MSU history.
26-5: Connor Shaw's record as a starter
No South Carolina Gamecock has won more games than Connor Shaw. The gritty quarterback has set himself apart as the greatest signal caller to ever play at Williams-Brice Stadium. He began the season as the sixth-most efficient passer in SEC history (151.5) and all he has done is add to his underrated resume (156.2 in 2013). His 26 wins are the most in South Carolina history, and he set a Gamecocks record with 18 consecutive home wins (18-0). He went 3-0 against rival Clemson and helped his team defeat the hated Tigers five times in a row for the first time in rivalry history. He has rushed for 1,636 yards, 16 touchdowns and countless first downs on third down. He is seventh all-time in SEC history with a 64.7 career completion percentage and second only to Tee Martin (24) with 20 consecutive completions last year against Missouri. In terms of win percentage, Shaw is just behind names like Tim Tebow (86.6 percent) and Peyton Manning (86.7 percent) as one of the top 10 winningest SEC quarterbacks (83.8 percent). Shaw has 52 passing touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in his three seasons as the starter with just one interception and 23 scoring strikes in his last 13 games. He has to be considered as one of the league's all-time great leaders under center.
12-1: Mark Richt's record against Georgia Tech
Since taking over in Athens, Mark Richt has dominated the in-state rivalry with Georgia Tech titled "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." Without starting quarterback Aaron Murray and after falling behind 20-0, Richt watched his team fight back over the final 30 minutes to force overtime. Richt has now won five straight and 12 out of 13 against the Yellow Jackets since taking over as the Georgia coach in 2001. Signal caller Hutson Mason, who got his first career start in place of Murray and will likely be the starter next fall, led the Bulldogs to a 41-14 run over the final 31 minutes and overtime. Todd Gurley scored three late touchdowns, and the defense forced one critical turnover.
1,068: Combined passing yards for Derek Carr and David Fales
Fresno State lost for the first time this year when San Jose State and David Fales topped the Bulldogs 62-52 on Friday. Fales was 37-of-45 for 547 yards and six touchdowns and didn't throw an interception. Derek Carr was 38-of-50 for 519 yards and had six touchdowns of his own for Fresno State. The 114 points is the second highest scoring game in college football this season behind Baylor's 73-42 win over West Virginia (115). The loss is costly for Tim DeRuyter as the Bulldogs are out of BCS bowl contention with just one loss.
1927-28: The last time Vanderbilt won eight games in back-to-back seasons
With yet another late turnover and another late comeback, Vanderbilt topped Wake Forest 23-21 to finish the regular season with an impressive 8-4 mark. It is the Commodores second straight season with at least eight wins for the first time in 85 years, dating back to 1927-28 (the last time Vandy posted back-to-back winning seasons was 1974-75). Coach James Franklin's teams have proven themselves in the most critical of times, winning their last nine November games and 10 of 12 all-time under Franklin during the season's final month. With three consecutive bowl berths, this is without question the most successful three-year run in program history.
After an underachieving 4-8 record in 2013, Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t waiting long to make changes to his coaching staff.
On Sunday, Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis.
The firings were expected, as Florida had one of the SEC’s worst offenses in 2013.
The Gators averaged just 312.5 yards per game in eight conference contests and did not score more than 20 points in a SEC game since a 30-point effort against Arkansas on Oct. 5.
There should be no shortage of interested candidates, but Muschamp is on the hot seat and another underachieving record in 2014 could spell the end of his tenure in Gainesville.
Even though Florida should be able to attract capable candidates, some coaches could shy away from the job due to the uncertainty about Muschamp’s long-term future.
After a second consecutive losing season, Wyoming fired coach Dave Christensen on Sunday.
Christensen recorded a 27-35 mark during his five seasons at Wyoming, including an 8-5 record in 2011.
Christensen guided Wyoming to two bowl games, but the Cowboys were just 9-15 over the last two years.
Considering Christensen’s experience and background on offense, the veteran assistant could be a name to watch for coordinator openings at Florida and Iowa State.
After consecutive victories in miraculous fashion, Auburn has made another unbelievable jump. The Tigers are the new No. 2 in the Legends Poll.
Auburn ran a missed field goal back 100 yards as time expired in the Iron Bowl, knocking off the reigning champ and top team, Alabama, 34-28. The victory also paved the way for Florida State, who routed Florida 37-7 earlier in the day, to take over as the No. 1 team in the Legends Poll for the first time in its history. The loss dropped the Crimson Tide to No. 4.
No. 3 Ohio State escaped on a failed two-point conversion in the final minutes by rival Michigan to remain unbeaten. But the performance wasn’t enough for the Legends Poll voters to move the Buckeyes up in the rankings. Ohio State has one more chance to make a statement against No. 9 Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Missouri rounded out the top 5 after clinching the SEC East and a spot against Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. The winner will certainly have an argument for earning a spot in the BCS Championship.
In another hotly contested in-state rivalry game, No. 7 South Carolina knocked off Clemson, moving up two spots in the poll. No. 11 Clemson tumbled six spots.
No. 19 Northern Illinois finished its regular season undefeated and moved up three spots. No. 21 Wisconsin took the largest fall in the rankings this week after an upset at the hands of Penn State.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|1||Florida State (16)||12-0||400||2|
* The Legends Poll voting process is exactly what the BCS is trying to create and Athlon will bring it to you as the de facto Selection Committee for fans to follow over the next two seasons, allowing you to see how the Selection Committee will operate from 2014 onward. You can see the entire Poll at www.legendschannel.com.
As a proud sponsor of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Transamerica would like to thank you all for participating in this year’s Johnny Unitas QB Challenge. The winner of the QB Challenge is being determined and will be announced shortly on Transamerica’s Facebook page. Meanwhile, we applaud the accomplishments of all the 2013 Golden Arm Award contenders, and we look forward to congratulating this year’s Golden Arm Award-winning quarterback, who will be revealed next week.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
A week after throwing for 527 yards and a career-high and school-record seven touchdowns, Fresno State’s Derek Carr once again put up big numbers for the Bulldogs. For the third time of his career, Carr surpassed the 500-yard mark in a game by throwing for 519 yards and six touchdowns. Carr completed 38 of 50 pass attempts in the effort but unfortunately all Carr did was not enough to pick up a win at San Jose State. Fresno State fell shy against the Spartans to fall out of the BCS mix, but Carr and the Bulldogs will get one more chance to end the season on a high note when they host Utah State in the Mountain West Conference championship game next week.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Once again Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch did more damage with his legs than his arm. Lynch obliterated Western Michigan for 321 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a home finale win for Northern Illinois. The win clinched a perfect 12-0 regular season for the Huskies and kept last year’s BCS Buster in the mix for a second straight BCS bowl trip. Lynch did not have much success throwing the football, completing just five of 17 attempts for 39 yards, but his feet were more than capable of handling this one.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron turned in a solid effort in his final game of the regular season. McCarron completed 17 of 29 pass attempts for 277 yards and three touchdowns on the road at Auburn. McCarron even added 16 rushing yards on four carries. Unfortunately for McCarron, and the Tide, Auburn pulled out another miracle in Jordan-Hare Stadium to hand McCarron and Alabama their first loss of the season.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Tajh Boyd completed 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 225 yards but failed to record a touchdown pass and was intercepted twice in Clemson’s 31-17 loss at South Carolina. Boyd did score a touchdown on the ground, while chipping in with 16 rushing yards. Boyd’s eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter tied the game. Boyd also lost one fumble and was responsible for three of Clemson’s six turnovers in the loss.
Sponsored by Transamerica.
The revelry on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium hadn’t even ended before various scenarios putting the SEC into the national championship game started popping up.
What would Auburn have to do to leapfrog an undefeated Ohio State? Is Missouri realistic? And is Alabama out of it ... really?
For this week, BCS order remains with the two undefeated teams in the national championship slots. For Auburn to get into the title game over an undefeated Ohio State, the voters and BCS computers would have to do something they’ve never done by leaving out an undefeated major conference champion at the expense of a one-loss team.
Did we mention there are still conference championship games to play. An Ohio State or Florida State loss would render SEC arguments moot. So would an Auburn loss to Missouri.
And after what you’ve seen at Auburn the last two weeks, are you going to doubt the possibility of Duke upsetting the whole thing on the last day of the season?
No. 3 Auburn. As expected, Auburn moved to No. 3 in the BCS and narrowed the gap with Ohio State. The Tigers checked in with a BCS average of 0.9233 with Ohio State at 0.9503. The difference is a little bigger than the Sunday afternoon chatter indicated, but it’s not insurmountable for Auburn with a game remaining against No. 5 Missouri while Ohio State faces No. 10 Michigan State. The gap of 0.027 between Auburn and Ohio State, a margin that figures to get closer if both win, would be the closest between No. 2 and No. 3 since Florida edged out Texas by 0.0181 in 2008.
No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost the most ground in the coaches’ and Harris polls as nearly all the first-place votes that went for Alabama last week went to Florida State. The Seminoles have 97 of 105 first-place votes in the Harris poll and 58 of 62 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll (though Ohio State gained four top votes from the coaches). Ohio State is 25 points ahead of Auburn in the coaches poll and 84 behind Florida State. The Buckeyes are 66 points ahead of Auburn in the Harris poll and 129 behind Florida State.
Quick BCS Projections
BCS Championship Game: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Rose: No. 11 Arizona State vs. No. 10 Michigan State*
Orange: No. 4 Alabama* vs. No. 13 Clemson*
Sugar: No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 16 UCF
Fiesta: No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. No. 14 Northern Illinois
Key Games This Week
Auburn vs. Missouri (SEC Championship). Auburn is holding out hope to get into the BCS title game with a win in Atlanta regardless of what Ohio State does, but a loss by either of the top two teams likely vaults the SEC champion to the national title game.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Big Ten Championship). A rout of Michigan State, especially after the close call with Michigan, would probably help Ohio State fans rest easy no matter what happens to Auburn. But in the event of a loss, the Spartans would also like to look respectable enough to remain in the top 14 to remain eligible for an at-large bid to the Rose Bowl against the winner of Stanford-Arizona State.
Texas at Baylor. Even though they looked nothing like it the last two weeks, the Bears have the ability to get into a BCS game. An Oklahoma State loss to Oklahoma and a Baylor win will earn the Bears the automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. And given losses by Clemson and Wisconsin, the at-large field has dwindled. A one-loss Baylor ranked in the top 10 may be the best of what’s available.
Alabama is out. The fantasy of Alabama getting back to the championship game with an Auburn loss in the SEC title game and an Ohio State loss in the Big Ten title game is probably finished. Alabama checked in at No. 4, but only 0.0111 points ahead of No. 5 Missouri in BCS average. A Missouri win over Auburn would almost certainly vault Mizzou ahead of the Crimson Tide. The only plausible scenario for the Tide in the title game would require losses by Florida State and Ohio State, setting up a matchup with Missouri or an Iron Bowl rematch.
The BCS at-large picture is a mess. Prepare to complain about teams outside of the top-10 earning BCS slots. Alabama is a virtual lock for the first BCS at-large spot (the Orange, if Florida State finishes No. 1), but after that, nothing is certain. The Rose may like to pair a Big Ten team with its Pac-12 champion if Ohio State goes to the title game, but the only candidate is No. 10 Michigan State, thanks to Wisconsin's loss to Penn State. No. 13 Clemson should remain eligible for the BCS and would be more attractive that a second team from the Big 12. At No. 12, Oregon also would be a strong BCS contender, but the Ducks won’t go to the Rose Bowl to face the Pac-12 champion.
Northern Illinois is creeping closer to an automatic bid. Fresno State’s loss to San Jose State means Northern Illinois is the only team from a non-automatic qualifying conference in the mix for a BCS bid. The Huskies moved up to No. 14, but they’re behind idle Oregon and Clemson. It would take quite a bit of a shakeup for NIU, who faces Bowling Green in the MAC title game, to get into the top 12 for an automatic bid. However, Northern Illinois remains two spots ahead of No. 16 UCF, the projected champion of the American Athletic Conference. UCF finishes with 5-6 SMU.
Notes on BCS selection
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The American’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Orange Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Fiesta.