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Gary Andersen stepped into a well-oiled machine in Madison as the Badgers were a three-time defending conference champion when he got to town last year.
There was nowhere to go but down for Andersen in his first season, and, other than one glaringly bad performance against Penn State to end the year, it was an excellent debut from the new coaching staff.
He will have his work cut out for himself in year two, however. Wisconsin loses 26 seniors to graduation as the roster is going through major turnover. The defense, built around an elite front seven, has major holes to fill up front while the offense is lacking in the playmaker department. And now the Big Ten is two teams bigger and the Badgers are in a totally new division.
With only eight total returning starters (but lots of upside) and a tough schedule, Andersen knows this spring might be the most important spring camp of his seven-year head coaching career.
|Sept. 6||Western Illinois|
|Sept. 13||Bye Week|
|Oct. 18||Bye Week|
Wisconsin Badgers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)
Spring Practice Opens: March 5
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in Wisconsin's 2014 Spring Practice
Find playmakers on offense
The Badgers' offensive line returns largely intact with the exception of All-Big Ten left guard Ryan Groy and should be one of the best in the nation once again. But senior leader James White and his 4,685 yards from scrimmage are gone. Star wideout Jared Abbrederis and his 4,818 all-purpose yards are gone as well. So too is All-Big Ten tight end Jacob Pedersen. While Melvin Gordon returns as a Heisman candidate at running back (who isn’t allowed to be tackled this spring), quarterback Joel Stave needs to find playmakers or defenses will completely stack the box to stop the running game. Kenzel Doe, Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright caught a total of 28 passes last year and one of them will have to step into a much bigger role. And, frankly, Stave needs to be more productive at getting the ball down the field in his own right. Rob Havenstein should have a chance to become the next in a long line of great UW tight ends and Sam Arneson will also see plenty of playing time. With an elite O-line and stud tailback coming back, finding some weapons to make plays in open space will be the focus of Andersen’s offense in his second spring camp.
Fill glaring holes in the front seven
Wisconsin is losing three All-Big Ten players in end Pat Muldoon, nose guard Beau Allen and all-world linebacker and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland. On top of that, linebackers Ethan Armstrong (51 tackles), Conor O’Neill (41) and Brendan Kelly (35) are gone as well as D-line contributors Ethan Hemer and Tyler Dippel. Obviously, replacing a player like Borland is virtually impossible but talented backups Vince Biegel, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert will give it their best shot. As will Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring along the line. The linebacking corps appears to be in better shape than the D-line but both positions have quality backups returning. Developing these players into every-week starters will be the focus of the defensive coaching staff in Madison this spring.
Stabilize the safety position
All-Big Ten safety Dezmen Southward has expired his eligibility and Tanner McEvoy is playing quarterback. This leaves only Nate Hammon with any starting experience at the safety position this spring. This pass defense was outstanding a year ago thanks to a great front seven and the emergence of Sojourn Shelton at cornerback. But if this unit wants to be anywhere near the No. 17-rated pass defense in the nation again, Andersen and his staff will have to find capable bodies to plug in at safety. With holes in the middle of the defensive line and at middle linebacker, Wisconsin can ill afford to have any glaring weaknesses at safety.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
The 2014 season was business as usual for the Badgers. They ran the ball with vengeance, played physical defense and won nine games. Like clockwork. But in his second season at the helm, Andersen will be faced with a much bigger challenge. Finding offensive weapons and rebuilding the front seven aren't the only issues for this team. For example, it’s no secret that Andersen wants more production from his quarterback and passing game in ’14. That said, fans in MadTown shouldn’t be worried. Andersen has a tremendous track record of developing talent and implementing his system. As the Big Ten adds two teams and moves into the playoff era, Wisconsin finds itself yet again as a conference contender — albeit in a new division.
Randy Edsall won just two games in his first year in College Park. He won four games in his second season at Maryland — with his fifth-string quarterback. So a seven-win, bowl season in his third year was a clear sign of continued growth and development a year ago.
Now, the Terrapins move to a new league for the first time since 1953 as they prepare to enter the Big Ten this fall. And in the same division with Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State, Edsall knows his team will have a steep learning curve in the new league.
The good news is Maryland returns largely intact on both sides of the ball. Only two starters depart the defense and only four leave on offense while both specialists return to campus. Edsall has slowly rebuilt the overall roster talent and depth in his three years but the first season of the College Football Playoffs era could be a tricky one to navigate for the Big Ten newbie.
Especially, if this team deals with major injury issues again.
|Aug. 30||James Madison|
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Maryland Terrapins 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 1
Spring Game: April 11
Three Things to Watch in Maryland's 2014 Spring Practice
Keep the stars on the field
It may sound cliché but on a roster loaded with returning experience, Edsall has to keep his star players healthy. Quarterback C.J. Brown had a breakout season a year ago but has dealt with injuries his entire career. Elite wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are future NFL players but both are already out this spring due to injuries — which could be misconstrued as a good thing. Additionally, former star tailback Wes Brown returns from his semester-long suspension stemming from an off the field run-in with the police. Brown returns to compete with a mix of very capable backs vying for carries this spring. This team could have lots of weapons on offense but Edsall and coordinator Mike Locksley need to make sure that they’re all on the field together come August.
Plug the holes up front on offense
Two starters depart the offensive line along with tight end Dave Stinebaugh. Filling the gaps along the offensive front might be the only area of concern for this side of the ball other than health. The tight end position might be the least experienced on the entire roster and Edsall needs to find a new left side of the line. Ryan Doyle, Michael Dunn and Moise Larose return with some experience at tackle and Sal Conaboy and Andrew Zeller return with some experience up the middle. There is a host of talented incoming freshmen who will show up on campus this summer so this month is the time for the incumbents to prove they belong in the starting lineup. Locksley’s top priority in his third spring with Maryland will be to settle the O-line depth chart and find some capable bodies at tight end.
Find depth on defense
Only linebacker Marcus Whitfield and cornerback Isaac Goins depart the starting 11 on defense. Finding depth at every position is the key this spring, as Edsall and new defensive line coach Chad Wilt look to continue to develop the ever-evolving Terps roster. This includes finding a pass rusher to fill the void left by Whitfield and a coverman who can play opposite William Likely. There are plenty of bodies returning at safety and linebacker but not all of them will be on the field this spring and this group struggled on the field a year ago. Injuries to linebackers Alex Twine and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil make developing depth even more imperative this spring. Finding depth at all three levels of the defense will be a focus for the Terrapins this offseason.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Maryland has gone from two to four to seven wins in Edsall’s tenure in College Park and there is no reason to think this overall trend won’t continue. Does it mean that the Terps can win more than seven games in their first romp through a new and more difficult division? Maybe not but a bowl bid in year one with a schedule that includes road trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan and has both Ohio State and Michigan State coming to town, would be a sign that Maryland won’t have too much difficulty making the transition to the Big Ten. Getting used to road trips from College Park to Minneapolis is, however, an entirely different discussion.
Whether the achievements were fully expected, almost routine, or a true surprise, college basketball gave us some of the best of the sport during the weekend.
Even though Doug McDermott hit a career milestone, Wichita State continued its unbeaten streak or Florida joined an elite class, there was cause for celebration on the final day of the regular season.
The milestone in Lincoln wasn’t quite as expected as the others, but just as momentous as Nebraska all but clinched an NCAA Tournament bid with a win over Wisconsin.
All this, with a week left before Selection Sunday
College Basketball Weekend Recap: 15 Things to Know
1. Doug McDermott scored his 3,000th point
Milestone performances don’t come in many more perfect packages than what Doug McDermott delivered Saturday night. The Creighton forward became the eighth member the 3,000-point club with a 3-point shot in the second half of a win over Providence, but that was only part of the career night by McDermott. In his final home game in Omaha, McDermott scored a career-high 45 points. In a game Warren Buffett would love — the Oracle of Omaha himself was in attendance — McDermott was economical in his career day, finishing 17 of 25 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. He’s the first 3,000-point scorer since 2006 and one of the rare players to put up these kinds of numbers while playing for a nationally prominent program.
The 3,000-point club includes:
|Top Scorers in College Basketball History|
|Player||Last Year||Total Points|
|1. Pete Maravich, LSU||1970||3,667|
|2. Freeman Williams, Portland State||1978||3,249|
|3. Lionel Simmons, La Salle||1990||3,217|
|4. Alphonso Ford, Mississippi Valley||1993||3,165|
|5. Harry Kelly, Texas Southern||1983||3,066|
|6. Keydren Clark, Saint Peter’s||2006||3,058|
|7. Doug McDermott, Creighton||2014||3,011|
|8. Hersey Hawkins, Bradley||1988||3,008|
2. Wichita State matched UNLV’s 34-0
History continued for Wichita State, and again it looked routine. Indiana State threatened at times, but the Sycamores led a minute into the game and never again. Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with an 83-69 win over Indiana State to seal a 34-0 record and likely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 34-0 start ties 1990-91 UNLV for the best start in college basketball history. Wichita State will likely break the record with its 35th win in the NCAA Tournament unless the Shockers become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. A notable number of the MVC final, Wichita State beat Indiana State — the No. 2 team in the league — three times by a combined margin of 41 points.
3. Florida made history
No matter how weak the SEC is this season, Florida’s accomplishment of reaching 18-0 stands as a historic feat. The Gators trounced Kentucky 84-65 to become the first 18-0 team in league history. The schedule expanded to 18 games when SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, but no team accomplished the feat when the league slate featured 18 games from 1967-91. Running the table in a classic power conference is a rare feat, accomplished only seven times since the 1985. In that span, no Big Ten team has gone undefeated in league play. Ditto for the Big East or Pac-12. Naturally, the achievement is a precursor to NCAA Tournament success.
|Undefeated in a power conference since 1985|
|2014 Florida (18-0 SEC)||--||Billy Donovan|
|2012 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||National champion||John Calipari|
|2003 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||Elite Eight||Tubby Smith|
|2002 Kansas (16-0 Big 12)||National runner up||Roy Williams|
|1999 Duke (16-0 ACC)||National runner up||Mike Krzyzewski|
|1996 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||National champion||Rick Pitino|
|1987 North Carolina (14-0 ACC)||Elite Eight||Dean Smith|
4. Jabari Parker is going to be a force in the postseason
Duke avenged its collapse against North Carolina earlier in the season with a 93-81 win over the Tar Heels. The story, though, may be Jabari Parker. The freshman is playing perhaps his best basketball of the season with 30 points (10 of 17 shooting) and 11 rebounds against the Tar Heels. Parker has had a double-double in six consecutive games, averaging 18.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in that span.
5a. Oregon has snapped out of its funk
The Ducks have been clawing their way out of a 3-8 start in the Pac-12 for some time, but this week signaled Oregon will be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon defeated Arizona State in a key game to get off the bubble before a major statement in a 64-57 win over Arizona. Dana Altman returned Johnathan Loyd to the starting lineup on Feb. 16, and the Ducks haven’t lost since. Loyd had 16 points against Arizona.
5b. Arizona’s offensive deficiencies will be worth watching
Arizona may be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because of its stifling defense. It certainly won’t be because of its offense. Arizona shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range against one of the weakest defensive teams in the conference, and the Wildcats continued to struggle from the free throw line (11 of 19). That’s going to be a concern as the Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament.
6. Andrew Wiggins’ career day means there’s little reason to worry about Kansas
On paper, maybe Kansas fans should be worried about the Jayhawks. They lost two out of their last three including Saturday’s 95-86 win over West Virginia. Perhaps they shouldn’t. Kansas had already locked up the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament and played again without Joel Embiid, whose ailing back is being saved for the postseason. Most encouraging for KU was the performance of Andrew Wiggins. The freshman scored more in a game than any other rookie this season with 41 points against the Mountaineers. More than just prolific, Wiggins was sharp as he shot 12 of 18 from the field and 15 of 19 from the free throw line. He added eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks.
7. Nebraska’s going to the NCAA Tournament
The Cornhuskers still have to wait to Selection Sunday to be certain, but the Lincoln crowd celebrated as if they won the Big Ten Tournament. Closing the regular season on an 11-3 run after starting 0-4, Nebraska picked up its third RPI top 30 win by defeating Wisconsin 77-68. Second-year coach Tim Miles led one of the true surprises of the season as the Huskers were picked 12th in the league, including by Athlon. Nebraska will open the Big Ten Tournament on a bye as the No. 4 seed.
8a. Louisville was ridiculous Saturday
Few performances were more dominant than Louisville’s 81-45 win over Connecticut on Saturday. The Huskies helped with some ill-advised shots from Shabazz Napier, but they still finished shooting 29.4 percent from the field and 3 of 22 from 3-point range. The Cardinals were just as dominant as the defensive end as they had 20 assists — led by Russ Smith’s 13 on Senior Day — on 26 field goals. Montrezl Harrell has been on a hot streak with 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the last five games.
8b. The top seed in the American was decided on a coin flip
Seriously. The series of tiebreakers between Cincinnati and Louisville, tied in the league standings and 1-1 against each other, ended up in a coin flip conducted after Louisville’s win over UConn. Cincinnati won.
9. Baylor is one of the nation’s hottest teams
The end-of-game dramatics, thanks to a poor out-of-bounds play again, made Baylor’s 76-74 win more interesting than it should have been. Even so, tip your cap to the way Baylor recovered this season. Not long ago, the Bears were 2-8 in the Big 12 and in danger of slipping into the NIT for the second consecutive season. Now, the Bears go into the Big 12 Tournament at 9-9 in the league. Baylor punctuated the win over Kansas State, the Wildcats’ first loss in Manhattan since the opener, with 17 consecutive free throws.
10. Oklahoma State showed why a team should foul while leading by 3
The Cowboys missed a chance to close out the season with another impressive win when they lost 85-81 at Iowa State. Oklahoma State led 71-68 in the final seconds when Naz Long pulled up for a long 3-pointer with one second remaining. Oklahoma State didn’t foul and went into overtime. The odds in the extra frame were somewhat evened with Marcus Smart fouled out for Oklahoma State and Melvin Ejim fouled out for Iowa State (Georges Niang followed later). The loss spoiled an otherwise impressive performance for an Oklahoma State team that will be the most dangerous team at whatever seed the Pokes get.
11. Tennessee tried to erase any doubt
The Volunteers have been a bubble team all season, helped by an early season win over Virginia but harmed by a season sweep to Texas A&M. If Tennessee played like it did in the last three games, the Volunteers wouldn’t be on the bubble at all. The Volunteers defeated Missouri 72-45 to defeat the Tigers, Vanderbilt and Auburn by a combined 95 points. Tennessee might need to win its SEC Tournament opener for an NCAA bid, but it’s tough to pick against a Volunteers team on this kind of hot streak.
12. Three teams suddenly have work to do in the conference tournaments
Tennessee’s rout of Missouri puts the Tigers into a deeper hole, but Frank Haith’s team wasn’t alone in falling apart in its final regular season game. Arkansas, which looked like a lock by virtue of a sweep of Kentucky, lost 83-58 to an Alabama team with a losing record. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh lost 83-78 in overtime to Clemson to fall to 11-7 in the SEC. An early loss in the league tournament for any of those teams could cost them a bid.
13. San Diego State goes to 1-3-1, beats New Mexico
Few things are more intriguing as when a major coaching adjustment pays off. Steve Fisher showed why he’s a national coach of the year contender by switching to a 1-3-1 defense to take Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk out of the game. San Diego State trailed by 16 as New Mexico’s big men took control before the Aztecs adjusted. San Diego State won 51-48 to clinch the Mountain West regular season title.
14. Syracuse and Saint Louis showed signs of life
Syracuse defeated Florida State 74-58 on the road to end a 1-4 streak which included losses to also-rans Boston College and Georgia Tech. Elsewhere, Jordair Jett’s layup in the final 3 seconds gave Saint Louis a 64-62 win over UMass, ending a three-game losing streak.
15. Five teams clinched automatic bids
The first five automatic bids were clinched over the weekend with Wichita State, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Mercer all winning conference tournaments. Harvard won the Ivy League regular season title.
From the NCAA conference touranments to Selection Sunday to the Championship game, here are the key dates for 2014 March Madness:
Conference championship games
Saturday, March 8: Ohio Valley
Sunday, March 9: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Missouri Valley
Monday, March 10: Colonial, MAAC, Southern
Tuesday, March 11: Horizon, Northeast, Summit, West Coast
Wednesday, March 12: Patriot
Saturday, March 15: America East, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, Southland, SWAC
Sunday, March 16: Atlantic 10, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC
Tuesday, March 18 and Wednesday, 19
Round of 64 and 32
Thursday, March 20 and Saturday, March 22:
Friday, March 21 and Sunday, March 23:
Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
Thursday, March 27 and Saturday, March 29
West Regional: Anaheim
South Regional: Memphis
Friday, March 28 and Sunday, March 30
Midwest Regional: Indianapolis
South Regional: New York City
Final Four and National Championship Game
Saturday, April 5 and Monday, April 7
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The Big Ten is known for power running games, hard-hitting linebackers and big hog mollies along the offensive line. However, the conference also claims five Thorpe Award winners — given to the nation's top defensive back — on four different teams during the 16-year BCS Era.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Antoine Winfield, Ohio State (1995-98)
Winfield might be the most underrated defensive back in the history of all levels of football. The consensus All-American helped Ohio State win 43 games in four years and nearly (or should have) played in the first BCS National Championship Game in 1998. He was given the Thorpe and Tatum honors as a senior as the nation’s top defensive back before being selected 23rd overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.
2. Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000)
The Badgers’ coverman has as complete a resume as any during the BCS Era. He was a two-time, first-team All-American and three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection. He helped Wisconsin to back-to-back Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships and was the only Big Ten defensive back of the BCS Era to be named the outright Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He holds UW’s all-time record with 21 interceptions and was named the nation’s top defensive back with the Thorpe and Tatum Trophies as a senior in 2000. He was a first-round pick in 2001.
3. Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002)
The Buckeyes safety was a rare three-time All-American, three-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick and was named co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 for the BCS National Champions. Doss started 40 of 50 possible career games and was named the 2002 Fiesta Bowl MVP. He finished his career with 331 career tackles, eight interceptions, eight fumbles recovered and 6.0 sacks. He was a second-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
4. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (2005-08)
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a long tradition of great defensive backs and Jenkins is one of the most decorated. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick, including twice as a starter for two unbeaten regular-season teams that made it to the BCS National Championship Game in both 2006 and ’07. He was a two-time All-American, Jim Thorpe winner and was the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
5. Bob Sanders, Iowa (2000-03)
One of the hardest hitting players to ever suit up, Sanders made big plays all over the field during his time in Iowa City. He helped lead Iowa to the Orange Bowl in 2002 and was an All-American as a senior in '03. He finished his career with 348 tackles, 16.0 for loss, four sacks, seven interceptions and 13 forced fumbles (he led the nation in FF with six as a senior). The Colts took him in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft and he went on to two Pro Bowls and also won a Super Bowl.
6. Tyrone Carter, Minnesota (1996-99)
The Florida native was a tackling machine for the Golden Gophers, finishing his career with an NCAA-record 584 total tackles and 414 solo stops He was a two-time, first-team All-American and won the 1999 Thorpe Award and Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top defensive back. Carter also was a return specialist, totaling over 1,800 combined punt and kick return yards. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. The Gophers increased their win total every year of his four-year, 46-game career.
7. Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin (2001-04)
A cult hero walk-on in Madison, Leonhard was a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick before even earning his first collegiate scholarship before his senior season. He went on to a third first-team All-Big Ten selection and All-American honors in his final season. He led the nation with a Big Ten single-season record 11 interceptions as a sophomore and broke the Big Ten record for punt return yardage with 1,347 yards (since broken). He played every game of his career, starting 39 times and registering 281 tackles and a Wisconsin-record 21 career interceptions (tied with Fletcher) — which is good for fourth all-time in Big Ten history and the most by any B1G player during the BCS Era.
8. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (2010-13)
Dennard was the nation’s best cover corner on a team that won a school-record 13 games, the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl. Dennard posted 62 tackles and four interceptions en route to winning the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He was obviously named the Tatum-Woodson B1G DB of the Year and finished his four-year career with 167 tackles, 10.0 for loss, 10 INTs, 26 passes defended and, most importantly, 42 wins.
9. Leon Hall, Michigan (2003-06)
He never missed a game in his four-year, 50-game career and led Michigan to three Rose Bowl appearances. He is Michigan’s all-time leader with 43 passes broken up and also picked off 12 career passes. Hall was honorable mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore, second-team All-Big Ten as a junior and a consensus All-American and Thorpe Award finalist as a senior. The Michigan great was the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
10. Vontae Davis, Illinois (2006-08)
A three-year player for Illinois, Davis was a freshman All-American in his first season. He started all 12 games, making 56 tackles and earning first-team All-Big Ten honors while leading the Illini back to the Rose Bowl. He made 78 tackles as a junior and earned first-team Big Ten honors a second time. Davis was a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Just missed the cut:
11. Donte Whitner, Ohio State (2003-05)
Donte “Hitner” was a big hitter before getting to the NFL. He contributed as a true freshman but entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. He posted 143 tackles in two seasons as the starter, including All-American and All-Big Ten honors as a junior. He departed early for the NFL and was the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
12. Marlin Jackson, Michigan (2001-04)
A hybrid safety-cornerback, Jackson was an All-American and senior captain for the Wolverines in 2004. He is second all-time in school history in passes broken up and was a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
13. Tracy Porter, Indiana (2004-07)
Arguably the best defensive back in school history, Porter is No. 2 in Indiana history with 16 interceptions and No. 1 with 413 return yards (third all-time in B1G history). He is the only player in IU history to return a punt, interception and fumble for a touchdown. He posted 212 tackles, was a first-team All-Big Ten pick and was taken in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
14. Chris Gamble, Ohio State (2001-03)
He played three ways for the undefeated BCS champs in 2002, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in the process. He played in 38 career games, starting 18 on defense and 12 on offense and was one of the most explosive players to play in the Big Ten. He left school early and was a first-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
15. Nate Clements, Ohio State (1998-2000)
The top flight coverman started 24 of his possible 36 career games at Ohio State, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior. He posted 177 tackles, seven interceptions and was a first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft after leaving school early.
16. Stuart Schweigert, Purdue (2000-03)
He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year for the Big Ten champs in his first season. He set the Purdue interception record with 17 and was a two-time, first-ream All-Big Ten pick as well as a two-time, second-team selection. He posted 360 career tackles and went to four bowl games.
17. Will Allen, Ohio State (2000-03)
Sitting behind Doss most of career, Allen only got one year to showcase his ability. He was a big member of the 2002 BCS title team but played mostly in nickel packages. In his one year as a starter, he earned consensus All-American honors and was a fourth-round pick.
18. Bernard Pollard, Purdue (2003-05)
The Bonecrusher was a great player but didn’t always get along with Joe Tiller. He posted 254 tackles in three years and set a school record with five blocked kicks. Had he played four years and not constantly been at odds with Tiller, he could have been one of the B1G’s greats.
19. Kurt Coleman, Ohio State (2006-09)
He was a three-year starter at safety for two teams that went unbeaten in the regular season and played for the BCS national title. He was an All-American, team MVP and first-team All-Big Ten pick.
20. Micah Hyde, Iowa (2009-12)
Playing both cornerback and safety, Hyde won the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten DB of the Year award as a senior. He was also an excellent return man, being named first-team All-Big Ten in 2012.
Best of the rest:
21. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska (2008-11)
22. Ernest Shazor, Michigan (2002-04)
23. CJ. Barnett, Ohio State (2009-13)
23. Ahmad Plummer, Ohio State (1997-99)
24. Ricardo Allen, Purdue (2010-13)
25. Mike Echols, Wisconsin (1998-2001)
26. Ashton Youboty, Ohio State (2003-05)
27. Eugene Wilson, Illinois (1999-2002)
28. Calvin Lowry, Penn State (2002-05)
29. Brian Peters, Northwestern (2008-11)
30. Willie Middlebrooks, Minnesota (1998-2001)
Spring practice is underway, and all 128 college football teams have started to sort through the solutions for the question marks surrounding the roster.
Quarterback battles are the most intriguing element to watch in spring practice, even if there is little clarity on the depth chart until the fall.
This spring is full of quarterback battles that have national title implications. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama is searching for a replacement for AJ McCarron. Blake Sims has the edge in experience, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the early favorite. Coker won’t arrive in Tuscaloosa until the summer, which means Sims and the other Alabama quarterbacks have a chance to stake their claim for the starting job this spring.
Outside of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Clemson, Miami and Texas are just a handful of teams looking for a No. 1 quarterback.
Texas is another intriguing battle, as David Ash returns after missing nearly all of last season due to a concussion. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is intriguing, and the coaching staff is pursuing USC transfer Max Wittek as another option.
In College Station, the race to replace Johnny Manziel is already underway. Can true freshman Kyle Allen beat Kenny Hill or Matt Joeckel for the top spot?
College Football’s Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles for 2014
The Candidates: David Cornwell (FR), Cooper Bateman (RS-FR), Blake Sims (SR), Parker McLeod (RS-FR), Alec Morris (SO), Jacob Coker (JR-TR)
What to Watch: There’s plenty of intrigue around the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa this spring. Not only are there five candidates pushing for time, new coordinator Lane Kiffin is easily one of the most polarizing hires of the offseason. But don’t expect anything to be settled in spring practice for Alabama. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is considered the frontrunner and is not slated to arrive until this summer. Sims has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, completing 18 of 29 throws for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Cornwell enrolled early and is likely Alabama’s quarterback of the future. However, he is recovering from a knee injury, and it’s uncertain how much the coaching staff will push him this spring.
Projected Winner: Coker. Alabama doesn’t bring in transfers to sit on the bench. Sims may have the most experience in a Crimson Tide uniform, but Coker has more talent. Although he has yet to make a start in college, Coker has all of the attributes you want in a quarterback. Of course, he has yet to take a snap in the SEC, which is why Sims, Cornwell and Morris need to take advantage of the opportunities this spring.
The Candidates: Connor Brewer (SO-TR), Nick Isham (JR), Jerrard Randall (JR), Jesse Scroggins (SR), Anu Solomon (RS-FR)
What to Watch: Rich Rodriguez knows how to develop quarterbacks, so the winner of this job should have a big statistical season. But as spring practice opens, it’s anyone’s guess who takes the first snap for Arizona in 2014. There’s an interesting cast of candidates vying for time, starting with Texas transfer Connor Brewer and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon. Brewer did not play in his only season with the Longhorns, while Solomon spent last season learning behind B.J. Denker. Jerrard Randall started his career at LSU before transferring into the junior college ranks. Jesse Scroggins also started at a FBS school (USC) before a stop in junior college.
Projected Winner: Solomon. Projecting a winner here is nearly impossible. And this could be a situation where a couple of quarterbacks see time this year. Solomon has the most upside, and it’s only a matter of time before he claims the No. 1 spot.
The Candidates: Cole Stoudt (SR), Deshaun Watson (FR), Chad Kelly (SO)
What to Watch: Tajh Boyd will be missed, but Clemson’s offense will continue to perform at a high level with Chad Morris calling the plays. Morris has three talented quarterbacks to work with this spring, starting with incoming freshman Deshaun Watson. The Georgia native was the No. 41 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Stoudt has served as Boyd’s backup for the last three seasons and threw for 742 yards and eight touchdowns in that span. Kelly redshirted in 2012 and finished last season with 58 passing yards on 10 completions.
Projected Winner: Watson. Whether it’s Stoudt, Kelly or Watson at the top of the depth chart, Clemson is going to be explosive on offense. Watson is too talented to sit, but it wouldn’t be a total shock if Stoudt starts the opener against Georgia before giving way to the freshman later in the year.
The Candidates: Anthony Jennings (SO), Brandon Harris (FR), Hayden Rettig (RS-FR)
What to Watch: Breaking in a quarterback in the brutal SEC West is no easy assignment. But the good news for Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron is the new quarterback has a solid supporting cast at his disposal. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee will push for All-SEC honors, while the offensive line should be among the best in the nation. Sure, the receiving corps needs work, but LSU can push for 10 wins just on its rushing attack and defense. Cameron proved to be the right hire for the Tigers’ offense, as he developed Zach Mettenberger and brought improvement to the passing game. LSU may shift more to a run philosophy in 2014, especially if Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris wins the job. Jennings guided the Tigers to a comeback win over Arkansas in the regular season finale but didn’t play particularly well in the bowl (7 of 19 for 82 yards and one interception). Harris ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2014 recruiting class, and he enrolled early to compete this spring. Rettig is a pro-style passer and ranked as the No. 10 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class.
Projected Winner: Jennings. The bowl game performance is concerning, but let’s not overrate one outing. Harris has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster. How quickly he gets acclimated to the offense will determine how long Jennings stays as the starter.
The Candidates: Ryan Williams (SR), Brad Kaaya (QB), Kevin Olsen (RS-FR), Gray Crow (SO)
What to Watch: Is this the year Miami finally wins the Coastal Division? If a quarterback emerges, the Hurricanes should be picked as the favorite in the division. Ryan Williams has the edge in experience, starting 10 games at Memphis in 2010 and throwing for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns. He transferred at the end of his freshman season and has played in nine games over the last two years with the Hurricanes. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen (No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class) and true freshman Brad Kaaya (four-star prospect by 247Sports) will get every opportunity to push Williams for the starting job this offseason. Even though Williams might not be the most-talented quarterback on the roster, he has a good grasp on the offense and already has a year of experience starting at a FBS school.
Projected Winner: Williams. Again, this isn’t the flashiest choice, but Williams is capable of leading this offense. The battle between Olsen and Kaaya for the No. 2 spot will be intriguing, especially if Williams struggles or as both players position themselves for 2015.
The Candidates: Tommy Armstrong (SO), Johnny Stanton (RS-FR), Jamal Turner (SR), Zack Darlington (FR)
What to Watch: Armstrong was pressed into duty when Taylor Martinez suffered a foot injury last season. He started eight games and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 202 yards and two scores on the ground. Considering it was first taste of action, Armstrong acquitted himself well for a redshirt freshman. He opens spring practice as the No. 1 option, but the job won’t be handed to him. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing option, while the coaching staff wants to get a look at receiver Jamal Turner under center. Turner is a wildcard to watch, and he may play just as a change-of-pace option.
Projected Winner: Armstrong. There’s no question Armstrong needs to play better, but with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 option, he should show significant improvement. If he doesn’t, Nebraska has capable options in Stanton and Darlington, while Turner’s progress will be interesting to watch.
The Candidates: Mason Rudolph (FR), J.W. Walsh (JR)
What to Watch: Developing quarterbacks has always been a strength for Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, so it's possible the winner of this battle could be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2014. Walsh played extensively in 2013, throwing for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 294 yards and three scores on the ground. Walsh has room to grow as a passer, but the edge in experience is clearly in his favor. Rudolph ranked as the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and enrolled to compete this spring.
Projected Winner: Walsh. Take a look at the schedule for Oklahoma State. With Florida State in the opener, would the Cowboys let Rudolph start against one of the top defenses in college football? It’s certainly not out of the question for Rudolph to earn the starting job, but Walsh’s experience should allow him to at least open the year as the No. 1 option.
The Candidates: Trevone Boykin (JR), Foster Sawyer (FR), Grayson Muehlstein (FR), Zach Allen (RS-FR), Tyler Matthews (SO)
What to Watch: After finishing ninth in the Big 12 in total offense last season, TCU coach Gary Patterson made significant changes to his offensive staff. Doug Meacham was hired from Houston to call the plays, while former Texas Tech quarterback and assistant Sonny Cumbie also joined the staff as co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Boykin is TCU’s most experienced option, throwing for 3,252 yards and 22 touchdowns over the last two years. But will he stay at quarterback? Boykin is an excellent athlete, and if another quarterback emerges, Meacham could move him to receiver. Muehlstein and Sawyer won’t arrive until the summer but will be a factor in this quarterback derby.
Projected Winner: Boykin. This job won’t be settled in the spring, as the coaching staff needs to get an extended look at Sawyer and Muehlstein. For now, we will guess Boykin’s experience will pay off, and he wins the starting job this preseason.
The Candidates: Justin Worley (JR), Riley Ferguson (RS-FR), Joshua Dobbs (SO), Nathan Peterman (SO)
What to Watch: Butch Jones seems to have Tennessee back on track, but the Volunteers have a handful of glaring needs heading into 2014. Quarterback is one of those areas of concern, as four candidates will battle for the No. 1 spot. Worley has the most experience, but he completed only 55.6 percent of his throws in eight games last year. Joshua Dobbs played in five contests as a true freshman last season and threw for 695 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded 189 yards and one score on the ground. Ferguson was dealing with a stress fracture in his leg and used a redshirt season in 2013.
Projected Winner: Dobbs. Keep a close eye on Ferguson this spring. The North Carolina native is healthy and ready to compete with Dobbs, Worley and Peterman for the starting spot. Dobbs didn’t play particularly well last season, but he was thrown into a difficult situation as a true freshman in the SEC. The winner of this job will be playing behind a line that has to replace all five starters.
The Candidates: David Ash (SR), Tyrone Swoopes (SO), Jerrod Heard (FR)
What to Watch: Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in the nation, but he might spend a little extra time with the offense this spring. The Longhorns have an unsettled quarterback situation, and there could be an additional name in the mix if Max Wittek transfers from USC to Austin. Ash played in only three games last season, throwing for 760 yards and seven touchdowns. He was sidelined due to a concussion for 10 games, but he will participate in spring practice. Swoopes was the No. 12 quarterback in the 2013 signing class and played in six contests last year. Heard ranked as the No. 2 quarterback by 247Sports Composite in the 2014 signing class and is the future for Texas’ offense.
Projected Winner: Ash. This is a tough one to call. Are Swoopes and Heard ready to be a Big 12 quarterback? If Wittek lands in Austin, can he factor into the mix? Considering Ash has the most experience of anyone on the roster, he’s the safest pick to win the job.
The Candidates: Kyle Allen (FR), Kenny Hill (SO), Matt Joeckel (SR)
What to Watch: Johnny Manziel’s two-year playing career in College Station easily ranks among the best by a quarterback in the SEC during the BCS era. How will Texas A&M replace him? Well, you can’t exactly replicate Manziel’s production and leadership, but there are three intriguing candidates vying for time. Joeckel has the edge in experience, throwing 48 passes over the last two years in relief duty. Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards in limited action last season. Allen – the No. 10 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – enrolled early to compete this spring.
Projected Winner: Hill. Flip a coin between Hill and Joeckel. Allen will eventually take the starting job, but it seems unlikely Texas A&M will start him on the road at South Carolina for his first start. Regardless of the winner, the Aggies have three solid options to run their high-powered offense.
The Candidates: Justin Holman (SO), Pete DiNovo (RS-FR), Tyler Harris (FR)
What to Watch: Blake Bortles could be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Needless to say, the trio of candidates vying to be UCF’s starting quarterback will have big shoes to fill. Tyler Harris enrolled early to compete this spring with sophomore Justin Holman and redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo. Holman played in three games last year and completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score. Although the winner of this battle won’t equal Bortles’ production, UCF’s offense should still be among the best in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Projected Winner: Holman. This one is a coin flip. A slight edge should go to Holman since he has an edge in experience, but DiNovo will be tough to keep off the field.
The Candidates: Mark Leal (SR), Bucky Hodges (RS-FR), Chris Durkin (FR), Andrew Ford (FR), Michael Brewer (JR)
What to Watch: Logan Thomas is gone, and second-year coordinator Scot Loeffler enters spring looking for answers for an offense that averaged just 5.3 yards per play in ACC contests last season. Mark Leal is the frontrunner to replace Thomas, and he has played sparingly in his career. Leal completed 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards against UCLA in the Sun Bowl, which was his first extended chance at snaps for the Hokies. Hodges is another name to watch after he ranked as the No. 20 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But perhaps the name with the most intrigue is Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. He won’t arrive until the summer, but Brewer was solid in limited action with the Red Raiders (440 yards, five touchdowns).
Projected Winner: Leal. Brewer is intriguing, but he is at a disadvantage since he won’t arrive until this summer. With a solid defense in place, the Hokies can contend for a Coastal Division title if a quarterback emerges this preseason.
The Candidates: Jeff Lindquist (SO), Cyler Miles (SO), Troy Williams (RS-FR), K.J. Carta-Samuels (FR)
What to Watch: At the end of the 2013 season, Cyler Miles appeared to be locked-in as Washington’s starting quarterback. However, he was indefinitely suspended after an off-the-field incident in early February. Considering Miles’ return is uncertain, it’s unlikely the Huskies will have much clarity at quarterback this spring. Lindquist and Williams will battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart with Miles out, while Carta-Samuels will arrive in the summer.
Projected Winner: Miles. Assuming he returns, Miles should be Washington’s starting quarterback. He was impressive in limited action last season, completing 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Miles ranked as the No. 5 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports, so there’s no question about his talent. However, if he misses all of spring practice, how quickly can he catch Lindquist and Williams for the No. 1 spot in a new offense?
The Candidates: Skyler Howard (SO), Clint Trickett (SR), Paul Millard (SR), William Crest (FR)
What to Watch: Although coach Dana Holgorsen would like to see some clarity at this position, it’s unlikely the Mountaineers will find many answers in spring practice. Clint Trickett is out due to shoulder surgery, Howard is still learning the offense after one year in the junior college ranks, and Crest won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the other three candidates, Millard will have a chance to stake his claim for the starting job in spring practice. Howard threw for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns in his one season as Riverside City College’s starting quarterback.
Projected Winner: Millard. Junior college recruits are hit or miss, so it’s tough to know what to expect from Howard in his first season in Morgantown. However, if Millard or Trickett struggles early in the year, Howard or Crest should get an extended look this season. For now, the edge here should go to Millard, especially with a full spring to work with the No. 1 offense.
Is there a battle?
Jeff Driskel returns after missing nine games due to a leg injury. Will new coordinator Kurt Roper help Driskel live up to his lofty recruiting hype? Or will the Gators turn to incoming freshman Will Grier (No. 2 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports)?
Devin Gardner failed to have the breakout year most expected in 2013, but his supporting cast didn’t give him much help. Shane Morris started the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and ended 2013 by throwing for 261 yards on 29 completions. Can Gardner pickup where he left off against Ohio State? Or will Morris push Gardner for the job?
Despite Marquise Williams finishing 2013 on a high note, coach Larry Fedora insists the quarterback job is open. Redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is a talented option, but it would be a surprise if he beats Williams for the starting spot.
Gary Nova started the first 10 games for the Scarlet Knights last season but was benched in favor of Chas Dodd for the final three. Dodd has expired his eligibility, and Nova hopes to use an offseason under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen to hold onto the starting job. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, sophomore Blake Rankin and junior Mike Bimonte will push Nova for time this spring.
Cody Kessler seemed to get better with each snap last year, and he finished 2013 on a high note by throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Although Kessler is a solid option for new coach Steve Sarkisian, redshirt freshman Max Browne will get a chance to unseat him this spring. Browne ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100.
Joel Stave started all 13 games for the Badgers last season and finished with 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he isn’t guaranteed the starting job this year. Wisconsin needs more from its passing attack, and the coaching staff will take an extended look at Bart Houston, true freshman D.J. Gillins and Tanner McEvoy, who will shift back to quarterback after spending last year at safety. Will Stave hold on once again? Or has McEvoy made enough progress to make a push for the top spot?
Others to Watch
Steve Addazio and coordinator Ryan Day are essentially starting from scratch on offense. Quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff moved Josh Bordner to receiver, and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy arrived to compete in spring practice. Competing with Murphy will be redshirt freshman James Walsh and true freshman Darius Wade. Although the Eagles are replacing a lot of talent on offense, the line returns a solid foundation, and running back Myles Willis played well in a limited role last year.
Derek Carr guided Fresno State to a Mountain West title last season and finished his career with 12,842 passing yards. Needless to say, the next quarterback has big shoes to fill. Brian Burrell, Myles Carr, Zack Greenlee, Colin Kearon and incoming freshman Kilton Anderson are the options to replace Carr, with Greenlee and Burrell having an edge over the rest of the competition.
Bill Cubit was one of the top assistant hires last season, providing a spark for an Illinois’ offense that averaged just 16.7 points a game in 2012. Nathan Scheelhaase has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for Cubit. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is considered the favorite, while Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole will compete for time. Although the coaching staff has hinted the job is open, it would be a surprise if Lunt does not take the first snap for the Fighting Illini.
Remember that old cliché about quarterbacks? If you have two you don’t have a starter? Well, forget about that when looking at the Hoosiers’ offense. Coach Kevin Wilson should have no trouble using both of his quarterbacks in 2014, as Nate Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards last year, and Tre Roberson combined for 1,551 total yards. Although a two-quarterback system is never ideal, Sudfeld and Roberson each bring something different to the table. Will one end up with the full-time job? Or will Wilson continue to rotate Sudfeld and Roberson?
The Jayhawks have struggled to find answers under center in Charlie Weis’ two years in Lawrence. Jake Heaps ranked as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class, but he has yet to reach his potential and finished 2013 by completing just 49 percent of his passes and tossing 10 picks on 261 passes. Montell Cozart’s dual-threat ability is intriguing, but his completion percentage also needs some work (36.5). UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard was the No. 19 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports in the 2012 signing class. He has yet to take a snap in a FBS game.
The Wildcats certainly aren’t short on options. Maxwell Smith (1,276 passing yards in 2013) and Jalen Whitlow (1,490 total yards) are the top returning passers, but all eyes in Lexington are on true freshman Drew Barker. The Kentucky native ranked as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Whitlow and Smith have the edge in experience, but Barker’s upside may win out in the fall.
Teddy Bridgewater is gone. However, Bobby Petrino certainly knows how to coordinate an offense and develop quarterback, so there’s not a ton of concern about the options under center for Louisville. Will Gardner is the favorite to replace Bridgewater after completing 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two scores. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin appears to be the next option.
Derek Mason’s first assignment as the Commodores’ head coach is to sort out the battle between sophomore Patton Robinette and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette started three games last season and finished 2013 with 642 passing yards and four touchdowns. McCrary was the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season as a redshirt behind Robinette and Austyn Carta-Samuels.
Improving upon last year’s dismal 2-10 record will largely depend on how much improvement Virginia gets out of its quarterbacks. David Watford finished 2013 with 2,202 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He enters spring on the hot seat, but backup Greyson Lambert also struggled last season (33 of 75, 340 yards, 2 INTs). Sophomore Matt Johns and incoming freshman Corwin Cutler will push Lambert and Watford for snaps.
Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.
So what exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherent advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State.
Debating the best job in the nation or any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program.
With all of this in mind, we have tried to rank the jobs in the ACC based on the attractiveness from a coaching perspective. As we mentioned above, many factors were considered. Tradition, facilities, location, budget and recruiting ability are just a few things we took into account. But in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach if we had a blank slate and all of the jobs were open?
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC for 2014
1. Florida State
Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year? A new indoor practice facility was a needed addition for the Seminoles to keep up in college football's arms race.
Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles were chasing a national championship, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons. Could that hurt Florida State in the new playoff format? Probably not, but we have to be nitpicky when talking about one of the top 10-15 jobs in the nation.
Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning isn't automatic, but the Seminoles are coming off a national championship, and Jimbo Fisher clearly has steered this program back on track.
Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many of its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.
Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles since 1990. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why has this program frequently underachieved?
Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, is willing to pay big for a coaching staff and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.
Cons: Miami has a small fan base and has struggled to fill its stadium. Last season, the Canes ranked 36th in the nation in attendance, averaging 53,837 per game (according to the NCAA at least) at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.
Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
4. Virginia Tech
Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.
Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic when Beamer steps aside?
Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Prior to a 7-6 mark in 2012, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in the previous eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
5. North Carolina
Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.
Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.4 ACC wins.
Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-90s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC. This article is more of a long-term reflection of the job, but it's hard to ignore Louisville's athletic department, which could be the best in the nation.
Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most top 25 programs possess. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game. Moving to the ACC is a huge plus for the program, but Louisville also is moving into a harder league in a division featuring Clemson and Florida State. The Cardinals went from the No. 1 program in the American to the No. 6 job in the ACC.
Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the ACC, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong won 37 games in four years. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles. The move to the ACC helps with stability and the long-term outlook for this program, making the Cardinals a fringe top 25-30 job in the nation.
Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).
Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 15 of the 32 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
8. North Carolina State
Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.
Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only six winning league seasons since 1990.
Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC.
9. Georgia Tech
Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.
Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second-most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.
Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, '90) and national (1990).
Pros: Virginia is a great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS-level recruits.
Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and '90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively stringent academic standards.
Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program.
Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Scott Shafer did a nice job in his first season, continuing to provide traction for a program that seems to be taking steps in the right direction. There's also discussion about a new stadium for the Orange.
Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only four winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been great, either. In the first year of ACC play, Syracuse averaged just 38,277 fans per game.
Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure elite recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast. Much like Louisville and Pittsburgh, moving to the ACC provides long-term stability for this program.
12. Boston College
Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from 1999-2009 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.
Cons: Similar to Syracuse, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting elite players from outside its region. There's talent in the Northeast, but it's not enough to consistently compete with Florida State and Clemson for division titles in the Atlantic Division.
Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College slipped to the bottom of the ACC food chain under Frank Spaziani. However, this program is back on track under Steve Addazio. The Eagles made a bowl in 2013, and Addazio reeled in a solid recruiting class to add to the foundation. Again, this ranking isn't about 2014 or '15. However, Addazio seems to be the right guy to get the program back on track, which should help Boston College become a consistent bowl team once again in the ACC.
13. Wake Forest
Pros: Jim Grobe proved it can be done at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 11 games and captured the school’s second-ever ACC title in 2006. The school also recently received a $7.5 million donation to build a new sports performance center, which will house the football offices and the strength and conditioning facility.
Cons: No one has been able to sustain success at Wake Forest. The program has enjoyed three straight winning seasons only once (from 2006-08) since the early 1950s.
Final Verdict: The overall strength of the ACC academically doesn’t allow Wake Forest, a small private school, to differentiate itself like programs such as Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. If a strong student wants to play football in the ACC, there are several attractive options — North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech — that have better overall football programs.
Pros: Duke has struggled to compete in football for the majority of the past 40 years, but the school, consistently ranked among the top-10 in the country academically, still has a strong national brand. While the Blue Devils have struggled to be competitive in the ACC over the long haul, winning the Coastal last season showed it can be a factor with the right coach and talent.
Cons: The interest in the football program at Duke is not high — and that is being kind. This past season, the Blue Devils won the Coastal Division yet only averaged 26,062 fans per game, ranking 81st in the nation. Much like Wake Forest or even Northwestern from the Big Ten, it's very difficult to attract elite talent.
Final Verdict: David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, but it’s hard to envision this program making much of move in the ACC. The lack of tradition and lack of support make Duke football a tough sell to top recruits. This program is making progress, and renovations to Wallace Wade Stadium should help Cutcliffe keep the Blue Devils in the mix for a bowl game each year.
NFL free agency officially gets started at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, meaning more than 500 players will be looking for employment. While salary cap, team needs, system fit, and other football-related matters drive this process, that doesn’t mean it’s the only criteria that can be applied.
In the interest of having some fun, here are some free agent marriages we would love to see happen. In some cases these player-team pairings actually make some sense on the field, but in many instances these matches are simply too intriguing and/or entertaining to pass up.
Eric Decker signs with the Tennessee Titans
Why this makes some sense: Decker is coming off of a season in which he posted career bests in catches (87) and yards (1,288) and hauled in 11 touchdown passes for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history. Arguably the most attractive free agent wide receiver on the market, the Titans finished 21st in passing offense last season and could use another reliable target to complement Kendall Wright.
Why it probably won’t happen: The Titans have spent high picks on wide receivers in each of the past two drafts. In 2012, Wright was taken with the 20th overall selection and last April, Tennessee traded up to grab Justin Hunter early in the second round. While another weapon in the passing game would certainly be nice, this team has much more pressing issues at other positions.
Why we really want to see this happen: Decker’s wife, Jessie James, is a country artist on Mercury Records. They already have their own reality show (“Eric & Jessie” on E!) and are expecting their first child, so it only makes sense to have the oh-so-photogenic couple working in the same town, no? Also, they could potentially challenge Music City’s reigning sports-entertainment duo – Carrie Underwood and Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher – for the top spot in this category.
Michael Vick signs with the Minnesota Vikings
Why this makes some sense: Have you forgotten the revolving door that was the Vikings’ quarterback situation last season? Christian Ponder (nine games), Matt Cassel (six) and Josh Freeman (one) all started for Minnesota and collectively went 5-10-1 while throwing more interceptions (19) than touchdown passes (18). The Vikings could take a quarterback early in the upcoming draft, but still go with Vick under center to ease the rookie’s transition to the NFL.
Why it probably won’t happen: Vick will turn 34 years old before training camp starts and besides his age being a factor, he also lost the starting job in Philadelphia last season to Nick Foles. Besides nearing the end of his career, Vick has never been a model of durability and his career completion percentage (56.2) is lower than what the Vikings’ trio combined for (59.5) in 2013. And most of all, it's the fact that Minnesota re-signed Cassel to a two-year deal on Friday. One 30-something-year-old quarterback is probably enough for a team that's rebuilding under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.
Why we really want to see this happen: Adrian Peterson has already come out and lobbied for the team to sign Vick and who doesn’t want to make their All-Pro running back happy? Also, it’s not like we haven’t seen this script before with the Vikings. Remember Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre? Both came to Minnesota at the end of their respective careers and nearly led the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Heck, even 37-year-old Gus Frerotte got the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008. Why not let Vick have his chance to try and do the same?
Darren McFadden signs with the Dallas Cowboys
Why this makes some sense: Most teams rely on more than one running back to carry the load these days and in Dallas’ case, having someone like McFadden would mean less wear and tear on DeMarco Murray. Murray rushed for a career-high 1,121 yards last season, but also missed two games because of injury.
Why this probably won’t happen: Murray hasn’t exactly been durable, missing 11 of a possible 48 career games so far, but McFadden’s injury track record is much worse. Since being taken 4th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, McFadden has missed no fewer than three games in any season. In total, he has missed 29 games, including six last year, and also has seen his yards per carry decrease from 5.4 in 2011 to just 3.3 last year. The Cowboys also appear pretty set at running back with Murray and last April’s fifth-round pick, Joseph Randle, among those on the roster currently.
Why we really want to see it happen: Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones is a University of Arkansas graduate who was an offensive lineman on the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship team. He is a proud alumnus and has been known to go with his heart over his head when it comes to personnel decisions. McFadden is the most decorated player to ever play for Jones’ beloved alma mater, as he holds the majority of the rushing records at the school. Jones didn’t have a shot at drafting McFadden back in 2008, so surely he won’t pass on the opportunity now, right?
And besides, how fitting would it be for Jones to overpay to bring McFadden to Big D even though the Cowboys already have a 1,000-yard rusher in Murray? The end result would be just what embattled head coach Jason Garrett doesn’t need – more drama and controversy that he didn’t create in the first place.
Maurice Jones-Drew signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense: Frank Gore will be 31 years old by the time the 2014 season starts and he has averaged 272 carries over the last three seasons alone. Jones-Drew is two years younger and has carried the ball a total of 320 times the last two seasons combined. The 49ers’ other backfield options are either unproven (LaMichael James) or come with injury risks (Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore).
Why this probably won’t happen: The reason Jones-Drew has so few carries the past two seasons is that he missed 10 games in 2012 because of a Lisfranc injury that eventually required surgery on his foot. And although he is younger (29 on March 23) than Gore, there already are concerns that his productive years may be past him. After leading the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011, he’s averaged just four yards per carry over the last two seasons, including a meager 3.4 in 2013. The 49ers also don’t lack for other options with the aforementioned James, Hunter and Lattimore on the roster.
Why we really want to see it happen: Jones-Drew starred at UCLA before being selected by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. This will give the California native a chance to come home and play on the West Coast. Also, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is said to be recruiting him, perhaps because he feels sorry for him. In eight seasons with the Jaguars, Jones-Drew has played in the postseason just once (2007), which also is the only time he’s enjoyed being a part of a winning team. MJD deserves better, no?
Kenny Britt signs with the New York Jets
Why this makes some sense: No team had fewer touchdowns passes than the Jets’ 13 last season and only one team (Tampa Bay) finished with fewer passing yards (2,932). Second-year quarterback Geno Smith needs all the weapons the team is able to surround him with.
Why this probably won’t happen: Tennessee’s first-round draft pick in 2009, Britt’s tenure with the Titans will be remembered more for what he did off of the field than on it. Seemingly on the verge of breaking out in 2011 after posting 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games, Britt injured his knee the next week and things just went downhill from there. He did return to the field in 2012, but his production was never the same and frequent legal issues and other poor decisions became the focus instead. Some team may end up taking a chance on Britt, but it doesn’t need to be the Jets, who have enough other problems to worry about.
Why we really want to see it happen: Come on, these are the Jets we are talking about, do I really need to say anything more? OK, Britt was a former Rutgers star, so maybe a homecoming of sorts will be just what he needs to get his career going again. But the real answer is who better than Britt to help fill the role of the malcontent wideout the Jets always seem to end up with. First it was Keyshawn Johnson than Braylon Edwards and most recently Santonio Holmes. Dare I say this is just meant to be?
Jared Allen signs with the Green Bay Packers
Why this makes some sense: A team can never have too many pass rushers, especially when it finished 24th in that category last season. The Packers had a respectable 44 sacks in 2013, but the most they got from a defensive lineman was Mike Daniels’ 6.5. Allen had 11.5 for Minnesota and he has averaged 14.4 over his last seven seasons.
Why it probably won’t happen: Allen will be 32 years old in April and the Packers’ have plenty of areas to address on a defense that ranked 25th in yards allowed and tied for 24th in points last season. There are probably several other teams that could pay Allen much more than Green Bay could or would be willing to fork out.
Why we really want to see it happen: Chalk this one up to karma. Wide receiver Greg Jennings left Green Bay and signed with Minnesota last season, taking some not-so-veiled shots at teammates, notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the organization on the way out. Should Allen likewise change NFC North allegiances, it would be interesting to see if he would follow Jennings’ playbook or not. Also what sweeter revenge for Allen than to play on a team that has a MVP signal-caller while also guaranteeing him two shots at punishing whomever the Vikings end up with under center.
Golden Tate signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense: The 49ers’ passing offense was 30th in the NFL last season. Only the Jets and Buccaneers threw for fewer yards while just nine teams finished with fewer than the 21 touchdowns Colin Kaepernick tossed. Meanwhile Tate led Seattle in catches and yards and helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. What better way to hurt the defending champs, not to mention your hated division rival, than to “take” away one of their biggest weapons?
Why this probably won’t happen: San Francisco has already re-signed Anquan Boldin, should have a healthy Michael Crabtree this season and also has an All-Pro tight end in Vernon Davis. Tate figures to be one of the more attractive wide receiver options on the market and will likely cost more than a run-heavy team like the 49ers is willing to spend on the position.
Why we really want to see it happen: Seattle and San Francisco absolutely despise one another, something neither side has had any problems making known. The fact the Seahawks beat the 49ers before going on to win the Super Bowl only adds more spice to this already heated rivalry. Player poaching, if you will, is nothing new to these two teams, but this would be without a doubt the highest-profile instance. I am not the only one who would love to see this happen either, as NFL beat writers, sports talk radio, the blogosphere and social media would devour this whole. And you thought their two NFC West divisional matchups were already intriguing enough? Welcome to the next level.
You can come “home” again?
While their situations may not be as interesting or entertaining as the ones mentioned above, there is something to be said for some other potential “homecomings” that could happen via free agency.
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has seen his production steadily decline in each of the past two seasons, so a change of scenery for this New York Giant may be in order. A potential landing spot for Nicks could be in Carolina, where the defending NFC South champions could use another reliable target in the passing game.
This is especially the case considering Steve Smith is seemingly on the downside of his career, if not on his way off of the Panthers’ roster. Nicks was a record-setting, All-ACC wider receiver when he was at North Carolina, so perhaps a return to the Tar Heel State is just what he and the Panthers need.
Just like Nicks, Justin Tuck also may have played his final game for the Giants. An All-Pro defensive end who has been to two Pro Bowls and has 60.5 sacks in nine seasons, Tuck will turn 31 in a few weeks but he is coming off of an 11-sack 2013 campaign.
A Notre Dame graduate who starred for the Fighting Irish, Tuck could help solve Chicago’s defensive line and pass-rush issues should he end up in the Windy City. After all, Tuck is three years younger and finished with four more sacks than Julius Peppers, the Bears’ high-priced pass-rushing end who could wind up being a salary cap casualty.
And then there’s Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowl safety who is looking to get paid like one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. Prior to Buffalo selecting him in the second round of the 2009 draft, Byrd was an all-conference cornerback at Oregon from 2006-08. And who just happened to be the offensive coordinator for the Ducks Byrd’s last two seasons in Eugene? None other than Chip Kelly, who is now the head coach in Philadelphia and led the Eagles to an NFC East title in his rookie season.
As successful as the Eagles were last season, however, there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially on defense. Philadelphia was dead last in the league in passing defense in 2013, giving up 290 yards through the air per game. Provided the Eagles have the cap space, signing Byrd would be a significant step towards upgrading the secondary while also reuniting a pair of former Ducks. It’s just like I said earlier, sometimes these pairings make sense, both on the field as well as off of it.
Fifteen Senior Nights have come and gone in Lincoln without a group of veterans continuing their seasons in the NCAA Tournament.
That could change Sunday against Wisconsin.
The Cornhuskers have been one of the surprise teams in the country, assured of a winning record in the Big Ten. The next hurdle could be their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
Here’s how Nebraska arrived on the bubble and how the Huskers could further their case Sunday and into the conference tournaments.
By the numbers
Record: 18-11, 10-7 Big Ten
Strength of schedule: 36
Best win: Michigan State on the road
Worst loss: UAB on a neutral court
How Nebraska could be in the Tournament: The Huskers add to their top 50 win total
Nebraska stunned Ohio State 68-62 on Jan. 20, which turned out to the the turning point of the season. The win over the Buckeyes was the first top 50 win of the season for the Cornhuskers, which includes a 60-51 win at Michigan State on Feb. 16. The Huskers are 3-7 overall against the RPI top 50, but a win over Wisconsin would be their first against a team in the top 20
How Nebraska could be left out: The Huskers can't escape three bad losses
The Cornhuskers have three losses from which they’d like to hide from: at Purdue, at Penn State and against UAB in the Charleston Classic. Three losses to teams outside of the top 100 isn’t an eliminator — Kentucky and North Carolina have the same — but it’s not a good look.
Nebraska needs to: Beat Wisconsin
The Cornhuskers could be playing with house money in the Big Ten Tournament if they defeat Wisconsin on Saturday. The Badgers, though, have won eight in a row since a 1-5 stretch in January.
Nebraska can’t afford to: Fall out of the No. 4 seed and lose in the Big Ten Tournament
The No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament brings a first-round bye, but the Cornhuskers could slip to a No. 5 or No. 6 with a loss to Wisconsin combined with wins by Ohio State and/or Iowa. Falling out of the top four seeds would draw either Purdue or Northwestern in the first round. A loss to one of those teams could be devastating.
Insight from the beat: Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
“The fact Nebraska is even in consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid is a sign of the incredible coaching job by Tim Miles. In only his second season in Lincoln, Miles has taken a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten Conference and put it on the brink of ending its NCAA Tournament drought, which dates to 1998. Nebraska began the season 0-4 in Big Ten play, including a 31-point loss at Ohio State, but has since gone 10-3 to rise to fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The emergence of sophomore transfer Terran Petteway, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, and a defense that’s held eight straight foes to less than 38 percent shooting have been key. The Huskers have also established a decisive home-court advantage at their new home, sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena, where they’re 14-1. The lone loss came to league champion Michigan by one point.”
NASCAR fans are a very proud group of people. And they're also very into getting tattoos. So when you combine those two, you get a lot of people willing to put some very large and ornate NASCAR-related tattoos on their bodies. And we're the winners of that combination because we get to see the crazy, funny and insane things people have put on their skin (and most of them are about Dale Earnhardt).
So with that, here are the 21 best and worst photos of NASCAR tattoos. We don't feel the need to tell you which ones fall in the "Best NASCAR tattoo" file and which ones fall in the "Worst NASCAR tattoo" file. You'll know them when you see them.
1. The Triple Decker
This looks like what happens when you ask M.C. Escher to design your NASCAR tattoo. Between the depth, the detail and the back skin rolls, you could get trapped staring for hours, like one of those magic eye paintings.
2. She’s Got Leg
Not sure if you can have a daughter after getting a tattoo like that. Also not sure if a woman who exists solely as a tattoo can catch an STD, but if it is possible, this one looks like a good candidate to make it happen.
3. The Devil is in the Details
That’s a proper tribute to Dale Earnhardt. Because you can’t really say good-bye to a fallen icon without Looney Tunes characters (and a little ass crack).
4 R.I.P. Dale Earnhardt
And on the flipside, it’s probably not the best idea to pay tribute to a man who died in a car crash by showing his trademark car number going up in flames.
5. Danica Patrick Arm Candy
Two things are very clear here. 1) This guy likes checking out his arms in the mirror. 2) This guy is left-handed.
6. Rev Her Up
What’s more offensive: the Confederate flag or the fact that they didn’t even bother to use an attractive chick in the tattoo-porn?
7. Face Off
In a race, the checkered flag means the event is over. In this guy’s case, it means any chance of getting health insurance is over.
8. Rock Hard Abs
We wonder how many times he’s gotten laid with the line, “Hey honey, check out my six pack.” Actually, we just wonder how many times he’s gotten laid, period.
9. Treasure Fail
No man should ever make that part of his mid-section the focus of anything. He could have the cure for cancer tattooed down there and nobody would be able to look long enough to read it.
10. Compact Tat
Nothing against the Chevy Impala, but giving it a shout out in arm ink is probably the best way to destroy the “bad-ass” factor of a tattoo. You’d probably look a little scarier with a PT Cruiser on your arm.
11. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
Remember, it’s called a “tramp stamp” for a reason. Just because you see the checkered flag, doesn’t mean you came in first.
12. Ford, Hear Our Prayer
Nothing pleases the big man upstairs like having his message associated with the logo of a struggling car company that has to recall thousands of its products on a regular basis.
13. Is That A Muppet?
Guy walks into a tattoo parlor: “Hey, I'm a NASCAR fan, can you just doodle a little on my arm and see what you come up with?”
Tattoo artist: “I’m kinda busy, can my seven-year old son do it?”
Tattoo artist: “So you want him to draw it on there with a marker before we start inking you up?”
Guy: “Nah, just give him the needle and we’ll see what we wind up with.”
14. He’s Got A Lead Foot
There goes any chance of wearing Tevas to your daughter’s wedding.
15. Back It Up
We’re still not sold on the favorite racer lower back tattoo. It’s kind of like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is quietly smirking at you any time you roll around in the sheets with your special lady.
16. In Dale We Trust
A real quality shout out to a legend that includes the three most important things for a tattoo tribute: classy art, bible verse and bacne.
17. Puttin’ on the Schlitz
You may have laughed when you first looked at this picture, but think about it for a minute. Doesn’t this guy have life figured out way better than the rest of us? He clearly knows what he wants and knows how to get it.
18. Bringing Up The Rear
Ladies and gentlemen, one NASCAR tramp stamp to rule them all! That’s none other than Danica Patrick representing both her country and her sport with a half-American flag, half-checkered flag on her lower back. God bless America.
19. King Cobra
Admit it: There was nothing cooler when you were eight years old than snakes and cars. Kudos to this guy for making sure he never stops feeling that way.
20. Get Your Head in the Game
At least he can grow hair over that now that Earnhardt changed his car number. What’s that? He’s bald? Oh dear, that’s unfortunate. Wait a minute, is that a Bucs logo on his neck? Man, this just keeps getting worse and worse.
21. A Touch of Green...
He's waiting until he gets his next paycheck to get the rest of the colors.
By Vito Pugliese
By the end of the weekend, at least three automatic bids will be sealed with championship games in the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun.
Elsewhere, at-large teams are trying to make their final statements before their own conference tournaments. This includes a key bubble game in the SEC, a Kentucky team looking for respect, teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska putting the final touches on their regular season resumes and teams like Stanford and Pittsburgh trying to hang on.
The week will feature a number of key matchups, but these are the teams that are under the most pressure Saturday and Sunday.
Teams on the Spot this Weekend
The Wildcats stumbled through a 55-48 home win over Alabama on Tuesday. At this rate, that has to count for something. Kentucky will try to salvage what’s already one of the most disappointing seasons for a preseason No. 1 team in decades. Did anyone expect John Calipari to be staring down his 12th SEC loss in two seasons?
Related: Kentucky at Florida Preview
The Red Storm are hanging by a thread to an at-large bid and will need to beat Marquette on the road to set up a chance to make an impression in the Big East Tournament. Marquette may have missed its own opportunity when Davante Gardner’s desperation heave at the end of regulation against Providence was a fraction of second too late. Marquette lost 81-80 in double overtime.
A win over Kansas last week did wonders for Oklahoma State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. A win on the road over Iowa State, even one that lost back-to-back games to Kansas State and Baylor, could signal the Cowboys could be a dangerous team in the Tournament.
A three-game losing streak has dropped the Cardinal to 9-8 in the Pac-12 and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. A feisty Utah team is probably the last opponent Stanford wants to see in a must-win situation. The Utes took Arizona to overtime and then reeled off three wins over potential NCAA teams Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins may be coaching for his job.
Missouri and Tennessee
If there’s a fourth SEC team heading to the NCAA Tournament, it may be the winner of this game. The home team in this case has all the momentum. Tennessee played like a team with little room for error in blowouts of Vanderbilt (by 38 points) and Auburn (by 28).
Related: Tennessee’s Bubble Profile
The Panthers don’t want to invite the NCAA selection committee to look at their resume. As it is, Pittsburgh may be on the bubble after allowing 41 points to T.J. Warren in a 74-67 loss to NC State on Monday. The Panthers don’t have a win against a team assured of a spot in the NCAA field.
Providence was the beneficiary of some — sorry for this — providence in the win over Marquette. The Friars have played six overtime games this season, half of them settled in double OT. A season sweep of Creighton after Providence won the first meeting 81-68 at home may seal a bid for the Friars.
The Hawkeyes are fading fast, primarily because they can’t find a defense to match the offense. Iowa lost 86-76 to Michigan State on Thursday for its fourth loss in five games and third game in the last four giving up more than 80. A home date against Illinois is a chance to regroup ... or sound further alarms.
San Diego State has been the more highly regarded team all year, but New Mexico could win the regular season title in the Mountain West with a win on the road. New Mexico won the first meeting at The Pit 58-44.
The Billikens’ 25-2 start has been spoiled with three consecutive losses. Saint Louis was one of the best defensive teams in the country until Feb. 27, allowing at least a point per possession in each game and an average of 70 points per game to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton.
The Buckeyes need home cooking in the worst way after road losses to Penn State and Indiana. Ohio State has hit 70 points just once (at home against Northwestern) since Feb. 4.
In a season with three top 50 wins, none would be better than Wisconsin. The Badgers are chasing a No. 1 seed, but Nebraska is looking to seal its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: None
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None
Atlantic 10 (6)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: Dayton, George Washington, St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond
Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia
Big East (3)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's
Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Nebraska
Bubble out: Indiana, Minnesota
Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: Stanford
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas, Tennessee
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri
West Coast (2)
Feeling good: None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None
Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East: Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Irvine
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament
The ACC Tournament starts next week, and the league seems to have fewer questions than ever at the top.
Will Syracuse pull out of its scoring slump in time? Should we believe in Virginia to make a run? Can North Carolina be trusted in a bracket? And what is the ceiling for Duke?
The latter two questions may be answered in some form or another Saturday night in the regular season finale for Duke and North Carolina.
In the first meeting, Duke squandered a second half lead to lose 74-66 to the Tar Heels. At the time, North Carolina was playing some of its most consistent basketball of the season, and while the Tar Heels haven’t lost since Jan. 20, they haven’t been the most sharp team in recent games.
What’s on the line for North Carolina:
The Tar Heels are looking to secure their first season sweep of Duke since 2007 and end the regular season on a 13-game winning streak. A win over Duke and a strong showing in the ACC Tournament could signal a team ready to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
What’s on the line for Duke:
The Blue Devils are trying to stay in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke ranks eighth in the RPI and has only four top 50 wins this season, which is fewer than fellow No. 1 seed contenders Kansas and Wisconsin. A win over North Carolina and an ACC Tournament championship may be tough to ignore.
Saturday, 9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
About North Carolina
Record: 23-7, 13-4 ACC
Record: 23-7, 12-5 ACC
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: North Carolina 63-61
Braden Gall: Duke 70-60
Mitch Light: Duke 77-70
The Tar Heels have gone from a being mystery team early in the season to of the hottest teams in the country. The 12 consecutive ACC wins is the most for the North Carolina in ACC play since 1986-87. The stretch hasn’t been entirely dominant with ugly wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Carolina will need to play at a higher level to end the regular season on a 13-game win streak.
Pivotal player: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Perhaps most interesting about North Carolina’s hot streak is that Paige hasn’t been hitting shots. Earlier in the season, North Carolina had little chance if Paige had an off night. In his last two games, though, he’s 5 of 15 from the field and 2 of 9 from 3-point range, yet Carolina won both.
Biggest question: What is the status of Mike Krzyzewski?
This has been a trying season for Krzyzewski, whose older brother died unexpectedly in December. Krzyzewski then suffered dizziness and lightheadedness that brought him to a knee during Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest. Krzyzewski coached the remainder of the game from the bench but did not speak during postgame interviews. Reports indicated he returned to practice Thursday.
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the debut of a new aero package, Harvick's hot streak, Roush's slow start, Earnahrdt's spotters and a Hendrick vs. Gibbs showdown lead us into the 400-miler at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
1. Las Vegas serves as debut of new aero package
Thursday’s test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a welcome sight to nearly every crew chief in the Sprint Cup garage — it’s not often that a team gets to open a race weekend with a full day of wide-open data collection — but also an important one for the sport as officials search for better racing at 1.5-mile, intermediate tracks. All told, it served as a bit of a last-minute confirmation test of car changes NASCAR mandated after tests in the offseason.
In that list includes a statically set ride height, a squared off edge on the front splitter, adjustments to the side skirts and front fascia plus an eight-inch rear spoiler — up from 7.25 inches. The changes were on the cars a week ago at Phoenix, though with minimal impact.
“(Teams) could probably only harvest maybe 30 to 40 percent of the capability of the package (at Phoenix), so really this will be the first race where we get to see they can fully exploit the aerodynamic and chassis changes,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development.
Kevin Harvick’s lap of 190.148 mph proved fastest during the test. That’s just slightly off of the 2012 pole-winning speed at Las Vegas — 190.456 mph by Kasey Kahne — which was the last Cup qualifying session at the track after the 2013 edition was washed out.
2. Childers, Harvick riding high after Phoenix That Harvick led the speed charts Thursday was no surprise to his crew chief Rodney Childers. The No. 4 team leader made that much clear this week.
“Our Las Vegas car is even better than our Phoenix car,” Childers told the Associated Press earlier this week.
Those are strong words considering Harvick is coming off leading 224 laps and scoring a dominating win in that Phoenix race. He joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the first two drivers all but qualified in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
If Harvick does go back-to-back with a win Sunday, it’d be his first ever at Las Vegas in the Cup Series and just his fourth top-5 finish. His best result was a second-place run in 2010. Last season, Harvick was ninth at the checkered flag.
3. Weekend off to slow start for Roush Fenway RacingThey didn’t contend at Daytona, and they didn’t contend at Phoenix. Surely, of all places, the Roush Fenway Racing team can find a bit of a groove at Las Vegas, right?
It’s not starting that way.
Carl Edwards, 27th quickest, was the fastest among that camp’s in-house teams during the Thursday test. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle were both 29th or worse.
Vegas was once one of Jack Roush’s strongest tracks — his teams collected wins on the old pavement at the venue in each of the track’s first three seasons — and Edwards won there just three seasons ago. A restoration of that magic couldn’t be more timely for the Ford operation this weekend.
4. Odd mix of spotters ends Sunday for EarnhardtTJ Majors’ last appearance on the Sprint Cup spotter’s stand came late on a Florida Sunday night two weeks ago when he helped guide his driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his second Daytona 500 win. The celebrations for Majors — originally hired by Earnhardt to race the NASCAR K&N Series after meeting while racing online — didn’t last long. An intestinal virus sidelined him from joining Earnhardt at Phoenix.
It’s kept Majors away from the track at Las Vegas, too, but Laura Scott from Hendrick Motorsports’ media relations staff tweeted Thursday that Majors would return in time for Sunday’s race. In the mean time, the group filling in for Earnhardt has been quite an eclectic one.
Former champion Bill Elliott covered practice and qualifying for Earnhardt at Phoenix and was scheduled to be on the stand again Saturday when Earnhardt practices the Cup car plus races in the Nationwide Series event. Driver Regan Smith spotted for Earnhardt during Thursday’s series-wide test session at Las Vegas and former Kyle Busch spotter Jeff Dickerson worked last week’s Phoenix race for the No. 88.
5. Race may again come down to Hendrick vs. Gibbs
One year ago, Las Vegas generated a pretty good finish when Kasey Kahne battled Matt Kenseth in the final laps for the top spot. Ultimately it was Kenseth and his then-new Joe Gibbs Racing team who won out over Kahne and the Hendrick Motorspots bunch.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that again.
Last year, five of the top seven finishing positions went to drivers from either of the two teams. It wasn’t an end-of-race fluke either, as the post-race loop data showed Kahne as the best driver overall by average running position (2.6) with Jimmie Johnson second (2.9), Kyle Busch fourth (5.8), Kenseth fifth (6.0), Earnhardt Jr. in seventh (6.8) and Denny Hamlin in 10th (11.9).
Even the long-term loop data skews toward a Hendrick/Gibbs finish. Johnson is shown as the best at Las Vegas by running position (9.5) in the last nine years there while Jeff Gordon is second (10.0) and Kyle Busch (10.3) is third.
Billy Donovan doesn’t want his team to get too caught up in the past. Meanwhile, John Calipari wants his team to spend plenty of time thinking about the past.
As Florida chases perfection in the SEC, Donovan doesn’t want his team to dwell on the record — what he says is simply a reflection of what’s already been done.
“Up to this point we’ve done a good job, but you don’t want to lose your identity as a team,” Donovan said. “You don’t want to get enamored with a record.”
At the same time, Calipari wants his team to try to rediscover what it had in mid-February. At that point, his team defeated Missouri, Ole Miss twice and played one of their best games of the season in a loss to Florida.
At that time, Calipari’s team held its head high. Losing to Arkansas and South Carolina changed that.
“How do we get our defensive confidence, defensive confidence,” Calipari said. “We just had it 10 days ago. How did that change? What did we do different?”
Whatever the answer to that question, Kentucky needs to find it before the finale in Gainesville.
What’s on the line for Kentucky:
Respectability. The Wildcats have long since lost their chance at the SEC title, and it may take more than a win in Gainesville to drastically improve their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Kentucky needs to show some signs of life. The Wildcats last three weeks have not been pretty: An overtime win over LSU, an overtime loss to Arkansas and an embarrassing defeat against South Carolina in which John Calipari was ejected. Will the Wildcats show any signs they can salvage this year as they enter the postseason?
What’s on the line for Florida:
The 18-0 milestone. The Gators could clinch the SEC regular season title by six games, and a No. 1 seed may be a given. What’s on the line for Florida is the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history. Granted, the SEC has had an 18-game season for only two seasons. But this would be the first undefeated SEC season in school history and only the second in the league since 2002-03.
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS
Record: 22-8, 12-5 SEC
Record: 28-2, 17-0 SEC
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 72-58
Braden Gall: Florida 70-60
Mitch Light: Florida 68-54
It’s hard to remember the time early this season when the Gators’ roster was in flux. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season. So was Dorian Finney-Smith. Backup point guard Kasey Hill was hurt at times. Now, the Gators are as balanced as ever with Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather taking their turns leading Florida in scoring in the last six games. Meanwhile, Florida has held opponents to fewer than one point for possession in the last three games.
Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
If Kentucky is going to have any chance to upset Florida, the Wildcats are going to have to crack the Florida defensive pressure. The Gators hold opponents to a 0.71 assist-to-turnover ratio, second to Arkansas in the SEC. Point guard has been an issue all season for Kentucky with Harrison, who averages 1.4 assists per turnover.
Biggest question: Can Kentucky find its shot?
It’s easy for opponents to gang up on Julius Randle when Kentucky can’t make a shot — or takes bad ones — from outside. The Wildcats are shooting 34.4 percent from the floor in the last three games and 15 of 65 from 3-point range. The slump has been team wide with James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress all struggling from the field.
The Kobalt Tools 400
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Banking/Turns: Progressive (18°-20°), Banking/Tri-oval: 9°, Banking/Backstretch: 3°
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Date: Sunday, March 9
TV: FOX (3:00 pm EST)
Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 190.456 mph (Kasey Kahne, 2012)
Race Record: 146.554 mph (Mark Martin, 1998)
2013 Winner: Matt Kenseth
NASCAR Nationwide Series
Boyd Gaming 300
Date: Saturday, March 8
TV: ESPN2 (4:15 pm EST)
2013 Winner: Sam Hornish Jr.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Track position seems to play more of a role in Vegas than most any of the other 1.5-mile tracks we go to. It’s fast, and aero-issues come into play, which puts passing at a premium. And there’s a fine line between having a good handling car and having one that’s wrecking loose. It’s also different from the other SMI ovals in that it’s a tri-oval and not a quad. I’ve never thought to ask why that is. Of course, everyone loves going out to Vegas — it’s like an early-season working vacation because of the strip and all there is to do. Keeping the team focused is important here.”
Carl Edwards Edwards (left) won twice in the last six Las Vegas races (in which he averaged a series-best 6.8 finish) and finished fifth in 2012 and ’13, the latter being an increase over his 8.1-place average running position.
Greg Biffle Despite his four top-10 finishes in Vegas races dating back to 2008, Biffle doesn’t have a win to show for his ample production. Still, he has been a frequent frontrunner; he has led in four of the last five races there.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt is the only driver to accrue five top-10 finishes in the last six Las Vegas races. His 8.8-place average finish — a series-high in that span — has translated into only one top-5 result. He’s past due for a breakthrough performance.
Runs on Seven Cylinders
Kurt Busch Omit a ninth-place finish in 2011, and Busch has averaged a 30.2-place result in the CoT/Gen-6 era at his hometown track. While it’s reasonable to believe that his fortunes would improve driving for SHR, his results there with Penske Racing — three finishes of 23rd or worse — weren’t inspiring.
Classic Moments at LVMS
When the race is on the line, there are few drivers as good as Jimmie Johnson. We found out just how clutch he would prove to be over his career in the 2006 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400.
With crew chief Chad Knaus on the sidelines after a rules infraction at Daytona, many questioned how well Johnson would start the ’06 season. However, he won at Daytona, was a close second to Matt Kenseth at Fontana, and looked like he was going to finish second again at Las Vegas. That was before a caution on lap 265 sent the race into an overtime two-lap dash to the finish.
Johnson stalked Kenseth — who led a race-high 146 circuits — on the first of the two green-flag laps, fading to the inside as they came to the white flag. On the last lap, Kenseth — seeing what Johnson did the previous lap — guarded the low line, but that didn’t matter to Johnson as he powered around the outside to nip Kenseth at the stripe by 0.045 seconds, or about a half a car length.
Nebraska has won at least nine games in each of Bo Pelini’s six years in Lincoln. Despite amassing 58 wins during that span, the Cornhuskers have not played in a BCS bowl and are still looking for a conference title under Pelini. None of those statistics or facts is anything new to Nebraska fans. They want more from this program. Can Pelini and his staff turn the corner and get the Cornhuskers back into BCS bowl or Big Ten title contention in 2014?
There’s enough returning talent for Nebraska to be a top 25 team next season. But there’s also plenty of reasons to be concerned heading into offseason practices. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong needs to take the next step in his development, and the offensive line returns only one starter. The defense needs to find depth in the trenches, while the secondary needs to be retooled after losing both starting cornerbacks.
The Big Ten is set to shuffle its divisions with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. Nebraska will move to the West Division, which is a favorable place to be with Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the East.
Considering Wisconsin – the early favorite in the West – has holes to fill, Nebraska should be a factor for the division title.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)
Spring Practice Opens: March 8
Spring Game: April 12
Four Things to Watch in Nebraska’s 2014 Spring Practice
|Sept. 6||McNeese State|
1. Tommy Armstrong’s job to lose at QB?: Taylor Martinez was supposed to have an All-Big Ten type of performance in his final year in Lincoln. Unfortunately for Martinez, he suffered a foot injury early in the season, which limited him to just four games. While it wasn’t easy to replace Martinez’s production, the Nebraska coaching staff got an extended look at Tommy Armstrong Jr. He was the No. 19 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and redshirted his first year on campus. Armstrong Jr. shared the quarterback duties with Ron Kellogg III last season and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 202 yards and two scores on the ground. While Armstrong had his share of ups and downs as a redshirt freshman, there was plenty for the coaching staff to build on in 2014. Now, it’s up to Armstrong to take the next step in his development and secure the starting job this spring. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing dual-threat option and will have a chance to unseat Armstrong over the next two months. True freshman Zack Darlington enrolled in January and is likely to spend 2014 working as the No. 3 quarterback. Will this spring be about Armstrong’s growth as the starter? Or will Stanton turn this into a battle that continues into the fall?
2. New faces on the offensive line: Outside of the quarterback battle, the offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Nebraska coordinator Tim Beck. This unit was hit hard by departures, including center Cole Pensick, guard Andrew Rodriguez and tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Guard Jake Cotton is only returning starter here, but Mike Moudy and Mark Pelini combined for five starts in 2013 and will battle for open jobs on the interior this spring. Chongo Kondolo is a name to watch after spending 2013 as a redshirt in his first season from the junior college and could start at guard or center. The tackle spots are up for grabs with a handful of candidates in the mix. Junior Matt Finnin and sophomore Zach Sterup worked as the backups at tackle last year and would seem to have an inside track on the starting spots. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis is another name to watch at tackle, as he transferred from Boulder after starting all 12 games for the Buffaloes in 2012. Massive redshirt freshman David Knevel (6-foot-9, 305 pounds) is also expected to factor into the mix at tackle. There’s a lot of uncertainty about this group and plenty of names are looking to earn a spot on the two-deep. Can Nebraska finish spring with some clarity in the starting five? Or will this position battle carry into the fall, allowing true freshmen Nick Gates and Tanner Farmer to battle for a starting spot?
3. New faces on the defensive line: The Cornhuskers are set at one end spot with the return of first-team All-Big Ten performer Randy Gregory. In his first season in Lincoln, Gregory recorded 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He will anchor a line that loses three key performers from last season, including honorable mention All-Big Ten end Jason Ankrah. For Gregory to be just as effective as he was in 2013, the rest of the line has to give him some help. The interior appears to be more stable than the depth at end, as Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine return. But the situation at end is slightly more concerning for Pelini. Greg McMullen recorded 16 tackles last season and is the only other end with significant experience on the roster. Recent work on the recruiting trail by Pelini may help here, with junior college recruit Joe Keels in the mix, and redshirt freshman A.J. Natter - the No. 329 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite last year - also ready to contribute. This spring is all about getting players like Natter and Keels acclimated to the defense and ready to play in 2014.
4. Rebuilding project in the secondary: Nebraska’s secondary was hit hard by departures this offseason. Gone are starting cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and safety Andrew Green also expired his eligibility. The pass defense was a strength for the Cornhuskers last season, allowing just eight touchdown tosses in Big Ten play. Can Nebraska quickly reload in the secondary? Safety Corey Cooper returns after starting all 13 games last season and should be the leader for the defensive backfield in 2014. Josh Mitchell made six starts and recorded 31 stops last year and is expected to finish spring atop the depth chart at one of the cornerback spots. Junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell could be the answer at the other cornerback spot, but junior Jonathan Rose played in nine games last year and will factor into the mix this spring. New defensive backs coach Charlton Warren certainly has his hands full over the next two months. The Cornhuskers have options, but Jean-Baptiste, Green and Evans will be tough to replace.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Nebraska is an intriguing team to watch this spring. Armstrong and Stanton could both be productive options at quarterback, and whoever wins the job will be handing off to one of the top running backs in the nation in Ameer Abdullah. Assuming the line and quarterback play stabilizes, this team should be in the mix to win the Big Ten’s West Division. Even though the defense loses a handful of key players, Pelini should be able to keep this unit in the top half of the Big Ten in yards allowed. But the key to 2014 could be what transpires in road games. Nebraska plays Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa away from Lincoln. For the Cornhuskers to claim the division title, November road tests against the Badgers and Hawkeyes are must-win contests.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 7.
• An entirely subjective ranking of the top 10 cheerleader squads in the NFL. Spoiler alert: The Dolphins are ranked No. 1.
• Frank Jobe, savior of countless pitchers' careers, has died. They should find a spot in Cooperstown for him.
• So Bob Costas' disgusting eye condition at the Winter Olympics was reportedly the result of botox. Should have stopped with the rug.
• Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is learning to embrace the suck, out of necessity.
• The 50 greatest sports movie quotes. One of my favorites: "You're gonna eat lightning, and you're gonna crap thunder!"
• The Clippers dealt the Lakers their worst loss in franchise history. There were a lot of Clipper highlights. A lot.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
First off, congratulations to all the teams on the following list. Each of the 13 teams on the list below looks like a team that could win the national title.
Now that we're finished with the formalities, Athlon Sports is going pick out each team’s biggest weakness.
No team in college basketball is perfect, not even the one sitting in Kansas with the perfect record. In a one-game elimination scenario just one opponent needs to exploit one soft spot to end a top team’s national championship bid.
For teams like Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, Duke and more, these are the things that might doom a title bid. These are the fatal flaws.
Fatal flaw: Free throw shooting
At one point, Arizona’s biggest weakness looked like it might be the absence of 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley. After a couple of stumbles, the Wildcats are back to their early season form even without Ashley in the post. One of the Wildcats’ major flaws instead is free throw shooting. Arizona converts only 66.2 percent of free throws, which puts the Cats just inside the top 300 nationally.
Fatal flaw: Game-altering defense
Opponents facing Creighton will admit that Doug McDermott is going to get his 25 points or more. And Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will snap out of their 3-point shooting slump sooner or later. The issue for Creighton is what it’s been every season of the Doug McDermott era: Defensive play. While the Bluejays may be the best offensive team in the country, they’re outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency. Their block rate, steal rate and defensive turnover rate are among the worst in the Big East.
Fatal flaw: Lack of a big body
Duke has two of the most versatile 6-8 forwards in the country in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. What those two can’t do, though, is defend around the rim. Duke is a far better defensive team than it was early in the season, but the Blue Devils could run into trouble against a team with a good post presence. Seven-footer Marshall Plumlee, though, is gaining more and more playing time to give Duke some size to go with the 6-9 Amile Jefferson.
Fatal flaw: Who is the go-to scorer?
What a problem Billy Donovan has: His team is almost too balanced. The top five scorers average between 14.5 and 9.3 points per game. Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ most important player, but Casey Prather, Michael Frazier or even Dorian Finney-Smith may end up taking the last shot.
Fatal flaw: Inexperience
Few teams have grown up more than Kansas from the non-conference season to the conference tournaments. With five new starters, three of which are freshmen, Kansas had room to grow. In the Jayhawks’ three Big 12 losses, freshman Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor, particularly from long range. If that occurs in the later rounds of the Tournament, Kansas could be upset. However, this team still won the Big 12 regular season title and may be a No. 1 seed. Experience might be overrated.
Fatal flaw: No Gorgui Dieng
Montrezl Harrell has had a fine season, contributing in unexpected ways in the offensive end. Harrell went 11 of 17 from the field against Memphis, including a rare 3-pointer. After the 6-8 Harrell, though, there’s a major drop off tot he next two big men in the 6-9 Stephan Van Treese and the 6-10 Mangok Mathiang. The absence of Dieng on defense was a major question to start the season and remains that way.
Fatal flaw: Defense around the basket
This is where Michigan will miss Mitch McGary, one of the key cogs to the trip to the championship game last season. Michigan may be a better offensive team that it was a year ago, especially after Caris LeVert has given the Wolverines an additional weapon. But can Michigan defend well enough around the basket for a run in the Tournament? Big Ten opponents shoot 52 percent from 2-point range against the Wolverines.
Fatal flaw: The team we’ve seen is the team we’re going to get
The line on Michigan State all season has been that as soon as the Spartans get healthy, this team can challenge for a title. An intact roster hasn’t happened yet. Even as Branden Dawson returned, point guard Keith Appling’s ailing wrist remained an ongoing concern. Meanwhile, Gary Harris has shown signs of a player who has been asked to carry the team for weeks. There’s a likelihood not everyone will be healthy and rested for the Tournament run, and the team Michigan State has had in the last month will be the one that goes to the postseason.
Fatal flaw: Frontcourt depth
With Jerami Grant injured and DaJuan Coleman already out for the season, Syracuse against Georgia Tech had to go with a lineup starting Tyler Robinson, a freshman who had played 130 minutes all season. Unless Rakeem Christmas gets going, Syracuse doesn’t have a reliable scorer in the post. And without depth, foul trouble or another injury could hit this team hard.
Fatal flaw: Size in the frontcourt
The easiest answer for Villanova’s fatal flaw is “Creighton,” a team that drilled the Wildcats for two of their three losses this season. The other answer for Villanova’s most glaring weakness is the lack of a big body in the frontcourt. Villanova has big guards — James Bell and Darrun Hilliard are both 6-6, Josh Hart is 6-5. But the only regular taller than 6-7 is Daniel Ochefu, a 6-11 forward who averages 21.3 minutes per game.
Fatal flaw: Tempo
Teams that run at a slower pace often run into trouble in the NCAA Tournament, and the Cavaliers rank 342nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. The Cavaliers are still able to score in spurts, but a team that rarely tops 70 points could have a ceiling in the Tournament.
Fatal flaw: 3-point shooting
Oddly enough, the same thing that propelled Wichita State to last year’s Final Four may hold Wichita State back in a bid to repeat. The Shockers hit 14 of 28 3-pointers to upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the round of 32 last year. Now, long-range shooting may be one of Wichita State’s few weaknesses. The Shockers shoot 33.7 percent from 3.
Fatal flaw: Defense
The instinct is to say the Badgers’ style of play and limited offense could cause them to stall in the NCAA Tournament as they have in years past. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Wisconsin plays a bit faster than it used to, and it has more weapons in the offensive end than it has in some time. Meanwhile, though, Wisconsin’s defense has been ordinary by Bo Ryan standards, ranking 42nd in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin struggles to get turnovers, and its perimeter defense has been suspect at times this season.
After guiding Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance during the 2012 season, high expectations followed Dave Doeren to Raleigh. NC State wasn’t stocked with proven talent last year, but the Wolfpack had a favorable schedule and most thought this team would at least make a bowl. Instead, NC State finished 3-9 and went winless in conference play.
Doeren and his staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Wolfpack back into the postseason, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround in 2014. For starters, NC State can’t get much worse. The Wolfpack hit rock bottom in conference play by going 0-8, but 12 starters return, and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will take over under center.
A favorable schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0. But back-to-back games against Florida State and Clemson will test just how much the Wolfpack has improved in 2014. If Brissett is as good as advertised, NC State could easily improve to 6-6 or 7-5.
NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)
Spring Practice Opens: March 4
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in NC State’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. Jacoby’s progress: The Wolfpack had a revolving door at quarterback last season, with five quarterbacks attempting passes. Don’t expect a similar outcome for NC State’s passing offense in 2014. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is clearly the Wolfpack’s No. 1 quarterback and is an upgrade over last year’s options. Brissett has talent (No. 75 player by Rivals in 2011 signing class) but threw only 74 passes in two seasons at Florida and completed 4 of 10 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in NC State’s 2013 spring game. Backup Pete Thomas transferred and Bryant Shirreffs is expected to move to running back, leaving very little in the way of experience behind Brissett. If Brissett isn’t the answer, NC State could be looking at another long season. However, considering Brissett’s lofty ranking coming out of high school, combined with a solid supporting cast, the Wolfpack’s passing game should show major progress on the stat sheet. This spring is Brissett’s first chance to have full control of the offense. It’s always tough to gauge progress in preseason practice, but a good showing by Brissett and the offense will help ease Doeren’s concerns about this unit heading into 2014.
2. Finding answers on the offensive line: Considering the lack of experience behind Brissett, it’s important the Wolfpack keep their quarterback out of the grasp of opposing linemen. With Shirreffs moving to running back, Garrett Leatham, Josh Taylor or true freshman Jalan McClendon could serve as the backup. See how important it is to keep Brissett upright? The line allowed 2.9 sacks per game last season and ranked 106th nationally by giving up 35. That’s the bad news. However, the news isn’t all negative for Doeren. Left tackle Rob Crisp was awarded a medical redshirt for 2013 and will return to the team this summer. Crisp should solidify the left tackle spot, while Joe Thuney (12 starts in 2013) will slide to left guard. Quinton Schooley is back after making 12 starts last year, while Alex Barr (10) and Tyson Chandler (11) are also returning starters. Outside of Crisp and Thuney will any of the spots be up for grabs this spring? Considering last year’s performance, this line needs more talent and consistency in 2014.
3. Improving the defense: Where should we start? When taking into account just conference games, NC State ranked last against the run, 12th in the ACC in yards allowed and 13th in scoring defense. The problems run deeper than just the main statistical breakdowns, as the Wolfpack generated only 12 sacks in ACC games and last in red zone defense. Coordinator Dave Huxtable is going to have his hands full this spring as he tries to find answers on this side of the ball. Of course, it will be easier for the defense if the offense shows progress in 2014. With six starters back, it’s reasonable to expect NC State to make some gains on defense. The line has a promising core intact, including tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman. Linebacker Robert Caldwell was one of the team’s top defenders last season, but he departs after making 105 stops in 2013. However, there is experience returning at linebacker with seniors Rodman Noel, Brandon Pittman and junior M.J. Salahuddin. The secondary allowed only 13 touchdown passes in eight conference games, and much like the defensive line, there’s a good core to build around. Jack Tocho impressed as a freshman, and Hakim Jones and Juston Burris were key cogs in the secondary last year. As we mentioned earlier in this section, the Wolfpack should be better on defense. But how much more can this unit improve? The answers to fixing the defense might not come for another season as Doeren continues to assemble talent on the recruiting trail.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
There’s no doubt Doeren’s first season in Raleigh was a disappointment. But the future looks bright for this program, as the second-year coach seems to have NC State trending in the right direction. When rebuilding a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before going forward. The Wolfpack are following a similar pattern and could be in the mix for a bowl in 2014. A favorable non-conference schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0 before measuring stick games against Florida State and Clemson open ACC play. Assuming the Wolfpack sweep their non-conference games, home tilts against Wake Forest and Boston College could be just enough to get bowl eligible.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
Having dissected every season of every major conference from the BCS Era, I think I can safely say that the Big 12 had the best quarterbacks. Four Heisman Trophy winners, seven BCS National Championship Game appearances from six different signal-callers and two national titles say as much — and that’s just the top 10 in this league. The Big 12 also boasts who I believe is the best player regardless of position in college football over the last 16 seasons.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Vince Young, Texas (2003-05)
Stats: 6,040 yds, 44 TDs, 28 INTs, 61.8%, 3,127 yds, 37 TDs
The Texas quarterback was the most unstoppable single force of the BCS Era. Just ask Kansas. Or Colorado. Or USC even. He earned Rose Bowl MVP honors following his ridiculous performance against Michigan to finish his sophomore season. It was a sign of things to come as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. The Longhorns' offense averaged more than 50 points per game, he was a consensus All-American, led the Big 12 in passing efficiency, won the Davey O'Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards while finishing second on the Heisman ballot. His smooth running skills led to an all-time Big 12 career record 6.8 yards per carry. And no one will ever forget his second Rose Bowl MVP performance against USC in the greatest game of the BCS Era, returning the national championship to Austin.
2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 10,366 yds, 78 TDs, 17 INTs, 67.1%, 2,254 yds, 33 TDs
Right alongside Andrew Luck will always be RG3, as the duo will forever be linked in football history. Griffin III beat out the Cardinal signal-caller to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy while leading Baylor to back-to-back bowl games. He led the NCAA in passing efficiency (189.5) — a Big 12 single-season record — and posted the fourth-best season in terms of total offense in conference history (4,992 yards, the most by any non-Texas Tech quarterback). He was a consensus All-American and won the Davey O'Brien and Manning Awards to go with his stiff-armed trophy. In fact, few players at any position in any league have meant more to their school than Griffin III. His impact on Baylor Bears football is immeasurable and could continue for decades. Had he been healthy for his entire career — he missed nine games in 2009 — his numbers might have been the best the BCS Era has ever seen.
3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2007-09)
Stats: 8,403 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 67.6%, 5 rush TDs
It didn't take long for the three-star recruit to establish himself as one of Oklahoma's best of all-time. He set a school record for yards in a half in the first half of his career and broke another school record for consecutive completions the next game (22) — still a Big 12 record and two shy of the NCAA mark (Tee Martin). By season's end, Bradford owned the NCAA's all-time freshman passing touchdowns record (since broken) with 36. He also won the Big 12 championship. The following season, Bradford led the Sooners to the BCS title game against Florida and beat out Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy for the Heisman Trophy. He won Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien honors as well. Bradford owns the NCAA record for career quarterback efficiency at 175.6 making him the most efficient quarterback in the history of the game. He also owns the NCAA mark for yards per play (8.7) and 86 of his 88 career touchdown passes came in just two seasons.
4. Colt McCoy, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 13,253 yds, 112 TDs, 45 INTs, 70.3%, 1,571 yds, 20 TDs
Few players got more out of their abilities than McCoy. He was a two-time consensus All-American as a junior and senior, finishing second in the Heisman as a junior and third as a senior. McCoy was the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and claimed the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Manning, Unitas and Davey O'Brien Awards over his last two seasons. En route to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, he produced 30 touchdowns and over 3,900 yards of total offense on the unbeaten Big 12 champs. He left school with more wins than any quarterback in NCAA history (since broken), owns the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (76.7) and is the most efficient passer in Big 12 history (70.3 percent).
5. Josh Heupel, Oklahoma (1999-2000)
Stats: 7,242 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 63.8%, 43 yds, 12 TDs
He wasn't the most talented quarterback to play in Norman but he might have the best understanding of the position. He won AP Player of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, earned the Walter Camp Trophy, finished second in the Heisman and led the NCAA in completion percentage (64.7) in 2000. More importantly, he led Oklahoma to arguably the biggest win in program history over Florida State in the BCS championship game in 2000. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 3,400 yards passing and 27 total touchdowns.
6. Brad Smith, Missouri (2002-05)
Stats: 8,799 yds, 56 TDs, 33 INTs, 56.3%, 4,289 yds, 45 TDs
Smith is one of only five players in the 6,000-4,000 club after becoming the first player to accomplish the feat back in 2005. He is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the history of the program and was nearly unstoppable in the backfield. His 799 rushing attempts are fifth all-time in Big 12 history and his 4,289 yards rushing are fourth while his 45 touchdowns rank ninth all-time. All of this on the ground from a guy who also ranks ninth all-time in passing yards, sixth in attempts (1,484) and seventh in completions (835).
7. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (2008-11)
Stats: 9,260 yds, 75 TDs, 27 INTs, 69.5%, 1 rush TD
The Pokes quarterback set all the important school passing records in 2011 and then returned to Stillwater in '12 and surpassed his previous benchmarks. His 4,742 yards passing in 2011 is the best single-season by a Big 12 quarterback not from Texas Tech. He led Oklahoma State to its first-ever Big 12 title and first-ever BCS bowl win. His 69.5 percent completion rate is third all-time in Big 12 history and he ranks eighth in league history in passing yards and ninth in touchdowns in just two seasons as a starter. Weeden went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft.
8. Eric Crouch, Nebraska (1998-2001)
Stats: 4,481 yds, 29 TDs, 25 INTs, 51.5%, 3,434 yds, 59 TDs
The Nebraska signal-caller continued the long run of elite running quarterbacks in Lincoln with a Heisman Trophy season that ended with a trip to the BCS title game against Miami. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year also claimed Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp honors and led the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns three consecutive seasons. The four-year starter won three straight Big 12 North titles as well as the most recent conference title of any kind for Nebraska (’99). His 59 rushing touchdowns are a record for any QB in NCAA history and are third all-time in the Big 12 record books.
9. Jason White, Oklahoma (1999-2004)
Stats: 7,922 yds, 81 TDs, 24 INTs, 63.3%, 2 rush TDs
The list of awards and accomplishments is long for White. He was AP National Player of the Year, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Unitas, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell winner and claimed the 2003 Heisman Trophy. He led his team to two BCS National Championship Games and a perfect 13-0 Big 12 title in 2004 (before getting hammered by USC). He finished third in the Heisman voting in his senior season. White had over 7,000 yards passing and 75 touchdown passes in two seasons as the starter.
10. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2005-08)
Stats: 15,611 yds, 134 TDs, 34 INTs, 69.8%, 12 rush TDs
No player in Big 12 history has thrown for more touchdowns than Harrell and only two players in NCAA history (Case Keenum, Kellen Moore) can top his 134 scoring strikes. The Red Raiders QB has two of the top three passing seasons in Big 12 history and three of the top nine. His career completion percentage of 69.8 is second all-time in league history behind only McCoy and no one has completed more passes in NCAA history than his 1,403 connections. Before ending his career, Harrell was awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 2007 and the Unitas Golden Arm Award in '08 when he nearly led Tech to what would have been its only Big 12 title game appearance to date.
Just missed the cut:
11. Chase Daniel, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 12,515 yds, 101 TDs, 41 INTs, 68.0%, 971 yds, 10 TDs
Like many names on this list, Daniel was more than just big stats and awards. He elevated his program to a new level of competition. Missouri won a school-record 12 games (since tied) during Daniel’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist (4th) season of 2007. He then won 10 games in ’08, posting two of the three double-digit win seasons in school history at the time. He also led Mizzou to its only two Big 12 title game appearances while setting every major school passing record along the way. Daniel is fourth all-time in passing yards and one of only four players with 100-plus TD passes in Big 12 history.
12. Todd Reesing, Kansas (2006-09)
Stats: 11,194 yds, 90 TDs, 33 INTs, 63.8%, 646 yds, 15 TDs
Exactly like Daniel, Reesing carried his program to levels never before seen in Lawrence. Before Reesing arrived, Kansas had won 10 games just twice in more than a century of football (1905, '95). In just his first season, the Kansas signal-caller threw for 3,486 yards, 33 TDs and only seven interceptions en route to a school-record 12 wins. The Orange Bowl victory that year was the only appearance the Jayhawks made in any BCS bowl during its 16-year run. Reesing had three straight seasons with at least 3,400 yards passing and is sixth all-time in league history in both yards and touchdown passes.
13. Collin Klein, Kansas State (2009-2012)
Stats: 4,724 yds, 30 TDs, 15 INTs, 61.3%, 2,485 yds, 56 TDs
He certainly isn’t a conventional quarterback but he was equally effective and just as successful as any of the pro-style pocket passers on this list. Klein tied a Big 12 record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2011 and is fourth all-time in Big 12 history with a total of 56 — just three shy of the NCAA record. He literally carried Kansas State to a Big 12 championship, was named Big 12 Player of the Year, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and finished third in the Heisman voting in his final season on campus.
14. Michael Bishop, Kansas State (1997-98)
Stats: 4,401 yds, 36 TDs, 13 INTs, 1,314 yds, 23 TDs
Any place that Klein is mentioned in Kansas State or Big 12 lore, Bishop needs to be right alongside. Both were dual-threat talents who carried their Wildcats to the Big 12 championship game during an award-winning senior season. Bishop was a consensus All-American, Davey O’Brien Award winner and finished second in the Heisman voting when he posted this season: 2,844 yards, 23 TDs, 5 INTs, 748 yards rushing, 14 TDs.
15. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State (2006-09)
Stats: 8,317 yds, 66 TDs, 31 INTs, 1,858 yds, 22 TDs
One of the more underrated players in league history, Robinson took a four-win team the year before he arrived and led the Pokes to four winning seasons. He started the last three of those seasons and capped his career with back-to-back nine-win campaigns. His ability to make plays with his legs is often forgotten as his 10,175 yards of total offense rank ninth all-time (ahead of Vince Young).
16. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (2009-12)
Stats: 16,646 yds, 123 TDs, 52 INTs, 63.6%, 3 rush TDs
Very few players in history have four 3,000-yard seasons on their resume but Jones is one of them. Jones is No. 3 in NCAA history in passing yards and No. 5 in touchdown passes, but also threw more interceptions than any player in Big 12 history (52). He won 40 games in his career, including one outright conference championship in 2010, but never took Oklahoma to the national title level.
17. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (1999-02)
Stats: 12,423 yds, 95 TDs, 40 INTs, 5 rush TDs
Kingsbury led the nation in completions for three consecutive seasons and owns the Big 12 record for completions in a game (49). He capped his career by leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns with 5,017 yards and 45 in 2002. His is one of just three players in Big 12 history to top 5,000 yards and is one of just 10 players in NCAA history to reach 5K passing. And let’s face it, the ladies love them some Kingsbury.
18. Major Applewhite, Texas (1998-01)
Stats: 8,353 yds, 60 TDs, 28 INTs, 57.4%, 3 rush TDs
A cult hero in Austin, Applewhite battled blue-chip, NFL offspring Chris Simms for playing time most of his career. Starting as a sophomore, Applewhite threw for 3,357 yards and 21 scores en route to being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He left school as the record holder for passing yards in a career and season (since broken) as well as consecutive games with a TD pass (19).
19. Bryce Petty, Baylor (2011-present)
Stats: 4,340 yds, 33 TDs, 3 INTs, 62.4%, 237 yds, 15 TDs
This is really just a starting point for a player who could quickly rise in the Big 12 QB ranks with another huge season in 2014. In just one year, however, Petty led Baylor to its only Big 12 championship, its only BCS bowl bid and he won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was responsible for 46 total touchdowns, rolled up 4,409 yards of offense and threw only three interceptions in ’13.
20. Geno Smith, West Virginia (2009-12)
Stats: 11,662 yds, 98 TDs, 21 INTs, 342 yds, 4 TDs
He only played one season in the Big 12 but it was a monster season. He threw for 4,205 yards and an NCAA-best 42 touchdowns. His overall career numbers stack up with most of the Big 12’s best and he led WVU to an Orange Bowl romp over Clemson. He owns the Big 12 record for consecutive completions without an interception (273), the Big 12 single-game TD record (8) and the Big 12 single-game total offense record (687). Smith was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Best of the rest:
21. B.J. Symons, Texas Tech (2000-03): 6,378 yds, 59 TDs, 25 INTs, 64.4%, 208 yds, 6 TDs
22. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (2008-10): 6,822 yds, 40 TDs, 18 INTs, 60.9%, 458 yds, 8 TDs
23. Bret Meyer, Iowa State (2004-07): 9,499 yds, 50 TDs, 41 INTs, 58.0%, 923 yds, 12 TDs
24. Nick Florence, Baylor (2009-12): 6,301 yds, 41 TDs, 22 INTs, 61.8%, 651 yds, 14 TDs
25. Zac Taylor, Nebraska (2005-06): 5,853 yds, 45 TDs, 20 INTs, 57.3%, 2 rush TDs
26. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (2009-12): 8,636 yds, 69 TDs, 26 INTs, 69.0%, 54 yds, 6 TDs
27. Ell Roberson, Kansas State (2000-03): 5,099 yds, 37 TDs, 26 INTs, 48.9%, 2,818 yds, 40 TDs
28. Seneca Wallace, Iowa State (2001-02): 5,289 yds, 26 TDs, 27 INTs, 57.7%, 912 yds, 15 TDs
29. Josh Freeman, Kansas State (2006-08): 8,078 yds, 44 TDs, 34 INTs, 59.1%, 343 yds, 20 TDs
30. Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M (2002-05): 6,992 yds, 44 TDs, 23 INTs, 54.6%, 1,889 yds, 15 TDs
For only the second time in school history, Clemson is coming off its third consecutive season of at least 10 victories. The Tigers have won 32 games over the last three years, claimed an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State and defeated LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. But a key group of players departed last season, leaving Clemson with just 11 starters returning for 2014.
However, the news isn’t all bad for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers have recruited four consecutive top-20 classes, and true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson appears to be a future star in the ACC. Swinney also scored a huge offseason victory when offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave Death Valley for a head coaching gig. So while Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be tough to replace, the Tigers have enough returning talent to navigate a favorable schedule to potentially 10 victories.
Figuring out the quarterback battle, as well as sorting out the options at running back and receiver are the biggest priorities for Swinney on offense in spring practice. Clemson doesn’t lose much on defense, but the secondary is thin on proven options at cornerback. The Tigers must also spend a little time this spring preparing for the opener against Georgia. Swinney recently announced four players (offensive linemen Shaq Anthony and David Beasley, cornerback Garry Peters and defensive end Corey Crawford) will be suspended for the matchup against the Bulldogs. It’s early, but the coaching staff wants to see other players step up at those positions.
Clemson Tigers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 5
Spring Game: April 12
Four Things to Watch in Clemson’s 2014 Spring Practice
|Sept. 6||South Carolina State|
1. Replacing Tajh Boyd: It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one of Boyd’s caliber. However, Clemson does have some intriguing options ready to battle for the starting job. Boyd was a model of consistency during his time with the Tigers, throwing for at least 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Senior Cole Stoudt has completed 86 of his 119 career attempts with the Tigers, throwing for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. He enters spring with a slight hold on the No. 1 spot, but sophomore Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson won’t give away the job without a fight. Kelly ranked as the No. 7 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and threw for 58 yards on 10 completions last season. Watson is the name generating the most buzz in spring workouts, as he enrolled early to compete with Kelly and Stoudt. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, expect Clemson’s offense to remain one of the best in the nation. Coordinator Chad Morris returns to Death Valley, and he should have no trouble making the necessary adjustments to compensate for the loss of Boyd. Can Clemson find some clarity at quarterback this spring?
2. The skill positions: Boyd isn’t the only loss on offense. Running back Roderick McDowell expired his eligibility after rushing for 1,025 yards last season, while receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant declared for the NFL Draft. Much like the quarterback position, the cupboard is far from bare. Zac Brooks rushed for 246 yards and caught six passes last season and enters spring practice with a slight edge on D.J. Howard for the starting running back job. C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman are also in the mix, while Tyshon Dye won’t participate in spring workouts due to an offseason Achilles injury. If Brooks doesn’t take a step forward this spring, three incoming freshmen could make an impression in the fall: C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Jae’lon Oglesby. A similar battle is set to unfold at receiver with Watkins and Bryant no longer catching passes in Death Valley. Adam Humphries is back after grabbing 41 passes last year, while Charone Peake is expected to be at full strength in the fall after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. Mike Williams and Gerome Hopper are also back in the mix after showing flashes of promise as freshmen last year. The depth at receiver was bolstered with the addition of Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott in time for spring practice. Another touted freshman (Trevion Thompson) will join the team in time for fall workouts.
3. New faces on the offensive line: Lost in the discussion of Clemson’s offense as it looks to replace Boyd and Watkins is the line. Three starters are back for 2014, but the Tigers lose tackle Brandon Thomas (second-team All-ACC) and guard Tyler Shatley. How will this group look in 2014? Ryan Norton started all 13 games at center last season and should anchor that position once again. However, the questions begin outside of Norton. Can Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony win the starting tackle spots this spring? Or will Swinney have to take an extended look at Kalon Davis there? At guard, David Beasley will have to earn his starting spot with Davis and Eric Mac Lain slightly ahead on the depth chart as spring practice starts. Finding the right five on the offensive line could require some different combinations this spring. And establishing a starting five as soon as possible is crucial for Clemson to build cohesion in the trenches.
4. Building depth in the secondary: With Vic Beasley returning at end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive lines in the ACC next year. The linebacking corps is also set despite the loss of Spencer Shuey, as Stephone Anthony returns as a likely All-ACC performer, and Kellen Jones should be 100 percent in the fall after a knee injury limited him to three games in 2013. While the front seven is set, question marks litter the cornerback spot. Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins (out this spring) are the most-experienced options, but redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander is expected to play a significant role in the pass defense in 2014. Coordinator Brent Venables will likely call on redshirt freshmen Adrian Baker and Marcus Edmond, along with sophomore Cordrea Tankersley to fill out the depth at cornerback. With a matchup against Georgia to open the year, this unit will be tested from the opening snap.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
There's no doubt Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be missed. However, Clemson’s offense should score plenty of points with Morris calling the plays, while Watson’s improvement will be one of the top spring storylines in the ACC. With road games at Georgia and Florida State in September, the Tigers will be tested early. A 1-2 start is likely, but the schedule lightens up after the first month, with a Nov. 29 showdown against South Carolina perhaps the only other game Clemson won’t be favored to win. The Tigers should be picked No. 2 in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State this year, but Clemson is a top 25 team in 2014.
Tennessee has posted three consecutive 5-7 seasons and has lost at least seven games in five of the last six years. In the standings, few things have changed in Knoxville despite the hiring of a fourth coach in six years.
However, things could not be more different now that Butch Jones is in charge. Entering his second spring practice, Jones has already accomplished more than his predecessor. He has a win over a top-15 opponent, produced more rushing yards in a season than any Tennessee team since 2004, signed a top-10 recruiting class, moved Tennessee from adidas to Nike apparel and has retained his entire coaching staff.
He also has converted a culture of losing into one with lofty expectations and championship aspirations. Jones talks of “building our identity,” improving “football intelligence,” creating “team brotherhood” and using a “consistent approach each and every day.”
All of that coach speak is important and relevant, especially for a team with 41 losses in the last six years. But behind closed doors, fans can bet his goals for his second spring camp are more specific. Tennessee must find pass rushers, rebuild the offensive line, work in more than a dozen early enrollees and, most importantly, settle on a quarterback.
These objectives are more concrete than “taking pride in the fundamentals” and will go a long way in setting up the Vols for their first bowl game since 2010.
|Sept. 20||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Tennessee Volunteers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 7
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in Tennessee's 2014 Spring Practice
Settle on a signal-caller
No one expects this battle to be over when spring camp ends, however, Jones and coordinator Mike Bajakian would feel a lot better about the future of their offense should they break camp with a clear(-er) pecking order under center. Justin Worley has the most experience. Joshua Dobbs has the most athletic ability. And Riley Ferguson, a redshirt freshman who didn’t play last year, might be the most gifted passer of the bunch. Nathan Peterman also is in the mix but appears like a distant fourth in the race for the starting job. Worley isn’t overly talented but has lots of snaps under his belt while Dobbs acquitted himself fairly well as just a true freshman a year ago with his ability to make plays with his legs. Ferguson is the wild card and many believe he might have the inside track on the starting job if he can prove to the coaches that he is ready to step into an SEC huddle. This battle should rage on into the fall but Jones and his staff would sleep better if they can establish at least the framework for a quarterback depth chart this spring.
Find answers in the trenches
All five offensive lineman are gone on offense and essentially the entire defensive line is gone as well. Restocking the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is imperative for success in the SEC. There is a host of young players on defense who will step into bigger roles (Jordan Williams, Corey Vereen) and a few who will eventually return from injury (Jaylen Miller, Trevarris Saulsberry) along the defensive front. And there are probably more than a few fans who would like to see what linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin would look like flying off the edge in blitz packages. So finding pass rushers on defense (ideally) shouldn’t be as difficult as replacing multiple All-SEC blockers up front on offense. Very little starting experience returns at this position for the Vols with Mack Crowder — and his one start — the only player with any starting experience. Crowder, Marcus Jackson and Kyler Kerbyson should get first crack at earning spots but other names will need to develop quickly if Tennessee wants to improve the 102nd-ranked total offense in college football. Going the junior college route is a slippery slope and can be extremely volatile but can also pay off in a big way (SEE: Cordarrelle Patterson). So keep an eye on JUCO early enrollees Dontavius Blair (OL) and Owen Williams (DL). It won’t matter who is under center if Jones and Bajakian can’t stabilize the front line... on either side of the ball.
Find playmakers and work in the youth
With 14 early enrollees, Jones has what amounts to an entirely new roster heading into his second spring camp. And he has repeatedly talked about finding playmakers on both sides of the ball. With Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson returning to the linebacking corps, that shouldn’t be a huge undertaking on defense. However, on offense, Tennessee is in much worse shape and will likely turn to more than one freshman to help create big plays with Pig Howard, Drae Bowles and Brendan Downs not participating in spring camp. Five-star wideout Josh Malone and five-star athlete Jalen Hurd, be it at running back or elsewhere, have elite upside but need to get acclimated quickly to college life if they want to contribute in the fall. The same can be said about junior college wideout Von Pearson and early enrollee freshmen tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf. Jones and Bajakian have a lot of new toys to play with and figuring out how all of those pieces fit together is much easier in the spring than en route to Norman, Okla.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Things are finally pointed in the right direction for Big Orange Nation. While the results on the field are yet to come, Jones has established a winning culture within the halls of the luxurious Anderson Training Center. He has overhauled his roster, improved team speed, gotten stronger and now has a young roster he can mold into a winner. There is a lot of work left to be done before the Vols are competing for SEC titles again — in particular, with a schedule that includes road trips to Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — but the overall trajectory of the program appears to be very positive for the first time in nearly a decade.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 27: Ernie Els
Born: Oct. 17, 1969, Johannesburg, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 19 (28 on the European Tour) | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,173,761 (74th) | World Ranking: 29
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Ernie Els may be in his mid-40s and struggling with his putting, but his golf swing and resume are just too hard too ignore. His fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open last year was his 34th top ten in a major, and this year's major venues will no doubt play into the hands of the veterans who have played there in the past. The Open Championship is Ernie’s best event, and this year’s venue is at Hoylake, where he finished third in 2006. As he showed at the close of the oldest championship in golf in 2012, sometimes it just boils down to who has been there in the past, and there is hardly anywhere in golf that Ernie hasn't been.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T13
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T26
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - 2 (2000, 2004)
U.S. Open - 1 (1994, 1997)
British Open - 1 (2002, 2012)
PGA Championship - 3/T3 (1995, 2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 34
Top-25 Finishes: 51
Missed Cuts: 16
Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
Coming off a successful 12-2 season and an appearance in the SEC title game, Missouri has extended Gary Pinkel’s contract.
Pinkel will receive a raise to $3.1 million a season, and his pool for assistant coach salaries has been increased. Pinkel's contract will run through 2020, which includes a $450,000 bonus if Missouri wins the national championship.
In 13 years at Missouri, Pinkel is 102-63 and has only one losing season since 2005.
Gary Pinkel's new contract runs through 2020, pays $3.1 million a year.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) March 6, 2014
Dave Steckel's base salary raised to $600K; Josh Henson to $550K; Andy Hill to $357.5K; Craig Kuligowski to $299.5K; Cornell Ford to $297.5K— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) March 6, 2014
If AJ McCarron ends up in the College Football Hall of Fame, the credit won’t go entirely to his two national championships and 36 career wins.
Instead, the former Alabama quarterback can thank the Walter Camp Foundation. That organization voted him its first-team All-America quarterback during his senior year, thus making him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
(Remember, this makes McCarron eligible, but does not guarantee he'll be on the ballot or voted into the Hall. The late Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas is in his fourth year on the ballot for one of the more egregious snubs in recent years.)
That’s just one illustration of the rules that govern eligibility for the college hall. A player must be voted a first-team All-American by one of the major services to simply be eligible.
Seriously, the Hall puts it in all caps:
"FIRST AND FOREMOST, A PLAYER MUST HAVE RECEIVED FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA RECOGNITION BY A SELECTOR RECOGNIZED BY THE NCAA AND UTILIZED TO COMPRISE THEIR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICA TEAMS.”
In most modern cases, this is first-team recognition by the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Sporting News. And this makes sense. To be in the Hall of Fame, at least one service should deem a player to be the best at his position in one season, right?
But there’s only one spot for a quarterback as a first-team All-American, and McCarron’s time coinciding with Heisman winners Robert Griffin, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston has made the first team tough to crack.
Coaches have their own requirements: 10 years and 100 games as a head coach with a .600 win percentage. Sure, a Hall of Fame coach should probably win better than 60 percent of his games, but not if he cut his teeth, and eventually won, at tough jobs.
These rules are — putting it kindly — problematic. Here's who would not be eligible for the Hall of Fame:
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: In his 277-game career, Schnellenberger gets penalized for taking over hopeless college jobs at Miami and Louisville, plus building Florida Atlantic from the ground up. That makes him the architect of three programs. He led Miami to its first national title in 1983 and Louisville to the Fiesta Bowl in 1990. All that time at tough jobs causes him to fall short of the win percentage requirement (51.4 percent). Even if Schnellenberger retired in 1994 before a 5-5-1 season at Oklahoma and a 41-56 run at fledgling FAU, he still would fall short of the 60-percent mark (56.2 percent at Miami and Louisville).
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: “Citizenship”
Why he should be in: The Hall of Fame doesn’t forbid players who received NCAA sanctions to be enshrined, but it does say a player’s “post-football record as a citizen is also weighed.” On the field, Bush would be an easy pick for the Hall of Fame, but it may be tough for a player who had to return his Heisman to crack the College Football Hall of Fame.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few seasons
Why he should be in: The criteria states a head coach must work for a minimum of 10 years. Carroll coached nine with seven consecutive top-five finishes, two national titles and five Rose Bowls.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Noticing a trend with quarterbacks circa 2006-08? There were a lot of good ones, and White ends up getting squeezed out. He was the most successful West Virginia quarterback since Major Harris, he became the first quarterback to start and win four bowl games, and he holds the record for career rushing yards for a quarterback (4,480).
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Tiller brought the spread to the Big Ten and made Purdue relevant along the way. The Boilermakers endured 12 consecutive losing seasons before he was hired and reached the Rose Bowl (albeit with an 8-4 record) by his fourth season). He went to bowl games in 10 of 12 seasons at Purdue, but finished his career with a 57.8 win percentage in Lafayette and at Wyoming. It’s worth noting Tiller’s best quarterback, Drew Brees, also doesn’t meet Hall of Fame criteria by never being a first-team All-America selection.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Go ahead and be underwhelmed by Brooks’ career losing record (45.5 percent) in 290 games as a college coach, but go ask about him in Eugene and Lexington. Without Brooks, there’d be no Mike Bellotti or Chip Kelly at Oregon. In 1994, Brooks led Oregon to its first Rose Bowl since the 1919 season. And at Kentucky, he and Bear Bryant are the only coaches with four consecutive winning seasons.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Chris Ault -- who was already in the College Football Hall of Fame as an active coach -- invented the Pistol offense years earlier, but Kaepernick brought it to the masses as a collegian and a pro. He led Nevada to its best season as an FBS program while becoming the only quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in his career.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Passing for 19,217 career yards at the Conference USA level wasn’t enough to make Keenum a first-team All-American among a loaded group of quarterbacks from 2007-11.
Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few games
Why they should be in: The two coaches defined the Pac-12 for the post-Pete Carroll era in divergent ways. Harbaugh’s physical, balanced teams produced two Heisman finalists (Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart) and the best Stanford season since 1940. Kelly’s Oregon teams were the best at running the no-huddle spread on the way to three conference titles. The NFL came calling for both, meaning Kelly (53 career games) and Harbaugh (50 FBS games, plus 35 at FCS San Diego) don't meet the 10-year or 100-game requirement. Harbaugh, however, is eligible as a player.
Big 12 quarterbacks
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not first-team All-Americans
Why they should be in: Let’s name the names: Landry Jones, Chase Daniel and Collin Klein. Jones is the career-leading passer for the Big 12 and Oklahoma. Daniel was Heisman finalist who led his team to two Big 12 title games and the brink or the ’07 national championship game. Klein finished with 86 total touchdowns (56 rushing, 30 passing) and went 21-5 his last two seasons. The problem? Contemporaries like Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel for Jones and Klein and Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford for Daniel relegated these quarterbacks to second-team status or lower.