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The major question the ACC keeps coming up: Will anyone challenge Duke this season? At least on Saturday, the discussion is back to where we started.
NC State was the league’s preseason favorite (Athlon picked the Wolfpack second in the ACC), but two losses by Nov. 27 caused the conversation to move to North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State and even Miami without any of them looking the part.
So all eyes move back to NC State, which has won nine games since its loss at undefeated Michigan 79-72 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Even that loss was an encouraging sign for a team that looked out for sorts in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where NC State lost by 20 to Oklahoma State.
Since then, the Wolfpack have solidified their lineup, balancing the veterans and freshmen, and lead the nation in shooting percentage (53 percent from the floor).
Behind national player of the year contender Mason Plumlee, Duke, though, keeps rolling. The Blue Devils are 15-0 and ranked No. 1 in the polls.
Before it claims ACC supremacy, Duke has its own set of challenges, including the absence of forward Ryan Kelly and its first true road game. Duke has defeated Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Temple and Davidson at neutral sites and Ohio State in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the resume lacks a win in an opponent’s gym.
That can change Saturday in Raleigh.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Duke at NC State
When: Saturday, noon Eastern
Where: Raleigh, N.C., PNC Arena (cap. 19,700)
Duke probable starters
G Quinn Cook (6-1/175, So.)
G Seth Curry (6-2/285, Sr.)
G Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4/185, Fr.)
F Josh Hairston (6-7.240, Jr.)
F Mason Plumlee (6-10/235, Sr.)
NC State probable starters
G Lorenzo Brown (6-3/195, Jr.)
G Scott Wood (6-6/169, Sr.)
G Rodney Purvis (6-3/195, Fr.)
F C.J. Leslie (6-9/200, Sr.)
F Richard Howell (6-8/257, Sr.)
Game-defining matchup: Mason Plumlee vs. Richard Howell
This is a matchup of Duke’s best player and player of the year candidate against NC State’s top rebounder and tone-setter. The matchup down low could go a long way to determining the outcome. Howell’s effort is unquestioned, but he needs to stay on the floor to keep Plumlee in check. He needs to avoid the foul trouble that shows up from time to time.
Player we’re watching: Quinn Cook
Cook’s development has been one the keys to Duke’s success this season, but he’s had quite the swing in the last week. Against Wake Forest, he missed all of 11 of his shots from the floor while added 14 assists to one turnover. Against Clemson on Tuesday, Duke gave him the green light to shoot despite his futility from the field against Wake. He responded with a career-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
Stat that matters: Scott Wood’s 3-point shooting
NC State is 14-0 in the last two seasons when guard Scott Wood converts four 3-point shots. That’s going to be tough to do against Duke. The Blue Devils have allowed only three players all season -- Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson, Elon’s Sebastian Koch and Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster -- to convert four or more shots beyond the arc. Duke has limited four teams to fewer than four 3-pointers in a game (Louisville, Delaware, Cornell and Clemson).
How Duke can win: Overcome Ryan Kelly’s absence
In three games Ryan Kelly missed at the end of last season, Duke squeaked by Virginia Tech and then lost to Florida State in the ACC tournament and 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils will have to overcome his absence again as Kelly is out with a right foot injury. Duke will miss his scoring (13.4 points per game), his versatility, his defense and some of the little things he did, such as inbounding against the press. Duke will turn to Josh Hairston (11.3 minutes per game), Amile Jefferson (8.8) and Alex Murphy (5.6) to fill Kelly’s shoes.
How NC State can win: Manage a complete effort
Even with Kelly hurt, NC State can’t play as if Duke is considerably shorthanded (though the Blue Devils may be). The Wolfpack can ill-afford foul trouble from Howell, a scoreless night from T.J. Warren (as he had against Georgia Tech on Wednesday) or some of the poor chemistry and rhythm that plagued NC State early this season.
NC State 68, Duke 65
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern.
Minnesota at Indiana
(Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
Minnesota has won 11 in a row, including a nice 84-67 win at Illinois on Wednesday. This is an intriguing stretch for the Gophers, who visit Bloomington on Saturday and face Michigan on Jan. 17. Trevor Mbakwe is heating up at the right time before facing the Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller.
Marquette at Pittsburgh
(Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
Pittsburgh recovered from its 0-2 Big East start with a 73-45 drubbing of Georgetown on the road. The Panthers forced more Georgetown turnovers (16) than it allowed field goals (13). Marquette hits the road for its first league away game after two close calls in Milwaukee: Marquette defeated UConn in overtime and the Hoyas by one point in Milwaukee.
Villanova at Syracuse
(Saturday, noon, Big East syndication)
Villanova started 4-4, including losses to Alabama, Columbia and La Salle, but the Wildcats have reeled off seven consecutive wins. Upsetting Syracuse at the Carrier Dome may be too much to ask of Jay Wright’s team, but it’s a storyline worth watching.
Connecticut at Notre Dame (Saturday, 2 p.m., Big East syndication)
The Huskies are showing fight under new coach Kevin Ollie, but they lack the firepower on the front line to challenge Notre Dame, especially in South Bend. Jack Cooley is averaging 15.2 points and 11.2 rebounds. The Irish have only one loss, in overtime to Saint Joseph’s.
UCLA at Colorado (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
This is far from a storied Pac-12 rivalry, but the Bruins’ trip to Boulder could be one of the better games in the league this season. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad has topped 20 points in five of his last seven games as the Bruins have recovered from a slow start. It’s gut check time for Colorado, which allowed a collapse against Arizona turn into a second loss to Arizona State.
North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Here’s something you don’t see often from a Leonard Hamilton team: Florida State has been better — at least statistically — offensively than defensively this season. The Seminoles are heating up as conference play begins, defeating Maryland 65-62 on the road behind Okaro White’s 15 consecutive points. North Carolina, meanwhile, is in disarray. Roy Williams doesn't have the high-squad he usually has as the Tar Heels have lost their first two ACC games, scoring 52 on Virginia and
Illinois at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network)
This will be a difficult road test for John Groce’s club. The Fighting Illini depend heavily on the 3-point shot, but that went cold against Minnesota on Wednesday (3 of 24). Wisconsin gives up fewer 3s than any team in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2)
This is the type of game Oklahoma State will need to win finish near the top of the Big 12. The Cowboys lost back-to-back games to Gonzaga and Kansas State before rebounding Wednesday against TCU. Oklahoma looks like a bubble team, so this kind of game can go a long way for Lon Kruger’s Sooners. OU is improved, but the Cowboys feature the more talented roster.
BYU at Santa Clara (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ROOT Sports)
Santa Clara is one of the most improved teams in the nation. The Broncos, ravaged by injuries, won only eight games last season. They should finish near the top of the West Coast Conference this season. BYU guard Tyler Haws is averaging 27 points over his last four games, inclduing a 42-point outburst against Virginia Tech.
Saint Louis at Temple (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
After starting 3-3, Saint Louis has won eight in a row, including a 60-46 victory over New Mexico. The return of Kwamain Mitchell could make the Billikens a contender in the Atlantic 10. Temple handed Syracuse its only loss last season and gave Kansas fits by slowing the tempo, but the Owls have lost to Canisius from the MAAC and an 8-6 Xavier team.
Missouri at Ole Miss (Saturday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication)
Mizzou’s first-ever SEC road game is at the cozy Tad Pad in Oxford. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, the league’s leading scorer (18.2 ppg), will be the focus of the Tigers’ defense, but Murphy Holloway is also a talented scorer for the Rebs. Ole Miss was last seen scoring 92 points on defensive-minded Tennessee in Knoxville.
Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
This is a sneaky-good game in the very tough Mountain West. Colorado State, under first-year coach Larry Eustachy, has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. San Diego State is clearly a league contender. As he showed earlier this week, Aztecs guard Jamaal Franklin can dunk a little.
Michigan at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS)
Michigan has been one of the most impressive teams in the nation to date, but the Wolverines have yet to be tested in a true road game. Ohio State will provide that test, but the Buckeyes might not have enough scoring to keep up with John Beilein’s balanced attack.
Maryland at Miami (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Two teams that have endured setbacks of late: Miami with a thumb injury to Reggie Johnson and Maryland with its loss to Florida State on Wednesday. The Hurricanes have proven they can win even without their big man, but Terrapins 7-foot-1 center Alex Len will be a new challenge.
Arizona State at Oregon (Sunday, 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Both teams are led in scoring by freshmen — Oregon’s Damyean Dotson and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson. Carson’s numbers are better, but Dotson has the supporting cast that handed Arizona its first loss of the season Thursday.
Athlon managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
With college football’s 2012 season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was and review the performance of all 124 teams before 2013 kicks off.
Twenty-eight coaches made their debut at a new program in 2012 and produced a mix bag of results.
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien get a slight nod as the top three new coaches, but Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Memphis’ Justin Fuente also had a strong debut year.
While those coaches are at the top, it’s a different story for Southern Miss’ Ellis Johnson, Arkansas’ John L. Smith and Illinois’ Tim Beckman. Smith wasn’t retained, Johnson was fired, and Beckman is already making staff changes after a disappointing 2012 season.
Ranking the Performance of College Football's New Coaches from 2012
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
2012 Record: 12-0
What Went Right: Despite NCAA sanctions and a postseason ban, motivation wasn’t an issue for the Buckeyes. Behind Meyer’s leadership and the play of quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State completed its first unbeaten season since 2002 and served notice to the rest of college football that the Buckeyes will be back and better than ever in 2013. Ohio State also claimed its eighth victory in nine games over rival Michigan.
What Went Wrong: It’s hard to find much that went wrong with Meyer’s first season. The Buckeyes struggled to find playmakers at receiver, and the defense had its share of struggles through the first part of the season. Obviously, both issues are just being nitpicky but will be worth watching in 2013.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
2012 Record: 11-2
What Went Right: New coach. New quarterback. New conference. Three factors that should have made 2012 a difficult year for Sumlin and Texas A&M. Instead, the Aggies finished as one of college football’s top 10 teams, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after recording over 5,000 yards of total offense. Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama in mid-November and its only losses came by five points or less. Sumlin is on fire on the recruiting trail, and Texas A&M should be a national title contender in 2013.
What Went Wrong: Just as we mentioned with Urban Meyer, it’s hard to find many faults in Sumlin’s debut season. The Aggies lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s imperative for Sumlin to pick the right replacement this offseason. Texas A&M’s only defeats came to Florida and LSU – a combined 21-5 – so there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the loss column.
3. Bill O’Brien, Penn State
2012 Record: 8-4
What Went Right: After starting 0-2, Penn State rallied to finish 8-4 and beat Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in Happy Valley. Considering the personnel losses and NCAA sanctions on the program, O’Brien did an outstanding job of keeping the team together, as well as rallying the team after a tough start. Under O’Brien’s direction, the offense showed significant improvement, averaging 417.5 yards and 29.1 points a game.
What Went Wrong: With the NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations, it’s hard to criticize O’Brien for anything that happened in Happy Valley this year. He navigated the team through a difficult season, improved the offense and so far, hasn’t lost any key players to a transfer for 2013. O’Brien has a tough task ahead of him but appears to be the right person for the job.
4. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
2012 Record: 7-6
What Went Right: After finishing 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011, Ole Miss was one of college football’s most improved teams. The Rebels won seven contests, including the in-state rivalry against Mississippi State and the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. Ole Miss hung tough against Alabama and lost by only six points to LSU. The Rebels are recruiting well, so more help is on the way for a roster that showed marked improvement in 2012.
What Went Wrong: Nothing.
5. Jim Mora, UCLA
2012 Record: 9-5
What Went Right: Mora wasn’t the first choice for UCLA, but his debut season was very successful. The Bruins improved their win total by three games, claimed another Pac-12 South crown and defeated rival USC 38-28. Overall, not a bad season. UCLA returns most of its core next season, and the Bruins should be the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year.
What Went Wrong: The Bruins closed with three consecutive losses, including a disappointing 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. Mora’s strong suit is defense, but UCLA finished eighth in the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense. The Bruins are on the right track, but Mora and his staff still have plenty of work to do.
6. Justin Fuente, Memphis
2012 Record: 4-8
What Went Right: While it may seem strange to have a coach with a losing record ranked inside of the top 10, Memphis was one of college football’s worst teams in the previous two years. Fuente guided the Tigers to a three-game winning streak to close out the season and nearly defeated Arkansas State (Sun Belt champion).
What Went Wrong: Although Fuente got Memphis on track late in the year, the Tigers lost to FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin in the season opener. Statistically, this team still has a long ways to go to be competitive in the Big East. Memphis averaged only 318.3 yards per game and struggled to find a passing attack. Fuente wasn’t handed much to work with, so it’s no surprise there will be growing pains in 2013 and beyond.
7. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
2012 Record: 8-4
What Went Right: Similar to Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, Fedora deserves credit for keeping North Carolina motivated with nothing to play for. The Tar Heels were banned from postseason play but tied for first place in the Coastal Division and snapped a five-game losing streak to rival NC State.
What Went Wrong: Finishing 8-4 in a year with no postseason possibility doesn’t leave much room for criticism. However, North Carolina lost three games by four points or less, so there’s some room to improve in close contests. Obviously, that’s being very nitpicky for a team that could win the Coastal Division in 2013. However, the division will be a tight race next year, so there’s little margin for error.
8. Todd Graham, Arizona State
2012 Record: 8-5
What Went Right: The Sun Devils were on the doorstep of playing for the Pac-12 Championship. A 45-43 loss to UCLA in late October was the tiebreaker for the South Division title, but Arizona State still finished with eight wins and a huge victory over rival Arizona. The Sun Devils also crushed Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. One of Graham’s biggest accomplishments was bringing discipline to the roster, as Arizona State finished 10th nationally in fewest penalties per game – a big improvement after ranking last in college football in 2011.
What Went Wrong: Just like many of the coaches in the top 10 of this ranking, it’s hard to criticize Graham for anything at Arizona State in 2012. Statistically, the Sun Devils have room to improve against the run and need to cut down on the sacks allowed next year. Barring any unexpected injuries, Graham has Arizona State positioned to start in the top 25 next season.
9. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
2012 Record: 8-5
What Went Right: Rodriguez was one of the best hires of last offseason and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Tucson. After winning four games in 2011, the Wildcats rebounded to post eight victories, including a New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada. Arizona nearly knocked off Stanford, defeated USC and beat Oklahoma State for a solid non-conference win in Week 2.
What Went Wrong: With the Wildcats having to adjust to Rodriguez’s scheme on offense and the personnel issues on defense, an 8-5 record was Arizona’s best-case scenario. Failing to score in a loss to Oregon was a disappointment, but the only real negative mark this year was a defeat to rival Arizona State.
10. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
2012 Record: 9-4
What Went Right: DeRuyter’s first season was a success. The Bulldogs claimed a share of the Mountain West title, averaged 477.5 yards per game on offense and ranked 22nd nationally in total defense. Although Fresno State lost four games, there’s no shame in losing to Tulsa, Oregon and Boise State.
What Went Wrong: While the Bulldogs were one of the Mountain West’s best teams during the regular season, the bowl loss to SMU was one of the postseason’s biggest surprises. Fresno State was thoroughly dominated in the Hawaii Bowl, which prevented the program from having its first double-digit win season since 2001.
11. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
2012 Record: 10-3
What Went Right: The Red Wolves needed a few games to adapt to Malzahn, but once this team got acclimated to their new coach, they emerged as the top team in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State finished 7-1 in conference play and reeled off eight consecutive victories to finish the year.
What Went Wrong: As expected, the Red Wolves took their lumps early on, losing 57-34 at Oregon and 42-13 at Nebraska. Arkansas State’s offense wasn’t as prolific as most expected but still averaged 34.9 points a game.
12. Matt Campbell, Toledo
2012 Record: 9-4
What Went Right: Campbell was college football’s youngest head coach in 2012 but nearly guided Toledo to the MAC West title. The Rockets lost two conference games by a touchdown, dropped the season opener to Arizona in overtime, beat Cincinnati in mid-October and fell to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite a few key injuries late in the year, Campbell kept Toledo on track and has the Rockets poised to push for the conference crown once again in 2013.
What Went Wrong: The Rockets were just a couple of plays away from finishing with an unbeaten regular season record, so Campbell doesn’t deserve much criticism. One area Campbell and his staff will look to improve in the offseason is the defense, which allowed 473.2 yards per game in 2012.
13. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
2012 Record: 9-4
What Went Right: After Greg Schiano bolted just before Signing Day to the NFL, hiring Flood was all about continuity. So far, so good. Rutgers just missed out on winning the Big East title but finished with nine victories and scored a road win over Arkansas in late September. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game and ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed.
What Went Wrong: Although Rutgers won nine games, there’s a sense of disappointment. The Scarlet Knights had an excellent opportunity to win the Big East crown and fell just short. After starting 7-0, Rutgers finished 2-4 and lost its final three games. Flood has to rebuild the defense next season, as well as get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a rough finish to 2012.
14. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
2012 Record: 6-7
What Went Right: After starting 0-2, most thought the Panthers would have trouble getting bowl eligible. However, Pittsburgh rallied to get to six victories, which included an upset over Rutgers and a 35-17 blowout victory over Virginia Tech. The Panthers also held their own against Notre Dame, losing 29-26 in three overtimes. Also, under Chryst’s direction, quarterback Tino Sunseri showed marked improvement. Considering the coaching turmoil that has surrounded Pittsburgh over the last few years, Chryst’s decision to not pursue the Wisconsin opening brought some much-needed stability to the program.
What Went Wrong: The season opener. The Chryst era at Pittsburgh got off to an awful start with a 31-17 loss to FCS opponent Youngstown State. And the season didn’t get much better in Week 2, as the Panthers lost 34-10 at Cincinnati.
15. Bob Davie, New Mexico
2012 Record: 4-9
What Went Right: After winning just three games in the three previous seasons, the Lobos recorded four victories in 2012. Considering Davie was in the television booth and away from the sidelines since 2001, New Mexico’s quick improvement was a surprise. Davie’s decision to switch to an option offense paid dividends, as the Lobos ranked near the top of the nation in time of possession and averaged 301.3 rushing yards per game. Although New Mexico finished with nine losses, five of the defeats came by a touchdown or less.
What Went Wrong: Although the Lobos were more competitive in Davie’s first season, they finished with a six-game losing streak and was throttled 35-7 by a bad UNLV team.
16. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
2012 Record: 4-8
What Went Right: New Mexico, UNLV and Hawaii isn’t exactly the toughest gauntlet of late-season scheduling but credit the Rams for finishing with three wins over their final five games. Colorado State also knocked off rival Colorado in the season opener. McElwain may have found a potential breakout player at running back, as Donnell Alexander rushed for at least 100 yards in three out of his final four games.
What Went Wrong: Outside of the victories, Colorado State struggled to be competitive in Mountain West games. The Rams lost by over 20 points to Air Force, Fresno State, San Diego State and Boise State. McElwain had bad luck with injuries at quarterback, but Colorado State’s passing game needs to get better in 2013.
17. Garrick McGee, UAB
2012 Record: 3-9
What Went Right: It’s hard to find a lot of good news in a 3-9 season, but the Blazers won two out of their last four games. UAB also lost to Ohio State by only 12 points and was defeated by Conference USA champion Tulsa by just a touchdown. Even though UAB didn’t make significant gains in the win column, this team was competitive and found a quarterback (Austin Brown) and running back (Darrin Reaves) to build on in 2013.
What Went Wrong: While UAB showed promise on offense, the defense needs a lot of work. The Blazers allowed 37.5 points a game and registered only 1.7 sacks a game. If UAB can improve on defense and cut down on the turnovers, the Blazers could surprise in Conference USA next year.
18. Mike Leach, Washington State
2012 Record: 3-9
What Went Right: The season got off to a rough start for Washington State, but it rebounded to win its next two games to start 2-1 before Pac-12 play. The Cougars recorded only one victory within the conference, defeating rival Washington 31-28 in overtime.
What Went Wrong: There’s no doubt Leach was the biggest disappointment of college football’s new coaches for 2012. Washington State was predicted by some to reach a bowl game, and Leach’s high-powered offense never really got on track. The Cougars also had a horrible loss to Colorado and suffered blowout defeats to Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and BYU.
19. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
2012 Record: 2-10
What Went Right: Johnson didn’t have much to work with in 2012, so finishing with a 2-10 mark wasn’t much of a surprise. Despite winning only two games, Tulane showed some signs of progress. The Green Wave knocked off SMU and UAB, lost three conference games by five points or less and held their own against Rutgers in the season opener.
What Went Wrong: Tulane ranked 109th nationally in total offense and was largely hindered by injuries to starting quarterback Ryan Griffin and running back Orleans Darkwa. The defense was one of the worst in the nation, and the Green Wave ranked 101st in turnover margin. Both sides of the ball need a lot of work before next season, so there’s plenty for Johnson and his staff to work on during spring practice.
20. Charlie Weis, Kansas
2012 Record: 1-11
What Went Right: Weis was able to upgrade Kansas’ talent by adding a few transfers, but the new personnel didn’t change the success on the gridiron. The Jayhawks had only one win in 2012 but was more competitive in Big 12 play than they were in 2011.
What Went Wrong: Expectations were low for Kansas in 2012, so finishing with a 1-11 mark wasn’t a surprise. The biggest shock of the season was the lack of improvement from the passing attack, especially since Weis pulled in Dayne Crist from Notre Dame to start at quarterback.
21. Carl Pelini, FAU
2012 Record: 3-9
What Went Right: Pelini’s tenure at FAU got off to a rough start, as the Owls barely beat FCS opponent Wagner in the season opener and was 1-6 before a win over Troy. FAU showed some improvement over the second half of the year, picking up a win over Western Kentucky and losing its last three games by 10 points or less.
What Went Wrong: Pelini didn’t inherit a full cupboard, so there’s no doubt 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Also contributing to the early struggles was a difficult schedule, which featured games against Georgia and Alabama. FAU simply doesn’t have the talent right now to push for a winning record, but the Owls will soon step into a tougher conference. Pelini needs to get both sides of the ball playing better, while finding a way to quickly close the gap in talent.
22. Tony Levine, Houston
2012 Record: 5-7
What Went Right: After starting his career with a bowl win over Penn State, Levine’s first full season as Houston’s head coach was a disappointment. There weren’t many positives, but the Cougars defeated Rice 35-14 to keep the Bayou Bucket. Levine’s team lost by only a touchdown against Louisiana Tech and finished the season on a high note by beating Tulane 40-17.
What Went Wrong: There were already plenty of doubts about Levine due to his lack of head coaching experience and so far, he’s done nothing to suggest he’s the long-term answer for Houston. The Cougars lost some key personnel, so it was inevitable this team would take a step back in the win column. However, 2012 was a weak year for Conference USA, and Houston had enough talent to get to a bowl game. With a move to a tougher conference next season, Levine will be under pressure to show this program is headed back in the right direction.
23. Norm Chow, Hawaii
2012 Record: 3-9
What Went Right: The Warriors finished 2012 with some momentum, winning their last two games against UNLV and South Alabama. First-year coach Norm Chow struggled to find the right pieces on offense, but the defense ranked 41st nationally in yards allowed and generated 2.3 sacks a game.
What Went Wrong: Chow came home to Honolulu to lead the Warriors to championships. But it’s clear Hawaii is far from contending for a Mountain West title. Chow’s specialty is on offense, so it was surprising to see Hawaii finish with just 297.4 yards per game in 2012. The Warriors were largely uncompetitive throughout Mountain West play and their only victories came against two FBS teams with a combined four wins and a FCS squad with a losing record.
24. Charley Molnar, UMass
2012 Record: 1-11
What Went Right: Considering UMass was in its first season of FBS play, the expectations were low for 2012. The Minutemen were more competitive late in the season, beating Akron 22-14 and losing to Buffalo by 10 points.
What Went Wrong: As expected, UMass struggled to be competitive and was blown out in a handful of games. The offense managed only three first downs in a loss to Connecticut and scored less than 10 points five times. Molnar seems to be a good fit at UMass, but he will need at least three seasons to get the program competitive within the MAC.
25. Terry Bowden, Akron
2012 Record: 1-11
What Went Right: Bowden inherited a disaster, so this ranking is really more reflective of the state of the program, rather than his coaching job this year. The Zips’ only victory came against FCS opponent Morgan State 66-6, but they lost four games by 10 points or less. Akron showed marked improvement on offense, averaging 427.2 yards per game in 2012.
What Went Wrong: Bowden was a good hire at Akron, but it’s clear he needs more time to get the program competitive within the conference. The Zips didn’t record a win in MAC play and gave up at least 30 points in five out of the last six games.
26. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2012 Record: 2-10
What Went Right: The only piece of good news for Illinois is that year one of the Beckman era could have been worse. The Fighting Illini earned two victories but failed to win a game in conference play. The lackluster season is resulting in staff changes, as co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty was fired, and his replacement is expected to be former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit.
What Went Wrong: Before Illinois played a game this year, Beckman earned plenty of bad publicity by trying to attract transfers from Penn State. Whether or not all of the reports were true about sending the staff to Happy Valley to recruit, it was a bad moment for Beckman. Illinois also had to report Beckman for a NCAA secondary violation after he chewed tobacco during the 35-7 loss to Wisconsin. Overall, it was a horrible beginning for Beckman in Champaign, but he will at least get 2013 to show the program is making some progress in the right direction.
27. John L. Smith, Arkansas
2012 Record: 4-8
What Went Right: For a team that began the year in most preseason top 25 polls and ended with a 4-8 record, it’s hard to find much that went right. Arkansas did win two SEC games, nearly knocked off LSU and defeated a good Tulsa team 19-15 in early November.
What Went Wrong: Considering the timing of the coaching change, it’s hard to blame everything on Smith. The Razorbacks never seemed to recover from losing head coach Bobby Petrino, especially on offense where they averaged just 23.5 points a game. Although it’s unfair to blame Smith for all of Arkansas’ woes, the Razorbacks only won two games in SEC play and struggled to be competitive against the bowl teams in the conference.
28. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
2012 Record: 0-12
What Went Right: Nothing.
What Went Wrong: Everything. Johnson is a good defensive coordinator but is obviously not head coaching material. Southern Miss had some key personnel losses and a tough schedule, but the Golden Eagles should not have finished 0-12. Johnson was fired after the regular season finale against Memphis.
Related College Football Content
It is never too early to start looking ahead to next season. Especially now that Alabama is college football’s 2012 National Champion. This season featured huge showdowns between the ACC and SEC at the end of the year, Notre Dame battling with the Big Ten or Pac-12 all season long and a host of other important non-conference showdowns. Each and every year, a variety of intersectional matchups mold the national championship landscape or add a chapter to long and storied rivalries.
Athlon Sports starts marking up the 2013 calendar with key non-conference games to watch:
1. Georgia at Clemson (Aug. 31)
The Dawgs are a preseason Top 10 team now that Aaron Murray returns, but the defense will be replacing upwards of 10 starters. They will have to face a Tajh Boyd-Chad Morris offense that is one of the best in the nation. The Tigers will likely be the pick in the ACC and could also be a top 10 team, making the home game against the SEC power essentially a national title elimination game.
2. Oklahoma at Notre Dame (Sept. 28)
The Sooners could be the pick in the Big 12 but will need to break in a bunch of new pieces on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame will once again be a national title contender with an elite defensive line and improved offense. With revenge, historic brands and elite talent all involved in this showdown, it could easily be another national title elimination game.
3. UCLA at Nebraska (Sept. 14)
This was an epic showdown early in 2012 when the Bruins defeated the Huskers 36-30 in Week 2 of the season. It was Brett Hundley’s coming out party as the savior at quarterback for UCLA. The pressure might now be on Jim Mora’s team as the potential preseason favorite in the Pac-12 South. Nebraska could be the pick in the Big Ten's Legends Division as this early season game will feature both losers in their respective conference championship games from this fall.
4. Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
The big three SEC-ACC showdowns each year carry in-state bragging rights and historic implications. But in 2012, Florida-Florida State was the only one carrying national title importance. The best of the bunch next fall, however, could be the Palmetto State battle. Both could be picked to win their respective divisions and both could be unbeaten heading into one of the most intense rivalries in the nation.
5. Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 30)
Stanford has big holes to fill along its defensive front and on the offense, but has to still be considered one of the frontrunners in the Pac-12. The Irish will once again be a top 10 team, and this time, must travel to Palo Alto to deal with a team that will likely never forget how the 2012 version ended.
6. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Aug. 31, Atlanta)
With Logan Thomas coming back and some tweaks on the coaching staff, the Hokies almost have be better on offense in 2012. Defensively, Bud Foster’s team will always be good, but to compete with the Tide in the Kickoff Classic, Thomas will have to be the difference maker. Otherwise, Bama will make yet another statement in its season opener en route to yet another title run.
7. Notre Dame at Michigan (Sept. 7)
Brady Hoke and Brian Kelly have completely overhauled their historic programs in short order. Both are still improving and both have title hopes (National and Big Ten, respectively). This is one of the most historic battles each season and generally is one of the best games of the year.
8. TCU vs. LSU (Aug. 31, Arlington)
Gary Patterson did one of his better coaching jobs with some impressive wins without his starting quarterback in year one in a new league. The defensive line will be nasty for the Horned Frogs and they will be playing very close to home. This is what should give them a chance against the mighty Bayou Bengals. LSU is losing nearly a dozen elite players early to the NFL Draft and will be very young along the offensive line and on defense.
9. USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 19)
The Trojans have some holes to fill at quarterback and defensive coordinator, but they also have loads of young talent and yet another elite recruiting class stepping onto campus. The Irish are a preseason top 10 team and anytime these two college football bluebloods get together, fireworks tend to fly.
10. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30)
Much like South Carolina-Clemson, this one could carry national import at season’s end once again. Both programs have big holes to fill on defense while the Noles must replace EJ Manuel at quarterback. If the Gators' offense can develop in the offseason, they will be right in the heart of the SEC East race.
11. Florida at Miami (Sept. 7)
This will be a big prove-it game for the rising Hurricanes. Al Golden has done an excellent job with a roster that started 10 freshmen and technically won the division in 2012. Miami could validate its growth and put itself on the national scene with an early home win of the mighty in-state rivals.
12. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (Aug. 31, Houston)
The Bulldogs and Cowboys are both achieving at unprecedented levels and both could be sneaky good once again in 2013. The Pokes could actually be the preseason pick to win the Big 12 and will have a chance to prove it against an always solid Dan Mullen-coached team — in a fertile recruiting territory for both.
13. Boise State at Washington (Aug. 31)
This was a great bowl game in Las Vegas to end the season. Now, these two West Coast powers will do battle right out of the gate in 2013. The Huskies' defense should continue to improve while the offense has the pieces to excel. And Chris Peterson will always have the Broncos ready to go early in the year.
14. Wisconsin at Arizona State (Sept. 14)
This was a great game in Madison a few years ago and should again be a stellar non-conference tilt next year. Todd Graham has loads of weapons returning on offense and should be the favorite to win this intriguing intersectional game.
15. Notre Dame vs. Arizona State (Oct. 5, Arlington)
This should be a great test for the Irish defensive line and the Taylor Kelly-led Sun Devils offense. The strengths of both teams will go head-to-head and a win for ASU would validate them as a serious South Division contender.
16. North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 31)
Yet another SEC-ACC battle — but this one will have interstate bragging rights on the line. The two programs are the State-U’s in their respective Carolina, but the North version will have to play over their heads to compete with the potential SEC East frontrunner.
17. Texas at BYU (Sept. 7)
Both defenses have a chance to be the strength of their respective teams — if Texas’ athletes can finally play up to their potential. And anytime a team has to visit Provo, it must be worried about escaping with a victory.
18. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sept. 21)
The Spartans will once again be excellent on defense and one has to believe the offense will be more two-dimensional in 2013. The Irish are what they are and have been crushing the Spartans of late.
19. Rutgers at Fresno State (Aug. 29)
The Knights will feature yet another solid defensive unit and they will have their work cut out for them in a long, cross-country trip to face an elite offense. Derek Carr has only a few national spotlight moments and this will be one of them.
20. Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 30)
Tech finally got Paul Johnson a bowl win and, ideally, that will catapult the team into the offseason. The Dawgs are a big-time national title contender. Finally, it is still arguably the best named rivalry in the nation: “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.”
21. BYU at Wisconsin (Nov. 9)
Defense will rule the day in a rare late-season non-conference game for a Big Ten power.
22. Oregon at Nevada (Sept. 7)
Sans legend Chris Ault, Nevada will host one of its most high-profile opponents in Reno history.
23. Penn State at Syracuse (Aug. 31, East Rutherford)
Cuse has a new coach but has been much better of late. PSU needs to start things right.
24. Tennessee at Oregon (Sept. 14)
This won’t be a close game, but two major powers get together in Eugene early in the year.
25. Arkansas at Rutgers (Sept. 21)
Revenge factor is heavy for the Hogs, but the Knights have a national spotlight game here.
26. West Virginia at Maryland (Sept. 21, Baltimore)
The Terps are improving and WVU is replacing a ton of offensive weapons.
27. Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky (Aug. 31, Nashville)
Bobby Petrino vs. the SEC. Need I say more?
28. Western Kentucky at Tennessee (Sept. 7)
Bobby Petrino vs. an SEC team that should have hired him. Need I say more?
29. Ole Miss at Texas (Sept. 7)
Was a high-scoring showdown in Oxford in 2012, could be even better in 2013.
30. Ohio State at Cal (Sept. 14)
Tricky road game for national title contender against new coaching staff in Berkeley.
Best of the Rest:
Utah at BYU (Sept. 21)
Washington State at Auburn (Aug. 31)
Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 14)
Northwestern at Cal (Aug. 31)
Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 14)
Washington vs. Illinois (Sept. 14, Chicago)
Notre Dame at Purdue (Sept. 14)
Louisville at Kentucky (Sept. 14)
Northwestern at Cal (Aug. 31)
Nevada at UCLA (Aug. 31)
Syracuse at Northwestern (Sept. 7)
Nevada at Florida State (Sept. 21)
Miami at USF (Sept. 28)
Georgia Tech at BYU (Oct. 12)
Notre Dame at Pitt (Nov. 9)
Purdue at Cincinnati (Aug. 31)
The 2012 college football season ended the same way the last one did with Alabama and the SEC on top.
Teams who rose up and exceeded expectations, though, were among one of the major hallmarks of the year.
Texas A&M, a team few though would compete immediately in the SEC, knocked off the eventual national champion on the road, produced a freshman Heisman winner and won the Cotton Bowl.
On the other side of the country, Stanford lost Andrew Luck but gained a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win.
Even Notre Dame found a way to surprise us with an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the BCS title game.
While Alabama will be tough to knock from the No. 1 spot, there are plenty of teams poised to climb even higher in the polls next season.
It’s early, but here’s a look at five teams poised to improve their win total in 2013. Could Clemson's Tajh Boyd be among the teams on the rise next season?
5 Teams on the Rise for 2013 Season
Arizona State - No. 24 in early top 25 for 2013
The Sun Devils finished the 2012 season by winning their final three games, including a huge 41-34 road victory over in-state rival Arizona and a 62-28 blowout win over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. There’s no question Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe was a success, especially when you consider the program had eight victories in 2012 – the most since winning 10 in 2007 – and lost by two points to Pac-12 South champion UCLA. The offense averaged 38.4 points a game in 2012 and returns two capable quarterbacks in Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, while D.J. Foster and Marion Grice will pickup the slack for the departed Cameron Marshall at running back. Arizona State’s defense received good news when defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return for his senior year. Although Sutton is back, the Sun Devils need to find replacements for linebacker Brandon Magee and safety Keelan Johnson. However, this unit held opponents to 24.3 points a game last season and could improve on that number in 2013.
Clemson - No. 9 in early top 25 for 2013
Since winning the Chick-fil-A Bowl, not much has gone wrong for Clemson. Quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down the NFL Draft for one more season on campus, and with all of the head coaching vacancies filled, offensive coordinator Chad Morris will also return to Death Valley for 2013. The combination of Boyd and Morris is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, and Clemson should once again threaten to average over 500 yards and 40 points a game next season. The Tigers weren’t among the nation’s elite on defense but held LSU to just 99 rushing yards in the bowl game. Although Clemson has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, it should be a heavy favorite to win the ACC and has a chance at a marquee win in the season opener against Georgia.
Louisville - No. 10 in early top 25 for 2013
The Cardinals were one of the biggest surprises of the bowl season, upsetting a Florida team that was favored by nearly 15 points. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater surgically carved the Gators’ secondary for 266 yards on 20 completions, while Louisville’s defense held Florida to 286 yards and registered three sacks. With coach Charlie Strong turning down Tennessee, and Bridgewater back on campus for at least one more season, the Cardinals are poised to make a run at an unbeaten record. There’s no clear challenger to Louisville in the Big East next year, and the non-conference slate is very manageable. As long as the Cardinals stay healthy, finishing in the top five next year is a very realistic possibility.
Oklahoma State - No. 14 in early top 25 for 2013
Despite losing two of the nation’s top offensive players (quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon), the Cowboys still finished third nationally in scoring offense and fourth in yards per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Oklahoma State started three different quarterbacks and had only one returning starter on the offensive line from 2011. The Cowboys are in good shape on both sides of the ball for next season and should be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. Although coach Mike Gundy needs to find an offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat next year. The Cowboys also have a huge schedule advantage in 2013, as they play arguably their biggest challengers in the Big 12 – Oklahoma and TCU – in Stillwater.
TCU - No. 15 in early top 25 for 2013
Making the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12 was a step up in competition, but as 2012 showed, the Horned Frogs are more than ready to challenge for a conference title. Although Trevone Boykin filled in admirably for quarterback Casey Pachall after he was forced to leave the team in early October, the offense lacked a consistent passing attack. Assuming Pachall regains his starting spot, the Horned Frogs should see a jump across the board in offensive production next year. The rushing attack will get a boost from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. TCU led the Big 12 in total defense last season and returns 10 starters from that group. A schedule that features road dates at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, along with a neutral site matchup against LSU will be challenging. However, the Horned Frogs have the returning personnel to challenge for the Big 12 title or a BCS bowl.
Related College Football Content
Johnny Manziel set the college football world on fire this year and it led to the first redshirt freshman winning the award. Johnny Heisman confirmed his amazing season by putting on a record-setting show in the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. But is the redshirt sophomore-to-be the front-runner to win Heisman considering only once in 77 years has someone won the stiff-armed trophy a second time. And that was in 1975 (Archie Griffin).
That said, two second-year players (Manziel, Tim Tebow) and a third-year sophomore (Mark Ingram) have won the award in the last six years. Additionally, three defensive players have found themselves in New York as finalists since 2009 and linebacker Manti Te’o nearly won the award this fall. It appears the antiquated tendencies of the Heisman voting populous are beginning to fade.
And it means a defensive end could be crowned as the best player in the game next fall:
The Heisman Finalists:
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Few players posted numbers comparable to Johnny Heisman, but Boyd was one of them. He led the ACC in passing efficiency (165.59) and total offense (339.2 ypg) and was fifth and seventh in each category nationally. He scored 46 total touchdowns (36 pass, 10 rush) and has a host of elite weapons returning. More importantly, this team should be the preseason favorite in the ACC with Boyd under center and Chad Morris calling the plays.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carey was the most underrated player in the nation this fall. He led the nation in rushing (148.4 ypg, 1,929 yards), set the Arizona single-season rushing record and the Pac-12 single-game rushing record (366 yards). He scored 24 times and helped turn the Wildcats from a four-win team in 2011 to an eight-win zone read monster this fall. And he did all of this as a sophomore. With spread guru Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, the tough-nosed workhorse has a chance to post huge numbers once again in 2013. Although Carey's on-field performance merits inclusion, the running back is facing domestic violence accusations.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he plays a stat-heavy position on defense, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The monster defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for loss. Winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney wants to become just the second true defensive player to ever win the award.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
What else is there to say about Manziel? His numbers speak for themselves and his Cotton Bowl performance will go down in Aggie lore as one of the greatest postseason performances by a Heisman winner of all time. But Tim Tebow couldn’t repeat. Neither could Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart or Sam Bradford. All were elite talents like Manziel, but the odds of repeating are 1-in-77.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Manziel gets most of the love as a redshirt freshman, but Mariota wasn’t far behind. He rarely played in any second halves and led the nation in road passing efficiency. Overall, he led the Pac-12 in passer rating and scored 37 total touchdowns. As the leader of arguably the nation’s top offense, the supremely gifted 6-foot-4, 200-pounder should be destined for at least one trip to NYC in his career.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' quarterback was easily the biggest finalist snub this season, finishing fifth in the voting. As the leader of an unbeaten Ohio State squad, Miller single-handedly carried the Bucknuts to victory week after week. He was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg), second in passing efficiency and second in total offense. His electric play-making ability, raw toughness and perfect fit in Urban Meyer’s spread scheme make him a virtual lock as a Heisman contender next season.
The Top Challengers:
De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
An elite big-play machine, Thomas’ biggest weakness is actually one of his biggest strengths. The Oregon scheme lends itself to huge numbers but it also distributes the football. Simply put, he needs more than 137 touches on offense to get to New York.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With a proven commodity at quarterback coming back, Lee would be in the “Finalists” category. But with Matt Barkley — and counterpart Robert Woods who drew plenty of defensive attention — leaving for the NFL, Lee’s numbers will almost assuredly go down.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The Dawgs' signal caller will make a push to rewrite the Georgia and SEC record books with another big year in Athens. He led the nation in passing efficiency and has 77 total touchdowns in the last two seasons. He needs to finish a season in Atlanta with a win, however.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The hot name du jour is the Cards' signal caller after his electric performance against Florida’s nasty defense in the Sugar Bowl. The numbers have to get bigger and better and Louisville likely needs to run the table for the junior-to-be to land in NYC.
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Few players make the eye-popping plays in the backfield like Martinez. He showed marked improvement in efficiency and decision making this fall, leading the Big Ten in total offense and passer rating. A pair of potential showdowns with Braxton Miller will likely determine T-Magic’s Heisman fate.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The Bruins finally found a quarterback. The redshirt sophomore-to-be threw for three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games. He led his team to the Pac-12 title game and scored 38 total touchdowns. The show will be all his in Westwood now that Johnathan Franklin is gone.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Looking for another true sophomore to win the award? Look no further than the extremely gifted Yeldon. He rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 scores as a backup this year and Nick Saban’s offense is a proven Heisman commodity for running backs.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
A big part of why Yeldon will be successful will be the return of McCarron. The O-Line will be rebuilt (to some extent), but the talent at the skill positions could be better than Saban has ever had at the Capstone. The biggest issue is his system will never allow for big numbers from the quarterback.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
The De’Anthony Thomas of the East Coast, Johnson led the ACC in kickoff returns and was third in all-purpose running as just a freshman. As the season went on, Al Golden trusted Johnson more on offense and he topped 100 yards three times in his last four games. Look for big things from the sophomore speedster.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The offensive system will allow Carr to air it out all season long. He has 7,648 yards and 63 touchdowns against only 16 interceptions over his last two seasons. An unbeaten record and BCS bowl bid would be key for the Bulldogs' starter.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
When it comes to raw upside and physical talent, Watkins is second to none nationally. But staying healthy and focused has been an issue for the electric play-maker, causing him to miss four games in his first two years. Consistency will be the name of the game for the junior-to-be.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It will be tough for Gurley to top his freshman numbers in the brutal SEC. He led the league in rushing by a running back and scored 17 times. Only Trent Richardson has ever scored 20 rushing TDs in SEC history as a running back and Murray will be throwing plenty of touchdowns. The UGA vote will likely be split between two (maybe three) elite players.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Many people, myself included, were massively disappointed by the 260-pound quarterback. He rallied the Hokies late and the offense should be improved in 2013, but Thomas needs to show growth as a passer (18 TD, 16 INT) to get to New York.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
For Lynch to get to Manhattan next December, he would have to improve on what could be considered the best single-season in MAC history. A BCS bowl bid, nearly 2,000 yards rushing, over 3,000 yards passing, 44 total touchdowns and just six interceptions will be tough to reproduce.
The Long Shots:
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Huskers love to run it and the explosive back will be top complementary piece to Martinez.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
He will score plenty of touchdowns, but can he complete passes consistently?
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Percy Harvin-esque player will be used all over the field on improved Terps team.
Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida
Must improve consistency and needs help on offense, but is only a junior and has loads of upside.
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Showed marked growth over the season and Irish could once again be a top 5 team.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
James White will factor in as well, but Gordon is best bet to be Badgers' new workhorse.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
Sneaky-good athlete in an excellent offense with host of electric supporting athletes.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Big-play star as a runner, receiver and return man for what could be best offense in school history.
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Third-year starter at tailback could be leading candidate from Big 12 in elite offense.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Coach Sark has proven he loves tailbacks, but Keith Price has to improve to help the offense.
The Best of the Rest:
Antonio Andrews, RB, WKU
Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech
Kolton Browning, QB, UL Monroe
Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
Kenneth Dixon, RB, La Tech
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Keith Price, QB, Washington
Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Austin Seferian-Jenkin, TE, Washington
Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
The Defensive Names to Watch:
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Is a terror off of the edge and will push for nation's lead in sacks.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Big-play machine has All-American type talent and upside on a national title contender.
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Elite recruit produced All-Big 12 season as just a freshman. The sky is the limit.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Legacy talent needs to stay healthy all year to prove how dominant he can be.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Elite leader is one of few major defensive stars who elected to return to college.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Redshirt junior to be is already a star and could be nation's top returning coverman.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Will lose a lot of talent around him, but no one hits harder and bigger than Shazier.
Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year back on a team that could push for a division title.
Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
Elite playmaker who should blossom into an All-American as just a sophomore.
Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Supremely gifted athlete could pass Louis Nix as top Irish defender next fall.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Sturdy, dependable star returns for final season in Provo.
For the second straight year and the third time in the past four years, the Alabama Crimson Tide has been voted No. 1 in the season's final Legends Poll.
Others Receiving Votes: Wisconsin 25, UCLA 18, San Jose State 16, Northern Illinois 14, Cincinnati 7, Arkansas State 4, Rutgers 4, Kent State 3, Arizona State 2, Arizona 1
None other than the great Dr. James Andrews has decided that Robert Griffin III will require total reconstructive surgery to repair the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament) in his right knee. The roughly two-hour surgery took place on Wednesday, Jan. 9, and rehab for the Washington Redskins quarterback is expected to take anywhere between six-to-eight months.
But judging by a few recent miracles of modern science and other improbable returns, RG3 may be ready in plenty of time for the 2013 NFL season opener. These are the NFL’s top 10 comeback kings from this season — covering everything from physical injuries to damaged reputations to video game superstition and preconceived notions.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Injury Report: Neck injury requiring two vertebrae to be fused over the course of at least four separate surgical procedures
Initial Prognosis: Missed entire 2011 season with potentially career-ending injury
Actual Results: A five-year, $96 million contract with the Broncos, followed by a 13–3 record, No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs and possible fifth league MVP award
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Injury Report: Torn ACL, MCL in Week 16 of 2011
Initial Prognosis: Expected to miss start of 2012
Actual Results: Played all 16 games, becoming the seventh running back in history to rush for 2,000 yards, falling just short of Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season record
3. Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens
Injury Report: Torn right triceps in Week 6 of 2012
Initial Prognosis: Expected to miss remainder of 2012, possibly force retirement
Actual Results: Made triumphant return in a Wild Card playoff victory over the Colts, giving the fans in Baltimore one last dance after announcing his pending retirement
4. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Injury Report: Cursed after being placed on cover of Madden 13
Initial Prognosis: Would certainly follow in the footsteps of cursed former coverboys Vince Young, Brett Favre, Michael Vick and Peyton Hillis
Actual Results: Became the first receiver in NFL history to record 2,000 yards receiving, breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record in the process
5. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Injury Report: Allegedly stands just over 5’10” tall
Initial Prognosis: Too small to see over O-line, clearly not an NFL starting QB
Actual Results: Drafted No. 75 overall before leading Seattle to playoffs, defeating RG3 head-to-head and becoming fifth rookie quarterback in history to win a postseason game
6. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
Injury Report: Hamstrung by pockets full of money
Initial Prognosis: Loss of breakaway speed more confusing than CJ2K Twitter slang
Actual Results: Had longest TD run of his career (94 yards), became eighth running back in history to begin his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons
7. Jonathan Vilma, LB, Saints
Injury Report: Taken out by Roger Goodell, as Gregg Williams’ “Kill the head” motto was adopted by the Commissioner
Initial Prognosis: Out indefinitely as ringleader of Saints’ Bounty Scandal
Actual Results: Returned to lineup in Week 7, backed by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, currently suing the Commissioner Goodell in a defamation lawsuit
8. Terrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
Injury Report: Torn Achilles tendon playing basketball in April 2012
Initial Prognosis: Pickup basketball career potentially over
Actual Results: Missed first six weeks of NFL season, returned to action in Week 7, started nine games including playoffs, hopes to play basketball again this summer
9. Janoris Jenkins, CB, Rams
Injury Report: Kicked off team at Florida, arrested three times, failed multiple drug tests, had four children by three different women
Initial Prognosis: Irreparable damage to reputation and draft stock
Actual Results: Became Jeff Fisher’s Pacman 2.0, drafted in the second round, shined with four INTs and four defensive TDs during a breakout rookie campaign
10. Randy Moss, WR, 49ers
Injury Report: “Straight cashed out, homey” in 2010
Initial Prognosis: League-wide black-listing after quitting on three teams in single season
Actual Results: Playing for the third-best team of his career with a chance to win his first Super Bowl and provide several more “Straight cash, homey,” reference opportunities
A winning candidate did not emerge from the Hall of Fame balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. There were 569 ballots cast, the third highest total in the history of the voting, yet none of the 37 candidates in the 2013 vote gained mention on the required 75 percent for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
No matter where you stand on the Baseball Hall of Fame debate this year, there really is no winning side. There are those that will never vote for any steroid user. Voting for a player who is connected with steroid use is an affirmation that PED use is acceptable.
There are those voters who argue that we will never know the truth about steroid use and that players must be judged by performance alone, no matter how enhanced that performance may be.
Still there are others that will attempt to be their judge and jury for each individual player. Maybe Player A did a little something but not enough to keep him out of the Hall, while Player B’s use was somehow more egregious.
Still others will send in blank ballots maintaining that the Steroid Era has forever tarnished the game and that any players during this era deserve some kind of punishment. After all, the players union did very little to curtail PED use for more than a decade.
Some writers will argue that baseball — by its own inaction — passively encouraged steroid use. After the strike in 1994 severely damaged the game’s image and the pain was felt at the turnstiles, MLB enjoyed a significant boon in 1998 as artificially pumped up players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased one of the most hallowed records in baseball. As MLB learned, not only did chicks dig the long ball, but so did most fans. So any player performing during this era could be excused for going along with the system at the time and keeping his edge any way he could.
So when the Hall of Fame inductees — if there are any — are announced today, there will continue to be controversy. Because the only real truth here is that the game has been tarnished and there is no going back. There is no giving Hank Aaron his home run record back. Roger Maris will not get his record back. No one will take any Cy Young or MVP awards away. The damage has been done.
The opening of three key SEC jobs this season -- Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee -- sparked debate within the Athlon office, and, it seems, through rabid SEC fans.
Which job is the most desirable?
It’s a loaded question, for sure. Tradition, resources, commitment, recruiting base, competition level and other perks and challenges all come into play.
Two years ago, we ranked every coaching job in the country in our preseason annual. Much has changed since then, not least of which conference affiliations.
We attempted to revisit the topic of ranking coaching jobs this year. We asked: Which jobs would have the greatest likelihood of yielding success within the next five years for the average coach?
Here are our rankings of the programs in this year’s coaching carousel. We’ll continue the exercise as more jobs open, but here’s the first look, with the three major SEC jobs near the top but behind a late-opening vacancy in Eugene, Ore.
Last three coaches: Chip Kelly (46-7), Mike Bellotti (116-55), Rich Brooks (91-109-4)
New coach: Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator
Pros: Starting with Rich Brooks' tenure, Oregon has completed a gradual rise from a moribund program in the Pac-8 to a national power. The Ducks have carved out a niche as one of the most innovative programs in the country, from cutting edge offense, to posh facilities and creative uniform combinations. Though Oregon isn’t a great state for recruiting talent, the Ducks have been able to pick up elite prospects from California while unearthing gems from Texas.
Cons: The cloud of an NCAA investigation into the Ducks’ relationship with recruiting scout Willie Lyles looms over the program. Oregon built itself into a perennial top-25 team in the early 2000s but didn’t arrive as a national title contender until USC was on probation. If USC (or UCLA, for that matter) return to form, what does that mean for the Ducks’ title prospects?
Last three coaches: Derek Dooley (15-21), Lane Kiffin (7-6), Phillip Fulmer (151-52-1)
New coach: Butch Jones, Cincinnati coach
Pros: Tennessee is in the second tier of SEC jobs after Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, but that’s still good enough to be one of the top 15 or 20 jobs in the country. The program’s been down, but it’s in better shape than when Derek Dooley took over, even if the on-field results didn’t show it. Three coaches in three seasons rocked the program’s stability, as did the defections from the 2009 signing class, many of whom would have been seniors this season. Despite rough times, the commitment from the administration and fans remains. The SEC East is still tough, but not as brutal as the West right now. The right coach could elevate the program in a hurry.
Cons: The new coach will have to deal with not being Jon Gruden, the candidate a vocal portion of the fanbase considered the Volunteers’ savior. Tennessee’s not a great state for high school talent, so the Vols have to beat Georgia and South Carolina for recruits on their home turf. Even Vanderbilt has become more of a factor in recruiting in recent seasons. Tennessee may not be in the SEC West, but its permanent crossover game is with Alabama, making the road to Atlanta that much tougher.
Last three coaches: John L. Smith (4-8), Bobby Petrino (37-14), Houston Nutt (75-48)
New coach: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin coach
Pros: Arkansas was right in the mix for SEC titles with Alabama and LSU until scandal cost Petrino his job. Razorbacks fans have long believed that is the rightful place for the Hogs, but history doesn’t say the same. Before Petrino, Arkansas had only one top-15 finish since 1989. Still, Arkansas is the biggest show in the state, and Petrino proved it can contend for a national title with the right coach.
Cons: The SEC West is brutal with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M operating at full strength. Arkansas must recruit Texas if it’s going to be an SEC contender. That task became more difficult since Texas A&M joined the league and enjoyed quick success.
Last three coaches: Gene Chizik (33-19), Tommy Tuberville (85-40), Terry Bowden (47-17-1)
New coach: Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State coach
Pros: Like most of the SEC jobs, Auburn is one with plenty of commitment and resources (read: money), a rabid fanbase ... and outsized expectations. The Tigers should be able to recruit in Alabama and Georgia as always, and Auburn can win and win big, too. The Tigers are two years removed from a national title, and have had five winning conference seasons in four different decades. In the SEC, only Georgia can say the same.
Cons: See the names of the last three coaches? All went undefeated. All ended up fired. Every SEC job has its pressures, but the job at Auburn seems to find some dramatic conclusion. Going toe-to-toe with Nick Saban hasn’t made the job any easier.
Last three coaches: Bret Bielema (68-24), Barry Alvarez (117-74-1), Don Morton (6-27)
New coach: Gary Andersen, Utah State coach
Pros: With three consecutive Rose Bowls, it’s never been better at Madison, but perhaps there was a feeling Wisconsin had topped out. For all the Badgers’ success, they’re a tiny step behind Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and an unsanctioned Penn State in prestige. The commitment is there and the athletic director, Alvarez, knows better than any what it takes to win at Wisconsin.
Cons: The Badgers don’t have the best recruiting base in Wisconsin, but they hit for a high average in scooping up the state’s top talent. The Badgers won their recent division title with help from NCAA sanctions at Ohio State and Penn State. With the Buckeyes and Michigan returning to elite levels, Wisconsin may have a tougher time reaching the Rose Bowl or better. Also, getting recruits from warmer climates always will be a challenge.
Last three coaches: Jeff Tedford (82-57), Tom Holmoe (16-39), Steve Mariucci (6-6)
New coach: Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech coach
Pros: Cal’s not the moribund program it was when Jeff Tedford took over. Even with sub-standard facilities, Tedford managed to bring in NFL-caliber talent. The long-awaited upgrades of the athletic center and Memorial Stadium have finally come to fruition. A public school with new facilities in a great location in California make this an attractive job.
Cons: The Bears just fired their all-time wins leader, so mid-level bowl games aren’t going to cut it anymore in Berkeley. The competition is as tough as its been in several years as rival Stanford and Oregon are among the national elite, UCLA is on the rise and sanctions have expired at USC. Cal can be a winner, but it may never be a consistent national power like USC or Oregon.
7. NC State
Last three coaches: Tom O’Brien (40-35), Chuck Amato (49-37), Mike O’Cain (41-40)
New coach: Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois coach
Pros: With a strong recruiting base in state and some of best facilities in the ACC (upgraded during the Amato era), it’s a surprise the Wolfpack have not been more successful. Doeren will walk into a winnable league even amid expansion. No ACC team has finished in the top 10 since 2009, and rival North Carolina is under NCAA sanctions. And NC State has already proven it can beat Florida State.
Cons: That strong recruiting base? Well, not much of it is going to NC State. Only a handful are even staying in state. And even if the ACC is winnable, NC State faces the tougher ACC division with Florida State and Clemson (and soon Louisville) in the Atlantic. Doeren will have to fight all the problems associated with a program being long-time underachiever.
8. Texas Tech
Last three coaches: Tommy Tuberville (20-17), Mike Leach (84-43), Spike Dykes (82-67-1)
New coach: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M offensive coordinator
Pros: Texas Tech can be a consistent winner, no matter the coach. The Red Raiders have had only one losing season in the last 20 years. Mike Leach helped cultivated a unique identity for the Red Raiders as one of the the first major-conference homes for a pass-happy spread offense. As with any program in Texas, Tech will have a leg up in recruiting.
Cons: Speaking of recruiting, simply being in Texas is not a cure-all. Most of the state’s top prospects aren’t in West Texas. Like the rest of the Big 12, Texas Tech must win recruiting battles in Houston and Dallas to be successful. While Tech has a solid tradition of going to bowl games, conference titles have not been part of the mix. The Red Raiders have not won a share of a conference title since 1976, though Tech tied for a Big 12 South title with two other national title contenders in 2008.
Last three coaches: Butch Jones (23-14), Brian Kelly (34-6), Mark Dantonio (18-17)
New coach: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech coach
Pros: One of the top jobs remaining in the Big East, Cincinnati won at least a share of the conference title in four of the last five seasons. Ohio is a good state to recruit, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is a quality metro area. The Bearcats also have been able to successfully recruit the Southeast. The track record of recent coaches proves, for better or worse, it can be a good stepping stone job.
Cons: With Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse leaving the Big East, Cincinnati is near the top of the list of teams left out of conference expansion. Though Cincinnati is the No. 2 football program in the state, it’s a distant No. 2 to Ohio State. The Bearcats rarely will beat out the Buckeyes or other Big Ten squads for top Ohio talent. Facilities have improved over the years, but Nippert Stadium likely will one of the smallest venues in major college football.
Last two coaches: Skip Holtz (16-21), Jim Leavitt (95-57)
New coach: Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky coach
Pros: USF is going to lose more recruiting battles than it wins with Florida, Florida State and Miami, but the Big East can be won even on scraps from the Big Three in the Sunshine State. Heck, Louisville and West Virginia followed that strategy. A big public school in one of the three best recruiting states in the country shouldn’t struggle for talent. Even if the program has struggled to get over the hump, the chatter is that the Bulls job is a desirable one.
Cons: The Big East won’t be a major draw, and making matters worse, rival UCF is now a conference neighbor. In a depleted Big East, USF should be a strong contender to be the top ranked team in the “Group of Five” in BCS 2.0. But, then again, we often said USF “should” be a contender in the Big East, too.
Last three coaches: Jon Embree (4-21), Dan Hawkins (19-39), Gary Barnett (49-38)
New coach: Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State coach
Pros: Colorado has had pockets of success, with three different coaches winning at last 10 games since the 1990 national title. The state usually has a handful of top-flight prospects as well. The days of Colorado competing for a national title may be over, but with time, the Buffaloes could be a bowl contender again.
Cons: The program is a major rebuilding job as it was evident the Buffaloes lacked the talent to compete in the Pac-12. Colorado fired Embree after just two seasons, and athletic director Mike Bohn curiously detailed the various problems with the job, including “the erosion of the fan base and ... ticket sales.”
Last three coaches: Danny Hope (22-27), Joe Tiller (87-62), Jim Colletto (20-43-3)
New coach: Darrell Hazell, Kent State coach
Pros: Purdue went on a nice run under Joe Tiller, but the Boilermakers’ last Rose Bowl appearance was after the 2000 season. It may take a coach with a unique system -- as Tiller’s passing attack was in the late ‘90s and early 2000s -- to win big here.
Cons: Purdue is what it is. It won’t be the best job in the Big Ten, but it won’t be the worst, either. Indiana’s not a great state for football recruiting, but it’s a big public school with a solid fan base. A good coach can win here, but repeating Tiller’s run and his longevity might be tough.
Last three coaches: Joker Phillips (13-24), Rich Brooks (39-47), Guy Morriss (9-14)
New coach: Mark Stoops, Florida State defensive coordinator
Pros: Any SEC job has to be a good one, right? That’s true to an extent. A coach who can win in the SEC is usually in good shape career-wise. The expectations are just different at Kentucky. Winning seven or eight games and going 3-5 in the SEC is doable, and that’s good enough for UK.
Cons: The Wildcats may never have the talent or depth of division foes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Tennessee. They’ll have to win on ingenuity, either with an unorthodox scheme or unearthing enough recruits to compete. The coach here also will need to be prepared to be a distant second fiddle to basketball. And Louisville’s move to the ACC will be a curveball. The Cardinals and Wildcats fight over what few in-state prospect the Bluegrass State has. Louisville’s momentum and move out of the Big East may make the Cards more attractive.
Last three coaches: Doug Marrone (25-25), Greg Robinson (10-37), Paul Pasqualoni (107-59-1)
New coach: Scott Shafer, Syracuse defensive coordinator
Pros: The job is in much better shape than when Marrone took over after the disastrous Greg Robinson tenure. After years of languishing near the bottom of the Big East, Syracuse claimed a share of the conference title and defeated the league’s last two BCS participants. The program has great tradition, though nearly all of it before today’s recruits were born.
Cons: The move to the ACC is a positive, but Louisville and Pittsburgh can say the same. Beyond that, Rutgers may be the biggest winner in conference realignment with its move to the Big Ten. Syracuse must fight for the limited pool of top recruits in the Northeast, most of which live in New Jersey.
15. Boston College
Last three coaches: Frank Spaziani (22-29), Jeff Jagodzinski (20-8), Tom O’Brien (75-45)
New coach: Steve Addazio, Temple coach
Pros: Despite all the drawbacks for Boston College, the Eagles were consistent under Tom O’Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski thanks to their ability to locate and develop quarterback and offensive line talent. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, Boston College won’t be on an island in the ACC anymore.
Cons: Lackluster fan interest, high academic standards and a locale more focused on the Patriots and Celtics make this one of the toughest jobs in the major conferences. Recruiting from the Northeast to compete with Florida State, Clemson and the Carolina schools is a tall order as well.
16. Southern Miss
Last three coaches: Ellis Johnson (0-12), Larry Fedora (34-19), Jeff Bower (118-84-1)
New coach: Todd Monken, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
Pros: Mississippi’s a good state for talent, even in the lower tiers that fall to Conference USA. Before the winless season, Southern Miss had 18 consecutive winning seasons.
Cons: So far, Southern Miss has not received the call to the Big East while Conference USA foes Houston, SMU, UCF and Tulane all did. Perhaps that knocks the Eagles down a peg in the eyes of recruits.
17. Northern Illinois
Last three coaches: Dave Doeren (23-4), Jerry Kill (23-16), Joe Novak (63-76)
New coach: Rod Carey, Northern Illinois offensive coordinator
Pros: Do you think a trip to the Orange Bowl might help recruiting? Far from a one-year wonder, the Huskies have won at least 11 games in three consecutive seasons under two coaches. As one of the MAC’s homes for flashy offense, it’s going to be an attractive spot for recruits.
Cons: For a MAC team, not many. The last two coaches landed major conference jobs in three seasons or fewer.
18. Louisiana Tech
Last three coaches: Sonny Dykes (22-15), Derek Dooley (17-20), Jack Bicknell (43-52)
New coach: Skip Holtz, former USF coach
Pros: Louisiana Tech sits on a good recruiting base in Louisiana, though the Bulldogs have rarely pulled enough recruits to keep them consistently competitive. The program will move into Conference USA, which is a better geographic fit than being the Eastern-most program in the WAC and Big West over the years.
Cons: Ruston is a bit off the beaten path in Northern Louisiana. And thanks to the administration’s decision to decline a bowl bid this season, no Louisiana Tech coach since 1978 has gone to multiple bowl games.
Last three coaches: Chris Ault (233-109-1), Chris Tormey (16-31), Jeff Tisdel (23-22)
New coach: Brian Polian, Texas A&M special teams coordinator/tight ends coach
Pros: Nevada is enjoying its most successful period in program history with eight consecutive bowl games and a 13-1 season in 2010. The program has a certain cachet as offensive innovators as the program was the first to run the Pistol formation under Ault in 2005.
Cons: Ault is the only coach to win consistently at Nevada, leading the program on three separate stints. He’s a College Football Hall of Famer and the most important figure in team history, so Polian will be following a legend. The program operates at a lower budget than most of its Mountain West rivals and doesn’t sit on a great recruiting base.
Last three coaches: Steve Addazio (13-11), Al Golden (27-34), Bobby Wallace (19-71)
New coach: Matt Rhule, New York Giants assistant
Pros: This is not your father’s Temple program. The Owls were once so bad, the Big East kicked them out. They’re back in the league, but that may say as much about the Big East as Temple. Still, Al Golden gave the program steady footing starting in 2008. The roster is rebuilding, but winning in the Big East isn’t as tough as it was in Temple’s first go-round in the league. The new coach will hope for a trickle-down effect from scholarship limits at Penn State.
Cons: Golden was a program builder, and Addazio was the high-energy, tough coach Temple needed to keep momentum. So finding the right personality to keep it going will be tough. The Owls’ dreadful history isn’t that far in the past, either.
Last two coaches: Mario Cristobal (27-47), Don Strock (24-38)
New coach: Ron Turner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach
Pros: FIU is a job on the rise, thanks to Cristobal’s clean-up job. The talent level is better and the academics are in order. Meanwhile, FIU sits on a great talent base where even the second- and third-level prospects can compete. A move to Conference USA is also in the future.
Cons: The second- and third-tier South Florida recruits don’t necessarily fall to FIU and the like. The Golden Panthers are still a distant No. 2 to Miami in fan support (and even further down the line if you count pro sports and Florida and Florida State). There’s also skepticism about an athletic department that fired a Miami native who reached back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11 and turned down Big East opportunities just a year ago.
22. Western Michigan
Last three coaches: Bill Cubit (51-47), Gary Darnell (46-46), Al Molde (62-47-2)
New coach: P.J. Fleck, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant
Pros: Western Michigan never had a truly awful season under Cubit but never won the MAC, either. There’s little reason Western Michigan can’t have a quick turnaround as Central Michigan, Toledo, Kent State and Northern Illinois have had in recent years.
Cons: The road to the MAC title game will be tough with division foes Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State all playing at high levels.
23. Arkansas State
Last three coaches: Gus Malzahn (9-3), Hugh Freeze (10-3), Steve Roberts (45-63)
New coach: Bryan Harsin, Texas offensive coordinator
Pros: A middling Sun Belt program has been elevated with back-to-back conference championships under two coaches. The right coach should be able to keep the momentum.
Cons: Arkansas doesn’t have the talent depth of other Sun Belt schools in Louisiana and Alabama. Arkansas State remains in the league despite FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee and North Texas getting the call to Conference USA. Being the fourth coach in four seasons in Jonesboro also brings its challenges.
24. Western Kentucky
Last three coaches: Willie Taggart (16-20), David Elson (39-44), Jack Harbaugh (91-68)
New coach: Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas coach
Pros: Western Kentucky had a successful history in Division I-AA, which gives it an edge over startups programs at the Sun Belt/Conference USA level. The Hilltoppers also remain a candidate to move up to C-USA.
Cons: Taggart elevated the program to Sun Belt contender in the last two seasons, but it remains to be see if the program can sustain its success at the FBS level.
Last three coaches: Mike Price (48-61), Gary Nord (14-34), Charlie Bailey (19-53-1)
New coach: Sean Kugler, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach
Pros: Not a whole lot. UTEP has had seven consecutive losing seasons since Mike Price went 16-10 in his first two years.
Cons: UTEP can claim the Texas recruiting base, but Houston and Dallas aren’t exactly a stone’s throw from El Paso.
26. San Jose State
Last three coaches: Mike MacIntyre (16-21), Dick Tomey (25-35), Fitz Hill (14-33)
New coach: Ron Caragher, San Diego coach
Pros: The Spartans are moving to the Mountain West next season and have access to a good recruiting base in California.
Cons: San Jose State is way down the line of programs scooping up California talent and has been traditionally one of the worst programs in the FBS, despite MacIntyre’s 10-2 effort.
27. Kent State
Last three coaches: Darrell Hazell (16-9), Doug Martin (29-53), Dean Pees (17-51)
New coach: Paul Haynes, Arkansas defensive coordinator
Pros: Hazell proved the program could be elevated to the top of the MAC. The program has momentum and a strong Ohio recruiting base.
Cons: Despite this season’s success, Kent State has reached only two bowl games in its history. The other was in 1972 under legendary Washington coach Don James. Sliding back into mediocrity is a strong possibility here.
28. Utah State
Last three coaches: Gary Andersen (26-24), Brent Guy (9-38), Mick Dennehy (19-37)
New coach: Matt Wells, Utah State offensive coordinator
Pros: With back-to-back bowl appearances and 18 wins season in the last two seasons, Utah State has more momentum than ever in its history. For the first time, there’s a commitment to winning in Logan. Once lumped with Idaho and New Mexico State as the toughest jobs out West, Utah State will move to the Mountain West, giving the job more appeal.
Cons: This is not a program with a deep tradition of winning, though Andersen and John L. Smith have won with the Aggies. Recruiting always will be a difficulty as will the challenge of being the third most prominent program in the state after Utah and BYU.
29. Georgia State
Last coach: Bill Curry (10-23)
New coach: Trent Miles, Indiana State
Pros: The infant program will join the Sun Belt in 2013, and there are worse places to recruit than Atlanta.
Cons: Playing in front of sparse crowds in the Georgia Dome only reinforces the of the program is starting from scratch.
30. New Mexico State
Last three coaches: DeWayne Walker (10-40), Hal Mumme (11-38), Tony Samuel (34-57)
New coach: Doug Martin, offensive coordinator (interim)
Pros: Few. It’s a warmer climate than fellow WAC castoff Idaho.
Cons: The Aggies haven’t been to a bowl game since 1960 and have had only two winning seasons since 1992. New Mexico State is without a conference affiliation and can’t even claim in-state bragging rights as Bob Davie has started turning New Mexico around.
Last three coaches: Robb Akey (20-50), Dennis Erickson (4-8), Nick Holt (5-18)
New coach: Paul Petrino, Arkansas offensive coordinator
Pros: Idaho is an FBS head coaching job.
Cons: No conference affiliation. No recruiting base. No tradition. Off-the-field headaches. How does that sound?
With the 2012 season officially in the books, it’s time to take an early look at college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. Alabama will be losing a few key players from its national championship team, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide to claim their third consecutive national title. While Alabama is a heavy favorite to repeat, determining the No. 2 team is a much tougher task. Ohio State and Oregon will be top-five teams, but Stanford, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame will be the top challengers to end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships. Needless to say, expect some changes in this early ranking before Athlon’s official top 25 release in May.
College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013
Despite a few personnel losses, the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to win their third consecutive national championship. Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and is surrounded by plenty of All-SEC talent, led by running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line has to at least replace center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack and could lose right tackle D.J. Fluker to the NFL. As usual, the defense will be strong once again in Tuscaloosa. Nose guard Jesse Williams departs, and cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to leave for the NFL Draft. However, the Crimson Tide returns one of the nation’s top linebacking corps and experience on the line and secondary should make up for the personnel departures.
2. Ohio State
While Alabama is a clear No. 1 going into next season, the second spot in the early top 25 for 2013 is up for grabs. For now, the edge goes to the Buckeyes. Despite a postseason ban, Ohio State had no problem finding motivation in 2012, completing a 12-0 season in Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus. And here’s a scary thought for the Big Ten: With another offseason to work with Meyer and his coaching staff, the Buckeyes could be even better in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller is poised to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, while he should have more help carrying the offense next season, as running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall return, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense will be the biggest concern, especially since linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins depart. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t daunting and it should have no trouble starting the year 4-0 with Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M on the non-conference slate.
Chip Kelly's decision to leave for the NFL will impact the Pac-12 title picture. But for now, the Ducks remain ahead of Stanford in the Pac-12 North. Kelly was one of college football's top coaches, and his influence on one of the nation's best offenses will be missed. Even though Kelly is gone, the Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had an outstanding debut season in 2012 and should be even more comfortable with the offense after another spring practice's worth of work as the starter. Oregon needs to find a new go-to running back to replace Kenjon Barner, while De’Anthony Thomas returns to his role as one of the nation’s top all-around threats. The defense has holes to fill, especially with a front seven that loses Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. The Ducks' 2013 schedule isn’t too demanding, but they do have road trips to Stanford and Washington next season.
4. Texas A&M
With LSU losing a handful of key players to the NFL, the Aggies appear to be the biggest challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. Although Kliff Kingsbury won’t be calling the plays next year, quarterback Johnny Manziel should have a good chance to equal his numbers from 2012, while Texas A&M should remain one of the top offenses in college football. The offensive line lost Luke Joeckel to the NFL, but Jake Matthews decided to return to College Station and will slide from right to left tackle in 2013. The defense has question marks of its own, as end Damontre Moore declared for the draft, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart have expired their eligibility. Texas A&M is bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, so plenty of help is on the way for Kevin Sumlin’s team in 2013.
With Aaron Murray’s decision to return to Athens for his senior year, the Bulldogs narrowly edge Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East. And for Georgia, it’s a good thing Murray is back, as the defense is losing nearly everyone. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree declared for the draft, while nose tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams have expired their eligibility. Murray will be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, and running back Todd Gurley should contend for All-America honors as a sophomore next year. Helping Murray’s cause is a receiving corps that returns Malcolm Mitchell, and an offensive line that brings back all five starters from 2012.
The balance of power in the Pac-12 is clearly in the North Division next season. Oregon and Stanford should rank among the top 5-10 teams next season, while Oregon State and Washington could be in the top 25 on some preseason lists. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of its last four years and claimed 12 victories in 2012 despite the departure of quarterback Andrew Luck and two first-team all-conference linemen. Coach David Shaw will have some holes to fill, but Stanford will be in the mix to play for the national title. Running back Stepfan Taylor, center Sam Schwartzstein and linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed. However, the Cardinal can lean more on sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with a defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Although Taylor is a huge loss for the rushing attack, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr. could be one of college football’s breakout stars next year.
7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were soundly defeated by Alabama in the national championship game, but Brian Kelly clearly has this program on the right track. Linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick are huge losses, but Notre Dame has a solid core of returning talent on defense, while the offense should be better after quarterback Everett Golson has another offseason to work with Kelly. The schedule is very manageable, but the Fighting Irish will have a hard time finishing the regular season unbeaten and making a return trip to the BCS title game.
8. South Carolina
Georgia is the early favorite to win the SEC East, but South Carolina isn’t far behind. The Gamecocks have two proven quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and will be throwing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Talented, but largely unproven running backs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis will be charged with jumpstarting the rushing attack in 2013. The defense loses a handful of players, but end Jadeveon Clowney is a good cornerstone to start reloading around.
With quarterback Tajh Boyd's decision to return for another season, Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. The Tigers’ offense will be one of the best in the nation, but running back is a concern with the departure of Andre Ellington. If the Tigers want to make a run at the national championship, the defense has to get better in coordinator Brent Venables’ second year. However, Clemson loses end Malliciah Goodman and must replace three starters in the secondary.
The Cardinals scored one of the postseason’s most impressive victories, dominating Florida in a 33-23 Sugar Bowl win. Expect Louisville to build off of its 11-win season in 2013, as both sides of the ball return almost intact. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be in the Heisman discussion, and he has no shortage of weapons to throw to with the return of Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. Although Bridgewater can carry this team to another Big East title, the Cardinals need to jumpstart their rushing attack and find replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper on the line. The defense loses only two seniors from the Sugar Bowl depth chart but needs to get better against the run and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Gators were on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2012, but the season ended with a blowout loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the disappointing bowl result, Florida had a strong regular season resume, defeating Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. Matching 11 wins in 2013 could be difficult unless the offense makes significant strides in the offseason. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is back, but the Gators have no proven running back or any weapons on the outside. The defense finished fifth nationally in yards allowed but lost tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam to the NFL Draft.
The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL Draft, losing safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, punter Brad Wing, linebacker Kevin Minter and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. However, LSU is never short on talent and should be back in the mix for the SEC West title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some improvement late in the year but finished with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with Ware and Ford leaving for the NFL, the Tigers will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground, as Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue form a capable trio. The defense is losing a handful of key contributors, but coordinator John Chavis should be able to find the right pieces to keep this unit among the best in the SEC.
13. Boise State
Before they even played a game, the Broncos’ stint in the Big East is over, and Boise State is headed back to the Mountain West. The Broncos will be a heavy favorite to win the conference title next season but will be pushed by Fresno State and Utah State. As expected last preseason, the Broncos took a step back on offense in 2012. However, quarterback Joe Southwick got better as the year progressed, and Jay Ajayi should be a capable replacement for D.J. Harper at running back. The offensive line is a concern with only two starters returning, while the receiving corps is stocked with Matt Miller, Kirby Moore and Geraldo Boldewijn back in the mix. Despite having only one returning starter on defense, Boise State allowed just 15.8 points a game in 2012. This unit needs to replace cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, but expect the Broncos to rank among the Mountain West’s best defenses once again in 2013.
14. Oklahoma State
Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon to the NFL, the Cowboys averaged 45.7 points a game and won at least eight games for the fifth consecutive year in 2012. Oklahoma State’s offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider three quarterbacks received starts this year, and the receiving corps lost Tracy Moore early in the season due to an injury. The Cowboys need to settle on a starting quarterback next year, but the offense returns one of the Big 12’s top lines and even though running back Joseph Randle is leaving for the NFL, the backfield is in good shape with Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. The defense must replace linebacker Alex Elkins, cornerback Brodrick Brown and end Nigel Nicholas but most of the core will return intact.
As expected, the Horned Frogs had some growing pains adjusting to life in the Big 12, but Gary Patterson’s team is poised to challenge for the conference title in 2013. Casey Pachall left the team early in the season due to off-the-field issues but returned in mid-January and will compete with Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 job. Pachall would help boost the team’s passing attack, while the ground game should get some help from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense this season and return 10 starters for 2013. End Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett should challenge for All-America honors next season.
The Sooners have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 title in five out of the last seven years and there’s not much separating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU in the early Big 12 predictions. The Sooners have plenty of question marks to answer in the spring, namely under center as it looks to replace Landry Jones. Blake Bell has shown flashes of promise in a limited role, but he will face competition from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson in the preseason. While the passing game could be a work in progress early in the year, running back Damien Williams should be in the mix for all-conference honors, and the offensive line is one of the best in the Big 12 with four returning starters. The defense allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game in 2012, and the line will need to be revamped in 2013. Oklahoma has some landmines on the schedule next season, as they make trips to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and host TCU in its Big 12 opener.
17. Florida State
After winning 12 games for the first time since 1999, the Seminoles are due to take a step back in 2013. Both sides of the ball have concerns to address but none bigger than the question mark under center. Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston enter spring practice as the favorites, with Trickett owning two starts under his belt, while Winston ranked as the top quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator (former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt) and needs to find a replacement for defensive stalwarts Bjoern Werner (end) and Xavier Rhodes (cornerback). Florida State’s ACC schedule is still undetermined, but the Seminoles have to travel to Clemson and host an improving Miami team.
The defending Pac-12 South champs should be in good shape to make their third consecutive appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after a standout freshman season, and the offseason should allow the Bruins to find a few answers for an offensive line that allowed 3.7 sacks a game in 2012. The biggest question mark for UCLA will be finding a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense should have one of the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps, as Anthony Barr turned down the NFL for one more season with the Bruins. The conference slate is challenging, as UCLA hits the road to play Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and USC but hosts its biggest challenger in the South (Arizona State).
Are the Longhorns ready to challenge for the Big 12 title? The talent is certainly in place, but there are also enough concerns for this team to not match 2012’s nine-win mark. The backfield of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron is one of the best in the nation, but the offense will only go as far as quarterback David Ash takes it. The defense was one of the most disappointing units in the nation in 2012 but loses only two starters. The return of Jackson Jeffcoat should ease Alex Okafor’s departure at end.
Getting back to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season is no easy task for Wisconsin. New coach Gary Andersen was one of college football’s top hires for 2013 but there figures to be some transition period as the team adjusts to the new staff. Montee Ball must be replaced at running back, but the cupboard is far from bare with Melvin Gordon and James White returning. Getting a full year from Joel Stave at quarterback will be a huge boost to the Wisconsin passing attack. The defense has a few positions to plug in the secondary, but the front seven should be salty.
21. Oregon State
Mike Riley’s team was one of college football’s biggest surprises this year, going from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012. The Beavers lost three out of their last five games but two of those defeats came by four points, while the other was to in-state rival Oregon. If Oregon State wants to improve its win total in 2013, settling the quarterback position will be a priority. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz each received a significant share of snaps this year but neither managed to play well enough to secure the job going into spring practice. The offense also needs to find a replacement for receiver Markus Wheaton. The defense ranked second in the conference in points allowed and most of the core is back for 2013. However, the Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles and All-Pac-12 cornerback Jordan Poyer.
There’s a razor-thin margin separating the Cornhuskers and Michigan or Northwestern for the No. 1 spot in the Legends Division. With quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell returning, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, the defense is virtually starting over from scratch. Nebraska loses major contributors at each level of the defense and must replace All-Big Ten safety Daimion Stafford and end Eric Martin. The Cornhuskers host Northwestern and Michigan State in Big Ten play but travel to Michigan on Nov. 9 and play UCLA in the non-conference slate.
Even with significant personnel losses, don’t count out the Wolverines from the Big Ten title picture. Denard Robinson will be missed, but the offense shouldn’t suffer much with Devin Gardner stepping in at quarterback. Finding a running back that can shoulder 20-25 carries a game, along with rebuilding the offensive line will be the top priorities for coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges this spring. The defense needs to replace Will Campbell and Craig Roh on the line, but this unit will get a boost from the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL suffered in the season opener against Alabama.
24. Arizona State
A two-point loss to UCLA in late October was all that separated Arizona State from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship this season. And with most of the core returning for 2013, Todd Graham’s team should make a run at UCLA for the No. 1 spot in the South Division. The Sun Devils will need to find new weapons at receiver for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but sophomore running back DJ Foster is ready for a breakout campaign. The defense received good news when tackle (and likely All-American) Will Sutton returned to Tempe for his senior year. Arizona State catches a huge break in scheduling, as it misses Oregon in crossover play and hosts USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona – all crucial swing games for Pac-12 positioning.
After ending a 63-year bowl victory drought and winning 10 games for the first time since 1995, the Wildcats enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Quarterback Kain Colter is one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers, and the rushing attack is in good hands with the speedy and elusive Venric Mark. One area of concern on offense for coach Pat Fitzgerald is an offensive line that loses three starters, including left tackle Patrick Ward. The defense must replace four starters and has to improve the pass defense after allowing 250.5 yards per game in 2012.
Next in line:
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The news out of Washington was devastating this week, even without all the Beltway drama of what did Dr. James Andrews tell Mike Shanahan about Robert Griffin III’s knee injury and when did he know it? They’re still working on the full extent of the injuries to RGIII’s knee.
But just the hint of possible injuries to his ACL and LCL and the idea that he might need a reconstruction that would force him to miss much, if not all, of the 2014 season, was frightening enough. It’s not only a blow to the future of the Redskins, but it cast a shadow over RGIII’s future.
Would he become another great player whose career ended – or was inexorably changed – by a devastating injury? Would this knee deprive us all of the privilege of watching a great career?
Those are unanswerable questions, especially this early, but it’s something to ponder considering the brutal nature of the NFL. Many, many careers have been cut short, some before we even had a chance to know if a player could be a great one. Sometimes we were only able to get a hint of the greatness to come.
With that said, here is a sample of what injuries have done to great, and potentially great players. Here are five great (or potentially great) ones whose careers were cut too short due to devastating injuries:
1. Bo Jackson—Listen to people who watched Bo play – it’s never “Jackson,” it’s always “Bo” – and they are wistful about the “What might been” part of his story. If only he had concentrated on just one sport instead of trying to play baseball too … If only he hadn’t suffered a devastating hip injury at age 27 in just his fourth NFL season.
There is believe that Bo could’ve been the greatest running back ever, and possibly one of the greatest athletes ever – something some already consider him to be. He had only 2,782 yards in his four-year career and never even reached 1,000 in a single season. But he never played in more than 11 games in any season and he averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He also seemed to just be getting started when he got hurt.
2. Gale Sayers—The NFL hadn’t seen anything like the “Kansas Comet” when he broke into the NFL in 1965 with 2,272 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns. Then the next season, when opposing defenses were being designed to stop his triple-threat – runner, receiver, returner – he was even better, totaling 2,440 yards.
He was leading the league in rushing in 1968 when he tore several ligaments in his right knee, ending his season. He returned in 1969 to win the NFL rushing title with 1,032 yards. But he hurt his left knee in 1970 and that was it. He was forced to retire after an aborted comeback in 1971 at the age of 28 – already a four-time Pro Bowler. Five years after his last snap he became the youngest man ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Troy Aikman—The Cowboys quarterback won three Super Bowls, threw for 32,942 yards and played until he was 34, so it’s a little tough to argue his career ended “prematurely.” But two years before he was cut in 2001 – in large part due to the 10-plus concussions he suffered during his career — Aikman had signed a contract extension that was expected to keep him with the Cowboys into his 40s.
Imagine what Aikman could’ve accomplished with seven more seasons – at least another two or three good ones, too. He might have won a fourth Super Bowl. He probably would’ve thrown for 40,000 yards. And instead of just calling him a Hall of Famer, he might have ended up in the discussion of the Top 10 quarterbacks of all time.
4. Sterling Sharpe—In seven seasons in the NFL, the Packers wide receiver never missed a game. He had five 1,000-yard seasons (including his last three) and was a five-time all-pro. Here’s the catch, though: In his first four NFL seasons his coach was Lindy Infante and his quarterbacks were Mike Tomczak and Don Majkowski.
It was only in his final three NFL seasons he had the coaching of Mike Holmgren and the ability to catch passes from a young Brett Favre.
In three seasons with Holmgren’s plays and Favre’s passes, Sharpe caught 314 passes for 3,854 yards and 42 touchdowns. Clearly he was just getting started. But he was forced to retire at age 29 with a neck injury. He could’ve put up sick numbers if he had played with Favre for another 4-5 years.
5. Robert Edwards—By no means is Edwards in the “great” category, but he certainly suffered one of the most unfortunate injuries in NFL history. The former Georgia running back was a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1998 and his rookie season was a success, with him rushing for 1,115 yards.
Then, during a rookie flag football game on a beach as part of the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, Edwards – who had a long history of injuries in college – blew out his knee. The injury was so bad, he nearly had to have his leg amputated. He was told he’d never play again.
He did, four years later for the Miami Dolphins – an inspiring, if short-lived comeback in which he touched the ball just 38 times in 12 games. He did play two all-star seasons in the Canadian Football League, though, each time rushing for more than 1,000 yards.
He was in his 30s then, his knee had been ravaged by injuries and time, and the competition wasn’t great. But it gave a glimpse at what maybe could’ve been had his NFL career not been over, for all intents in purposes, at age 24.
With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. Alabama crushed Notre Dame in Miami to earn its third national title in four seasons and is a heavy favorite to win next season in Pasadena. In the early odds released by Bovada Sportsbook, the Crimson Tide are a 5/1 favorite to repeat next year, while Oregon and Ohio State are the top two challengers. The start of the 2013 college football season isn’t until August but here’s an early look at some of the top bets from Bovada’s early odds.
Alabama (5/1) – It may seem crazy to consider the Crimson Tide a best bet at 5/1 odds, but there’s not exactly a wealth of challengers to stop Alabama’s championship run next season. Ohio State and Oregon are the biggest threats to Nick Saban’s team, but the Crimson Tide return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks (AJ McCarron) and budding stars in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The defense has a few holes to fill but will once again rank among the best in the nation. The schedule is also very manageable, with a road trip to Texas A&M in Week 2 the toughest game on the slate. Even if Alabama loses in College Station, there's plenty of time to get back into the top two spots by the end of the year.
Georgia (28/1) – The Bulldogs were just a couple of yards away from playing for the national championship in 2012. And despite the losses on defense, Georgia will be in the mix to win the BCS title in 2013. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for another year in Athens and will team with running back Todd Gurley to form one of the top backfields in college football. The Bulldogs need a lot of help on defense, but the schedule is favorable, headlined by home matchups against South Carolina and LSU.
Oklahoma State (40/1) – This pick is a little off the board, but the Cowboys are Athlon’s early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. With Oklahoma reloading and Texas not ready to climb back into the national title conversation, the Big 12 isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years. However, if Oklahoma State can run the table and finish unbeaten, it would have a chance to play for the national title. The Cowboys have a favorable schedule, playing TCU and Oklahoma in Stillwater.
Stanford (30/1) – This is the biggest surprise on the board. The Cardinal closed the year with an eight-game winning streak, including a 17-14 overtime road victory over Oregon. Running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz must be replaced, but the passing attack should be better with the emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The defense should be the best in the Pac-12, while the schedule features home games against Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. Although Stanford has a few personnel losses, this team could play for the national title in 2013.
Others to like:
Boise State (75/1)
Florida State (14/1) – One of the most interesting aspects of the 2013-14 odds is Bovada considers the Seminoles an early favorite in the ACC. While that’s not far fetched, Florida State shouldn’t be ahead of Clemson in early conference predictions. The Seminoles suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, including quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Florida State should push for 10 wins next year but contending for the national championship is unlikely.
LSU (12/1) – Even though LSU suffered a plethora of personnel losses to the NFL Draft, the Tigers aren’t going to drop too far in preseason rankings. However, it would be a big surprise if LSU gets to the national title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger made strides late in the year, and Jeremy Hill is headed for a 1,000-yard season in 2013. While the Tigers may show improvement on offense, the defense will take a step back. The line has to replace ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, while tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs also depart. Linebacker Kevin Minter will be missed, and the secondary has to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. Expect LSU to be in the mix for a finish inside of the top 10, but considering the personnel losses, winning a national title seems unrealistic.
Miami (25/1) – There’s no doubt the Hurricanes are on the right track under coach Al Golden. However, Miami is still under NCAA investigation and the hammer could drop at any point. With the uncertainty surrounding the program and a potential bowl ban on the table for sanctions, motivation could be an issue for this team in 2013. The Hurricanes could be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division but are a longshot to win the national title.
USC (33/1) – After a disappointing 2012 season, it’s fair to wonder what direction USC is headed going into 2013. The Trojans began the year as one of the favorites to win the national title but finished with a disappointing 7-6 record. USC now has to replace quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, while the defense will be under the direction of a new coordinator. There’s no question Lane Kiffin has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles. However, it’s time for the talent to turn into victories. Although winning the Pac-12 South title is a reasonable goal, the Trojans will be a longshot to reach the national title game.
Stay Away From:
Mississippi State (50/1)
West Virginia (150/1)
Bovada's Early 2013-2014 National Championship Odds
|Team||Early 2013-2014 Odds|
The 2012-13 bowl season ended with 35 winners and 35 losers, but not all victories and defeats are created equal.
Alabama and Nick Saban were the biggest winners, claiming a title and cementing the Crimson Tide as the most dominant program in the nation’s most dominant conference. Eddie Lacy and the Tide’s offensive line may have walked away as the biggest winners in terms of pro prospects. The loser in that scenario, though, was Heisman finalist Manti Te’o.
Bowl season provided short-term victories for a handful programs, but also a swing of the pendulum into a successful 2013. Other teams, coaches and players, however, ended up with new headaches after the postseason.
Here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from the 2013 bowl season.
Nick Saban’s legacy
With three BCS titles in four seasons at Alabama and a fourth title in nine years overall, Saban is moving into the discussion of great all-time coaches. Bear Bryant has six titles. Frank Leahy has four. But those came before reduced scholarship limits, the BCS and the rise of the SEC as the preeminent conference. With the Alabama recruiting machine operating at full capacity, the question is how long this dynasty will last.
Related: Can Alabama repeat?
The Alabama running back isn’t Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram, but few players raised their stock more in the final two games of the season. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in the SEC championship game and 140 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. No one would blame the junior if he takes advantage and moves on to the NFL Draft. And no one would take pity on the Tide, who have T.J. Yeldon waiting in the wings.
Related: Championship game photo gallery
Altogether, not a bad six weeks for Louisville. The Cardinals announced their move to the ACC, won the Big East, retained coach Charlie Strong despite overtures from Tennessee, and defeated two-touchdown favorite Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fought through injuries to defeat Rutgers on the last day of the regular season and then carved up an elite Florida offense in the bowl game. He’ll be on the Heisman short list in 2013. To boot, the Cardinals landed a commitment from U.S. Army All-American receiver James Quick.
No one had a bigger single play than when Clowney ran untouched through the Michigan offensive line and trucked running back Vincent Smith for an eight-yard loss and a forced fumble. If a defensive player is going to have a Heisman moment, this was it. A first-down call on a chain measurement erroneously gave Michigan, leading by one at the time, a first down to set up Clowney's play. South Carolina scored a go-ahead touchdown nine seconds later.
The Ducks didn’t get to play for the national title, but they may be set up for another run after a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Chip Kelly’s interest in the NFL was well-established, but for the second consecutive season Kelly opted to stay in Eugene. He’ll return to a top-five team.
How will Johnny Manziel handle being “Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel?” Pretty well, apparently. The redshirt freshman picked up where he left off at the end of the season to pass for 287 yards and rush for 229 with four total touchdowns against Oklahoma. Heisman winners used to be snakebit in bowl games, but Manziel became the fourth consecutive winner to win in the postseason thanks to his third game with at least 500 yards of total offense this season.
The Bulldogs came within five yards of facing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, but they didn’t appear to be deflated in a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia could have folded when it gave up 17 unanswered points to trail in the third quarter, but Aaron Murray led an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. Murray and running back Todd Gurley will open 2013 against Clemson.
If there were any lingering doubts about where David Shaw stands among Pac-12 coaches, he eliminated in them in with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Since 2009, Stanford lost Toby Gerhart (a Heisman runner-up), Andrew Luck (the No. 1 overall draft pick and two-time Heisman runner-up) and coach Jim Harbaugh. Yet the Cardinal have three top-10 finishes to show for it. Shaw has his starting quarterback and enough pieces on defense returning to make another run in 2013.
Nine wins? An appearance in the postseason top 25? At Vanderbilt? The Commodores capped a seven-game win streak with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl to finish ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Vanderbilt hadn’t finished a season ranked since 1948 and hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915. Next up: Playing a bowl game outside of the state of Tennessee for the first time since 1982.
The lone team helping the Big Ten save face on New Year’s Day, Northwestern earned its first bowl win with a 34-20 win over Mississippi State. It wasn’t pretty as Northwestern’s three turnovers were offset but Mississippi State’s four, but the Wildcats were elated to end the bowl drought. Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemian will all be back for more in 2013.
Clemson started the season with a win over an SEC team in Atlanta and ended the year in the same fashion with a 25-24 upset of LSU. Tajh Boyd led the Tigers to three fourth-quarter scoring drives against a top-10 defense for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Boyd scored the biggest bowl win for the ACC, but more important, he erased memories of last year’s Orange Bowl collapse.
After losing five games by a combined 13 points, Michigan State finally caught some breaks and found a deficit -- down 16 at halftime -- it could overcome with its paltry offense. The season ended the way it started, with Le’Veon Bell the horse (145 yards on 32 carries) in a 17-16 win over TCU.
The Rebels played in front of a partisan crowd at Birmingham’s Legion Field and gave the win-starved Ole Miss fans what they came to see: A 38-17 win over Pittsburgh. Bo Wallace and the Rebels offense didn’t miss a beat despite losing running back Jeff Scott early.
A coveted running back prospect out of high school, the Oregon transfer enters 2013 on a hot streak for Baylor. With 138 rushing yards against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns in his final six games. Not to be outdone, the Baylor defense enjoyed its own renaissance by holding UCLA to 34 rushing yards.
Related: Ranking the BCS champions
BCS games plus the Cotton Bowl
The bowl excitement ended early in the evening on New Year’s Day when Stanford defeated Wisconsin 20-14. After that, the major bowl games were settled early with Florida State (Orange), Louisville (Sugar), Oregon (Fiesta), Texas A&M (Cotton) and Alabama (BCS championship) cruised to double-digit victories.
Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame defense
Alabama’s offensive line pushed around the Notre Dame front seven all day, clearing the way for the Tide’s 265 rushing yards. The numbers were astonishing: Notre Dame allowed nine offensive touchdowns during the regular season only to give up six to Alabama. The Irish never allowed a touchdown drive of 80 yards all season until Alabama had four. But the face on Notre Dame’s title-game performance was the ineffectiveness of Manti Te’o who missed a handful of tackles.
Related: What's next for Notre Dame?
Kiffin’s USC team didn’t show up in big games all season, was 90 minutes late for the “Sheriff’s Posse Dinner” with their Sun Bowl hosts and Georgia Tech and then managed only seven points against a 7-7 Georgia Tech team whose defense surrendered at least 40 points to Miami, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, BYU, North Carolina and Georgia. USC became the first team in the AP poll era to star the season No. 1 and finish with six losses and the first preseason No. 1 to finish unranked since 1964 Ole Miss.
For a moment, the Big Ten flirted with a comeback in bowl season as Michigan led South Carolina in the Outback and Nebraska led Georgia in the Capitol One. Then it all fell apart as the Wolverines and Cornhuskers lost their early New Year’s Day games and Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten finished 2-5 in the postseason and was swept in the Rose, Capitol One and Outback bowls for a 1-8 record in those games the last three years. Granted, the outcomes may have been different if Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, but that’s not going to reverse the perception of the Big Ten as an inferior league.
Not many athletic directors could step in as their football team’s interim coach for the Rose Bowl, but not many ADs have won in Pasadena before. The novelty wore off as Alvarez’s Badgers lost 20-14 to Stanford to give the coach his first Rose Bowl blemish after three wins in the game.
Snowy conditions at Yankee Stadium aren’t exactly ideal conditions for West Virginia’s offense. Neither is taking the field with a defense that gives up 369 rushing yards in Doug Marrone’s sendoff at Syracuse.
The Tigers coughed a fourth-quarter lead to Clemson and then started hemorrhaging early entries to the NFL Draft. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing all declared for the draft. The losses are not insignificant.
|ACC||4-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big 12||4-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Big East||3-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big Ten||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|MAC||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Pac-12||4-4, 2-0 BCS|
|SEC||6-3, 2-0 BCS|
|Ind.||1-2, 0-1 BCS|
A banner year for the MAC fizzled in bowl season, even if you disregard Northern Illinois’ unsurprising 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Toledo and Ball State, teams that finished with nine wins apiece, lost their bowl games by a combined score of 79-32. Kent State, which was a double overtime loss away from NIU’s Orange Bowl slot, lost 17-13 to Arkansas State as the MAC finished 2-5 in the postseason. At least Ohio defeated ULM 45-14 in a matchup of September darlings.
Pat HIll lost four of his last five bowl games with Fresno State. The bowl curse seems to continue with Tim DeRuyter. Fresno’s 43-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl was one of the most unexpected results of bowl season with the Bulldogs bringing Derek Carr, Robbie Rouse and a standout pass defense to Aloha Stadium. But Hawaii loves SMU coach June Jones, who won his second Hawaii Bowl as the Mustangs coach.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
This game was supposed to be a blowout and it delivered with Oklahoma State’s 58-14 win over Purdue. And this was a New Year’s Day game, folks.
Nevada gave up two touchdowns in 46 seconds to lose to Arizona, San Diego State gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter to lose to former MWC member BYU, and Air Force and Fresno State lost in upsets. If there’s any silver lining to the MWC’s 1-4, it’s that the lone bowl winner, Boise State, won’t be going to the Big East after all.
Did Louisiana Tech stay home for bowl season because it was unwilling to face in-state rival ULM? Were the Bulldogs a casualty of the Independence Bowl’s timetable and Northern Illinois’ BCS bid throwing things into confusion? Does it matter? A 9-3 team with the nation’s No. 1 offense was absent from the postseason, a missed opportunity for viewers and the Bulldogs’ players. That coach Sonny Dykes left for another job (Cal) wasn’t a huge shock. But Louisiana Tech replaced him with Skip Holtz in a hire that could best be described as adequate.
Alabama may be reveling in its second consecutive national championship, but college football fans everywhere else are turning their attention to recruiting and spring practice.
Those are just appetizers to the date everyone is really anticipating: The countdown for the 2013 season has begun. This is what you have to look forward to when the season reboots at the end of August.
All games on Saturday, Aug. 31 unless noted. Not all 2013 schedules are complete, so the following list is of games scheduled as of Jan. 7.
1. Georgia at Clemson
How much does a bowl victory mean? Both teams are about to find out. Georgia and Clemson entered 2012 off deflating bowl losses -- the Bulldogs in triple overtime against Michigan State, the Tigers in a rout to West Virginia. Both teams will enter 2013 after pulling out wins in their respective bowl games in the fourth quarter. With quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd announcing their returns for 2013, this should be an offensive showcase between top-10 teams and Heisman contenders.
2. LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
The exodus of LSU defenders has begun with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon and linebacker Kevin Minter among those leaving early for the NFL. The Tigers haven’t struggled to replace defensive talent before, but all those roster spots won't be filled easily. LSU will face a TCU team in its backyard to open 2013. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin showed flashes of his potential when he unexpectedly became the starter in October. LSU’s Zach Mettenbrger had a nice finish to 2012, too.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Don’t expect a major drop-off from Alabama, who checked in at No. 1 in our early top 25 for 2013. A.J. McCarron is back as the leader of an offense that will feature Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. On defense, the Crimson Tide should have another top-notch squad again, but the offensive line could be a concern in relative terms. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is awaiting a draft decision from quarterback Logan Thomas, who started 2012 as a top prospect before his season fizzled on the field.
4. North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 29, Thursday)
The Tar Heels will be bowl eligible in 2013 unless the ongoing academic scandal changes the situation in Chapel Hill. Will it be a great game with Giovani Bernard and a handful of defensive starters gone from North Carolina? Perhaps not, but it will be the first key game in a Heisman campaign for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
5. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston)
Oklahoma State named freshman Wes Lunt its starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice. After a handful of injuries, Mike Gundy learned he had three QBs capable of winning Big 12 games in Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. All are eligible to return. Mississippi State ended the season on a 1-5 skid, but the starting backfield of Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins will be seniors.
6. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Doormats no more, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt get a prime opening weekend slot. The Commodores won 27-26 in Oxford on Nov. 19 as part of a seven-game win streak to cap the season. Both programs are riding waves of energy after winning their bowl games by a combined score of 76-41.
7. ULM at Oklahoma
Oklahoma moves on without Landry Jones, likely making Blake Bell the full-time starter. OU will find out if the Belldozer can strike as much fear into defenses on first and 10 from his 20-yard line as he does from the goal line. ULM’s Kolton Browning returns after opening 2012 with an upset of Arkansas and coming within eight total points of doing the same to Auburn and Baylor.
8. Ohio at Louisville
Few teams will enter 2013 with more positive mojo than Louisville. The Cardinals made easy work of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman-contending quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leads a glut of returning juniors and seniors. And coach Charlie Strong is staying put after overtures for Tennessee. Ohio, who defeated Penn State to open 2012, will be no pushover as quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship return.
9. Northwestern at Cal
Northwestern opens the season riding a bowl win, something the Wildcats haven’t done since the 1949 opener. First-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes will get the Bears’ offense moving soon enough, but Northwestern will have the edge in Berkeley with Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemien back.
10. Boise State at Washington
If you feel like you just watched this game, that’s because you did. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, handing the Huskies two crushing losses to end the season along with an overtime loss to rival Washington State.
Others of note:
Northern Illinois at Iowa. The Huskies’ Jordan Lynch should top 173 yards of total offense this time around.
Temple at Notre Dame. From unranked to the national title game in 2012, Notre Dame will open 2013 with expectations.
Penn State vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.). No more Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Matt McGloin. Things are going to get tough at Penn State, but at least coach Bill O’Brien is back.
Toledo at Florida. The Gators ended the season on a down note in the Sugar Bowl and open 2013 against a team they should put away. Emphasis on should put away.
Rutgers at Fresno State (Thursday, Aug. 29). The Scarlet Knights’ defense loses some key cogs. Fresno State is still trying to figure out how it lost 43-10 to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl
Non-conference schedules are all but wrapped up, meaning we’re starting to have a good idea of the college basketball teams playing for prime slots in the NCAA Tournament, those looking to avoid the NIT and those grasping for, well, anything.
Athlon Sports’ first bracket projections for the 2013 field will be released in the coming weeks, but we’re already deep into key contests for conference titles, NCAA seeding and bubble teams.
Chief among the key games with Tournament implications this week is Duke's road trip to NC State. Mike Krzyzewski's team will be on its way to another high seed in the tournament unless someone in the ACC can step up to challenge the Blue Devils. Riding a hot streak, NC State may end up being that team. The Wolfpack will have a chance to showcase its improvement since November when it plays host to Duke on Saturday.
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the 68 bracket slots in March.
All times Eastern.
Related: 7 key college hoops stats from last week
JAN. 9 BRACKET UPDATE
|Athlon College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 9|
1. Duke (15-0)
2. Michigan (15-0)
3. Louisville (13-1)
4. Indiana (13-1)
5. Kansas (12-1)
6. Arizona (14-0)
7. Minnesota (14-1)
8. Syracuse (14-1)
9. Missouri (12-2)
10. Illinois (14-2)
11. Gonzaga (15-1)
12. Kansas State (12-2)
13. Florida (10-2)
14. San Diego State (12-2)
15. Butler (12-2)
16. Ohio State (12-3)
17. Notre Dame (14-1)
18. NC State (12-2)
19. Creighton (15-1)
20. Wichita State (14-1)
21. Michigan State (12-3)
22. VCU (12-3)
23. UCLA (12-3)
24. Oklahoma State (10-3)
25. Wyoming (13-0)
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Duke at NC State (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The question posed since November still doesn’t have a clear answer: Who in the ACC is going to challenge Duke? NC State has won nine in a row since a 79-82 loss to Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but the Wolfpack are coming off an uneven performance in a 78-73 win over Boston College. Duke is playing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament but hasn’t played in a true road game this season.
ALL EYES ON: Minnesota
at Illinois (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
at Indiana (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gophers’ 76-63 win over Michigan State on New Year’s Eve was eye-opening, but Minnesota can make even more noise against two of the Big Ten’s best on the road. Even a split on this road swing would be a good sign for a Gophers program that has gone 20-3 since last March. Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins have carried Minnesota at various times during that stretch But keep in mind: Potential All-American Trevor Mbakwe has started only three games this season.
UNDER PRESSURE: Colorado
USC (Thursday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
UCLA (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The real shame in the Buffaloes’ 92-83 overtime loss to Arizona is that it didn’t need to come down to a buzzer-beater being waved off at the end of regulation. Colorado led by as much as 16 in the second half before coughing up the lead. The Buffaloes (10-4, 0-2 Pac-12) then turned around to lose at Arizona State in its next game. Colorado should defeat USC on Thursday, and UCLA will give the Buffs a chance at a big conference victory. Losing three of the first four Pac-12 games -- or worse, an 0-4 start to conference play -- would be a major setback for Tad Boyle’s team.
East Carolina (Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
at UAB (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble this week in its Conference USA opener, so we’re looking closer at Friday’s 85-80 win over Tennessee. C-USA won’t give the Tigers any opportunities for resume-building wins, but Memphis salvaged a top-100 victory against Tennessee. Now, Memphis needs the Volunteers to become an NCAA contender. Before defeating the Vols in Knoxville, Memphis’ best win was over Northern Iowa.
SINKING: North Carolina
Miami (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Florida State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Who knows which North Carolina team is going to show up this week? The Tar Heels defeated UNLV 79-73 on Dec. 29 in a game that looked like a turning point for a team still looking to gel. Then North Carolina lost 61-52 Sunday to Virginia, a team that’s 0-3 against the Colonial Athletic Association this season. This week’s opponents will give North Carolina a chance to turn itself around or create more problems for its postseason hopes: Miami proved it can win without Reggie Johnson last week, and Florida State is, like North Carolina, an enigma.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH: Saint Louis
UMass (Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
at Temple (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
The Atlantic 10 is crowded at the top in part because of an eight-game winning streak by Saint Louis. The Billikens keep getting stronger as Kwamain Mitchell returned following foot surgery. Even as Mitchell worked himself into game shape, Saint Louis defeated New Mexico 60-46 on Dec. 31. Saint Louis will face NCAA contenders UMass and Temple, which already defeated Syracuse and put a scare into Kansas.
Ole Miss at Tennessee (Wednesday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication).
The SEC pecking order is Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and then the winner of this game.
Florida State at Maryland (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication).
Maryland begins a critical stretch to prove its mettle: Florida State, at Miami, NC State, at North Carolina.
UNLV at New Mexico (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
UNLV has three road wins this season -- none in as difficult a venue as The Pit.
Michigan State at Iowa (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2).
Iowa may be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Hawkeyes have to start picking up key wins.
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2).
Arizona has been lucky lately. Will the luck run out against a quality Ducks team in Eugene?
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2).
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is an emerging star. A win in Spokane would be a nice addition to the Gaels’ Tourney resume.
Marquette at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPNU).
Pitt lost its first two Big East games. The Panthers need to showed they may be on the right track with a 73-45 drubbing of Georgetown.
Illinois at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Illinois scored a big win at home over Ohio State. Now goes to one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2).
The Cowboys need to get back to early season form. Oklahoma State has lost back-to-back games to Gonzaga and Kansas State.
Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
Colorado State is a quiet 13-2. The Rams have chance to make a statement in the Mountain West during their trip to San Diego.
Michigan at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS).
The Buckeyes are going in the wrong direction with losses to the best teams they’ve faced (Duke, Kansas, Illinois). Michigan is just as good as those previous three teams.
Maryland at Miami (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU).
With Reggie Johnson out, the Terrapins’ Alex Len might be poised for a big day.
Athlon Sports keeps college and pro football fans up to date with daily NFL Draft Underclassman announcements and declarations. Here is the latest list of players who have announced their intentions to enter the draft or return to school and some who have yet to decide.
Analysis: Draft Deadline Winners and Losers
Last updated: Wed., Jan. 16
Will enter the 2013 NFL Draft:
|Luke Joeckel||OL||Texas A&M||6-6||310||Top 10|
|Jarvis Jones||OLB||Georgia||6-3||241||Top 10|
|Damontre Moore||DE/OLB||Texas A&M||6-4||250||Top 10|
|Keenan Allen||WR||Cal||6-3||210||Top 10|
|Bjoern Werner||DE||Florida St||6-4||256||Top 10|
|Johnanthan Hankins||DT||Ohio St||6-3||320||Top 10|
|Dee Milliner||DB||Alabama||6-1||199||Top 10|
|Sheldon Richardson||DT||Missouri||6-3||295||1st Round|
|Sam Montgomery||DE||LSU||6-5||260||1st Round|
|Barkevious Mingo||DE/OLB||LSU||6-4||240||1st Round|
|Tony Jefferson||S||Oklahoma||5-11||210||1st Round|
|Alec Ogletree||ILB||Georgia||6-3||230||1st Round|
|Matt Elam||S||Florida||5-10||205||1st Round|
|Giovani Bernard||RB||North Carolina||5-10||205||1st Round|
|Xavier Rhodes||CB||Florida St||6-1||215||1st Round|
|Robert Woods||WR||USC||6-0||190||1st Round|
|Tyler Bray||QB||Tennessee||6-5||215||Round 1-2|
|Marcus Lattimore||RB||South Carolina||6-1||220||Round 1-2|
|Corey Lemonier||DE/OLB||Auburn||6-4||255||Round 1-2|
|Sharrif Floyd||DT||Florida||6-3||303||Round 1-2|
|Justin Hunter||WR||Tennessee||6-4||205||Round 1-2|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||WR||Tennessee||6-3||210||Round 1-2|
|D.J. Fluker||OL||Alabama||6-6||330||Round 1-2|
|Tharold Simon||CB||LSU||6-3||193||Round 1-2|
|Eric Reid||S||LSU||6-2||2-2||Round 1-2|
|Zach Ertz||TE||Stanford||6-6||250||Round 1-2|
|Bennie Logan||DT||LSU||6-3||295||Round 1-2|
|Tyler Eifert||TE||Notre Dame||6-6||251||Round 1-2|
|Kevin Minter||LB||LSU||6-1||245||Round 2|
|Jelani Jenkins||LB||Florida||6-0||235||Round 2|
|William Gholston||DE||Michigan St||6-7||280||Round 2|
|Jordan Reed||TE||Florida||6-3||245||Round 2|
|David Amerson||CB||NC State||6-3||210||Round 2|
|Da'Rick Rogers||WR||Tennessee Tech||6-3||205||Round 2|
|Stedman Bailey||WR||West Virginia||5-10||195||Round 2|
|Akeem Spence||DT||Illinois||6-1||305||Round 2|
|Logan Ryan||CB||Rutgers||6-0||190||Round 2|
|Nickell Robey||DB||USC||5-8||165||Round 2|
|DeAndre Hopkins||WR||Clemson||6-1||200||Round 2|
|Kenny Stills||WR||Oklahoma||6-1||190||Round 2-3|
|Spencer Ware||RB||LSU||5-11||225||Round 2-3|
|Le'Veon Bell||RB||Michigan St||6-2||240||Round 2-3|
|Travis Frederick||OL||Wisconsin||6-4||340||Round 2-3|
|Alvin Bailey||OG||Arkansas||6-5||315||Round 2-3|
|Justin Pugh||OL||Syracuse||6-6||290||Round 2-3|
|Joseph Randle||RB||Oklahoma St||6-1||200||Round 2-3|
|Eddie Lacy||RB||Alabama||6-0||200||Round 2-3|
|Kwame Geathers||DL||Georgia||6-6||355||Round 2-3|
|Chris Faulk||OL||LSU||6-6||323||Round 2-3|
|Brandon Jenkins||DE||Florida St||6-3||260||Round 3|
|Menelik Watson||OL||Florida St||6-6||320||Round 3|
|Dion Sims||TE||Michigan St||6-5||285||Round 3|
|Levine Toilolo||TE||Stanford||6-7||265||Round 3-4|
|Terrence Brown||S||Stanford||6-1||180||Round 3-4|
|Cierre Wood||RB||Notre Dame||6-0||215||Round 3-4|
|Gavin Escobar||TE||San Diego St||6-5||255||Round 4|
|Jawan Jamison||RB||Rutgers||5-8||200||Round 4|
|Darrington Sentimore||DE||Tennessee||6-2||285||Round 4|
|Steve Williams||CB||Cal||5-10||185||Round 4|
|Michael Ford||RB||LSU||5-10||220||Round 4-5|
|Brad Wing||P||LSU||6-2||180||Round 4-5|
|David Bakhtiari||OL||Colorado||6-4||295||Round 4-5|
|Stansly Maponga||DE||TCU||6-2||265||Round 4-5|
|Joe Kruger||DE||Utah||6-6||275||Round 5-6|
|Josh Boyce||WR||TCU||6-0||203||Round 5-6|
|Brandon Kaufman||WR||Eastern Wash.||6-5||215||Round 6|
|Stefphon Jefferson||RB||Nevada||5-11||210||Round 6|
|Mike Edwards||CB||Hawaii||5-10||190||Round 6|
|Tyrann Mathieu||CB||ex-LSU||5-8||185||Round 6|
|Knile Davis||RB||Arkansas||6-0||225||Round 6|
|Trabis Ward||RB||Tennessee St||5-10||200||Round 6-7|
|Greg Reid||CB||Valdosta St||5-8||185||Round 7|
|Kyle Padron||QB||Eastern Wash.||6-4||225||Round 7|
|Marquess Wilson||WR||Washington St||6-4||185||Round 7|
|Brandon Moore||DL||Texas||6-5||320||Round 7|
|Darrington Sentimore||DL||Tennessee||6-2||288||Round 7|
Returning to College in 2013:
|Jeremiah Attaochu||LB||Georgia Tech|
|Derek Carr||QB||Fresno St|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan St|
|Victor Hampton||CB||South Carolina|
|LaMarcus Joyner||DB||Florida St|
|Zach Martin||OL||Notre Dame|
|Jake Matthews||OL||Texas A&M|
|Louis Nix||DT||Notre Dame|
|Bryn Renner||QB||North Carolina|
|Bradley Robey||CB||Ohio State|
|Will Sutton||DL||Arizona St|
|Logan Thomas||QB||Virginia Tech|
|Kyle Van Noy||DE/OLB||BYU|
NFL Playoffs previews and predictions for the Divisional Round:
Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
Saturday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Peyton Manning makes his return to the playoffs in what could be Ray Lewis’ final NFL game, as arguably the best offensive and defensive players of the last decade go head-to-head one last time. As a member of the Colts, Manning had a 2–0 postseason record against the Ravens — with a 20–3 win following the 2009 season in his last trip to the playoffs and a 15–6 victory after the 2006 season en route to winning his only Super Bowl title. Although he has won both of his matchups with Baltimore, Manning has not necessarily been the reason for victory — throwing for a combined 416 yards, two TDs and three INTs. All three of Manning’s picks against the Ravens have been thrown to center field safety Ed Reed, who has eight INTs in 12 career playoff games, one shy of the all-time record.
Broncos by 9
Texans (12-5) at Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is one victory away from the all-time playoff wins record, currently held by Brady’s boyhood hero Joe Montana (16–7 playoff record; 14–5 with 49ers, 2–2 with Chiefs). This will be the second meeting in the last six weeks between Houston and New England. In Week 14, the Patriots marched to a 42–14 statement victory over the Texans, who carried a then-AFC-best 11–1 record. Including that loss, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown one TD and four INTs while posting a 2–3 record over the last five weeks. Brady was better than that, but not quite at his best down the stretch, throwing four of his eight total INTs in Weeks 15 and 16. Brady does, however, enter with the confidence of a 10–2 playoff record at home, while Schaub is making his first-ever playoff start on the road.
Patriots by 10
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
Saturday, FOX, 8 p.m. ET
In the season-opener back in Week 1, the Niners traveled to Lambeau Field to defeat the Packers, 30–22. San Francisco took an early 10–0 lead and carried a 23–7 lead into the fourth quarter before Green Bay rallied to within one score and two-point conversion away from a tie in the fourth quarter. In that game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw two TDs in a near flawless effort. Since then, however, Smith has been replaced with second-year dual-threat Colin Kaepernick, who went 5–2 as a starter, including a 3–0 mark at home. While Kaepernick is making his first playoff start, Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers carries a 4–2 postseason record and a championship belt celebration following a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
49ers by 1
Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)
Sunday, FOX, 1 p.m. ET
Much has been made of Matt Ryan’s 0–3 record in the playoffs, and rightly so. In three postseason defeats — at New York (24–2), vs. Green Bay (48–21) and at Arizona (30–24), respectively — Ryan has never thrown for even 200 yards in a single game. Meanwhile, he has thrown a combined three TDs and four INTs, while losing two fumbles and taking 10 sacks. In fairness, his losses have come against Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner, three passers who have a combined four Super Bowl wins. This time around, Ryan will square off against rookie Russell Wilson, who is 4–5 on the road, 1–2 in domes and 2–2 in the Eastern Time Zone this season — but does have a playoff win already.
Falcons by 1
Last week: 3-1 // Season: 175-85
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have locked up the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following the NFL Playoffs' Wild Card Weekend:
1. Broncos (13-3) Peyton Manning 2–0 vs. Ravens in postseason.
2. Falcons (13-3) Haven’t won playoff game since Mike Vick was QB.
3. Patriots (12-4) Tom Brady puts 16–6 postseason record on the line.
4. 49ers (11-4-1) Colin Kaepernick to make first career playoff start.
5. Packers (12-5) Chico’s own Aaron Rodgers going back to California.
6. Texans (13-4) Arian Foster Twitter avatar now critical column pic.
7. Ravens (11-6) Ray Lewis victorious in final Baltimore home game.
8. Seahawks (12-5) Russell Wilson fifth rookie QB to earn playoff victory.
9. Redskins (10-7) Shanahan, Andrews dispute handling of RG3 injury.
10. Bengals (10-7) Marvin Lewis’ career postseason record falls to 0–4.
11. Colts (11-6) Bruce Arians hospitalized, misses loss at Baltimore.
12. Vikings (10-7) Joe Webb replaces Christian Ponder, struggles in loss.
13. Bears (10-6) Getting crazy eyes for interviewing Mike Singletary.
14. Giants (9-7) Jason Pierre-Paul to seek help from Michael Strahan.
15. Cowboys (8-8) Tony Romo taunted by NHL’s Dallas Stars on Twitter.
16. Steelers (8-8) OC Todd Haley debating interview for Cardinals’ job.
17. Rams (7-8-1) Williams boys, Gregg and Blake, let go in St. Louis.
18. Panthers (7-9) X-rays on Cam Newton’s ribs, left ankle negative.
19. Saints (7-9) Sean Payton reportedly signs richest deal in NFL.
20. Dolphins (7-9) Owner Stephen Ross backs Philbin-Tannehill duo.
21. Chargers (7-9) To settle on GM before making next coaching hire.
22. Buccaneers (7-9) Josh Freeman contract not extended by Tampa Bay.
23. Titans (6-10) Chris Johnson guaranteed $9 million bonus Feb. 9.
24. Bills (6-10) Hire Doug Marrone as franchise’s 16th head coach.
25. Jets (6-10) Rex Ryan has tattoo of wife in Mark Sanchez jersey.
26. Cardinals (5-11) Darnell Dockett types tweet nothings during BCS title.
27. Browns (5-11) Chip Kelly backs off NFL, headed back to Oregon.
28. Lions (4-12) Calvin Johnson career year defies “Madden Curse.”
29. Eagles (4-12) Set to interview Bengals’ Jay Gruden. Is Jon next?
30. Raiders (4-12) Dennis Allen to coach North team in Senior Bowl.
31. Jaguars (2-14) Mike Mularkey status uncertain until new GM hired.
32. Chiefs (2-14) Andy Reid to coach, make personnel moves in K.C.
High-stepping, sliding, throwing his fists back and pointing his chest to the sky to let out one final battle cry, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis made his triumphant return from injury as well as his last appearance as a player in front of the home crowd at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during a Wild Card Weekend showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.
And he did so in style, with his signature dance during pregame introductions and on the field in the final seconds of a 24–9 victory, prior to taking a victory lap to say goodbye to the fans who have supported the Super Bowl MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year during his 17 seasons, all with the Ravens.
“I knew how it started, but I never knew how it was going to end here in Baltimore,” said Lewis. “For it to go the way it went today, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance to hug the future Hall of Famer prior to kickoff, in Lewis’ first action since suffering a torn triceps on Oct. 14 in Week 6. The 37-year-old didn’t miss a beat, with 13 total tackles and a near-interception of Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
“He played well. He was physical at the point of attack. He did a good job in the pass game,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “Really nothing negative. He played a good, solid game.”
Chants of, “Thank you, Ray!” rained down from the purple-clad crowd with the game decided late in the fourth quarter, as the fans in Baltimore said a collective goodbye to their franchise’s greatest player.
“It was one of those great moments. I felt so proud of our fans. So pleased that we all have something that we will be able to talk to our kids and our grandkids about,” said Harbaugh.
“A Baltimore football moment that is going to just live on. That’s kind of why you do this — it’s kind of why you’re a fan, to be a part of moments like this.”
Now the Ravens hit the road to take on the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. The game is a rematch of a Week 15 contest won, 34–17, by Denver.
And in order to take down the stampeding Broncos — who have won 11 straight since staggering to a 2–3 start — the Ravens defense will have to outplay Peyton Manning, the four-time MVP quarterback and current MVP candidate who Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard recently compared to a “MacBook” computer.
“He’s not a computer, that’s for sure. He may have a computer for a brain, but he’s a man. We’re going to try to confuse him, and we’re going to need to try to put pressure on him,” said Harbaugh. “It’s a great analogy.”
In what could be his final game in the NFL, Lewis will lead the Ravens against arguably the greatest passer of his (or any) generation. Manning vs. Lewis, winner takes all, loser goes home — for good, in Lewis’ case.
“It’s just one of those chess matches,” said Lewis. “He knows me very well. I know them very well.”
Much has changed since the Raven’s defeat four weeks ago. Baltimore was without Lewis, Pollard and guard Marshal Yanda in that contest, while linebacker Terrell Suggs was playing his first game back from injury and Jim Caldwell was in his first game as the team’s play-caller after replacing Cam Cameron as the team’s offensive coordinator. Baltimore is back full strength headed to Denver for revenge. That’s all they can ask.
“We saw them earlier in the year, but now we get them again with all of our guys back,” said Lewis. “We are really looking forward to it.”
Alabama became the first team in the BCS era to win back-to-back titles by defeating Notre Dame 42-14 on Jan. 7 in Miami. The victory over the Fighting Irish gave the SEC its seventh consecutive national championship, and the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to make another run at the BCS title in 2013. Alabama is already an early favorite to win the national championship next season and has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. And with Nick Saban at the helm, expect another crop of youngsters to develop into key contributors throughout the year.
Who’s Back: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, RG Anthony Steen, LB Trey DePriest, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, CB Deion Belue, S Vinnie Sunseri, S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Who’s Gone: LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, TE Michael Williams, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Eddie Lacy, RT D.J. Fluker, CB Dee Milliner
Aug. 31 – Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 – at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 – Colorado State
Sept. 28 – Ole Miss
Oct. 5 – Georgia State
Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – Arkansas
Oct. 26 – Tennessee
Nov. 9 – LSU
Nov. 16 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – Chattanooga
Nov. 30 – at Auburn
Offensive Preview for 2013
After earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2012, quarterback AJ McCarron will set his sights even higher in 2013. McCarron will be one of college football’s top 10 returning quarterbacks and should be able to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. The senior will have plenty of help next year, as T.J. Yeldon is back at running back, while receiver Amari Cooper will be one of the best in the SEC. Yeldon could become the team’s feature back if Eddie Lacy leaves for the NFL, but the Crimson Tide will also work Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake and Jalston Fowler into the rotation at running back.
The biggest concern for Alabama in 2013 will be the offensive line. Center Barrett Jones has been one of college football’s top linemen of the BCS era, and his leadership will be missed. Guard Chance Warmack also departs, and right tackle D.J. Fluker could declare for the NFL Draft. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen will anchor the rebuilt line, while Ryan Kelly has played well in limited snaps at center. There’s no question Alabama will take a step back on the offensive line, but this unit won’t suffer a dramatic drop off as some may expect after losing Jones, Warmack and possibly Fluker.
Defensive Preview for 2013
Despite losing nearly everyone off the national title defense from the 2011 season, Alabama didn’t miss much of a beat. The Crimson Tide finished in the top five of rushing, total, pass and scoring defense, while generating over two sacks a game. And consider this: Alabama could be even better on defense in 2013.
Although the Crimson Tide will have to replace nose guard Jesse Williams, end Damion Square and safety Robert Lester, this unit will be in the mix to lead the nation in total and scoring defense. The linebacking corps could be the best in college football, as Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson and Denzel Devall all return. The secondary could lose cornerback Dee Milliner to the NFL Draft, but Deion Belue, Geno Smith and John Fulton are experienced options.
Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season: Very High
As long as Nick Saban is on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will simply reload from personnel departures and remain a national title contender each year. Expect that to be the case in 2013. The Crimson Tide will have some key losses but nothing that will deter it from making a run at the BCS crown. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, with a date against Texas A&M in Week 3 the toughest matchup on the slate. Considering what transpired in Tuscaloosa in November this year, expect Alabama to have revenge on the mind when it meets the Aggies in 2013.
Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: 1
The Fighting Irish were the only bowl eligible team to finish the regular season unbeaten but were soundly defeated by Alabama in the BCS National Championship. While the blowout loss to the Crimson Tide was a huge disappointment, coach Brian Kelly has this team on the right track. Notre Dame returns a handful of key contributors next year, including improving quarterback Everett Golson and two potential All-American defensive linemen in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.
Who’s Back: QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Dan Fox, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley
Who’s Gone: RB Theo Riddick, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, LB Manti Te’o, S Zeke Motta
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Cierre Wood
Aug. 31 – Temple
Sept. 7 – at Michigan
Sept. 14 – at Purdue
Sept. 21 – Michigan State
Sept. 28 – Oklahoma
Oct. 5 – Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 19 – USC
Oct. 26 – at Air Force
Nov. 2 – Navy
Nov. 9 – at Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 – BYU
Nov. 30 – at Stanford
Offensive Preview for 2013:
As expected, quarterback Everett Golson had an up-and-down season in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman topped 200 passing yards only once through his first eight games but finished with at least 200 yards in each of his final five contests. Golson’s development will be crucial to Notre Dame’s offense next year, especially with the question marks surrounding the running backs. Theo Riddick has expired his eligibility, while Cierre Wood is considering a jump to the NFL. With Golson having another year to work with Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, he will be counted on to carry more of the offense in 2013.
In addition to the question marks at running back, Notre Dame lost tight end Tyler Eifert to the NFL. The junior led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season. With Eifert gone to the NFL, receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels need to step up next season, especially while the Fighting Irish look for a new go-to option at tight end.
Despite the loss of center Braxston Cave and guard Mike Golic Jr., Notre Dame should be solid on the offensive line. Left tackle Zack Martin will be in the mix for All-America honors, while guard Chris Watt and right tackle Christian Lombard are experienced, proven options.
Defensive Preview for 2013:
Although Brian Kelly won with offense at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he smartly realized his best chance to win in 2012 rested with his defense. The Fighting Irish finished in the top 10 of total and scoring defense this year and allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns of any team in college football.
This unit has some holes to fill but will be one of the best in the nation once again in 2013. Replacing linebacker Manti Te’o’s leadership and production won’t be easy, but the Fighting Irish return one of the top defensive lines in college football, along with Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Danny Spond and Carlo Calabrese at linebacker.
The secondary had to replace both starting cornerbacks going into 2012 but the new starters held up well all season. KeiVarae Russell should be better in his second year as a starter, while Bennett Jackson is back after ranking second on the team in interceptions. The secondary could get a boost if safety Jamoris Slaughter is awarded an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing his Achilles against Michigan State.
Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season:
Notre Dame’s chances of getting back to the national championship aren’t as high as Alabama. However, the Fighting Irish should be a top-10 team in most preseason polls and should be in the mix for a BCS bowl. Although Notre Dame should win at least 10 games next year, replacing the leadership and production from Manti Te’o won’t be easy. Te’o was a huge part of the Fighting Irish’s success and simply won’t be replaced in 2013. While the defense may take a small step back, the offense figures to be better, and the schedule isn’t overwhelming. If Notre Dame can survive an early road trip to Michigan and a home date against USC, the season finale against Stanford could be for a trip to the BCS title game.
Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: Top 10
The BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame might not have looked pretty to Fighting Irish fans, but we argue that it was full of beautiful moments. Unfortunately for the Irish, none belonged to them. Still, we pulled together our 20 favorite photographic snapshots of the Crimson Tide winning 42-14 over the Fighting Irish.
(Photos by Tom DiPace)
The BCS just finished its 15th season of action, and has for the most part, been a major improvement on the previous bowl system. How do each of the 15 official champions stack-up against each other? Who has the most talent? Who had the best resume? Who played the toughest schedule? And who performed the best on the biggest stage?
Athlon Sports has ranked the 15 BCS National Champions — and there is a decided regional bias to the list. Just not at the very top. That distinction belongs to the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12.
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), no. 1 in scoring defense (9.8 ppg); average margin of victory 33.2 points per game
Award Winners: Larry Coker (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award), Ken Dorsey (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl co-MVP), Andre Johnson (Rose Bowl co-MVP), Bryant McKinnie (Outland Trophy), Ed Reed (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (17): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)
Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half.
Sept. 1: Miami (Fla.) 33, Penn State 7 (State College, PA)
Sept. 8: Miami (Fla.) 61, Rutgers 0 (Miami, FL)
Sept. 27: Miami (Fla.) 43, Pittsburgh 21 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Oct. 6: Miami (Fla.) 38, Troy 7 (Miami, FL)
Oct. 13: Miami (Fla.) 49, (#14) Florida State 27 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 25: Miami (Fla.) 45, West Virginia 3 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 3: Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 10: Miami (Fla.) 18, Boston College 7 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Nov. 17: Miami (Fla.) 59, (#14) Syracuse 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 24: Miami (Fla.) 65, (#12) Washington 7 (Miami, FL)
Dec. 1: Miami (Fla.) 26, (#14) Virginia Tech 24 (Blacksburg, VA)
Jan. 3: Miami (Fla.) 37, (#4) Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl)
2. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full 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. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)
3. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)
Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. 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 at home, 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. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 3: Texas 60, Louisiana-Lafayette 3 (Austin, TX)
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio State 22 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colorado 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) Texas Tech 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28 (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14 (Austin, TX)
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 (College Station, TX)
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colorado 3 (Big 12 Championship — Houston, TX)
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38 (Rose Bowl, National Championship)
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, six first round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. Expect that number to grow in the spring with names like Trent Richardon, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron grading into or around the first round.
Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.
Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.
Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)
5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (3): Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)
This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.
Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Arkansas State 7 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16 (Norman, OK)
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas State 31 (Manhattan, KS)
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31 (College Station, TX)
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Oklahoma State 7 (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas State 24 (Big 12 Championship – Kansas City, MO)
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida State 2 (Orange Bowl, National Championship)
6. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)
In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.
Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)
7. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, 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. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).
Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, (#4) LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, (#8) Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, (#24) South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, (#23) Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, (#1) Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, (#2) Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
8. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners: Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012) Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)
As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.
Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn State 11 (Happy Valley, PA)
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, North Texas 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Georgia Southern 21 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn, AL)
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
9. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Key Stats: Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM), Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)
The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.
Aug. 28: Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 11: Florida State 41, (#10) Georiga Tech 35 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 18: Florida State 42, (#20) NC State 11 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 25: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 (Chapel Hill, NC)
Oct. 2: Florida State 51, Duke 23 (Jacksonville, FL)
Oct. 9: Florida State 31, (#19) Miami 21 (Tallahasse, FL)
Oct. 16: Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 23: Florida State 17, Clemson 10 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 30: Florida State 35, Virginia 10 (Charlottesville, VA)
Nov. 13: Florida State 49, Maryland 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 20: Florida State 30, (#4) Florida 20 (Gainesville, FL)
Jan. 4: Florida State 46, (#2) Virginia Tech 29 (Sugar Bowl)
10. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)
Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.
Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)
11. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing and total defense for the second straight year and was second nationally in scoring defense, AJ McCarron was second nationally in passing efficiency,
Award Winners: Barrett Jones (Rimington)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top 10. This team rolled up 529 yards of offense in one of the more impressive title game performances in the 15-year history of the BCS. And did it against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Sept. 1: Alabama 41, (#8) Michigan 14 (Arlington, TX)
Sept. 8: Alabama 35, Western Kentucky 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 15: Alabama 52, Arkansas 0 (Fayetteville, AR)
Sept. 22: Alabama 40, FAU 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 29: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 13: Alabama 42, Missouri 10 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 20: Alabama 44, Tennessee 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 27: Alabama 38, (#13) Mississippi State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 3: Alabama 21, LSU 17 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 10: (#15) Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 17: Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 24: Alabama 49, Auburn 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 1: Alabama 32, (#3) Georgia 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 42, (#1) Notre Dame 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
12. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)
The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).
Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
13. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)
The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.
Aug. 24: Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 7: Ohio State 51, Kent State 17 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 14: Ohio State 25, (#10) Washington State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 21: Ohio State 23, Cincinnati 19 (Cincinnati, OH)
Sept. 28: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 5: Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16 (Evanston, IL)
Oct. 12: Ohio State 50, San Jose State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 19: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 14 (Madison, WI)
Oct. 26: Ohio State 13, (#17) Penn State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 2: Ohio State 34, (#19) Minnesota 3 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 9: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (West Lafayette, IN)
Nov. 16: Ohio State 23, Illinois 16 (Champaign, IL)
Nov. 23: Ohio State 14, (#12) Michigan 9 (Columbus, OH)
Jan. 3: Ohio State 31, (#1) Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl, BCS NCG)
14. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine played into the 2007 NFL Draft. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sept. 2: Florida 34, Southern Miss 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 9: Florida 42, Central Florida 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 16: Florida 21, (#13) Tennessee 20 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 23: Florida 26, Kentucky 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 30: Florida 28, Alabama 13 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 7: Florida 23, (#9) LSU 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 14: (#11) Auburn 27, Florida 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 28: Florida 21, (#25) Georgia 14 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 4: Florida 25, Vanderbilt 19 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 11: Florida 17, South Carolina 16 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 18: Florida 62, Western Carolina 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 25: Florida 21, Florida State 14 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 2: Florida 38, (#8) Arkansas 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 41, (#1) Ohio State 14 (Glendale, AZ)
15. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)
By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top the Tigers. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.
Aug. 30: LSU 45, Mississippi State 0 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 8: LSU 48, (#9) Virginia Tech 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 15: LSU 44, MTSU 0 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 22: LSU 28, (#14) South Carolina 16 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 29: LSU 34, Tulane 9 (New Orleans, LA)
Oct. 6: LSU 28, (#7) Florida 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 13: (#18) Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3 OT) (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 20: LSU 30, (#19) Auburn 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 3: LSU 41, (#18) Alabama 34 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 10: LSU 58, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 17: LSU 41, Ole Miss 24 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 23: Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT) (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 1: LSU 21, (#15) Tennessee 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: LSU 38, (#1) Ohio State 24 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
This wasn’t supposed to be the year for Alabama. Seems foolish, now doesn’t it?
The Crimson Tide returned only four defensive starters from the 2011 title squad. A Heisman finalist, Trent Richardson, left for the NFL.
A year later, a dominant defense and run game sealed a second consecutive Tide championship.
Alabama may be automatic now, fielding a defense whose only weakness is Johnny Manziel. Alabama made easy work of Notre Dame 42-14 to win its third BCS championship in four seasons, holding No. 1 teams scoreless in title games for nearly nine quarters going back to the win over LSU a year ago.
Nick Saban’s fourth national title (including one championship at LSU) was the second most lopsided championship in BCS history after USC’s 55-19 win over Oklahoma for the 2004 title.
Notre Dame ranked fourth in the country in rush defense at 92.4 yards per game. Eddie Lacy topped that on his own. The Irish never allowed a team to march 80 yards for a touchdown. Alabama did it four times, including a 97-yard touchdown drive.
Alabama sealed its spot as the king of college football early with three touchdowns in the first 15:04, earning the first back-to-back BCS championships and first consecutive national titles since USC won the Associated Press championship in 2003 and the BCS title in 2004.
RAPID REACTION: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Player of the game: Eddie Lacy.
This spot could easily belong to Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, who pushed around the Notre Dame defensive line all night. But Lacy put in plenty of work on his own, swatting away 248-pound defensive linemen, spinning through defenders and bullying his way through Notre Dame’s vaunted run D. He finished with 140 yards on 20 carries with a 20-yard TD run and 11-yard TD catch.
Turning point. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception.
It would be too easy to say the turning point was when Alabama took the field, though the final score indicated as much. Instead, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception of Everett Golson early in the third quarter was the end for Notre Dame. As Notre Dame built momentum on offense in the third quarter, Golson took a shot down the sideline to DaVaris Daniels. Cornerback Dee Milliner tipped the ball away when Clinton-Dix swooped in to intercept the pass inside the 5-yard line. Alabama capitalized with a 97-yard touchdown drive to take a 35-0 lead.
Unsung hero: Amari Cooper.
With a run game and defense like Alabama had Monday, the Tide didn’t need an overwhelming effort from the passing game. They got it anyway. Alabama’s freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper turned in clutch catches for a six-reception, 105-yard, two-touchdown night. In one of the few miscues for Alabama, Cooper failed to lay out for a diving catch on a deep pass for a potential touchdown from A.J. McCarron. The Tide quarterback finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four touchdown passes.
Needed more: Manti Te’o.
The Notre Dame defense missed tackles all evening, and Te’o wasn’t the only culprit. But the Irish needed more out of their Maxwell Award-winning linebacker. He was invisible for most of the night, and when he did show up, it was for the wrong reasons. Te’o whiffed on a handful of tackles, most glaringly late in the second quarter on a potential stop in the backfield on T.J. Yeldon, a freshman. The Alabama running back still had a seven-yard gain. Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
Questionable call: Kick catch interference in the first quarter.
With the way Alabama took control all evening, the penalty that negated an Alabama fumble deep in its own territory may not have made a difference in the grand scheme. But a Notre Dame scoring chance to answer Alabama’s 7-0 lead may have slowed the Tide for a moment. Christion Jones fumbled a punt, recovered by Notre Dame, but officials ruled kick catch interference even though an Irish player never made contact with Jones. Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials and a former SEC coordinator of officials, told the ESPN broadcast crew the call was correct as Jones did not have room to make the fair catch.
Stat that matters: Third down conversions.
This may say it all: Notre Dame started 0-for-5 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth while Alabama started 6-of-8. Notre Dame finished 2-of-8 on third down, Alabama 8-of-13.
Three snap judgements:
Saban’s run is one for the ages. Teams have been dominant over stretches of time, most recently USC. But Alabama’s run may the most impressive we’ve seen in several decades. Three national titles in four years at Alabama matches Nebraska’s run from 1994-97 and Notre Dame’s from 1946-49. Throw in the 2003 title at LSU, Saban has four titles in nine years.
With or without Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s loaded at the skill positions. Lacy’s been the team MVP of championship season against Georgia and Notre Dame, which may push him to declare for the NFL Draft. If he leaves, Alabama still has freshmen T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper working with rising senior A.J. McCarron. If there’s a question mark it could be offensive line, which will lose Barrett Jones and Warmack. Fluker and Kouandjio are also draft eligible.
Notre Dame can’t let this loss define the Irish. Plain and simple, Notre Dame was outclassed Monday, but the Irish can’t let this rout spill into next season. Brian Kelly’s team reached the national title stage ahead of schedule, but Golson and many key cogs on the defense return in 2013.