Articles By All
With Boise State and Washington returning most of its starting core for 2013, the Las Vegas Bowl is a chance for both teams to establish momentum and use the postseason as a springboard for an improvement in the win column next year.
The Broncos have played in the Las Vegas Bowl in each of the last two seasons, beating Utah and Arizona State by a combined score of 82-27. By reaching 10 victories in 2012, Boise State has achieved seven consecutive seasons of double-digit victories. The Broncos had to replace a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and its only two losses were by a combined six points.
Washington is making slow progress under coach Steve Sarkisian but most expected the Huskies to finish better than 7-5. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Sarkisian in the offseason, and the hire of coordinator Justin Wilcox has paid big dividends. The Huskies are making back-to-back trips to a bowl game for the first time since 2001-02. Washington played a tough schedule in 2012, losing to two top-10 teams in LSU and Oregon. However, the Huskies lost to Washington State in the season finale and was blown out 52-17 by Arizona in mid-October.
These two teams have met only one time (2007), with Washington beating Boise State 24-10 in Seattle.
Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
Date/Time: Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Las Vegas
When the Boise State Broncos have the ball:
The departure of six starters is a lot for any offense to overcome. But try replacing one of college football’s top quarterbacks of the BCS era, a 1,000-yard rusher and a stalwart left tackle. That’s the obstacle Boise State had to overcome this season, and the offense certainly had its share of ups and downs. The Broncos finished 54th nationally in scoring offense and 76th in total offense.
Quarterback Joe Southwick had big shoes to fill in replacing Kellen Moore, and he finished with 2,466 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. The junior completed 66.7 percent of his throws and did not toss a pick in the final three games of the season. Southwick’s favorite target is Matt Miller (60 catches), but five players have at least 20 receptions in 2012.
Helping Southwick along this year has been the steady performance of running back D.J. Harper. The senior has battled knee injuries in his career but stayed healthy for all 12 games and finished with 1,065 yards and 15 scores. When Harper needs a rest, promising redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has four touchdowns this year.
Thanks to the arrival of Justin Wilcox, Washington has emerged as one of the nation’s most-improved defenses. Wilcox came to Seattle after spending two years as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. The Huskies allowed 35.9 points a game last season but cut that total to just 23.8 in 2012. Washington also ranks 30th nationally in yards allowed and finished the regular season second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.
While the secondary ranks near the top of the Pac-12, the rush defense has been a bigger issue. The Huskies are allowing 164.3 yards per game on the ground, which should work into Boise State’s favor. Expect Harper and Ajayi to see plenty of carries, as the Broncos use the run to setup the pass.
When the Washington Huskies have the ball:
Although the Huskies took a step forward on defense this year, the offense regressed after averaging 409.9 yards and 33.4 points a game last season. Despite the return of quarterback Keith Price, the Huskies were unable to match last season’s totals, largely due to the offensive line. Injuries and inexperience hindered this unit in 2012, as Washington allowed 2.8 sacks per game. Protecting Price was an issue for most of the year, which was a big reason why the junior quarterback watched his passing yards drop from 3,063 (2011) to 2,486.
When Price has time to throw, he has two of the Pac-12’s rising stars to target. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is one of the nation’s best, catching 63 passes for 791 yards and six scores. Kasen Williams had a breakout year as he emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver and led the team with 71 receptions. Outside of Seferian-Jenkins and Williams, Washington needs more from its receiving corps. Jaydon Mickens is a promising freshman but ranked second among wide receivers with 18 receptions.
The battle between Washington’s passing game and Boise State’s secondary could be the defining matchup on Saturday. The Broncos are generating 2.8 sacks a game and rank fourth nationally against the pass. Senior cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins were both All-Mountain West selections, and safety Jeremy Ioane ranked second on the team with 65 stops. Even if Price has time to throw, the secondary won’t allow for the Huskies to have many chances for big plays.
While the passing attack has struggled, the running game has thrived under first-year starter Bishop Sankey. The sophomore quietly rushed for 1,234 yards and 15 scores and caught 27 passes for 175 yards. Sankey figures to test a Boise State defense that ranks 39th nationally against the run and lost tackle Mike Atkinson for the season with a torn ACL in early November.
Boise State’s defense had to replace 10 starters from last year’s team, so it’s a credit to the work of coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to keep this unit among the best in the nation. Despite the heavy losses from last season’s defense, the Broncos ranked ninth in total defense and allowed just 14.9 points a game.
Both teams could start next year in the top 25, so this is a key opportunity to seize momentum. Interestingly enough, Boise State and Washington will meet in the season opener in 2013, so this is a chance to get some early scouting done for next year. Although both teams are capable of putting points on the scoreboard, expect a low-scoring defensive game. Washington’s defense is one of the nation’s most-improved units, but Boise State should be to find some running room with senior back D.J. Harper. This game should go deep into the fourth quarter, but a slight edge goes to the Broncos over the Huskies.
Prediction: Boise State 24, Washington 20
Related College Football Content
|Kentucky's Anthony Davis|
Kentucky was the nation’s best team for 2012 (at least through April). Anthony Davis was the nation’s best player. And great rivalry games in the Bluegrass State and out churned out some classic moments through the year.
In that sense, Anthony Davis’ performance against Louisville in the Final Four is not a total shock at the top of our list of top individual performances for in 2012. Davis was the best player in the country from beginning to end, and he’ll end up here at the top of our list.
But picking other spots was difficult. Even parsing which Kansas-Missouri performance or which player from March Madness’ biggest upsets should be ahead of the other was a tough call.
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will countdown the top individual performances by sport during the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
We continue today with the top five individual performances in college basketball for 2012 calendar year:
More Year in Review for 2012:
1. March 31: Anthony Davis’ Big Blue dominance
With one of the best seasons in college basketball history, at least in terms of the trophy case he filled in one year, Anthony Davis may have trouble picking out his own best game of the year. The one Kentucky fans may remember most, though, is his major role in vanquishing rival Louisville in the Final Four. Davis had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting with 14 rebounds and five blocks against the Cardinals. Kentucky would win the national championship two days later.
2. March 16: O’Quinn stuns Missouri
Missouri was one of the surprise teams of the season in 2011-12, but the Tigers ended the season with a shock of their own. Kyle O’Quinn scored 26 points with 14 rebounds as 15th-seeded Norfolk State of the MEAC upset No. 2-seed Missouri 86-84 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State became the fifth No. 15 seed to win an NCAA Tournament game and the first since Hampton in 2001. “We even messed up my bracket,” O’Quinn said.
3. March 16: Speaking of messing up brackets...
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum has been one of the nation’s highest-scoring players for four seasons, but he’s hardly a household name playing in the Patriot League. A win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Lehigh became the second No. 15 seed to win a Tournament game that day and sixth all-time when McCollum scored 30 points in the 75-70 win over Duke. McCollum added six rebounds and six assists.
4. Feb. 4: Denmon’s wild finish
Kansas and Missouri did their best to remind us what we’d miss with this rivalry going away as a casualty of realignment. Both games were classics, but Marcus Denmon’s wild finish in Columbia gets the nod at No. 4. The Missouri guard playing out of position at small forward scored the final 11 points in the 74-71 win. Denmon converted a three-point play and hit two shots from beyond the arc in the final 2:05 for a thrilling finish. He finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
5. Feb. 8: Rivers’ dramatic game-winner
Austin Rivers made sure his one season at Duke left a lasting impression. Rivers hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Duke’s 85-84 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Rivers ended a furious 10-point rally in the final 2:30 in one of the wildest finishes in the the history of the rivalry. The final 3-pointer was his sixth of the game and capped a 29-point effort against North Carolina.
The “sixth man award” goes to...
|Kansas' Thomas Robinson|
6. Feb. 25: Robinson sends the Border War out in style
The Border War shows up twice on our list of top college basketball performances of 2012. The final game in the series for the time being couldn’t be contained in 40 minutes as Kansas won 87-86 in overtime. Thomas Robinson scored 28 points and added 12 rebounds in his signature performance of the season. His three-point play late in regulation capped a 19-point comeback to send the game to overtime.
Feb. 25: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis finished with 28 points on 10 of 11 shots from the field and 8 of 9 free throws in an 83-74 win over Vanderbilt. He also had 11 rebounds and five blocks.
Jan. 10: Illinois’ Brandon Paul hinted at the breakout year to come when he scored 43 points with eight rebounds and four blocks in a 79-74 win over then-No. 5 Ohio State.
March 16: Yep, there’s that date again. On the same day two No. 2 seeds fell, Michigan State’s Draymond Green had a triple double (24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in an 89-67 win over No. 16-seeded LIU Brooklyn in the NCAA Tournament.
Feb. 11: Kansas’ Jeff Withey signaled what was to come for the rest of the year with 19 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in an 81-66 win over Oklahoma State.
2012 In Review: Top Five Performances in Golf
1. Bubba's Pine Straw Miracle
Bubba Watson trumped Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle with a miracle shot of his own, curving a wedge approach out of the trees and onto the green at No. 10 to set up a clinching two-putt par in his playoff with Oosthuizen, earning Bubba an emotional Masters win. Watson was spectacular down the stretch of his final-round 68, draining four birdies in a row from 13-16. His short birdie putt on the par-3 16th drew him even with Oosthuizen, who was unable to match Bubba's par on the second playoff hole. Fittingly for Watson and his famously home-made game, it was his heroic, creative recovery from the pine straw that they'll be talking about at the 2050 Champions Dinner. "I was there earlier today in regulation,” Watson said afterwards. “I hooked it 40 yards. I’m pretty good at hooking it."
2. Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship
Call it the Snore by the Shore. Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation at the PGA Championship, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion. Glory's Last Shot was Rory's personal showcase, as he destroyed the recent trend of late collapses with a textbook display of major championship golf — fairways, greens and made putts, with a few successful scrambles thrown in.
3. Ernie Els Shocks Adam Scott at Royal Lytham
The agony and the ecstasy of golf were on full display at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and when it was over, Ernie Els had his second Claret Jug and fourth major, and Adam Scott had first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be Greg Norman. Or Jason Dufner. Els didn't back into it, though, posting a back-9 4-under 32 in the stiffening breezes of Royal Lytham and rolling in a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole before grabbing a sandwich and watching Scott implode with bogeys on the final four holes. It was an utterly shocking turn of events on a day that seemed like a Scott coronation until the heartbreaking conclusion. Els now has major championships in three different decades and four majors for his career, tying Phil Mickelson for second-most of the Woods era.
4. The European Ryder Cup Team Makes History
Miracle at Medinah? Or Medinah Meltdown? Whatever you call it, this 2012 Ryder Cup is going to sting the U.S. for awhile. When Martin Kaymer's 6-foot par putt found the bottom of the cup at 18 for a 1-up win over Steve Stricker in the weekend's penultimate match, Europe had erased a 10-6 deficit and clinched a 14-14 tie and retention of the Cup, no matter the outcome of the Tiger Woods-Francesco Molinari match still on the course. To rub salt into the wound, Woods conceded a putt 18 to fall into a halve with Molinari, giving the Euros a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 win. And what had once looked like a likely U.S. rout had morphed into a shocking European triumph on American soil. If you're looking for heroes, there were plenty on the Euro side. Any unofficial MVP award would go to Ian Poulter, who arrived at Medinah on a mission and then went 4-0. His birdie binge in Saturday's final fourball match gave Europe a critical point and a glimmer of hope heading into Sunday, and his 2-up singles win over Webb Simpson was a key catalyst in Europe's early singles charge.
5. Brandt Snedeker Pockets $11.44 Million at East Lake
No one else in golf can claim a payday of $11.44 million. That's what Sneds pocketed on a spectacular September Sunday at East Lake. Snedeker simultaneously earned the two biggest trophies of his career, taking the Tour Championship and $1.44 million and clinching the FedExCup with its accompanying $10 million payout. Snedeker continued his playoff putting clinic, missing exactly zero putts from inside eight feet during his 68-70-64-68 four-day performance at East Lake.
The New Orleans Bowl features a matchup of two teams riding a wave of momentum to close out the regular season. East Carolina won five out of its last six games, with the only loss coming to Navy. The Pirates didn’t beat a team with a winning record during that span but recorded two victories by 20 or more points. The Ragin’ Cajuns won four out of their last five games and nearly upset Florida on Nov. 10.
Louisiana-Lafayette is making its second consecutive postseason trip to the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns won a 32-30 thriller against San Diego State last season and are a slight favorite to win on Saturday. The Pirates are back in a bowl after a one-year absence and will be looking to end a three-game losing streak in postseason appearances.
These two teams have met 10 times, with Louisiana-Lafayette owning a 6-4 series edge. The Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns last met in 1990, with East Carolina claiming a 20-10 victory.
New Orleans Bowl
Date and Time: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Location: New Orleans
When the Ragin’ Cajuns have the ball:
Despite losing quarterback Blaine Gautier to a hand injury early in the year, Louisiana-Lafayette’s offense really hasn’t missed a beat. Houston transfer Terrance Broadway stepped into the starting lineup and finished with 3,192 total yards and 24 scores. The sophomore completed 65.4 percent of his throws and averaged 6.4 yards per rush.
Broadway should have plenty of opportunities to attack an East Carolina defense that allowed 30.7 points a game and ranked 105th nationally against the pass. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a solid group of receivers, which is led by Harry Peoples with 61 receptions, Javone Lawson and all-purpose threat Darryl Surgent.
Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season, but Alonzo Harris rushed for 761 yards and eight touchdowns. The sophomore finished with two 100-yard efforts to close out the season and will be spelled by Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed.
East Carolina was better against the run than it was against the pass but still allowed 145.7 rushing yards per game. If there was one bit of good news for the defense, it’s the fact the Pirates were solid in the forced turnover department (20) and averaged 2.1 sacks per game.
Getting pressure on Broadway will be crucial for East Carolina, especially with a secondary that ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in yards allowed. If the Pirates can get pressure on Broadway, they will have a chance to slow down Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns won’t generate a ton of huge gains on the ground, but Broadway’s ability to make plays when things break down in the pocket is a huge bonus for the Louisiana-Lafayette offense.
When the Pirates have the ball:
Sophomore Shane Carden took over the Pirates’ quarterback duties after the second game of the season and got more comfortable as the year progressed. Carden finished the year with 2,838 yards and 21 passing scores and added eight touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore also completed 66.8 percent of his passes.
Carden’s favorite target has been Justin Hardy, but East Carolina has seven players with at least 20 receptions this year. Hardy caught 83 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 scores in 2012, which included 16 receptions in the 65-59 shootout win over Marshall on Nov. 23. Carden to Hardy should be a popular connection on Saturday, especially considering Louisiana-Lafayette is allowing 283.9 passing yards per game.
Protecting Carden is going to be a crucial element for the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 2.2 sacks a game, while East Carolina’s front five is allowing 2.3 a contest. Carden is far from a statue in the pocket, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense can be active around the line of scrimmage, which helps it in the turnover department.
Although East Carolina leans on the pass, don't overlook running back Vintavious Cooper. The junior college transfer amassed 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this year, while also catching 24 passes for 226 yards and one score. Cooper doesn’t have to have a huge game, but the Pirates need to establish some balance to keep Louisiana-Lafayette guessing.
With a short trip from Lafayette to New Orleans, expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a home crowd advantage. Louisiana-Lafayette fans packed the Superdome for last season’s game and should be out in full force once again on Saturday. Both teams will have plenty of success moving the ball on offense, so it’s up to whichever defense can make a key stop in the fourth quarter. This one is a tossup, but with a home field advantage, a slight edge goes to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, East Carolina 31
Related College Football Content
|Kansas center Jeff Withey|
In the big picture, Kansas’ trip to Ohio State on Saturday is simply a good game against two top-10 teams, a national title contender visiting another title contenders gym.
Kansas, whose only loss was 67-64 to Michigan State in Atlanta, hasn’t played a true road game this season, and the first one’s a toughie. Ohio State hasn’t lost a non-conference home game in nearly four years. Meanwhile, Ohio State is looking to avenge its only loss of the season in which the Buckeyes lost a 10-point second half lead at Duke on Nov. 29.
It’s a no-brainer for viewing.
But the basketball junkies, of course, will have something, too. Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft are among the best defenders in the country in their own way. Ohio State will have trouble around the basket thanks to Withey’s blocks, and Kansas will have trouble getting around Craft’s man-to-man defense.
On the offensive end, two of the nation’s breakout players, Ben McLemore and Deshaun Thomas will try to crack potential defensive players of the year.
In short, there’s something for everyone in Columbus.
Game of the week
Kansas (9-1) at Ohio State (9-1)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Kansas probable starters
G Elijah Johnson (6-4/195, Sr.)
G Travis Releford (6-6/210, Sr.)
G Ben McLemore (6-5/195, RFr.)
F Kevin Young (6-8/190, Sr.)
C Jeff Withey (7-0/235, Sr.)
Ohio State probable starters
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Jr.)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4/205, Jr.)
F Sam Thompson (6-7/190, So.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Jr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Sr.)
|Ohio State guard Aaron Craft|
One of the most important matchups will be between Kansas’ emerging star guard Ben McLemore and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. After sitting out last season as a partial qualifier, McLemore has emerged as one of the nation’s most dynamic players. He can drive to the basket and step out from the perimeter. His matchup against a physical and more seasoned defender in Craft will be a key proving moment for McLemore. Lenzelle Smith, who is getting more looks at the basket with William Buford gone, has emerged as Ohio State’s second-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game. Kansas has struggled at the point guard spot with Elijah Johnson taking over this season. In past seasons, Kansas has had multiple starters able to bring the ball up the court, but with McLemore and Travis Releford on the wings, Johnson’s on his own unless Self goes to the bench.
Withey’s momentum from the NCAA Tournament carried into this season. He set a record with 31 blocks in six Tourney games last season, a pace he’s maintained this season. Withey has averaged 5.4 blocks per game and is less than a month removed from a triple-double against San Jose State. He’ll try to stop shots against Deshaun Thomas, who is averaging 20.4 points per game. Thomas is a high-volume shooter from all over the court: Thomas has attempted 159 shots from the floor; no one else for Ohio State has more than 85 attempts. Ohio State has a small frontcourt, especially compared to the 7-footer Withey. The Buckeyes may have to go to the bench to counter his length: The 6-8, 260-pound Evan Ravenel is Ohio State’s biggest starter.
Ohio State is much deeper than its been in past seasons. The Buckeyes can absorb Craft’s absence for a time with Shannon Scott coming off the bench. In fact, Scott has more assists per minute (0.23) than Craft (0.16) this season. One of the key players off the bench for Ohio State may be the 6-11 Amir Williams, who added 30 pounds in the offseason and could be a better size matchup against Withey. Kansas has good depth on the bench, but it’s untested with two freshmen (forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Taylor) and a sophomore (point guard Naadir Tharpe).
Kansas is looking to prove it can win a road game, but Ohio State may have more on the line: The Buckeyes are looking to avenge two losses to Kansas last season. The first was a 78-67 win at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 19, 2011 and the second sent Kansas to the national title game with a 64-62 win in the Final Four. Withey had seven blocks and contained Jared Sullinger in the national semifinal. Many of the key players from that game are gone, but enough are left for Ohio State to play with an edge, especially at home.
Prediction: Kansas 72, Ohio State 68
Expect this matchup to be closer than the two Kansas victories last season. That said, few have been better than Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore this season. With the exception of McLemore, the core of the Jayhawks’ lineup is made of veterans, so Kansas should be able to handle a difficult road environment.
The coaching carousel hasn’t come to a complete stop, but it appears Ball State will hold on to Pete Lembo for at least one more season. Lembo built a winner at Lehigh and Elon before jumping to the FBS ranks, where he has compiled a 15–9 record in two seasons at Ball State. This season, he has guided the Cardinals to a 9–3 mark that includes wins over two AQ conference schools, Indiana (for the second straight season) and South Florida. Ball State lost two games in league play, by two points to Kent State and two points to Northern Illinois — the two teams that played for the league title.
Lembo’s counterpart in this game, UCF’s George O’Leary, is on the tail end of a career that has seen him win 111 games in 16 seasons as a head coach (eight at Georgia Tech, eight at UCF). The Knights are 9–4 in 2012, with losses to Tulsa (twice), at Ohio State and vs. Missouri. O’Leary has won six games or more in Conference USA in five of his eight seasons in Orlando.
Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9–4) vs. Ball State (9–3)
Date and Time: Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
When UCF has the ball:
For a team with some quality skill-position players — most notably quarterback Blake Bortles and tailback Latavius Murray — the Knights struggles at times to move the ball (seventh in the league in total offense). They do a good job, however, converting yards into points. UCF ranks second in the league and 27th nationally in scoring (35.2 ppg) because it does three important things well: win the turnover battle (16th in the nation at 0.85 per game) convert third downs at a high rate (47.1 percent), and score touchdowns in the Red Zone (40 on 56 trips).
Bortles, who won the job last year as a redshirt freshman, gives UCF a dual-threat at the quarterback position. He’s only netted 205 yards rushing, but he had two games with over 60 yards rushing and ran for seven touchdowns. Murray rushed for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing three games early in the season with a shoulder injury.
When Ball State has the ball:
Ball State had little trouble scoring points throughout the 2012 regular season, but the offense is facing some issues in preparation of the bowl game. Most notably: Who is going to play quarterback. Keith Wenning, a second-team All-MAC pick, is still recovering from a broken ankle suffered against Ohio on Nov. 14. Kelly Page replaced Wenning but suffered a concussion in the next game, a win over Miami (Ohio). His status won’t be known until days before the game. The next option is Kyle Kamman, a freshman walk-on. The coaching staff is hopeful Wenning will be ready to play.
With uncertainty at quarterback, expect the Cards to lean heavily on tailback Jahwan Edwards. The bruising sophomore — he’s 5-10 and 230 pounds — has rushed for 1,321 yards and 14 scores and ended the regular season by averaging 148.6 yards in the final six games. Edwards should have success against a UCF defense that struggled to stop the run late in the year. The Knights gave up 200-plus rushing yards three times in their final four games, including 290 to Tulsa in the C-USA Championship Game.
This is far from the sexiest matchup of the bowl season, but this should be a very good game between two teams that haven’t received enough attention nationally. The running game is going to be key for both teams. UCF went 9–0 in games in which it rushed for 150 yards or more and 0–4 when it failed to hit the 150 mark. That’s pretty telling. Ball State needs a big performance from Edwards, who should be able to punish the UCF defense. With issues at quarterback, don’t be surprised if the North Carolina native gets the ball 30 to 35 times. And don’t be surprised if he leads Ball State to the win.
Prediction: Ball State 30, UCF 24
Related College Football Content
Maybe nobody really knew Adrian Peterson would be on target to rush for 2,000 yards so soon after a devastating injury. But everyone knew that the talent and his ability were there. Before he got hurt he was the best running back in the league.
And maybe nobody expected Peyton Manning to return from a serious neck injury and play like the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Then again, that’s exactly what he was before he got hurt.
So yes, in some ways, those were unexpected – but not totally out of nowhere. To find those—the truly unexpected, shocking, surprising, or out-of-nowhere performances of the 2012 season—you have to look a little deeper.
Here are five players who no one was expecting to be major stars prior to the season. Yet with just two weekends to go before the playoffs, they have most definitely arrived.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson – There was no one anywhere who imagined Wilson to have the kind of breakout season he had, mostly because few imagined him as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. They had bought Matt Flynn in free agency and it was all but certain that he would get the job.
Then Flynn hurt his elbow, Wilson won the job and the Seahawks became one of the biggest team surprises in the league, sitting at 9-5, in control of a wild-card spot, and nipping at the San Francisco 49ers’ heels. Wilson, meanwhile, has been a model of efficiency, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for a pedestrian 2,697 yards so far.
Less pedestrian are his 21 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions – an impressive ratio for a rookie who was never supposed to start.
Green Bay WR Randall Cobb – Everybody knew that Cobb had speed and breakaway ability, but on a team with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, he figured to be a nice fourth option in the passing game – maybe even fifth behind tight end Jermichael Finley.
Instead, thanks to an opportunity presented to him due to injuries by everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, Cobb was able to show he’s a true No. 1 receiver and not just a kick returner with offensive potential. His breakout season has included 77 catches, 892 yards and seven touchdowns so far. The Packers wouldn’t have expected much more from any of the other receivers had they been able to play in Cobb’s place.
Washington RB Alfred Morris – Two things were working against Morris when his rookie season began: The fact that he was buried on the depth chart, and Mike Shanahan’s penchant for playing musical running backs. But Shanahan saw something in Morris early in training camp and never looked back.
The result was the best season for a Redskins rookie running back ever. With two games still to go he’s at 1,322, nine touchdowns and a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. He’s as big of a reason as the more heralded Robert Griffin III for why the Redskins have revived their season and are sitting in first place in the NFC East. And some opponents believe he’s the bigger weapon in the Washington offense.
San Francisco LB Aldon Smith – Houston DE J.J. Watt got a ton of preseason publicity and a lot of early season hype after he recorded 9 ½ sacks in his first six games. Meanwhile, even though Smith was coming off a 14-sack season, he didn’t get nearly as much publicity – in part because with Patrick Willis on the 49ers, Smith wasn’t even considered the best linebacker on his own team.
That proved to be shortsighted because, after a slow start in which he had 4 ½ sacks in the first six games, he’s sitting at 19 ½ with two games to go – tied with Watt in their pursuit of Michael Strahan’s NFL record. Granted he’s been helped by one 5 ½ sack game against the Bears on Nov. 19, but he’s been a consistently disruptive force and has had 4 ½ sacks in the four games since that explosion against the Bears.
Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin – Maybe this should’ve been expected for a first-round pick, but he was no certainty to take the reins from LeGarrette Blount when he was drafted. But he did and has been a steady workhorse ever since. His coming out party, of course, was his 251-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders that had fantasy football owners howling.
And while they haven’t all been like that, he does have four 100-yard games and 1,250 yards for a young and struggling team.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO
With nearly one-third of the NFL coaching jobs expected to be vacant by year’s end — including sweet gigs like the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, as well as the revolving doors of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars — silly season is officially upon us.
As always, the normal retread head coaches and rising star coordinators will be rumored for nearly every job opening. But so will a slew of big-name, high-dollar college football coaches. And with the recent success of the San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh (formerly of Stanford), Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll (USC), Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Greg Schiano (Rutgers) and New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl champ Tom Coughlin (Boston College), the stigma of hiring coaches from the college ranks has faded away.
Here’s a look at the top 10 college football coaches for NFL jobs, along with their pro resume, upside and downside, potential coaching style at the next level, and their odds of eventually ending up on an NFL sideline.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Miami Dolphins (2005-06; 15–17 record)
Def. Coordinator, Cleveland Browns (1991-94; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Proven winner with NFL experience. Had a 9–7 record with the Dolphins in 2005 — with Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels as his starting quarterbacks.
Cons: The Nick-tator walks on water in Tuscaloosa, where he has a statue just like Bear Bryant and is playing for his third national title in four years. Why would Saban leave?
Imagine: Bill Belichick excessive expectations with Jeff Fisher reasonable results.
Odds: 2-to-1 — It may not be this year, but Saban will return to the NFL one day; he’s too good to coach anywhere other than the big leagues.
2. Chip Kelly, Oregon
No NFL experience
Pros: Fearless, innovative offensive mind. Kelly’s influence is already being felt at the NFL level, with the Patriots’ implementing some of his fast-paced philosophies.
Cons: Not only does Kelly lack any NFL experience, he only has four seasons of head coaching experience on any level under his belt, having gone 45–7 at Oregon.
Imagine: Mike Martz mad scientist with Mike Shanahan mentality.
Odds: EVEN — As soon as the Fiesta Bowl is over, Kelly will fly the Ducks’ coop faster than his hurry-up offense can snap the ball.
3. Les Miles, LSU
Notable NFL experience:
TE Coach, Dallas Cowboys (1998-2000; under Chan Gailey)
Pros: Bold personality who takes charge and manages egos well. Miles has a persona that precedes him and could conceivably command respect in an NFL locker room.
Cons: The perception that LSU does more with Les is based on a history of odd behavior and poor clock management. Miles is a wild card with boom or bust potential.
Imagine: Barry Switzer swagger with Rex Ryan press conference quotes.
Odds: 10-to-1 — One day Jerry Jones will hand the Mad Hatter a white cap with the Cowboys’ blue star on it and Miles will accept the offer.
4. Jim Mora, UCLA
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Seattle Seahawks (2009; 5–11 record)
Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons (2004-06; 26–22 record, 1–1 playoffs)
Def. Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers (1999-2003; under Steve Mariucci)
Son of Jim E. Mora, retired NFL head coach
Pros: High energy, likable personality with NFL pedigree. Mora has a division crown and NFC title game appearance from his days with Michael Vick in Atlanta.
Cons: Mora’s NFL win total went down in each of his four seasons, from 11 to eight to seven to five. He was replaced by two college coaches, Bobby Petrino and Pete Carroll.
Imagine: Jim E. Mora “playoffs?!” offspring with Dick Vermeil enthusiasm.
Odds: 3-to-1 — When the NFL calls, Mora will answer; if he has a few more seasons like this one at UCLA, the phone might ring again.
5. Lane Kiffin, USC
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (2007-08; 5–15 record)
Son of Monte Kiffin, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Wunderkind whose experience is remarkable for his age. Kiffin has already coached in the NFL, the SEC and at USC. Lane Kiffin is great at getting hired.
Cons: As impressive as his resume building may be, Kiffin has yet to establish himself as a good coach. This season’s fall from preseason No. 1 to unranked was embarrassing.
Imagine: Josh McDaniels entitlement without Bill Belichick’s blessing.
Odds: 15-to-1 — The youngest coach in NFL history (31 years, 8 months upon hiring) may be gun shy after being burned by Al Davis.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Notable NFL experience:
OL Coach, Baltimore Ravens (1996-98; under Ted Marchibroda)
OL Coach, Cleveland Browns (1993-95; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Belichick disciple who looks the part and can talk the talk. Ferentz has NFL experience and a history of producing quality O-linemen and D-linemen at Iowa.
Cons: The game seems to have passed by Ferentz, at least on an elite level. Ten years ago he was winning conference titles and would have been an exciting hire. Not anymore.
Imagine: Marty Schottenheimer calm under pressure with Chan Gailey intensity.
Odds: 20-to-1 — Overpaid to underachieve for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz has turned down too many chances to change his mind now.
7. David Shaw, Stanford
Notable NFL experience:
QB/WR Coach, Baltimore Ravens (2002-05; under Brian Billick)
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2001; under Jon Gruden)
Son of Willie Shaw, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Rising star whose ascension through the ranks has yet to slow down. Shaw is an intelligent grinder who played for both Bill Walsh and Dennis Green at Stanford.
Cons: Much of Shaw’s success has been credited to Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. He is still in the infant stages of running his own program as a head coach.
Imagine: Jim Harbaugh formula with Jason Garrett sideline demeanor.
Odds: 5-to-1 — Young enough to stay at Stanford for a decade and still make the jump, Shaw should coach on Sundays if he’s not a Cardinal lifer.
8. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Notable NFL experience:
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2004; under Norv Turner)
Pros: Go-getter with tremendous upside. Sarkisian was on the NFL radar even before becoming a college head coach.
Cons: For all his potential, Sark has yet to show he’s anything special — posting a mediocre 26–24 record in four years at UW.
Imagine: Sean Payton confidence with Joe Vitt winning percentage.
Odds: 25-to-1 — It’s too early to call for Sark, who got a taste of the NFL coaching life but didn’t stick around for more than a cup of coffee.
9. Will Muschamp, Florida
Notable NFL experience:
Def. Coordinator, Miami Dolphins (2005; under Nick Saban)
Pros: Fiery personality with respected defensive mind. Muschamp’s Dolphins defense ranked No. 15 overall and allowed 19.8 points per game in 2005.
Cons: Muschamp is a loose cannon who may not have the temperament for big time college football, let alone the pressure cooker of the NFL.
Imagine: Jack Del Rio-level strategist with illusions of Bill Cowher grandeur.
Odds: 50-to-1 — Muschamp’s demeanor is that of a retired NFL player, but he’s not. That act works in college but would not fly in the league.
10. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
No NFL experience
Pros: Big name who would be an instant-gratification hire. Meyer is a calculating coach who can run a football factory, with two BCS national titles and two undefeated seasons.
Cons: Meyer has no NFL experience, has retired or taken a leave of absence twice for health reasons, and runs an offense that is not currently being implemented in the NFL.
Imagine: Steve Spurrier money-grab scheme with Bobby Petrino exit strategy.
Odds: 100-to-1 — If Dan Snyder opens up his wallet or the Cleveland Browns get desperate enough, Meyer might just take the money and run.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-SEC team.
2012 Offensive All-SEC Team as Recruits
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2011)
The Aggies' superstar wasn’t considered a can’t-miss quarterback prospect back in 2011 when he signed with Texas A&M. Other than TAMU, only Oregon, Stanford, Baylor and Iowa State offered him BCS scholarships. The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product was a three-star quarterback who was ranked as the No. 14-best dual-threat signal caller in the nation and was the No. 45-rated player in the state of Texas. After a year of learning the college game as a redshirt, Manziel proved most everyone in the recruiting business wrong by winning the Heisman Trophy.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (2012) AC100
The star freshman tailback wasn’t even the highest-rated running back recruit from North Carolina to sign with Georgia. That honor belonged to Keith Marshall. Gurley, who was no slouch in the recruiting rankings himself, had the better first season in Athens. The Tarboro (N.C.) High four-star prospect was the No. 5-rated player in the state and the No. 11-rated running back in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 83-rated overall prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100. He sported offers from every major Southern power.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida (2009) National Recruit
The Deland (Fla.) High runner was a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. He ranked as the No. 33-best running back in the nation and the No. 257-best overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was No. 236 overall by Rivals and was the No. 42-rated player in the Sunshine State. He held offers from Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Ole Miss, Mississippi State as well as Florida.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (2010)
The big-play wideout from Madison (Ala.) Academy held offers from just two BCS programs: Kansas and Vanderbilt. Arkansas State and Tulane were his only other FBS offers. Matthews was listed as a three-star receiver by Rivals and didn’t register on the Alabama state rankings or any national rankings.
Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas (2009)
This talented wide receiver played his high school ball in Texas, but as close to Arkansas as possible at Texas High School in Texarkana. He was a three-star prospect whose offer sheet far exceeded his middle-of-the-pack ranking. Auburn, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, TCU and Kansas State were all after the star wideout. He was the No. 63-rated wide receiver in the nation and the No. 64-rated player in the state of Texas.
Jordan Reed, TE, Florida (2009) National Recruit
How many four-star dual-threat quarterback prospects come out of Connecticut? The answer is one. Reed was the No. 25-rated quarterback prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports and was No. 276 overall regardless of position. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound passer picked the Gators over Oregon, Tennessee, Maryland, Iowa, Duke, UConn and Boston College. Rivals ranked him the No. 2 player in the state behind North Carolina wideout Josh Adams.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (2010) National Recruit
The offensive tackle from Arlington (Texas) High barely missed landing in the AC100. He was the No. 106-rated overall prospect in the nation regardless of position. He was No. 13-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 13-rated prospect in The Lone Star State. His offer sheet was incredible with names like Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, UCLA, Arkansas and Texas A&M atop his wish list. As a draft eligible potential first-round pick, he now becomes one of Kevin Sumlin’s top recruits once again.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (2010) AC100
Matthews is the fourth member of the Aggies' 2010 offensive line class to land on an all-conference team (Andrew Norwell, James Hurst, Luke Joeckel). He was the No. 3-rated player in the nation at his position and was the No. 33-rated overall player in the country — ahead of all three of the aforementioned blockers. The O-line legacy from Missouri City (Texas) Elkins was the No. 5-rated player in the state of Texas by Athlon. Rivals gave him four stars.
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com. He was a three-star recruit.
Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (2009)
The three-star recruit from Liberty (Miss.) Amite County held just two offers coming out of high school. Southern Miss was the only other FBS program to offer him a college football scholarship. Rivals ranked Jackson as the No. 91-rated offensive tackle in the nation and the No. 28-rated player in The Magnolia State.
Barrett Jones, C, Alabama (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Cordarrelle Patterson, AP, Tennessee (2012) JUCO
The electric athlete was the No. 4-rated junior college prospect in the nation in the Class of 2012. Originally from Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern, Patterson spent a year at North Carolina Tech without playing football. But he made a big name for himself as a two-time NJCAA All-American at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas the next two seasons. His exploits earned him offers from LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami and many others, but he ended up in Knoxville.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-SEC (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-SEC Team as Recruits
Sharrif Floyd, DL, Florida (2010) AC100
Few players on the SEC’s first team were ranked as highly as the Philadelphia (Pa.) George Washington product. Floyd was ranked the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the nation and was the No. 10 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. The AC100 recruit was the top player in the Keystone State. He signed with Florida over major powers like Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Miami, South Carolina and dozens of others. Rivals gave him the elusive fifth star.
Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri (2009) AC100
Until Dorial Green-Beckham announced his decision last February, Richardson might have been the most highly touted prospect to ever sign with Mizzou. Athlon Sports ranked the St. Louis (Mo.) Gateway prospect as the No. 8 defensive tackle in the nation and the No. 1 player in the Show Me State. He was the No. 66-rated player in the nation overall in the AC100. Rivals ranked him the highest of any recruiting service giving him five stars as the No. 4-rated player in the nation. Florida, Oklahoma, Miami and many others lost to the Tigers in his recruitment.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011) AC100
The Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end was the unanimous No. 1-rated prospect in the nation in the Class of 2011. Obviously, this made him the top player in his state and the top player nationally at his position. He literally could have picked any of the 120 (at the time) programs in the FBS ranks to play his college ball. In two short seasons, he has established that he was ranked exactly where he should have been and appears poised for a Heisman Trophy run in 2013. He also has a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Damontre Moore, DL, Texas A&M (2010)
Moore is the only defensive lineman on the 2012 All-SEC team who wasn’t an AC100 or five-star recruit. He was a three-star prospect coming out of Rowlett (Texas) High three years ago. He was the No. 32-rated weakside defensive end and the No. 72-rated player in The Lone Star State by Rivals. He held five offers from his five finalists: Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Kansas.
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (2009) AC100
The Columbus (Ga.) Carver product was the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 28 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 1 player in the Peach State and signed with USC out of Carver High School. He played the first half of his freshman year before hurting his neck. Complication with the injury eventually led to him transferring back home to Georgia.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (2010) National Recruit
Much like Joeckel, Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113 overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9 linebacker in the nation and the No. 3 player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (2009) National Recruit
The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge prospect just missed landing in the AC100 as he was ranked the No. 148 overall player in the nation regardless of position. He was the No. 17-rated linebacker in the country and was the No. 10-rated player in the state by Athlon Sports. Oklahoma State, USC, South Carolina, West Virginia, NC State, Kentucky and Virginia were his finalists. Rivals gave him four stars.
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (2009)
Banks committed so early to the Bulldogs — April of his junior year — that no other team was ever really in the mix. The Maben (Miss.) East Webster product knew exactly where he wanted to play and it paid off with an All-American career. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who ranked him as the No. 63 “athlete” in the nation and the No. 23 player in the Magnolia State.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (2010) AC100
Only two players were ranked ahead of Mosley in the state of Alabama in 2010 and Milliner was one of them. The Millbrook (Ala.) Stanhope Elmore cornerback was the No. 1-rated player in the state and the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation. He finished as the No. 15-rated overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. His offers sheet included every major program from the Southeast. He was a five-star recruit by Rivals.
Eric Reid, S, LSU (2010) AC100
The star safety was the No. 2-rated player in the state coming out of storied prep program Geismar (La.) Dutchtown. He was the No. 80-rated player in the nation as a member of the 2010 AC100 and was ranked as the ninth-best defensive back in the country by Athlon Sports. He got a four-star ranking from Rivals and picked LSU over Stanford, Tennessee, NC State and Tulane.
Matt Elam, S, Florida (2010) AC100
The hardest hitter in the nation hails from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer and was a star at an early age. Elam was the top-rated defensive back prospect in the nation and the No. 1 player in the uber-talented Sunshine State. He was ranked as the No. 8 overall player in the entire class. Like most elite talents, he had his pick of any school in the nation. Rivals gave him the rare five-star rating.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
Former conference rivals meet up again in what should be a matchup of contrasting styles between BYU and San Diego State. The Cougars earned a trip to their eighth straight bowl game in as many seasons under head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the strength of the defense, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation and has given up only 14.7 points per game. Four of the Cougars’ five losses have come to teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS Standings, including a three-point loss on the road to No. 1 Notre Dame.
San Diego State boasts one of the top rushing attacks in the country and is scoring more than 35 points per game. The Aztecs are playing in their third straight bowl game and second in a row with head coach Rocky Long, who took home Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year honors, at the helm. Long led the Aztecs to just their second nine-win season in more than 30 years thanks to their current seven-game winning streak. This also represents San Diego State’s final game as a member of the Mountain West Conference, as the school is scheduled to join the Big East next season.
These two teams are no strangers to one another, as they have been members of both the Western Athletic Conference (1978-98) and Mountain West Conference (1999-2010) together. BYU holds a 27-7-1 edge in the series and has won the last six meetings. These two last faced each other on Oct. 9, 2010 in Provo, Utah, with BYU winning 24-21 on its home field.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Date and Time: Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: San Diego, Calif.
When the BYU Cougars have the ball:
The Cougars have shown the ability to both run (161.6 ypg, No. 62 in the nation) and pass (247.5 ypg, 51st) the ball this season. They have averaged 29 points per game, but scoring also is one of the reasons for their 7-5 record. While they have put up nearly 38 points per game in their seven wins, they have managed less than 16 points per contest in their five losses.
Senior quarterback Riley Nelson has started the majority of the games for BYU, posting only modest passing numbers (2,011-13-12) to this point. He also missed three games because of injury, including the regular-season finale against New Mexico State in which senior James Lark got the nod under center. Lark proceeded to throw six touchdown passes in the Cougars' 50-14 rout of the Aggies, and he could get the call again for this game if the coaching staff doesn't think Nelson is 100 percent healthy. It's also entirely possible that Lark and Nelson share the snaps, a strategy designed to not only present more options for the BYU offense, but also to add to San Diego State's defensive preparations and in-game adjustments.
BYU lost junior running back Michael Alisa to a broken forearm back in late September, but that just set the stage for freshman Jamaal Williams to emerge. Williams leads the team with 744 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, has three 100-yard games to his credit and has yet to lose a fumble.
Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman is the Cougars’ top target, as he’s caught 90 passes for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hoffman has five 100-yard efforts, including three in a row and is coming off of a 12-catch, 182-yard, five-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. Fellow wideout JD Falslev and tight end Kaneakua Friel are the only other Cougars with more than 30 receptions and Friel is second to Hoffman with five touchdown receptions. BYU likes to spread the ball around, as evidenced by the fact that 19 different Cougars have caught at least one pass this season.
San Diego State’s defense has held up pretty well throughout the season. Statistically, the Aztecs are ranked higher in rushing defense compared to passing defense, which is impressive considering some of the run-heavy teams they have played like Army and Air Force. BYU’s balanced attack could cause San Diego State’s defense some problems, especially if the Cougars are able to throw the ball consistently, but the Aztecs may be able to neutralize the passing game by getting pressure on the quarterback. The Aztecs are No. 23 in the nation in sacks with 2.5 per game, while the Cougars are allowing 2.3 per game.
When the San Diego State Aztecs have the ball:
The Aztecs boast the 16th-ranked rushing attack in the nation, as they are generating more than 229 yards on the ground per game. Even with the loss of standout running back Ronnie Hillman to the NFL, the Aztecs have found their next superstar in sophomore Adam Muema.
Muema is averaging nearly 113 rushing yards per game, 6.4 yards per carry and has rushed for more than 200 yards twice. Meuma, who was named second-team All-Mountain West, also has scored 17 total touchdowns. He is joined in the backfield by senior Walter Kazee, who has 822 yards rushing (5.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns.
Just like at running back, the Aztecs had to replace a NFL-caliber quarterback with the departure of four-year starter Ryan Lindley. Ryan Katz, a transfer from Oregon State, got the starts early, but suffered an ankle injury against Nevada in October and has since been replaced by sophomore Adam Dingwell. Dingwell led the comeback overtime win over the Wolf Pack and followed that up for with more victories, as he’s completed more than 63 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and four interceptions since taking over for Katz.
Inexperience and injury are two reasons why San Diego State’s passing offense is No. 102 in the nation. The Aztecs are generating less than 180 yards through the air per game and their leading receiver is two-time first-team All-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar. The junior leads the team in receptions (41), yards (519) and touchdown catches (6), while no other Aztec has more than 23 receptions or 343 yards receiving. Those are senior wide receiver Brice Butler’s numbers, who also is second to Escobar in touchdown receptions with four.
BYU’s defense is top five in the nation in both yards (266.3, third overall) and points (14.7, fifth) allowed. The Cougars have given up 24 or more points only twice (Utah and Oregon State), while holding BCS No. 1 Notre Dame to just 17 points and No. 19 Boise State to seven. The Cougars also boast the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation, one that is surrendering less than 85 yards on the ground per game. How successful it is in slowing down the Aztecs’ running game will likely determine the outcome of this game.
San Diego State has more wins and has scored more points than BYU, but the Cougars have faced tougher competition and feature one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. In order to be successful, the Aztecs must be able to run the ball, but that also happens to be the strength of the Cougars’ defense. Both teams could struggle to move the ball consistently early on, but look for BYU’s balanced attack to eventually wear down San Diego State. This bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego may be on the Aztecs' turf, but I think it will be the Cougars who earn their fourth straight postseason victory by defeating their former conference rival.
Prediction: BYU 24, San Diego State 20
Related College Football Content
Entering the season, Athlon ranked the Big Ten the nation’s top conference.
Despite a loss by its top team Saturday, the league has done nothing to change that notion. If anything, the league looks more formidable than we projected.
Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all checked into our top 20 in the preseason, but that crowd is bigger with undefeated Illinois in the mix as well as surprising Minnesota. With leagues like the Big 12 and SEC experiencing down years, the question for the coming months is how many teams the Big Ten could send to the NCAA Tournament.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon has examined the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the Big Ten.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: BIG TEN
Other conferences: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC | Non-Big Six
|Illinois guard Brandon Paul|
Surprise team: Illinois
In the final seasons under Bruce Weber, Illinois had a tendency to raise expectations only to fade during the season. John Groce’s first team is doing the opposite. Athlon picked Illinois eighth in the Big Ten, but now the Illini are one of eight undefeated teams. Brandon Paul (18.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists) is in contention for Big Ten player of the year. Groce is allowing his star guard to play with more freedom. How this plays out over the course of the season will be an intriguing storyline, but Illinois has already proven it will be a contender in the nation’s deepest conference.
Disappointing team: Wisconsin
The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons under Bo Ryan. That’s going to be put to the test this season. The voids left by the departure of Jordan Taylor and the injury to Josh Gasser has cut into the Badgers’ playmaking abilities. The Badgers may be a postseason team again, but cracking the top part of a Big Ten that includes Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and now Illinois and Minnesota seems like too tall an order.
Where’d he come from? Victor Oladipo, Indiana
A year ago, Oladipo was known more as a ferocious defender who could get to the rim. Though he’s still playing that role, his efficiency numbers have been markedly improved, making him one of Indiana’s top players. Taking roughly the same amount of shots as last season, Oladipo is has improved from 47.1 percent shooting to 65.8. His true shooting percentage (which gives added weight to 3-point shots and includes free throws) has improved from 55.3 percent to 69.6. And he remains just as effective a dunker and defensive pest.
Where’d he go? Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Minnesota has been one of the Big Ten’s pleasant surprises without Mbakwe at full strength, so it will be interesting if he continues his recovery from a torn ACL. For now, Mbakwe has been coming off the bench for 18.5 minutes per game. He’s played more the last two weeks and grabbed 18 rebounds against North Dakota State. Thanks to Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams, Minnesota has thrived despite modest contributions from Mbakwe, who is an All-America-caliber player when healthy.
Key stat: Michigan is no longer 3-point dependent
The Wolverines are scoring 53.7 percent of their points off two-pointers, compared to 47.3 percent a year ago. Under John Beilein, Michigan has never scored more than 50 percent of the their points off two-point field goals. Michigan still has a small lineup with 6-foot-6 freshman Glenn Robinson III starting at power forward, but it’s less dependent on the perimeter, which may pay dividends down the stretch.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Indiana guard Victor Oladipo|
Indiana on the road. Athlon picked Indiana to win the national title in the preseason, so we believe the Hoosiers will solve last season’s road woes. Indiana went 3-6 in Big Ten road games last season, and the Hoosiers have yet to play a true road game this year. Indiana may wait until February to have a truly stout test in an opponent’s gym. The Hoosiers will visit Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota in February before finishing the regular season at Michigan.
Can Michigan State solve its turnover woes? Michigan State is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in terms of turnovers, coughing up the ball on 22.7 percent of its possessions. The Spartans are last in the Big Ten in turnover by a pretty wide margin (minus-1.5 per game) and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan State could be among the top contenders in the Big Ten if it can be more secure with the ball. Despite this deficiency. Michigan State is 10-2 with a win over Kansas this season.
Can Illinois keep this up all season? Illinois was here just last season, winning its first 10 games before finishing on a 7-15 slide. Brandon Paul has been the top guy all season, either leading or tying for the team lead in scoring in all but two games this season, but the Illini may need others to take some of the burden off his shoulders. Illinois has had a couple of close calls, but the Illinois sandwiched the Maui Invitational title in between. Illinois won by one at Hawaii in overtime two days before the Maui Invitational, and defeated Gardner-Webb by only one point four days after returning from Hawaii.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Trey Burke, Michigan
Brandon Paul, Illinois
Freshman of the year watch
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Gary Harris, Michigan State
Coach of the year watch
John Beilein, Michigan
Tubby Smith, Minnesota
John Groce, Illinois
1. Michigan (11-0)
The Wolverines had a standout signing class, but one of the least-heralded incoming freshmen has been Michigan’s best. Nike Stauskas is averaging 13.2 points per game and is a 90 percent free throw shooter.
2. Indiana (10-1)
Hoosiers will bounce back from overtime loss to Butler. Indiana has five players averaging double-figure scoring per game.
3. Ohio State (9-1)
Aside from a 73-68 loss at Duke, Ohio State has played only one other team with a winning record (9-2 Albany) and one other team from a major conference (Washington). That changes against Kansas on Saturday.
4. Illinois (12-0)
The Illini’s great start in non-conference play will have one more test at Missouri on Saturday. Illinois has lost the last three in the series.
5. Michigan State (10-2)
Keith Appling is still working into his role of being the Spartans’ go-to guy. Michigan State gets Texas before opening Big Ten play on the road at Minnesota on New Year’s Eve.
6. Minnesota (11-1)
The hot finish through the NIT was no fluke. The Gophers lost big to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis but continued with wins over Memphis and Stanford then road wins at Florida State and USC.
7. Iowa (10-2)
The Hawkeyes look capable of surprising teams in the Big Ten, but that opening conference slate is brutal: Indiana, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Ohio State.
8. Wisconsin (7-4)
Huh? Three-point specialist Ben Brust is sixth in the Big Ten in rebounding (7.4 per game).
9. Northwestern (8-3)
Leading scorer Reggie Hearn may be one of the most improved players in the Big Ten. The Wildcats need more of that with Drew Crawford out for the season.
10. Nebraska (7-3)
Cornhuskers scored 80 points combined in two-game swing against Creighton and Oregon. Welcome to Nebraska basketball, Tim Miles.
11. Purdue (5-6)
We thought it would be a rebuilding year in West Lafayette, and it is. Boilermakers have played tough schedule, but a 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan is the pinnacle of ugly basketball.
12. Penn State (6-4)
D.J. Newbill is playing well, but the Nittany Lions are going to struggle to win games in the Big Ten with Tim Frazier out for the year.
College football's coaching carousel has been active since the end of the regular season and will continue to spin over the next few months. Athlon has compiled all of the coordinator changes from this season and will continue to update this list as moves take place.
Note: This list assumes coordinator jobs will be open when a head coach leaves for another position or is fired.
|School||Position||Old Coordinator||New Coordinator|
|Akron||OC||Terry Bowden||A.J. Milwee|
|Arkansas||OC||Paul Petrino||Jim Chaney|
|Arkansas||DC||Paul Haynes||Chris Ash|
|Arkansas State||OC||Rhett Lashlee|
|Auburn||OC||Scot Loeffler||Rhett Lashlee|
|Auburn||Co-DC||Brian VanGorder||Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison|
|Boston College||OC||Doug Martin||Ryan Day|
|Boston College||DC||Bill McGovern||Don Brown|
|California||OC||Jim Michalczik||Tony Franklin|
|California||DC||Clancy Pendergast||Andy Buh|
|Cincinnati||OC||Mike Bajakian||Eddie Gran|
|Eastern Michigan||OC||Ken Karcher|
|Florida State||DC||Mark Stoops||Jeremy Pruitt|
|Georgia State||OC||John Bond||Jeff Jagodzinski|
|Georgia State||DC||Anthony Midget||Jesse Minter|
|Georgia Tech||DC||Al Groh|
|Idaho||DC||Mark Criner||Ronnie Lee|
|Kent State||OC||Brian Rock|
|Kent State||DC||Jon Heacock|
|Kentucky||OC||Randy Sanders||Neal Brown|
|Kentucky||DC||Rick Minter||D.J. Eliot|
|Louisiana Tech||OC||Tony Franklin|
|Louisiana Tech||DC||Tommy Spangler|
|Missouri||OC||David Yost||Josh Henson|
|NC State||OC||Dana Bible||Matt Canada|
|NC State||DC||Mike Archer||Dave Huxtable|
|Northern Illinois||OC||Rod Carey|
|Northern Illinois||Co-DC||Ryan Nielson, Jay Niemann|
|Oklahoma State||OC||Todd Monken|
|San Jose State||OC||Brian Lindgren|
|San Jose State||DC||Kent Baer|
|South Alabama||DC||Bill Clark|
|South Florida||OC||Todd Fitch|
|South Florida||DC||Chris Cosh|
|Southern Miss||OC||Steve Buckley|
|Southern Miss||DC||Tommy West||David Duggan|
|Tennessee||OC||Jim Chaney||Mike Bajakian|
|Tennessee||DC||Sal Sunseri||John Jancek|
|Texas||OC||Bryan Harsin||Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt|
|Texas A&M||OC||Kliff Kingsbury|
|Texas Tech||OC||Neal Brown|
|Texas Tech||DC||Art Kaufman|
|Utah State||DC||Dave Aranda|
|UTEP||DC||Andre Patterson||Jeff Choate|
|West Virginia||Co-DC||Keith Patterson, Joe DeForest||Keith Patterson|
|Western Kentucky||OC||Willie Taggart|
|Western Kentucky||DC||Lance Guidry|
|Western Michigan||OC||Bill Cubit, Ryan Cubit|
|Western Michigan||DC||Rich Nagy|
|Wisconsin||Co-DC||Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge||Dave Aranda|
A freshman claimed college football’s most prestigious award for the first time ever this season when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. But Johnny Football is nowhere near the first frosh to make a splash on the national scene during his rookie season. These are the 10 freshmen — of both the true and redshirt variety — who made the biggest impact in college football history.
1. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia (1980)
Prior to winning the 1982 Heisman Trophy, Walker was the most dominant running back in the country as a true freshman in 1980. At 6’1”, 225 pounds, Walker possessed the size, speed and power to sprint past or truck through any defender standing in his way — just ask Tennessee’s Bill Bates. Walker rushed for 1,616 yards, on 5.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 total TDs while carrying Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs to a perfect 12–0 record and national championship season.
2. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State (1991)
An unheralded runner out of George Washington Carver High School in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Faulk exploded onto the scene in his first season with the Aztecs. In one of the greatest single-game performances by any player in any class, Faulk posted 37 carries for a then-NCAA record 386 yards and seven TDs against the University of the Pacific in just his second college game. Faulk finished his true freshman season with 1,630 yards from scrimmage, on 7.5 yards per touch, and 23 total TDs.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2012)
The legend of Johnny Football has reached Paul Bunyan tall tale proportions — and rightfully so. Manziel completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs and eight INTs through the air, while showing off the open field moves of a punt returner en route to 1,181 yards and 19 trips to the end zone on the ground. The Aggies’ redshirt freshman signal-caller’s signature game came in a 29–24 win on the road at Alabama, where Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards, two TDs and zero INTs, while rushing for another 92 yards and all but locking up this year’s Heisman Trophy.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004)
“All Day” got off to a quick start with the Sooners, leading the country with 339 carries for a freshman record 1,925 yards and 15 TDs as a true freshman. Peterson led Oklahoma to a BCS national title game appearance, set the freshman record for 100-yard games in a single season with 11 and was runner-up to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in the Heisman Trophy voting — the highest a freshman had ever finished at the time.
5. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin (1996)
Although the “Great Dayne” went on to win the 1999 Heisman Trophy as well as a pair of Rose Bowl MVPs — one of only four players in history to repeat as the prize bloom in Pasadena — the New Jersey native never put up better numbers than he did during his freshman campaign for the Badgers. The 250-pound power back bowled over the competition with a career-high 1,863 rush yards, on 6.3 yards per carry, and 18 TDs. Dayne went on to set the FBS career rushing yards record, thanks in large part to his unbelievable rookie year.
6. George Shaw, CB, Oregon (1951)
The Ducks’ ironman is better known for being a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1955 NFL Draft, Shaw hauled in a freshman-record 13 INTs for 136 return yards in just 10 games as a freshman cornerback. The mark remains just one shy of the FBS all-time single-season INT record, trailing Washington’s Al Worley’s 1968 mark by only one INT.
7. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech (2007)
The first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, Crabtree won the triple crown of pass-catchers by leading the country with 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 TD receptions. After switching positions from quarterback to receiver, the redshirt freshman out of Dallas’ Carter High School quickly established himself as the greatest first-year receiver in college football history.
8. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1999)
Vick’s reputation has always preceded him, but back in 1999 that meant something entirely different. The redshirt freshman out of Newport News, Va., was supposed to revolutionize the quarterback position with his cannon left arm and track star speed. The Michael Vick Experience was everything it was hyped to be, as No. 7 became the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to the national championship game, while also tying Herschel Walker’s then-freshman-record third-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
9. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State (2002)
Although Clarett has become a cautionary tale and a punch line of jokes, he was the best player on Ohio State’s undefeated 2002 national championship team. The local product out of Youngstown’s Warren Harding High School graduated early, participated in spring practice and went on to rush for 1,237 yards, on 5.6 yards per carry, and 18 TDs in his first season for the Buckeyes. In the national title game, Clarett stripped Miami safety Sean Taylor on an INT return before scoring the game-winning TD in overtime — his final carry as a college player.
10. Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Ohio State (1996)
The “Big Kat” wore two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s No. 45 jersey, became the first OSU freshman to start every game at middle linebacker and finished his true freshman season as a second-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Katzenmoyer had 12 sacks, including three in the Rose Bowl, for the 11–1 Buckeyes — whose only lost came at Ohio Stadium against Michigan in the regular season finale.
After a two-week search, Wisconsin has finally found its next head coach. Utah State’s Gary Andersen has been hired to replace Bret Bielema in Madison, becoming Wisconsin’s third head coach since 1990. Bielema left for Arkansas after recording a 68-24 mark in seven seasons.
Although Andersen isn’t a big name, Wisconsin hit a home run with this hire. Andersen inherited a program that was 9-38 in the four seasons prior to his arrival and led the Aggies to a 26-24 mark and two bowl appearances over the last four years. Utah State recorded its first season of double-digit victories and won an outright WAC title in 2012.
Before taking over at Utah State, Andersen cut his teeth as an assistant coach at a handful of stops. He worked at Utah from 1997-2002 under Ron McBride and after one season as the head coach at Southern Utah, returned to work as the defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer with the Utes. Andersen went 4-7 in his only season at Southern Utah but the program showed marked improvement after winning one game prior to his arrival in 2002.
Positives for Wisconsin in hiring Gary Andersen
Built a program from scratch
There’s no doubt Andersen put a lot of hard work into building Utah State from one of the worst teams in the nation to a potential top-25 team in 2013. It’s easy to inherit a program with a proven track record and continue to build on that success. However, it’s another to build it from scratch and turn it into a successful program. Andersen did just that at Utah State, leading the Aggies to a 26-24 mark in four seasons – with 18 wins coming in the last two years. As a program, Utah State is in much better shape than when Andersen arrived on the scene in 2009. Considering what Andersen did with limited resources with the Aggies, he should be able to thrive at Wisconsin with more money to pay assistants, as well as carry the Big Ten brand on the recruiting trail.
A proven winner
This section is essentially an extension of building a program from scratch. Every coaching hire is risky, but Andersen’s track record as a head coach is rock solid. Yes, his overall record is just 30-31, but this is a perfect case of how deceiving it is to judge coaches strictly on record. Andersen took over two struggling teams and brought immediate improvement in the first season and eventually turned Utah State into a top-25 team in 2012. Considering Wisconsin has made three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, there’s not as much (if any) rebuilding for Andersen to do. Expect Andersen to take what Alvarez and Bielema have built over the last 20 years and continue to turn Wisconsin into a consistent contender in the Big Ten.
Defending Urban Meyer and an excellent background on defense
Considering Andersen spent a year working under Urban Meyer at Utah, he probably has some good insight into how to defend his spread offense. With Wisconsin and Ohio State playing each other every year in the Big Ten’s current divisional setup, Andersen’s insight could pay off for the Badgers. Utah State finished 113th nationally in total defense in 2009 but showed improvement in each of the next three years, which included a finish of 15th nationally in 2012. Under Andersen’s watch at Utah, the Utes finished in the top 20 in total defense in 2007 and 2008.
Negatives in Wisconsin's hire of Gary Andersen
Very few negatives in Wisconsin's hire but here are a few things to watch:
No Big Ten experience
As with any coaching hire, experience in a certain region or conference is largely overrated. However, there is a transition period for any coach stepping into unfamiliar territory. Most of Andersen’s experience has been in Utah, so Wisconsin will be a different challenge.
What type of staff will Andersen assemble?
Considering Andersen’s lack of experience in the Big Ten, it will be interesting to see how he builds his coaching staff. Utah State coordinators Matt Wells (offensive) and Dave Aranda (defensive) are two solid coaches, while defensive assistant Bill Busch is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail. Assuming all three leave for Wisconsin, Andersen would have the makings of a quality staff. Andersen doesn’t need five coaches with Big Ten experience but it couldn’t hurt to surround himself with someone familiar with the conference, as well as anyone who can help the Badgers in their usual recruiting areas.
What type of scheme will Andersen run on offense?
Out of all of the factors involved with the coaching change at Wisconsin, this aspect is perhaps the most intriguing. The Badgers have developed into one of the nation’s top rushing attacks under Alvarez and Bielema, while Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State. It’s likely Andersen will use some combination of a spread and a run-first offense, so don’t expect Wisconsin to stray too far from what has worked in the past.
Wisconsin was caught off-guard by Bielema’s departure and considering the length of the coaching search, the fanbase was starting to get restless. However, athletic director Barry Alvarez made one of the best hires of the offseason, selecting Utah State’s Gary Andersen as Wisconsin’s new coach. Andersen’s background on defense and reputation for developing talent is a perfect fit in Madison. The former Utah State head coach will likely tweak his offensive scheme to focus more on the run, but the Badgers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defenses under Andersen’s watch.
As with any coaching hire, it’s important to look past the overall record and dive into the factors surrounding the head coach that contributed or hurt his success. Andersen inherited a program that won nine games in the four years prior to his arrival and led it to its first 10-win season in 2012. Even though he’s not a big-name candidate like Miami’s Al Golden or Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Andersen is a home run hire at Wisconsin and should keep the Badgers in the mix for the Leaders Division title every year.
Grading Wisconsin’s Hire of Gary Andersen: A+
Related College Football Content
College Football's Very Early Top 25 for 2013
Athlon Consensus 100: Ranking the top high school prospects for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Individual Performances of 2012
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen of 2012
The BCS is wrapping up its 15th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top offensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).
Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 10 offenses of the BCS era. Only teams from BCS conferences were considered and teams from 2012 were not eligible.
1. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 260.0 ypg (6th)
Passing Offense: 319.8 ypg (5th)
Total Offense: 579.8 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 49.1 ppg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Patrick Turner (3rd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)
The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 19 players drafted — three QBs, seven OL, four RBs, three WRs and two TEs — off of the offense and was so deep that Mark Sanchez was the third-string quarterback. This team was 19 seconds away from likely becoming the best college football team ever assembled — no matter "how" they were assembled.
2. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Rushing Offense: 274.9 ypg (2nd)
Passing Offense: 237.2 ypg (40th)
Total Offense: 512.1 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 50.2 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Vince Young (1st, 2006), David Thomas (3rd, 2006), Jonathan Scott (5th, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Kasey Studdard (6th, 2007), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008), Jamaal Charles (3rd, 2008), Tony Hills (4th, 2008), Henry Melton (4th, 2009), Chris Ogbonnaya (7th, 2009)
This team may not be as talented as the 2005 USC team it beat in the Rose Bowl to claim the National Championship but it might have had the single most unstoppable force to ever step onto a football field. Vince Young is the most dynamic player I've ever seen on a college gridiron and the numbers prove it. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State in Columbus, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556 yards), and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. The Horns scored a school-record 50.2 points per game, set a school record for yards in a season (6,657), total yards per game and total touchdowns (55). This team had four players rush for at least 10 touchdowns and featured a backfield of Jamaal Charles, Romance Taylor, Henry Melton, Selvin Young and Chris Ogbonnaya.
3. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Offense: 204.6 ypg (21st)
Passing Offense: 250.2 ypg (35th)
Total Offense: 454.8 ypg (8th)
Scoring Offense: 43.2 ppg (3rd)
NFL Draft Picks: Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002), Najeh Davenport (4th, 2002), Martin Bibla (4th, 2002), Joaquin Gonzalez (7th, 2002), Daryl Jones (7th, 2002), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Ken Dorsey (7th, 2003), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Carlos Joseph (7th, 2004)
Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. The offensive numbers may not be as staggering as 2008 Oklahoma or 2010 Oregon, for example, but from a talent perspective, it is hard to argue this isn't the most gifted offense ever assembled. Quarterback Ken Dorsey claimed co-Big East Player of the Year honors playing behind five drafted NFL linemen, a backfield featuring Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport and a receiving corps with Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey leading the way. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game in which they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami's average margin of victory in 2001 was 33.2 points per game.
4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Offense: 198.5 ypg (20th)
Passing Offense: 349.4 ypg (3rd)
Total Offense: 547.9 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 51.1 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Juaquin Iglesias (3rd, 2009), Duke Robinson (5th, 2009), Manuel Johnson (7th, 2009), Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010), Trent Williams (1st, 2010), Brody Eldridge (5th, 2010), DeMarco Murray (3rd, 2011)
The highest-scoring team in NCAA history (716 total points), this Oklahoma team scored no fewer than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Bradford finished No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency (180.84) and No. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg). He set single-season school records for yards (4,270) and touchdown passes (50). This offense led the nation with only 11 turnovers all season and featured a pair of 1,000-yard backs in DeMarco Murray (1,397 yards from scrimmage, 18 total TDs) and Chris Brown (1,329 yards from scrimmage and 21 total TDs). Murray was eighth nationally in all-purpose yards (167.0 ypg), and tight end Jermaine Gresham was the best the country had to offer at tight end (66 rec., 950 yards, 14 TDs). Despite being arguably the most prolific offense of the modern era, the relatively pedestrian 14-point, 364-yard BCS title game performance knocks this Crimson and Cream frieght train off the top spot.
5. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 177.4 ypg (33rd)
Passing Offense: 271.7 ypg (13th)
Total Offense: 449.1 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 38.2 ppg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Cassel (7th, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008)
While Pete Carroll's outright BCS Natianal Championship team was his most complete team, it was not his most dominant offense. Yet, this group returned largley intact and would be the foundation for what turned out to be his best offense one year later. Since the players were basically the same, this team marched through its schedule with ease, claimed the Heisman Trophy and eventually sent 10 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft from the offense alone, it had to make the list. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an embarrasment of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Until 2005.
6. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Offense: 231.1 ypg (10th)
Passing Offense: 213.9 ypg (61st)
Total Offense: 445.1 ypg (15th)
Scoring Offense: 43.6 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Louis Murphy (4th, 2009), Cornelius Ingram (5th, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Aaron Hernandez (3rd, 2010), Riley Cooper (5th, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011), Maurice Hurt (7th, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006), but the most talented, most successful Gator offense was his 2008 squad. The Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. Florida led the SEC in rushing, total offense and scoring while play-maker extradanaire Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring (8.5 ppg). Tebow led the league in passing efficiency at 172.37. The Chosen One delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship game. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points). This offense featured five active NFL pass catchers (including undrafted David Nelson), a pair of blocking twins and speed demons Brandon James, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. This team redefined the term "SEC Speed."
7. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Rushing Offense: 284.8 ypg (5th)
Passing Offense: 214.4 ypg (66th)
Total Offense: 499.2 ypg (7th)
Scoring Offense: 41.2 ppg (7th)
NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Lee Ziemba (7th, 2011), Brandon Mosley (4th, 2012)
Cam Newton was a one-man wrecking crew for Auburn in 2010. His 4,327 yards of total offense (2,854 pass, 1,473 rush) set an SEC single-season record. Newton led this team to a new school record for scoring and finished second in the nation in passing efficiency (180.52). His 20 rushing touchdowns were second all-time only to Tim Tebow in SEC history and his 51 total touchdowns were No. 2 to Tebow as well. The backfield included 1,000-yard rusher Michael Dyer and 800-yard rusher Onterio McCalebb, and the SEC's top blocker, Lee Ziemba, anchored a stellar, veteran offensive line. A set of veteran receivers —Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery — mixed with young talent — Emory Blake, Phlip Lutzenkirchen — gave Newton plenty of talented targets. When the Tigers needed a big play with the game on the line, few players on this list were ever more unstoppable than Cam Newton (maybe only the one near the top, actually). No Auburn team has ever won as many games (14) or scored as many points (577).
8. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Rushing Offense: 286.2 ypg (4th)
Passing Offense: 244.5 ypg (39th)
Total Offense: 530.9 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 47.0 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: LaMichael James (2nd, 2012), Mark Asper (5th, 2012), David Paulson (7th, 2012)
One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense. It was the highest-scoring team (611 pts) in school history, and it played in its first-ever BCS National Championship game. The offense was led by first-year quarterback Darron Thomas (2,881 yards, 30 TDs, 486 rush yards, 5 TDs) and the nation's leading rusher and scorer in LaMichael James (144.3 ypg, 12.0 ppg). James earned the Doak Walker as the nation's top running back. The talented offensive duo was joined by leading receiver Jeff Maehl (77 rec., 1,076 yards, 12 TDs) and star back-up Kenjon Barner (1,040 all-purpose yards, 9 total TDs). The only blemish on the '10 Ducks resume was obviously the 75 yards rushing and 19 points scored in the BCS title game loss to Auburn. The 2012 version of the Ducks was likely a better overall unit but didn't finish the regular season unbeaten as Pac-12 champs (and isn't eligible for this exercise).
9. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Rushing Offense: 122.8 ypg (83rd)
Passing Offense: 302.9 ypg (12th)
Total Offense: 425.7 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 37.5 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Ron Dugans (3rd, 2000), Laveranues Coles (3rd, 2000), Marvin Minnis (3rd, 2001), Travis Minor (3rd, 2001), Chris Weinke (4th, 2001), Char-ron Dorsey (7th, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003), Brett Williams (4th, 2003), Montae Holland (4th, 2003)
The best team of the BCS era in the ACC gets a slight nod over the 2000 Seminoles for a couple of reasons. While the stats were better in Chris Weinke's Heisman Trophy season, the offense scored zero points in the national title game loss to Oklahoma, and two first-round picks, Peter Warrick and Sebastian Janikowski, had already moved on (not to mention a few other receivers). The undefeated national championship team that topped the dynamic Michael Vick gets the nod after 220 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns and the MVP trophy for Warrick in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. Few teams will ever match the depth and talent of a receiving corps that included Warrick, Ron Dugans, Marvin Minnis, Laveranues Coles and Anquan Boldin. For good measure, toss in Travis Minor, the best kicker in the country and three linemen eventually drafted into the NFL, and you have the No. 9 offense of the BCS era.
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Rushing Offense: 158.6 ypg (58th)
Passing Offense: 387.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Offense: 545.8 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 48.7 ppg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012), Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012)
This offense had it all. It beat five ranked opponents and won both the Big 12 championship and memorable Fiesta Bowl against Stanford. It had two first round picks leading the BCS' top passing attack. And it featured one of the best three-headed offensive attacks in history: Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon. Blackmon won his second consecutive Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver. He finished with a school record 121 catches (breaking his own record of 111). His 1,522 yards were third all-time in school history and his 18 touchdowns were second in school history to his own mark of 20 set the year before. Brandon Weeben broke his own school records for passing yards (4,727), touchdowns (37), completions (408), attempts (564) and total offense (4,625). Randle's 24 rushing touchdowns and 150 points were second only to Barry Sanders. To this day, fans in Stillwater still believe their team belonged in the BCS National Championship Game.
Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1998 Wisconsin, 1999 Georgia Tech, 2000 Florida State, 2001 Florida, 2002 Iowa, 2003 Texas Tech, 2004 Oklahoma, 2006 West Virginia, 2006 Ohio State, 2007 Florida, 2007 Texas Tech, 2008 Texas Tech, 2008 Missouri, 2010 Oklahoma State, 2011 Baylor
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-ACC team.
2012 Offensive All-ACC Team as Recruits
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (2009) AC100
The ACC Offensive Player of the Year was a known commodity coming out of Hampton (Va.) Phoebus in 2009. Athlon ranked him as the No. 7-rated quarterback, the No. 5-rated player in the state and was the No. 77-rated overall prospect nationally in the Athlon Consensus 100. Boyd had offers from any school he wanted to and had been committed to Tennessee before Lane Kiffin left for USC. Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Kansas State, to name a few, also offered Boyd scholarships.
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The all-purpose back from Moncks Corner (S.C.) Berkeley was rated behind fellow Clemson running back signee Jamie Harper in 2008. Ellington, who was also a highly touted four-star prospect, finished with the better career. Rivals rated him as the No. 5 all-purpose back in the nation, the No. 4-rated player in the state and the No. 172-rated player nationally. South Carolina, Maryland and Kentucky were his other finalists.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (2010) AC100
The star tailback from famed Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas barely made it into the 2010 AC100. He was the No. 100-rated prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. Bernard was the No. 15-rated player in The Sunshine State and was the No. 12-rated running back in the nation. He had offers from all over the nation, including Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Tennessee. Amazingly, he played in the same backfield as Wisconsin’s James White.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson (2010) National Recruit
Much like Ellington, Hopkins wasn’t the highest-rated wideout in this Clemson class. Martavis Bryant was the AC100 prospect, but Hopkins turned in an All-American season this fall. He signed with the Tigers from Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel over Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Rivals rated the four-star recruit as the No. 12 wide receiver in the nation, the No. 8-rated player in the state and the No. 148-rated overall player in the nation.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke (2009)
Hailing from Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep, Vernon was an undersized recruit who wasn’t rated nationally or within the state of Florida. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who had offers from Ole Miss, Troy, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest to go with the Duke Blue Devils. It’s a good thing he changed the prep hairstyle.
Alex Amidon, WR, Boston College (2010)
The Lakeville (Conn.) Hotchkiss School prospect was just a two-star recruit by Rivals. He held only three FBS offers — Boston College, Syracuse and Tulane — to go with some smaller scholarships from New Hampshire and Villanova. Because the state generally produces very little top-flight talent, the two-star was the No. 8-rated player in Connecticut.
Brandon Ford, TE, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The Hanahan (S.C.) High School product was a four-star wide receiver listed at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. He is now a 6-foot-3, 240-pound All-ACC tight end. He had one offer coming out of high school, mostly because there was little doubt as to where he was going to sign. He was the No. 46-rated wideout in the nation and the No. 11-rated player in the Palmetto State.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (2008)
The Tar Heels blocker was a three-star recruit from Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard. Rivals gave him a three-star ranking and named him the No. 21 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 8-rated player in the state. He picked North Carolina over offers from Duke, East Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. He was a three-star prospect.
Dalton Freeman, OL, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The big blocker was listed as a four-star offensive guard coming out of Pelion (S.C.) High School. He had an elite offer sheet with Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Penn State, South Carolina and Tennessee joining Clemson in pursuit of the talented prospect. He was the No. 13-rated guard in the nation and the No. 9-rated player in the state.
Omoregie Uzzi, OL, Georgia Tech (2008) National Recruit
One of the highest-rated lineman to ever sign with the Yellow Jackets, most every Southern power wanted Uzzi. From Chamblee (Ga.) High, he held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia. Rivals rated him a four-star recruit and as the No. 19 guard in the nation as well as the No. 19 player in the state.
James Hurst, OL, North Carolina (2010) AC100
The massive Indianapolis (Ind.) Plainfield blocker could have played anywhere he wanted to with offers from Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee as well as North Carolina (just to name a few). He was an AC100 prospect and finished as the No. 2-rated player in the state and the No. 5-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 36-rated player in the nation and was a four-star prospect by Rivals.
Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia (2009) National Recruit
The offensive line tradition at Virginia continued with this big-time prospect from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Xaverian. He was a four-star recruit who was rated as the No. 3-best player in the state and the No. 23-best offensive tackle in the nation by Rivals. He picked the Wahoos over offers from Northeastern powers Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Boston College as well as Iowa.
Duke Johnson, AP, Miami (2012) AC100
Randy “Duke” Johnson was a big-time playmaker at Miami (Fla.) Norland. The ACC’s Freshman of the Year was an AC100 member who was rated as the No. 36-overall prospect in the nation. He was the No. 6-rated running back and the No. 6-rated player in the state of Florida. Miami landed the star tailback over Florida, Texas, Louisville and West Virginia. Rivals rated the five-star prospect as the No. 1 all-purpose back.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-ACC (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-ACC Team as Recruits
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (2010)
There are plenty of other star recruits on the Florida State defense, but the Salisbury (Conn.) High prospect was the best this year. The three-star recruit was the No. 65-rated defensive tackle and the No. 5-rated player in the state by Rivals. His offer sheet wasn’t long but had some intriguing names: Oregon, Rutgers, Missouri, Cal, UConn and Boston College to name a few. The Noles were lucky to get this underrated prospect.
Tank Carradine, DL, Florida State (2009)
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine was an undersized weakside defensive end prospect who was listed at 6-foot-5 and just 205 pounds. Hailing from the storied Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft program, Carradine, who is listed at 250 pounds now, was a three-star prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 18-rated weakside end and was the No. 18-rated player in the state. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pitt, Illinois and Cincinnati also offered the smallish end.
Sylvester Williams, DL, North Carolina (2011)
Williams took an interesting path to Chapel Hill. He played one year of football before going to work for Modine Manufacturing Company before enrolling at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College shortly after high school. He is from Jefferson City, Mo., originally and took one more shot at making it on the football field. After excelling at Coffeyville, Williams became a three-star JUCO prospect who got offers from Georgia, USC, West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech among others. Rivals rated him the No. 23 JUCO prospect in the nation.
Kareem Martin, DL, North Carolina (2010)
The in-state defensive lineman from Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High was a three-star recruit by Rivals. He was the No. 14-rated player in the state and the No. 28-rated weakside defensive end in the nation. He picked the Tar Heels over offers from nearly every other ACC school in the league.
Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina (2008)
Yet another three-star Tar Heel defensive prospect, Reddick hails from New Bern (N.C.) High. He was the No. 9-rated player in the state and the No. 33-rated outside linebacker in the nation. He had offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and more before picking North Carolina.
Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College (2008)
Boston College has produced some elite linebackers in the last decade and Clancy is the latest. He was a three-star prospect from Joliet (Ill.) Catholic back in 2008 by Rivals and ranked as the No. 40 outside linebacker and the No. 8 player in the state. Clancy picked the Eagles over BCS offers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue and Vanderbilt.
Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech (2009)
Rivals totally whiffed on the talented Hokies linebacker. He is not listed as a member of the signing class and had no star ranking of any kind. The website shows he had no offers despite winning State Defensive Player of the Year honors at Oakton (Va.) High. The walk-on tackler redshirted and became an All-ACC performer as a junior.
Demetrius Martsfield, LB, Maryland (2008)
From Raleigh (N.C.) Southeast, Hartsfield was a three-star inside linebacker prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 30-rated middle backer and the No. 18-rated player in the state. He got two BCS offers from Duke and Maryland to go with smaller offers from East Carolina and Buffalo.
Xavier Rhodes, DB, Florida State (2009)
Rhodes played his prep ball at Miami (Fla.) Norland — the same high school as Duke Johnson. He was actually evaluated as a wide receiver, ranking as the No. 75 player at his position nationally by Rivals. He was the No. 91-rated player in the state and earned three-stars from the website. He held four offers out of high school: Florida State, Auburn, West Virginia and FIU.
Ross Cockrell, DB, Duke (2009)
Duke and Virginia were the only FBS programs to offer the cornerback prospect from Charlotte (N.C.) Latin. He was the No. 76-rated coverman in the nation by Rivals and was a three-star recruit.
David Amerson, DB, NC State (2010) National Recruit
The first-team All-ACC offense features 10 four- and five-star recruits. Amerson is the only defensive player on the ACC’s first-team to land at least four stars. The four-star from Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley was ranked as a safety — the No. 16-rated safety in the nation. He was the No. 206-rated player in the entire nation and the No. 6-rated player in the state. He had an elite offer sheet with LSU, Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, South Carolina to go with his NC State scholarship.
Antone Exum, DB, Virginia Tech (2009)
Exum was ranked as a three-star “athlete” by Rivals back in 2009. He was the No. 38-rated player nationally at his position and the No. 14-rated player in the state of Virginia. Hailing from Glen Allen (Va.) Deep Run, Exum also got offers from big-time programs like Louisville, Penn State, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-Big Ten team.
2012 Offensive All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (2011) AC100
Miller was a star in high school and it earned him a spot in the Athlon Consensus 100. He trailed only Florida’s Jeff Driskel as the No. 2-rated quarterback prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. The Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne star was the No. 30-rated player in the nation and was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Ohio. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college powerhouses as Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and many others tried to land the dual-threat. Miller, however, was all Buckeye committing to Ohio State well before his senior season. He was a four-star recruit by Rivals.com
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (2009) National Recruit
Ball came to Wisconsin as the 5A Missouri State Player of the Year after rushing for 8,222 yards and 107 touchdowns at Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland. He was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 33 running back in the nation and was a four-star recruit. Ball was the No. 4 player in the state of Missouri by Athlon Sports and the No. 3 player in the Badgers’ 2009 class, and he picked Wisconsin over offers from Missouri, Stanford, Kansas, Northwestern, Iowa State and Indiana.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State (2010)
Rivals missed the boat on the Reynoldsburg (Ohio) Groveport Madison running back. He was a two-star recruit who wasn’t ranked in the Ohio Top 60 or in the national running back rankings either. That said, most coaching staffs missed on the workhorse back as well. He had four offers to play college football and Michigan State was his only BCS scholarship. Marshall, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green were Bell’s other options.
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin (2009)
Abbrederis was an all-conference performer on the high school level as both a quarterback and cornerback for Wautoma (Wis.) High School. He does not even have a recruiting profile on any of the three major recruiting services (Scout, Rivals, 247). The former walk-on had no star ranking and didn’t have any other FBS offers.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State (2011)
The sophomore wideout hails from Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s High. He was the No. 24-rated player in the state of Michigan that year and was given three stars by Rivals. His only other offers besides Penn State were Buffalo, Minnesota and Toledo. Should he continue to develop, Robinson should vastly out-perform his recruiting stock.
Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State (2011)
The No. 3-rated player in the state of Delaware in 2011 was this Nittany Lion tight end. From New Castle (Del.) William Penn, Carter was a two-star prospect by Rivals. Bucknell and Delaware were the only other offers on his sheet.
Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska (2009)
A walk-on, Long redshirted during his first year in Lincoln. From Elkhorn (Neb.) High School, coaching staffs and recruiting services alike completely missed on the burly blocker. Long has developed into one of the more consistent performers in the league.
Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin (2009)
The massive blocker signed with the Badgers from the appropriately named Big Foot High School in Walworth, Wisc. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals and was ranked as the No. 5 player in the state and the No. 83 offensive tackle in the nation. He held only four offers total with Wisconsin as his only BCS scholarship. Frederick picked UW over Air Force, Navy and North Dakota State.
Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin (2008)
The all-conference blocker was yet another walk-on as a recruit back in 2008. The big blocker came to Madison from West Allis (Wisc.) Nathan Hale and was passed over by coaches and scouts alike. Big Red fans are certainly thankful he showed up on campus five years ago.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (2009) National Recruit
Hailing all the way from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, Lewan came to Michigan as a highly touted prospect with offers from all over the nation. He wasn’t a top 100 recruit, but was a four-star player who had his pick of schools. He was rated as the No. 194 overall player, the No. 16 offensive tackle and the No. 5 player in the state by Rivals.
Andrew Norwell, OL, Ohio State (2010) AC100
The Buckeyes' top blocker trailed only Texas signee Jordan Hicks in the Athlon Sports Ohio state recruiting rankings. The Cincinnati (Ohio) Anderson product was the No. 4-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 34-rated overall player in the nation. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals and was considered by many as a can’t-miss recruit. Notre Dame, Stanford, Cincinnati, Illinois and others tried to land the blocker to no avail. Norwell committed to Ohio State in February of his junior year.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-Big Ten (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
Eric Martin, DL, Nebraska (2009)
The Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde prospect was a three-star recruit by Rivals. He got plenty of West Coast love with offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Washington, Washington State and Nevada as well as Nebraska. Martin was listed as a 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker — the 26th best middle linebacker and the No. 38-rated player in the state.
John Simon, DL, Ohio State (2009) AC100
Much like Norwell, Simon was the No. 2-rated prospect in the state of Ohio for his class. The Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney product trailed only fellow OSU signees Marcus Hall in The Buckeye State rankings. Simon was actually the No. 7-rated defensive tackle prospect and was the No. 48-rated overall player in the AC100.
Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State (2009)
Penn State landed a gem in this Steelton (Pa.) Highspire defensive lineman. He was listed as a two-star strongside defensive end prospect by Rivals. His offer sheet wasn’t long but he had scholarship offers from Rutgers, Pitt and Temple as well as Penn State. He was the No. 39-rated player in The Keystone State.
Kawann Short, DL, Purdue (2008)
The star interior defensive lineman signed with Purdue from East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School. He had no other BCS offers and was a three-star recruit according to Rivals. He was the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 57-rated defensive tackle in the nation.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (2011) National Recruit
The hard-hitting backer just missed making the AC100 as the No. 111-rated player in the nation in 2011. The Plantation (Fla.) High prospect was the No. 12-rated linebacker recruit in the nation and was given four stars by Rivals. He received offers from every major program in the nation and had his pick of scholarships.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State (2008) National Recruit
Not many Pelican State prospects end up signing with Penn State but that is exactly what the Mandeville (La.) High talent did in 2008. Mauti was the No. 8-rated player in the state of Louisiana and the No. 16-rated inside linebacker in the nation. The four-star recruit by Rivals had offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech as well as Penn State. He just missed landing in the AC100.
Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin (2008)
The tackling machine for the Badgers was a 6-foot-2, 195-pound outside linebacker recruit back in 2008. The Ashwaubenon (Wisc.) High product was the No. 6-rated player in the state and was given two stars by Rivals. He picked UW over Air Force, Army, Iowa and Wyoming.
Micah Hyde, DB, Iowa (2009)
Hyde was originally a two-star dual-threat quarterback recruit as ranked by Rivals.com. He had offers from one BCS program (Iowa) and a host of solid MAC schools: Ball State, Bowling Green, Miami-OH, Ohio, Toledo and Eastern Michigan. Hyde signed with Iowa from Fostoria (Ohio) High School.
Daimion Stafford, DB, Nebraska (2011) JUCO
According to Huskers.com, Stafford had scholarship offers from USC and Florida coming out of Norco High School in California. He instead landed at Chaffey (Calif.) College. After two seasons at Chaffey, he became a four-star JUCO prospect with offers from Florida, USC, Iowa State, New Mexico and Nebraska. He was the No. 14-rated junior college recruit in the nation in 2011.
Travis Howard, DB, Ohio State (2008) National Recruit
From notable South Florida Dr. Krop High School in Miami, Howard earned four stars from Rivals in the 2008 class. He was the No. 19-rated cornerback in the nation and the No. 43-rated player in the Sunshine State. He picked the Buckeyes over offers from Florida, Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.
Bradley Roby, DB, Ohio State (2010)
Signing with the Buckeyes out of Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge from deep in the South, Roby was a three-star wide receiver by Rivals. He was not ranked in the state or at his position in anyway, making his deep offer sheet that much more impressive. He picked Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, West Virginia and many others.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
After three seasons of being a major conference by name only, the Pac-12 is starting to make a comeback. Arizona’s win over Florida (aided by a late-game collapse by the Gators) on Saturday and Oregon’s win over UNLV in late November have given the league its best non-conference wins in a while.
An influx of freshmen and transfers have helped the Pac-12 catch up, though not in the way we expected in the preseason. UCLA’s freshman class, for example, has failed to help the Bruins pull out of their funk.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon will examine the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the Pac-12.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: PAC-12
Other conferences: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | SEC | Non-Big Six
|Arizona guard Nick Johnson|
Surprise team: Oregon
Before the season started, the question was if E.J. Singler would have help. Through the Ducks’ 9-1 start, the answer is yes. Singler’s production and efficiency is down from last season, but the arrival of freshman Damyean Dotson and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi have stabilized the Oregon lineup. Dotson was an unheralded recruit from Houston, but he’s leading the Ducks in scoring (11 points per game). And Kazemi is one of the league’s leading rebounders (10.2 per game).
Disappointing team: UCLA
The arrival of the nation’s top freshman class was supposed to revive the Bruins. Instead, it’s the same old story in Westwood. Even when Shabazz Muhammad was declared eligible, the Bruins have struggled to mesh the talented pieces on the roster. UCLA is still losing games in embarrassing fashion (i.e. blowing an 18-point lead at home to Cal Poly) and losing players off the roster (Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb).
Where’d he come from? Nick Johnson, Arizona
At times last season, Johnson was Arizona’s best player on the court. He’s delivered on that promise more consistently as a sophomore. He’s averaging 13.8 points this season, up from nine points per game, but his efficiency numbers are where he’s taken the biggest leap. The guard is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor, up from 37.2 percent a year ago. He also raised his rate from the 3-point line by 10 percentage points to 43 percent.
Where’d he go? Jio Fontan, USC
A healthy Fontan was supposed to lead a rebound season for the Trojans, but that hasn’t materialized yet. Fontan missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He’s averaging a career-bets 5.2 assists per game, but he’s struggled from the floor, shooting just 30.4 percent. USC is hopeful this cast of transfers will come together as the season. The point guard Fontan, who has been touted for his leadership, will be central to that goal.
Key stat: Colorado’s assist numbers
Colorado is an NCAA Tournament contender, so it’s surprising to see the Buffaloes among the worst in the country in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Buffaloes are averaging 9.1 assists per game (By comparison, Pac-12 assist leader Larry Drew II of UCLA averages 8.3 assists per game). The Buffs also have a Pac-12-worst assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.6-to-1. It’s going to be difficult to maintain an NCAA Tournament-worthy season with numbers like that.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|UCLA coach Ben Howland|
Can talent overcome adversity at UCLA? The Bruins may be slowly climbing out of the early season slump. Shabazz Muhammad is working back into game shape and answered with 25 against Prairie View A&M and 21 against Long Beach State. If UCLA is going to find the right mix among all its talented pieces, the Bruins may find out starting in less than two weeks when they face Missouri (Dec. 28), Cal (Jan. 3) and Stanford (Jan. 5).
What is Arizona’s ceiling? Undefeated Arizona already established itself as the top team in the league as the Wildcats’ veterans -- Johnson, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom -- have meshed well with the newcomers Mark Lyons, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. The Wildcats aren’t perfect -- they can be turnover-happy at times -- but Arizona appears to be the best chance for the Pac-12 to have a nationally relevant team this year. Arizona gave the Pac-12 one of two major non-conference wins for the league (Oregon over UNLV would be the other) and can add to its tally if the Wildcats defeat San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic.
Which coach will save his job? The Pac-12 struggled mightily last season, but every coach kept his job at the end of the season. The crew of coaches probably won’t be so luck this season. Arizona State’s Herb Sendek, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson, Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, UCLA’s Ben Howland, USC’s Kevin O’Neill, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar and Washington State’s Ken Bone may all be coaching for their jobs to various degrees once conference play begins.
PAC-12 POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Nick Johnson, Arizona
Allen Crabbe, Cal
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Freshman of the year watch
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Jordan Adams, UCLA
Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Coach of the year watch
Sean Miller, Arizona
Dana Altman, Oregon
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
1. Arizona (9-0). The Wildcats added the Pac-12’s top signing class outside of UCLA. The difference is that Arizona’s top four scorers are returnees, including one of the nation’s best glue guys in Solomon Hill.
2. Oregon (9-1). Former Rice forward Arsalan Kazemi may be in contention for transfer of the year: He’s averaging 10.3 rebounds and leads the Pac-12 in steals (3.5 per game) for one of the nation’s surprise teams.
3. Colorado (8-2). Andre Roberson has had at least 10 rebounds in six consecutive games including 20 in Wednesday’s win over Fresno State. A third consecutive postseason trip, the first time in school history that’s happened, seems likely. But which postseason tourney will it be?
4. Cal (7-3). The Bears have dropped three of their last four, including a 25-point loss at Wisconsin, a one-point loss to UNLV and 10-point loss to Creighton. Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe (21 ppg) will try to right the ship before opening conference play on the road against UCLA and USC.
5. Stanford (7-4). After losses to Belmont, Missouri, Minnesota and NC State, Stanford is running low on chances for signature non-conference wins. The Cardinal visit Northwestern on Friday.
6. UCLA (8-3). The Bruins top freshman so far has been Jordan Adams (16.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg). In his signing class, he was the only one of the four who was not a McDonald’s All-American.
7. Arizona State (9-2). A 78-61 loss at home to DePaul a week ago signals Arizona State’s gaudy record is a mirage.
8. Oregon State (7-2). Oregon State gave Kansas trouble in an 84-70 loss on Nov. 30 and lost 65-62 to Alabama on Nov. 15. Are these signs of progress in Corvallis?
9. Washington State (7-4). Three of the Cougars’ four losses (Pepperdine, Texas A&M and Gonzaga) have come by one or two points. Brock Motum (20.4 ppg) has delivered despite a diminished supporting cast.
10. Utah (7-3). The Utes are one of the most improved teams in the Pac-12. With Tuesday's 62-53 win over SMU, Utah already exceeded last season's win total.
11. Washington (6-4). It may be one of those years for the Huskies, who have already lost to Albany, Colorado State and Nevada this season. From Dec. 29-Jan. 26, Washington will play six of eight games on the road.
12. USC (4-6). Not a bad way to end a five-game losing streak: The Trojans defeated UC Riverside 70-26 on Saturday, holding the Highlanders to 11 of 58 shooting and 1 of 14 from 3-point range.
NFL Week 16 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Falcons (12-2) at Lions (4-10)
Atlanta is one win away from locking up home-field in the NFC Playoffs, which should happen on Saturday night against Detroit’s not ready for prime time players — with the exception of Calvin Johnson, who is the only receiver in history with back-to-back 1,600-yard seasons and is in the midst of a record-tying seven-game 100-yard receiving streak.
Falcons by 9
Titans (5-9) at Packers (10-4)
Green Bay has posted a 6–0 record in Title Town at Lambeau Field since losing its season opener against San Francisco.
Packers by 13
Vikings (8-6) at Texans (12-2)
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is 294 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.
Texans by 9
Rams (6-7-1) at Buccaneers (6-8)
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears to have hit the rookie wall, losing four straight contests.
Rams by 1
Redskins (8-6) at Eagles (4-10)
Robert Griffin III’s jersey sales continue to break all-time records thanks to games like the one he had against Philly in Week 11 — when RG3 completed 14-of-15 passes and threw four TDs.
Redskins by 6
Saints (6-8) at Cowboys (8-6)
Texas native Drew Brees returns to the state where he won an undefeated Class 5A state title as a senior at Westlake High School in 1996.
Cowboys by 2
Chargers (5-9) at Jets (6-8)
Mark Sanchez has finally been benched, and Greg McElroy — not Tim Tebow — will start against the Chargers’ rolling blackout defense.
Jets by 1
Raiders (4-10) at Panthers (5-9)
The Cats have won three of their last four, but are only 2–5 in Charlotte this season.
Panthers by 6
Bills (5-9) at Dolphins (6-8)
Buffalo beat Miami, 19–14, on Thursday night in Week 11 in a game that featured four FGs and a Leodis McKelvin punt return TD for the Bills.
Dolphins by 5
Bengals (8-6) at Steelers (7-7)
Cincy can clinch its second straight playoff berth if it can snap a five-game losing streak against the Steelers — and do so in Pittsburgh.
Steelers by 3
Patriots (10-4) at Jaguars (2-12)
Expect the frustrated Pats to beat the spots off the clawless Jags in this lopsided matchup.
Patriots by 18
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (2-12)
Andrew Luck needs just 74 yards to break Cam Newton’s rookie passing record of 4,051 yards.
Colts by 8
Browns (5-9) at Broncos (11-3)
Peyton Manning probably won’t need a John Elway-inspired “Drive” to beat these Browns.
Broncos by 15
Giants (8-6) at Ravens (9-5)
Road warriors last December and January, the G-Men have lost three straight away from home.
Giants by 1
Bears (8-6) at Cardinals (5-9)
After losing five of last six games, Jay Cutler thinks 2012 is “right up there” with 2009.
Bears by 4
49ers (10-3-1) at Seahawks (9-5)
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll — formerly of Stanford and USC, respectively — renew their Pac-12 rivalry under the lights on Sunday night.
49ers by 1
Last week: 11–5 // This season: 150–75
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The San Francisco 49ers have moved into the top spot after knocking off the previous No. 1 New England Patriots, while no team is playing worse than the Kansas City Chiefs, who were blanked by the Oakland Raiders for the second time in history this weekend.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 15 of the season:
1. 49ers (10-3-1) Colin Kaepernick throws four TDs to beat Pats.
2. Falcons (12-2) Have not lost consecutive contests in 49 games.
3. Patriots (10-4) Suffer defeat at home for first time in 21 games.
4. Texans (12-2) Clinch second straight AFC South title against Colts.
5. Broncos (11-3) Winners of nine straight after 2–3 start to season.
6. Packers (10-4) Riding six-game win streak in NFL’s oldest rivalry.
7. Seahawks (9-5) Third team ever to score 50 in back-to-back weeks.
8. Ravens (9-5) Offense struggles in Jim Caldwell’s first game as OC.
9. Colts (9-5) Andrew Luck sacked five times in loss at Houston.
10. Redskins (8-6) Don’t miss a beat with Kirk Cousins replacing RG3.
11. Giants (8-6) Shutout for first time since 1996 in Atlanta blowout.
12. Cowboys (8-6) Brandon Carr INT sets up game-winning FG in OT.
13. Vikings (8-6) Adrian Peterson now on pace for 2,071 rush yards.
14. Bears (8-6) Have gone 1–5 after starting season with 7–1 mark.
15. Steelers (7-7) Staggering after fourth loss in five games at Big D.
16. Bengals (8-6) A.J. Green has scored TDs in 10 of 14 games in ’12.
17. Rams (6-7-1) Steven Jackson tops 10,000 rush yards in defeat.
18. Saints (6-8) Defense pitches first shutout since 1995 vs. Bucs.
19. Buccaneers (6-8) Freeman throws four INTs, Martin held to 16 yards.
20. Panthers (5-9) Mike Tolbert does Dougie TD dance twice at Bolts.
21. Titans (5-9) CJ2K’s 94-yard TD longest run in NFL since 2006.
22. Dolphins (6-8) Notch season-high 26 first downs in win over Jags.
23. Jets (6-8) Mark Sanchez throws game away with four INTs.
24. Bills (5-9) Fall to 1–4 all-time across border in Toronto Series.
25. Chargers (5-9) Third consecutive TV blackout in Southern California.
26. Browns (5-9) Richardson breaks Jim Brown’s rookie TD record.
27. Cardinals (5-9) Snap nine-game losing streak with win over Lions.
28. Raiders (4-10) Sebastian Janikowski hits five FGs in shutout win.
29. Eagles (4-10) Suffer double-digit losses for first time since 2005.
30. Lions (4-10) Megatron unable to transform statistics into wins.
31. Jaguars (2-12) Chad Henne returns to Miami, promptly loses by 21.
32. Chiefs (2-12) Blanked by Raiders for second time in series history.
It’s fantasy football Super Bowl time. This week, the majority of leagues across the country will crown a champion who will win bragging rights, trophies, a few dollars, a trip to Vegas, who knows? And while every league is different, there are several key players acquired throughout the season who push a contender over the top, regardless of scoring, league size or any other variable.
With that in mind, here’s a look at this year’s best fantasy stars — with a mix of high-rounders who lived up to expectations, longshots who panned out and undrafted All-Pros who helped make up for a few expensive, high-pick busts.
QB – Peyton Manning, Broncos
After at least four neck surgeries and a wiped out 2011 season, even the biggest Manning fans were worried he might not return to top form. But 4,016 yards and 31 TDs later, no one is doubting No. 18 anymore.
QB – Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Those who took a late-round, backup QB flier on RG3 — hoping he would be the second-coming of Cam Newton — have been rewarded with 2,902 passing yards, 748 rush yards and 24 total TDs from the rookie.
RB – Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Just nine months after suffering a brutal knee injury, “All Day” slipped in fantasy drafts due to health concerns. Enjoy the one-year discount. After 1,812 yards and counting, he’s be a top-three pick again in 2013.
RB – Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
“Beast Mode” has been in full effect all season, as Lynch has produced either 100 yards or one TD in nine games this season.
RB – Alfred Morris, Redskins
Unlike most Week 1 waiver wire pickups, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic has continued to shine — with 1,322 yards and nine TDs.
WR – A.J. Green, Bengals
There was no sophomore slump for the Bengals’ go-to wideout. Green has been unbelievably consistent, scoring TDs in 10 of 14 games.
WR – Brandon Marshall, Bears
The highly anticipated reunion with Jay Cutler has gone even better than most anticipated, as Marshall has 107 catches for 1,398 yards and 11 TDs.
WR – Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
If Thomas could catch passes from Tim Tebow, imagine what he could do with Peyton Manning? The answer is 1,210 yards and eight TDs.
TE – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is going out with 87 catches for 880 yards and eight TDs after being largely overlooked on draft day.
Florida State’s search for a defensive coordinator is over. Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt has been hired as the replacement for Mark Stoops, who left to become Kentucky’s head coach after three seasons in Tallahassee.
Considering Jimbo Fisher’s experience and familiarity with Nick Saban, it’s no surprise he looked at Pruitt as a possible replacement for Stoops. However, this move might be one of the offseason’s most curious coordinator hires.
Before diving into Pruitt’s background, it’s important to note Fisher did a good job of assembling a staff when he took over in Tallahassee, so he may have a good eye for coaching talent.
Examining Pruitt’s Background
Pruitt played his college ball at MTSU and Alabama, helping to lead the Crimson Tide to the 1996 SEC West title. After his college career was finished, Pruitt joined Alabama as a student assistant in 1997, before spending the next three years at Plainview High School (1998 and 2000), then West Alabama in 1999.
After one year at West Alabama, Pruitt accumulated more experience on the high school level, spending 2001-03 as an assistant coach at Fort Payne High School and then as an assistant with Hoover High School in 2004 and worked as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2005-06.
Pruitt was picked by Nick Saban to be Alabama’s director of player development in 2007 and continued in that role until becoming the team’s defensive backs coach in 2010.
How much of a role did Pruitt play in the development of Alabama’s secondary?
This is tough to answer. There’s no doubt Nick Saban is college football’s best coach and is regarded as one of the top defensive minds. Coordinator Kirby Smart also played a role in the development of the defense, so you have to wonder just how much Pruitt factored in the secondary.
Regardless of how much Saban and Smart factored into the secondary, it’s hard to argue with the results. Alabama ranked 13th nationally in pass defense in 2010, first in 2011 and sixth in 2012. Considering the secondary had to replace three starters, including first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, finishing sixth nationally in pass defense was an impressive performance from the Crimson Tide.
No coordinator experience
The biggest concern about the Pruitt hire has to be the lack of coordinator experience on the collegiate level. Anytime you hire someone to step into the coordinator role without some experience, it’s always a risk that the defense will suffer a drop in performance.
The good news for Pruitt is Florida State has plenty of talent to work with, even with the likely departure of end Bjoern Werner to the NFL. Mario Edwards, Jr. is ready to breakout in 2013, while the line returns tackles Timmy Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel. Linebacker Christian Jones garnered second-team all-conference honors this season, and the secondary is in good shape for next season.
Considering Pruitt’s lack of experience as a coordinator, Florida State needs to surround him with veteran coaches. And it seems the Seminoles will do that with former Alabama assistant Sal Sunseri. Although Sunseri had a horrendous season as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the veteran coach should be an asset to Florida State in 2013. Sunseri has a wealth of experience and is highly regarded for his work on the recruiting trail.
The Seminoles were a 4-3 team under Stoop,s but it's fair to wonder if Fisher is considering a switch to a 3-4 in the future. Pruitt and Sunseri are both experienced in that scheme, but Florida State would need some time to recruit the necessary talent to switch to a 3-4 approach.
Good hire or Bad hire?
Even though Pruitt isn’t a big name, he is an intriguing risk for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. Considering his recruiting connections and experience with Nick Saban, Pruitt should fit in well on Fisher’s staff and will bring some new ideas to Tallahassee. The one downside for Fisher is this hire has a lot of risk and could backfire, which would send the program back in the wrong direction. Adding Sunseri as a position coach will be overlooked but is good move to help with Pruitt’s inexperience.
While it’s risky, Pruitt deserves a chance to show he can be a FBS coordinator or whether he is better served as a position coach. There’s no question Pruitt will be under the microscope early and often in 2013. Is he the next Sunseri or the next Will Muschamp? Only time will time. However, considering the success Fisher had of selecting his initial staff, he deserves the benefit of the doubt (for now) with this hire.
Grading Florida State’s hire of Pruitt: B-
Related College Football Content
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will count down the top individual performances in each major sport from the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
It is important to remember that for the NFL, 2012 started with the end of the 2011 regular season and the playoffs, in addition to the first 15 weeks of the current season. That’s why Tom Brady’s record-tying performance against Denver in last season’s AFC Divisional Round comes in at No. 1 on this list, even though the game was played back in January.
A few other players also make this Top 10 for work they did last year, but that doesn’t mean that the current season isn’t well represented. In a year that’s been defined by the rise of the rookie quarterbacks, not to mention some incredible comeback performances, there have been numerous record-setting, jaw-dropping efforts. In fact, the problem wasn’t finding 10 to fill out this list, it was deciding which 10 made the cut.
So without further ado, here is our list for the year’s most impressive single-game efforts.
1. Jan. 14: Tom Brady truly Terrific against Denver in AFC playoffs
Denver came into this AFC Divisional playoff matchup with New England riding a bunch of momentum after shocking Pittsburgh at home in its overtime win the previous Sunday. Brady and the Patriots’ offense made sure the Broncos knew who the best team was in this one, however, as No. 12 tossed five touchdown passes in the first half and added one more in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record. Brady broke his own franchise record for most passing yards (363) in a playoff game and climbed up the all-time postseason passing charts with arguably his best playoff performance yet.
2. Oct. 14: Aaron Rodgers torches undefeated Texans in primetime
Green Bay entered the Week 6 Sunday night showdown with Houston at just 2-3, having blown a 21-3 halftime lead to Indianapolis Colts the previous week. The Texans were undefeated, boasted one of the league’s best defenses, and seemingly ready to make a statement on national television by taking down the mighty Packers. The reigning NFL MVP had something else in mind, however, throwing two touchdown passes in the first quarter to help his team jump out to a 14-0 lead. He would add four more in the next three quarters, tying the Green Bay single-game record with six touchdown passes, as the Packers would cruise to a convincing 42-24 victory. Rodgers finished with 338 yards and no turnovers, becoming just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a game.
3. Nov. 4: Rookie Doug Martin breaks out in Oakland
Martin, the No. 31 overall pick in April’s draft out of Boise State, entered the game in Oakland coming off of his best performance of his rookie season. He piled up 214 total yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s win in Minnesota the previous Thursday. Little did anyone know he would make that game seem minor, but that’s what happened as he piled up 251 yards on 25 rushing attempts in the Buccaneers’ Week 9 win against the Raiders. Besides posting the third-most rushing yards by a rookie in a game, Martin joined Mike Anderson as the only backs in NFL history with at least 250 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a single contest. Martin scored on runs of 70, 67, 45 and 1, making him the first back since 1940 to score on three runs of at least 45 yards in one game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Nicely done rook.
4. Nov. 18: Matt Schaub’s record-setting day helps Texans outlast Jaguars
Known for its running game, Houston relied on Schaub and the passing attack in Week 11 against AFC South rival Jacksonville. Thanks to Chad Henne’s impressive performance (354-4-0) off of the bench, the Texans found themselves in a closer-than-expected battle with the Jaguars. Schaub saved the day with his franchise-record 43 completions, 527 passing yards and career-high five touchdown passes. The yards tied Warren Moon for the second-most in a game in NFL history, second only to Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 (set back in 1951). Schaub threw two scoring strikes with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game, and finally won it with a 48-yarder to wide receiver Andre Johnson (see No. 8) with just 2:10 left in overtime.
5. Dec. 16: Adrian Peterson continues his run for history with season-best effort in St. Louis
At this rate, you could make one impressive list of performances just using Peterson’s 2012 season, but for our purposes, we’ll go with his most recent gem. Less than a year removed from a devastating knee injury, Peterson is redefining the term Comeback Player of the Year, and that’s with all due respect to what Peyton Manning is doing in his first season in Denver. Look no further than Sunday’s 212-yard effort in Minnesota’s win in St. Louis, highlighted by a 82-yard touchdown run. Not only was it All Day’s second 200-yard game of the season, it was the fourth of his career. Only O.J. Simpson (six) and Tiki Barber (five) have more such games in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). What’s more, it was Peterson’s sixth game with at least 150 yards rushing, leaving him one shy of Earl Campbell’s single-season record of seven (set in 1980). Peterson himself has already set a personal-best for yards in a single season with 1,812, which is more rushing yards than 24 teams have. With two games remaining and needing less than 300 yards, no one would be surprised if he made good on his goal of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 rushing yards.
6. Jan. 1: Matt Flynn makes most of only start of 2011 season
With the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs already secure, Green Bay decided to rest eventual MVP Aaron Rodgers in the season finale against Detroit on New Year’s Day. Enter Flynn, making his first start of the season and only second of his NFL career. Turns out Flynn can do a pretty decent Rodgers impression, as he torched the Lions for 480 yards and six touchdowns, both Packers’ single-game records, in the 45-41 win. Flynn teamed with Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford (see. No. 7) to set some NFL history of their own, as it was the first time opposing quarterbacks each threw for more than 400 yards and at least five touchdowns in a game. It also set the mark for most net passing yards (971) in a single game. Flynn parlayed this big game into a big payday, as the soon-to-be free agent would end up signing a three-year contract with Seattle that could be worth up to $26 million and included $10 million guaranteed. Ironically, an elbow injury in the preseason resulted in Russell Wilson replacing him as the Seahawks’ starter. Wilson, who just missed making this list (see Honorable mention below) , doesn’t appear ready to give the job back to Flynn anytime soon either.
7. Jan. 1: Matthew Stafford caps breakout 2011 season with record-setting day
Prior to the 2011 season, Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, had trouble simply staying on the field. In his first two seasons he missed more games (19) than he played in (13), raising all sorts of questions about his long-term future. He put many of these to rest after passing for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns last season, helping the Lions end a 12-year playoff drought in the process. Stafford saved his best for last, throwing for 520 yards and five touchdowns against Green Bay in a 45-41 loss on New Year’s Day to close out the ’11 regular season. Even though he shared the Lambeau Field spotlight that day with Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn (see No. 6), it was Stafford who finished with the fifth-most yards passing in a single game and the most by a losing quarterback since Dan Marino had 521 back in 1988.
8. Nov. 18: Andre Johnson first declaws Jacksonville’s secondary then breaks Jaguars’ hearts in overtime
While Matt Schaub (see No. 4) rewrote the Houston passing records in the Texans’ Week 11 win over Jacksonville, he would not have done so without a huge assist from Johnson. Schaub found his favorite target 14 times for 273 yards against the Jaguars, including a 48-yard game-winning touchdown with just 2:01 remaining in overtime. It was a career day for Johnson, as the All-Pro wideout set a franchise record for receiving yards and posted the seventh-highest single-game total in NFL history.
9. Jan. 14: Rob Gronkowski sets a new postseason standard for tight ends
Half of Tom Brady’s record-tying six touchdown passes (see No. 1) in last season’s AFC Divisional round victory over Denver went to Rob Gronkowski, his favorite tight end. Gronkowksi finished the game against the Broncos with 10 receptions for 145 yards and the three scores. Not only did the man affectionately known as “Gronk” tie the postseason single-game record for touchdown catches, he posted the most productive game by a tight end in the playoffs in 25 seasons. In fact, Jan. 14 was a big day for tight ends in general as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis also had more than 100 yards receiving and caught two touchdowns in their respective games.
10. Nov. 19: Aldon Smith dominates Bears on “Monday Night Football”
Week 11 was set up to finish with a bang, as San Francisco was hosting Chicago in a matchup of two of the top teams in the NFC and toughest defenses in the NFL. Alas, the “Monday Night Football” showdown never materialized as the 49ers’ defense manhandled the Bears’ offense from the opening snap, highlighted by Smith’s 5.5 sacks. Even though it was backup Jason Campbell under center for the Bears in place of a concussed Jay Cutler, it didn’t matter to Smith and the rest of the 49ers, as the linebacker also chipped in seven total tackles and two forced fumbles in the convincing 32-7 whitewashing. The Bears may be the Monsters of the Midway, but Smith was an absolute beast that night.
Oct. 14: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III helps the Redskins beat Minnesota 38-26 by doing it with both his arm and his legs. The rookie throws for 182 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 17-of-22 passing, while also running for 138 yards and two scores on 13 carries in the Week 6 home win. His day’s work includes a 76-yard scoring run, the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in 16 years, and he finishes with the fifth-most rushing yards by a signal caller in NFL history.
Dec. 2: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck saves his best for last, capping the Colts’ 14-point fourth-quarter comeback in Detroit by throwing the game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. The rookie ends the game with 391 yards passing, four touchdowns, three interceptions and, most importantly, the Week 13 victory.
Dec. 9: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has not been near as productive this season compared to his 2011 rookie campaign, but tell that to NFC South rival Atlanta. Newton threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns and posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career with 116 and a score (72 yards) in leading the Panthers to a 30-20 upset win in Week 14 over the division-leading Falcons.
Dec. 9: New York Giants running back David Wilson set a franchise-record for all-purpose yards when he piled up 327 against New Orleans in Week 14. The rookie first-round pick rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries, including a 52- yard touchdown run, and also returned four kickoffs for 227 yards, one of them 97 for a score, in the Giants’ 52-27 rout of the Saints.Dec. 16: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in the Seahawks’ 50-17 dismantling of Buffalo in Toronto in Week 15. Wilson became the first quarterback with three rushing touchdowns since Daunte Culpepper did it against Chicago on Dec. 3, 2000. The touchdown pass was his 21st of the season, tying him with Cam Newton (2011) for the second-most by a rookie quarterback.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each All-Conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-Pac-12 team.
2012 Offensive All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (2011)
The cool Hawaiian played at St. Louis High School in Honolulu before signing with Oregon. His only other scholarship offer was from Memphis. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who was the No. 12-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in his state. He had interest in other big programs (Notre Dame, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA) but only got the two scholarship offers. Mariota defines the overused phrase "diamond in the rough."
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (2011) National Recruit
The Oro Valley (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro sophomore was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 30 running back in the nation, the No. 5 player in the state of Arizona and the No. 212 overall recruit in the country. He held three Pac-12 offers to play college football from Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. The coveted tailback was a four-star prospect by Rivals.
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon (2008)
Hailing from Riverside (Calif.) Notre Dame, Barner was a middle of the pack recruit back in 2008. Rivals rated him as the No. 38 running back in the nation and the No. 86 player in the state. He was a three-star prospect whose only other offers came from Arizona State and UTEP.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC (2011) AC100
The superstar wide receiver hails from California prep powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. He was the No. 64-rated prospect in the nation, the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 10-rated wide receiver in the country. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college superpowers. Lee played on the same team as Athlon Consensus 100 wide receivers George Farmer (2011), Robert Woods (2010) and four-star Paul Richardson (2010). How did anyone stop that passing attack?
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State (2009)
The Chandler (Ariz.) High prospect was just a three-star recruit back in 2009, but he was far from unknown. The smallish wideout had a huge offer sheet that included both Arizona schools, Cal, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah. The Beavers won a big battle for the underrated prospect. Rivals rated him the No. 41 “athlete” in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state.
Zack Ertz, TE, Stanford (2009)
The heady tight end was a three-star talent from Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista back in 2009. He was the No. 10-rated tight end in the nation and the No. 46-rated prospect in the state by Rivals. He held only three, albeit quality, offers from Stanford, Cal and UCLA.
Hroniss Grasu, OL, Oregon (2010)
The big blocker from Encino (Calif.) Crespi got three BCS offers out of high school. Oregon, Washington and Washington State gave him a shot as well as smaller schools Wyoming, Nevada and UNLV. He was a three-star recruit ranked as the No. 12 center and No. 58 player in the state of California.
Brian Schwenke, OL, Cal (2009)
From Oceanside (Calif.) High, Schwenke’s offer sheet had three major Pac-12 powers on it in Oregon, Cal and Colorado. Otherwise, New Mexico was his only other FBS offer. Rivals rated the blocker as the No. 44 offensive guard and the No. 60-rated player in the state. He was a three-star recruit.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA (2009) AC100
Only John Martinez (USC) was rated as a better prospect in the state of Utah in 2009. Su’a-Filo was an AC100 member by Athlon Sports and offers from every major West Coast power as well as Notre Dame and Auburn. He was the No. 87-rated player in the nation and the No. 12-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports. He made a huge impact in his first year back from his two-year Mormon Mission.
Khaled Holmes, OL, USC (2008) National Recruit
From the same high school as Matt Barkley, Holmes signed with USC out of the famed Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei program. He was a four-star top 250 prospect by Rivals who ranked as the No. 3 guard in the nation, the No. 14 player in the state and the No. 103 overall player in the nation. Holmes picked USC over Stanford, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Cal.
David Yankey, OL, Stanford (2010)
Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw have done a remarkable job recruiting nationally for the Cardinal. Yankey played his prep ball at Roswell (Ga.) Centennial, and Stanford defeated the Clemsons, Floridas, Georgias and Tennessees in his home region to convince the eventual All-Pac-12 blocker to come to the West Coast. He was a three-star prospect who rated as the No. 47 offensive tackle and No. 53 player in The Peach State by Rivals.
Reggie Dunn, RS, Utah (2010) JUCO
The Los Angeles (Calif.) Verburn Dei athlete was an elite prospect back in 2007 when he signed with Oregon State. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals who had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington as well. He ended up at Compton Community College for three seasons before signing with Utah in 2010.
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-Pac-12 (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
Scott Crichton, DL, Oregon State (2010)
The star defensive lineman was a middling prospect from Tacoma (Wash.) Henry Foss. His only two offers to play football came from Oregon State and Washington State. Crichton was a three-star recruit by Rivals who ranked as the No. 12 player in The Evergreen State and the No. 44-rated strongside defensive end in the nation.
Dion Jordan, DL, Oregon (2008) National Recruit
Oregon’s freakish outside linebacker/defensive end was a big-time recruit back in 2008. The Chandler (Ariz.) High prospect was a four-star recruit who held seven Pac-12 offers as well as a Nebraska scholarship. Rivals ranked him as the No. 15 tight end in the nation and he was the No. 7-rated player in the state.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (2009)
From Corona (Calif.) Centennial, Sutton came to Arizona State sporting only four BCS offers. They included Arizona, Nebraska and Boise State in addition to the Sun Devils. He was the No. 42-rated defensive tackle and the No. 40-rated player in the state of California in the ’09 class. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (2007)
The big fella from Bingham (Utah) High originally signed with BYU out of high school. He was the No. 57-rated defensive end and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Utah. He held offers from Utah, UNLV and Weber State as well as the Cougars. He eventually landed at Snow College for two years before heading to Salt Lake City. Miraculously, Lotulelei didn’t even play football in 2009 before signing with Utah in January 2010.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (2010) AC100
Barr was one of the freakiest athletes to ever play high school football in California. The Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola product was pegged as a linebacker, wide receiver, tight end, running back or defensive end. He was the No. 29-rated player in the nation in the AC100 and was the No. 7-rated player in the state by Athlon Sports. Barr had no true position (even once he got to UCLA) and was rated as the No. 3 “athlete” in the nation behind only college superstars Keenan Allen (No. 2) and Tony Jefferson (No. 1). He held major offers from power programs across the nation, including Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida State.
Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford (2009)
The star pass rusher came to Palo Alto from Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep. He was a three-star recruit according to Rivals, was rated as the No. 41 strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 19 player in the state. Despite his middling ranking, Murphy had a solid offer sheet with Pac-12 programs Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah also offering him a scholarship.
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford (2008)
The Cardinal have made a living recently recruiting in the state of Georgia. Thomas picked Stanford over Auburn, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia Tech out of Marietta (Ga.) Walton. He was a three-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 27 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 26-rated player in the state. Thomas makes two Peach State prospects on the All-Pac-12 team (Yankey).
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DB, Oregon (2011) National Recruit
The Ducks' defensive back signed with Oregon from Chino Hills (Calif.) High just two seasons ago. The big-time recruit had offers from Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, Utah and Washington State, along with the Ducks. Ekpre-Olomu was a four-star prospect by Rivals who was the No. 173-rated overall player in the nation. He was the No. 17-rated cornerback in the country and the No. 18-rated player in the state.
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (2009)
The Beavers' defensive back and return man was one of the biggest steals of the ’09 class. The Astoria (Ore.) High prospect was a wildly underrated two-star recruit with two FBS offers. Portland State, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon State were the only programs who showed any serious interest in the two-star prospect. Rivals rated him as the No. 8 player in the state of Oregon.
Ed Reynolds, DB, Stanford (2010)
Once again, an all-conference player for Stanford comes from the opposite end of the country. Reynolds played his prep ball at Woodberry Forest (Va.) High. He was a three-star recruit who wasn’t ranked in the state or at his position by Rivals despite a quality offer sheet featuring North Carolina, NC State and Duke to go with Stanford. The credit for growing the Stanford brand image on the East Coast goes directly to former head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Desmond Trufant, DB, Washington (2009)
The younger brother of former Washington State star Marcus Trufant, Desmond picked Washington over Wazzu, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona State. He was a three-star prospect from Tacoma (Wash.) Wilson and was the No. 6-rated player in the state. He was the No. 56-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.
The BCS is wrapping up its 15th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top defensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).
Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 12 defenses of the BCS era. Teams from 2012 were not eligible, otherwise both Notre Dame or Alabama could land on this list. But until the 2012 National Championship is decided, neither belongs on this list (yet).
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Defense: 132.7 ypg (40th)
Passing Defense: 138.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Defense: 270.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 9.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 45 (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), James Lewis (6th, 2002), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Andrew Williams (3rd, 2003), Jamaal Green (4th, 2003), Matt Walters (5th, 2003), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Darrell McClover (7th, 2004), Alfonso Marshall (7th, 2004), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005)
Imagine trying to design a passing attack to beat a secondary that featured Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, James Lewis, Alfonoso Marshall and Antrel Rolle. How about a rushing attack to penetrate a D-Line with Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Vince Wilfork, Matt Walters, Jamaal Green and Andrew Williams? And to top it all off, the linebackering corps running around between the two boasted names like Vilma, Williams and McClover. Simply put, this team is one of the greatest groups ever assembled. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami pitched three shutouts and held eight opponents to seven points or fewer. Later, the Canes claimed 10 first-round draft picks on defense.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 72.2 ypg (1st)
Passing Defense: 111.5 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 183.6 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 8.2 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 20 (77th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (29th)
NFL Draft Picks: Mark Barron (1st, 2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012), Josh Chapman (5th, 2012), DeQuan Menzie (5th, 2012)
The 2011 Crimson Tide allowed fewer points (8.8) than any other team in the history of the BCS. It led the nation in every major statistical defensive category and completely shutdown the unbeaten LSU Tigers in the BCS title game. LSU totaled five first downs, two turnovers, zero points and an (un) remarkable 92 total yards of offense. This team featured eight NFL draft picks, six of which were starters on the defense. This unit could also feature another half-dozen defensive draft picks in 2013 (Dee Milliner, CJ Mosley, Jesse Williams, Robert Lester, etc). Eight times this team allowed less than 10 points — including its only loss of the year — and it allowed more than 14 points only once (21, Georgia Southern). One could argue this is the best college defense ever.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (13-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 78.1 ypg (2nd)
Passing Defense: 166.0 ypg (10th)
Total Defense: 244.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.7 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 31 (10th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Marquis Johnson (7th, 2010), Brandon Deaderick (7th, 2010), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011)
The undefeated national champions won big in 2009 because of a stacked NFL defense. This outfit was led by Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and a stellar defensive line headlined by Mount Cody and Marcell Dareus. Do-everything corner Javier Arenas not only covered the opponent's top receiver and snagged five interceptions, but he also was a dyanamic pass-rusher (five sacks) and game-changing return specialist. Despite knocking Colt McCoy out of the National Championship game and claiming the Crystal Ball, the signature performance by this unit came against an unbeaten Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators team in the SEC title game. The Tide held the Gators to only 88 yards rushing, 13 first downs and only 13 points in a title-clinching win. This defense has already seen seven players drafted, and that number will continue to rise this spring as Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron (who led the SEC in INTs in 2009), Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw could all grade out as early round picks.
4. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 67.0 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 185.0 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 252.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 11.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (9th)
NFL Draft Picks: Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Chad Lavalais (5th, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Travis Daniels (4th, 2005), Kyle Williams (5th, 2006), Melvin Oliver (6th, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007)
One of the nastiest defensive lines ever assembled featured NFL draft picks Marquise Hill, Chad Lavalais, Marcus Spears, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver. At 11.0 points per game, LSU led the nation in scoring defense, allowing only one team (Arkansas, 24) to score more than 19 points in any game. Only Florida (19) scored more than 14 points against this defensive unit. In the biggest game for the Bayou Bengals in 40 years, this defense squared off against Heisman winner Jason White of Oklahoma and flat-out dominated. White averaged 292 yards per game in '03, but mustered only 102 yards on 13-of-37 passing with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions — one of which Spears returned for a touchdown that eventually proved to be the game-winner.
5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Defense: 108.2 ypg (23rd)
Passing Defense: 170.8 ypg (9th)
Total Defense: 278.9 ypg (8th)
Scoring Defense: 16.0 ppg (7th)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (5th)
NFL Draft Picks: Torrance Marshall (3rd, 2001), Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Rocky Calmus (3rd, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Jimmy Wilkerson (6th, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Derrick Strait (3rd, 2004)
This team was not the most impressive statistically, but featured two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman), two Thorpe Award winners (Roy Williams, Derrick Strait), a Nagurski winner (Williams), and what was probably the best defensive championship performance of all time. The Sooners held the nation's No. 1 overall offense and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to zero points and only 301 yards of offense (nearly 250 yards below their season average). Linebacker Torrance Marshall led the way with No. 4-rated BCS NCG game performance with six tackles and an interception en route to the Orange Bowl MVP trophy. Safety J.T. Thatcher and linebacker Calmus were All-Americans, while Lehman was a freshman All-American. Williams was one of the most impactful and hardest-hitting college players this writer has ever seen.
6. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Defense: 87.4 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 134.4 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 221.8 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 9.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (20th)
Sacks: 2.2 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Kaluka Maiava (4th, 2009), Kyle Moore (4th, 2009), Cary Harris (6th, 2009), Kevin Ellison (6th, 2009), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Kevin Thomas (3rd, 2010), Everson Griffin (4th, 2010), Jurrell Casey (3rd, 2011), Shareece Wright (3rd, 2011), Malcolm Smith (7th, 2011)
There were eight NFL draft picks who departed from this defense following the near national championship campaign of 2008. Fourteen total players have found their way to the NFL, and that number is only going to increase next spring. An early road upset at the hands of Oregon State kept the best linebacking corps of the BCS era from claiming a spot in the BCS NCG. This group pitched three shutouts and held the opposition to 10 points or less eight times; only three times did a team score more than 10 points. The 9.0 points per game are a current BCS era scoring record (Alabama could break that this season). Team leader Rey Maualuga claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award.
7. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0)
Head Coach: Phil Fulmer
Rushing Defense: 93.9 ypg
Passing Defense: 209.1 ypg
Total Defense: 303.0 ypg
Scoring Defense: 15.3 ppg
Turnovers Forced: 16 INT
NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Steve Johnson (6th, 1999), Corey Terry (7th, 1999), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Darwin Walker (3rd, 2000), Eric Westmoreland (3rd, 2001), Will Overstreet (3rd, 2002)
Possibly the most talented Tennessee team in program history finished a dream season by winning the Fiesta Bowl 23-16 over Florida State in the first-ever BCS Championship Game. A front seven that featured eventual draft picks Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker, Corey Terry, Billy Ratliff and Will Overstreet along the line and Al Wilson, Raynoch Thompson and Eric Westmoreland in the linebacking corps held 10 opponents to 18 points or less — including No. 2 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State.
8. LSU Tigers, 2011 (13-1)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Rushing Defense: 90.1 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 171.4 ypg (8th)
Total Defense: 261.5 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.3 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 30 (16th)
Sacks: 2.8 spg (14th)
Key Player: Morris Claiborne (1st, 2012), Michael Brockers (1st, 2012), Brandon Taylor (3rd, 2012), Ron Brooks (4th, 2012)
This defense was outstanding, finishing a distant second behind only Alabama in total defense and scoring defense. It ran the regular season table unbeaten but couldn't finish in the national championship game. It claimed the Thorpe Award winner (Morris Claiborne), a Heisman finalist (Tyrann Matheiu), four NFL draft picks and an SEC championship. With a host of future NFL stars — Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Anthony Johnson — the talent on this unit was one of the best in history. But 384 yards allowed to AJ McCarron and Trent Richardson in the biggest game of the season keeps it from being the in the mix with '01 Miami and '11 Bama.
9. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Defense: 72.5 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 116.3 ypg (33rd)
Total Defense: 466.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 13.5 ppg (6th)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (17th)
Sacks: 2.4 spg (35th)
NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Ray McDonald (3rd, 2007), Marcus Thomas (4th, 2007), Joe Cohen (4th, 2007), Ryan Smith (6th, 2007), Brandon Siler (7th, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
The 2006 Gators defense put together one of the greatest BCS Championship game performance against the favored Buckeyes and Heisman winner Troy Smith. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. An NFL-laden defense held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown as the Gators claimed the Crystal Ball. Derrick Harvey led the way with the No. 12-rated BCS Championship Game performance with a BCS NCG record three sacks to go with his four solo stops and a forced fumble. This team featured seven defensive draft picks the following spring in 2007.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 (11-2)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Rushing Defense: 82.9 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 150.1 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 233.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.8 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 19 (93rd)
Sacks: 3.3 spg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Vernon Gholston (1st, 2008), Larry Grant (7th, 2008), Malcolm Jenkins (1st, 2009), James Laurinaitis (2nd, 2009), Donald Washington (4th, 2009), Marcus Freeman (5th, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (4th, 2010), Doug Worthington (7th, 2010), Kurt Coleman (7th, 2010), Austin Spitler (7th, 2010), Cam Heyward (1st, 2011), Chimdi Chekwa (4th, 2011), Jermale Hines (5th, 2011), Brian Rolle (6th, 2011), Ross Homan (6th, 2011)
The nation's best defense was one great performance away from being immortalized in Ohio State lore. With a roster loaded with NFL talent, the Buckeyes held LSU to only 326 yards in the BCS National Championship game, but fell short 38-24. Nagurski Trophy (2006) and Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis set a BCS bowl record with 18 tackles in the loss. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock won the Broyles Award and corner Malcolm Jenkins went on to win the Thorpe Award the following year. This defense featured 15 draft picks, including three first-rounders.
The Next in Line
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2009 (10-4)
Head Coach: Bo Pelini
Rushing Defense: 93. 1 ypg (9th)
Passing Defense: 178.9 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 272.0 ypg (7th)
Scoring Defense: 10.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 28 (21st)
Sacks: 3.1 spg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Ndamukong Suh (1st, 2010), Phillip Dillard (4th, 2010), Larry Asante (5th, 2010), Prince Amukamara (1st, 2011), Dejon Gomes (5th, 2011), Eric Hagg (7th, 2011)
You could make the case that the 1999 version of the Black Shirts could be on this list as well. But from a talent perspective, it is tough to argue with the way the 2009 group played, as they finished one second away from defeating National runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game. The D-line included Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Barry Turner and Pierre Allen. The linebacking corps featured Phillip Dillard and Larry Asante, and the secondary featured Eric Hagg, Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard. This team allowed more than 20 points only one time and ten times did Nebraska hold the opposition to 13 or fewer points. Six players have already been drafted off of the 2009 defense. This team led the nation in scoring defense and finished second in sacks.
12. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0)
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Rushing Defense: 99.7 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 128.8 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 228.5 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 22 (59th)
Sacks: 2.1 spg (54th)
NFL Draft Picks: Colin Jones (6th, 2011), Malcolm Williams (7th, 2011)
You have to throw the "little guy" a bone after one of the best defensive seasons by any team ever. TCU held eight opponents to 10 points or less including four who failed to score a touchdown. Led by Rose Bowl MVP and All-America linebacker Tank Carder, the Frogs topped Big Ten champ Wisconsin in the 21-19 Granddaddy of Them All. By holding Johnny Unitas Award winner Scott Tolzien to 159 yards and no scores, TCU finished the best season in school history unbeaten and ranked first in the nation in scoring and total defense.
Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1999 Nebraska, 2000 TCU, 2001 Texas, 2002 Kansas State, 2002 USC, 2004 USC, 2005 Virginia Tech, 2006 LSU, 2007 Virginia Tech, 2008 Florida, 2009 Texas