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With all of the BCS conferences finished with regular season play, it's time to take a look at the 2012 college football season and hand out some hardware. At the midpoint of 2012, all signs pointed to West Virginia's Geno Smith as the runaway Heisman favorite, while Oregon and Alabama appeared to be on a collision course for the national championship. And what a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Ducks were bounced out of the top five by Stanford, while the Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M, yet rebounded back into No. 2 in the BCS standings. Before the road to the national championship begins on Dec. 15, Athlon takes a look at the best of the best from the 2012 regular season.
College Football's 2012 Postseason Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It’s a close call between Manziel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein, but the edge goes to the redshirt freshman. Manziel finished with 3,419 passing yards and 24 scores, while adding 1,181 yards and 19 scores on the ground. In Texas A&M’s upset win over Alabama, the redshirt freshman threw for 253 yards and added 92 more on the ground. Manziel owns the single-game SEC mark for total offense (576 against Louisiana Tech) and broke Cam Newton’s record for most total offense in a season with 4,600 yards after 12 regular season games.
Next in Line:
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Defensive Player of the Year: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o doesn’t have earth-shattering numbers, but the senior is college football’s best defensive player and is a key reason why Notre Dame ranks as the No. 1 team in the BCS. Te’o led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles, recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 11 passes defended. Sometimes, a defensive player’s impact goes beyond the box score and that’s the case with Te’o. In addition to his 103 tackles, the senior’s leadership and presence on the field were critical to the Fighting Irish finishing first nationally in scoring defense and sixth in yards allowed.
Next in Line:
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Just like the offensive player of the year honor, there’s not much separating Athlon’s No. 1 and No. 2 pick. A slight edge goes to Brian Kelly over Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, especially since the Fighting Irish are booked for a chance to win the national title in early January. Notre Dame went 8-5 in each of Kelly’s first two seasons but completed a perfect 12-0 mark in 2012.
Next in Line:
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
David Shaw, Stanford
Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Top Freshman: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Is there really any doubt about the winner of this award? After averaging 373.4 yards of total offense in SEC games this season, Manziel could be the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Aggies navigated through their first season of SEC play with a 10-2 record and will matchup against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Next in Line:
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Best All-Around: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Although the Mountaineers cooled off after a 5-0 start, their offense was still one of the best in college football this year. West Virginia ranked seventh nationally in scoring and averaged 518.5 yards per game. Austin is arguably the nation’s top all-around weapon, rushing for 598 yards and three touchdown, while catching 110 passes for 1,259 yards and 12 scores. He also added 738 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns. Most of Austin’s production came at receiver, but he played more snaps at running back late in the season, including a 344-yard performance against Oklahoma in mid-November.
Top JUCO: Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
A strong case could be made for Ole Miss’ quarterback Bo Wallace or Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but a slight edge goes to Breslin. The California native helped to turn the USC defensive line from a weakness into a strength this year, recording 53 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks. He also broke up four passes and recovered one fumble in 12 games. Breslin recorded second-team All-Pac-12 honors this year and could be in the mix for a spot on the first team in 2013.
Next in Line:
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Rising Star in the Coaching Ranks: Gary Andersen, Utah State
Andersen was courted in coaching searches at Kentucky, Colorado and California but chose to stay another year in Logan. Since his arrival at Utah State, the Aggies are 25-24 and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1960-61. Utah State is also 17-8 over the last two years and claimed the outright WAC Championship this season. Andersen is one of college football’s rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and should have Utah State contending for the Mountain West title in 2013.
Next in Line:
Pete Lembo, Ball State
Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky
Biggest Surprise: Notre Dame
It’s been quite a season for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was unranked in the first Associated Press poll and jumped to the No. 22 spot after crushing Navy 50-10 in the season opener. The Fighting Irish climbed steadily in the polls, eventually claiming the No. 1 spot after Kansas State lost to Baylor on Nov. 17. Although it wasn’t a surprise Notre Dame managed to win 10 games and get back to a BCS bowl, it’s rare to see a team begin the year unranked and get into the national championship. Also, the Fighting Irish emerged as one of college football’s top defensive teams, a slight change from Brian Kelly’s offense-first mentality at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Next in Line:
Biggest Disappointment: USC
Nothing seemed to go right for USC in 2012. The Trojans closed out 2011 as one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning seven out of their last eight contests, including a 38-35 victory against Oregon. Considering USC returned 15 starters, most expected it would continue that momentum and make a run at a BCS title. Instead, the Trojans slumped to a 7-5 overall mark and a 5-4 record in Pac-12 play. Quarterback Matt Barkley was supposed to be a Heisman contender, but his campaign never managed to get on track, and he missed the season finale against Notre Dame with a shoulder injury. For a team that had national title aspirations, playing in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech is quite a drop from the preseason.
Best Coaching Hire of 2012: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer certainly didn’t inherit a bare cupboard, but he managed to lead the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record with no postseason possibility due to NCAA sanctions. Ohio State rebounded from a disappointing 6-7 mark in 2011 to a perfect record in 2012, winning at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, while picking up a huge victory over rival Michigan in the season finale. Meyer has Ohio State poised to regain its status as one of college football’s premier programs and could start 2013 ranked among the top three teams in most preseason polls.
Next in Line:
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Jim Mora, UCLA
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Worst Coaching Hire of 2012: Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
You have to look deep to find any positives about Johnson’s tenure at Southern Miss. And even an extensive examination doesn’t reveal anything that went right for the Golden Eagles under his watch. Johnson compiled the worst season in school history in 2012, going 0-12 with losses to Rice, UAB, UTEP and Memphis. Southern Miss had a tough schedule in the early part of the season, but this team struggled to be competitive and ranked near the bottom of the nation in scoring offense and defense. Johnson was fired at the end of 2012, which ended one of college football’s worst coaching tenures in recent years.
Next in Line:
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Coach on the Hottest Seat for 2013: Lane Kiffin, USC
Considering the disappointing 2012 season, it’s not out of the question that Kiffin needs to win eight or nine games in 2013 to save his job. The Trojans were picked by many to win the Pac-12 this year but finished a disappointing 7-5 and out of the conference championship game. In addition to the struggles on the field, USC was also involved in the embarrassing deflated football incident against Oregon, as well as a jersey switch controversy against Colorado. Kiffin is 25-12 in his career at USC and is still navigating NCAA sanctions from the Reggie Bush scandal. Recruiting talent isn’t a problem for Kiffin, but it’s time to start winning games. With Matt Barkley off to the NFL, the Trojans may take a small step back on offense, and the Pac-12 South isn’t getting any easier, which only adds more troubles to Kiffin’s plate in 2013.
The Next in Line:
Mack Brown, Texas
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Related College Football Content
Single-game, single-season and career records. School, conference and national benchmarks. Remarkable performances and embarrassing moments. The good, bad and ugly makes college football the great sport that it is today. Here are the 20 most intriguing, most important and most interesting college football stats of the 2012 season:
0: First quarter TD allowed by Notre Dame
The Irish led the nation in scoring defense at 10.3 points per game. Five separate times, Notre Dame allowed less than a touchdown in a game — against programs likes Michigan, Michigan State and Miami. The Irish defense allowed nine offensive touchdowns all season, (2 rush, 7 pass) and the rushing defense finished fourth nationally at 92.4 yards per game. Needless to say, there is a reason they finished the season unbeaten.
54.7: Yardage difference in Alabama’s nation’s leading defense from 2011 to 2012
Alabama led the nation once again in total defense, allowing a paltry 246.0 yards per game in 2012. However, it was 54.7 more yards per game than the Crimson Tide’s No. 1-rated defense allowed a year ago. Although the 2012 numbers aren't bad, it puts into perspective just how dominant the 2011 Alabama defense was when it allowed just 191.3 yards and 8.8 points per game.
300: Yards receiving in a single-game by four separate players
Before this year, only 15 times had a wide receiver caught at least 300 yards in a single game and never before had it happened more than twice in a season. In 2012, it happened four times — three times on the same day. West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey (303) and Baylor’s Terrance Williams (314) did it in the same game as Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton (303) did it in a loss to Rutgers on the same day. USC’s Marqise Lee (345) did it a month later against Arizona.
4: Times Washington State rushed for negative yards in a game
A team rushed for negative yards in a game 14 separate times in 2012 and four of them came from Washington State. Colorado posted the single-game low for rushing yards in a game with minus-21 against Stanford on Nov. 3, but Washington State takes the rushing cake by finishing with less than zero yards rushing against Stanford (-18), Oregon (-8), BYU (-5) and Utah (-4). Needless to say, the Cougars finished last in the nation in rushing (120th) with 29.1 yards per game.
214.3: Yards per game Auburn was outgained in SEC play
The Auburn Tigers averaged only 235.1 yards per game in eight SEC games. They allowed 449.4 yards per game on defense in those eight contests. The winless conference record was the first 0-8 SEC record on the Plains in the history of the storied Southern powerhouse. Mississippi State (216), LSU (183), Vanderbilt (212) and Ole Miss (213) posted SEC lows in yards allowed against Auburn, while Arkansas (321) and Georgia (238) posted their second-best defensive efforts of the year against Auburn. Hence, the hiring of offensive guru Gus Malzahn.
2045: Ka'Deem Carey's nation-best yards from scrimmage
No player gained more yards from scrimmage than the Arizona running back this season. He led the nation in rushing at 146.4 yards per game, while setting the single-season school record for rushing yards at 1,757. His 366 yards against Colorado were a single-game Pac-12 record as well. He caught 33 passes for 288 yards for a team that went from four wins to seven. His nine 100-yard rushing efforts were second only to…
12: Nation’s best 100-yard rushing games from Jordan Lynch
The Huskies of NIU are the first MAC team to ever land a BCS bowl bid. The play of quarterback Jordan Lynch is the primary reason DeKalb, Ill., was celebrating with Oranges this Christmas. He led the nation by topping the 100-yard mark 12 times and scored 19 rushing touchdowns en route to a nation’s best 1,771 rushing yards and MAC Championship. The dynamic junior also threw for 2,962 yards, 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
82 and 76: NCAA all-time record for total TDs and rushing TD by Montee Ball
Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball took over as the starter in Madison with five games left in his sophomore season. He scored eight total touchdowns in his first 21 games as a Badger. In his final 32 games, Ball scored 74 times for an average of 2.3 touchdowns per game. His 82 total touchdowns and 76 rushing touchdowns are both NCAA all-time records, as his team has played in the Rose Bowl three straight seasons. He is the NCAA’s active leading rusher with 5,040 yards and has one passing touchdown on his resume as well (which doesn’t count towards his totals). However, how long will his record stand? Because…
28: NCAA freshman TD record set by Kenneth Dixon
Louisiana Tech tailback Kenneth Dixon broke Marshall Faulk's (1991) freshman scoring record by reaching paydirt 28 times this fall. He led the nation in total touchdowns and is setting himself up for a run at Ball’s all-time records. But that wasn’t the only remarkable accomplishment in the Bulldogs loaded backfield this fall…
444: Colby Cameron’s NCAA record pass attempts without an interception
The Bulldogs quarterback went 444 attempts without throwing an interception, breaking Russell Wilson’s previous mark of 379. Utah State’s Will Davis intercepted a Cameron pass in what turned out to be a de facto WAC championship game win over Louisiana Tech in overtime (48-41). The 9-3 Bulldogs lost twice to end the year, ironically, on the back of five Cameron interceptions. He finished with 4,171 yards and 31 touchdowns to go with those five picks.
3: BCS conference teams to go unbeaten and not play in the BCS championship game
Before this season, Auburn (2004) and Cincinnati (2009) were the only two BCS conference teams to finish a regular season unbeaten and not earn a bid into the national title showdown. The Ohio State Buckeyes became the third this season, as it will sit at home due to NCAA postseason sanctions. However, the Bearcats got hammered by the Gators in the Sugar Bowl, while Auburn edged out Virginia Tech in the same game. That leaves the Tigers and Buckeyes as the only unbeaten BCS conference teams in the final polls, leaving fans in Columbus and on the Plains wondering what-if.
71: Landry Jones career-high pass attempts against Oklahoma State
Jones chucked the football around 71 times in the crazy 51-48 overtime Bedlam Series win over Oklahoma State. He attempted more passes in that one game than the Sooners entire 1976 (63), 1975 (69) and 1953 (61) offenses posted for the entire season. It was a career-high in attempts for the OU passer - topping the 62 he threw in 2010 - also against the Cowboys. In fact, Jones attempted 220 passes in four games against the Pokes during his career, more than any other team he faced. Jones ended his career with 16,368 yards passing, 122 touchdowns, 51 interceptions and minus-368 yards rushing. David Piland of Houston was the only player to attempt more passes in a game this season with 77 against Louisiana Tech.
4.3: Career rushes per touchdown for Blake Bell
The Bell-dozer will be a junior next year and is expected to take over for Jones in Norman under center. However, his resume doesn’t look like that of a traditional quarterback. He scored 11 rushing touchdowns on 58 carries this year and has 24 rushing touchdowns on 102 career attempts. He should become the starter next fall for Oklahoma without a touchdown pass on 19 career passes.
175.94: Marcus Mariota’s nation’s leading road passer rating
The Ducks were 5-0 on the road due in large part to Mariota’s stable play away from Eugene. He completed 75.2-percent of his passes for 1,036 yards, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions in his five games away from Autzen Stadium this season. He also rushed for 414 of his 690 yards and three of his four touchdowns on the road as well. And he did all of this as a freshman against the likes of USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, Wazzu and Cal. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (172.87) was the No. 2-rated road passer. Speaking of…
8: Tajh Boyd’s ACC single-game touchdown
Boyd completed 30-of-44 passes for 426 yards, rushing 18 times for 103 yards and scored an ACC record eight total touchdowns in the win over the Wolfpack. The Tigers' offense set a school-record with 102 offensive plays and finished two yards shy (754) of a school record for total offense.
38: Tennessee was first SEC team to allow at least 38 points in seven straight games
When Missouri scored 51 points in a win over Tennessee in Neyland Stadium on Nov. 10, it marked the first time in history an SEC team had allowed at least 38 points in six straight games. Then the Vols allowed 41 points to Vanderbilt in a loss that signaled the end of the Derek Dooley era in Knoxville. Tennessee allowed an SEC-worst 35.7 points and 471.3 yards per game in 2012.
572: Big 12 single-game all-purpose yards record set by Tavon Austin
Austin has done everything for the Mountaineers in his amazing career in Morgantown. He has scored 29 receiving touchdowns, five return touchdowns and six rushing scores. He owns the single-season and career return yards marks and numerous receiving records. But he also set the WVU single-game rushing record with 344 yards on just 21 carries against Oklahoma. His 572 all-purpose yards in the close loss to the Sooners were six shy of the NCAA single-game record set by Emmett White of Utah State (against New Mexico State). It might have been the most dominate single-game performance by any player at any position ever. Additionally, Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky (2,977 yards) needs 274 all-purpose yards in the bowl game to break Barry Sanders’ single-season record set in 1988 (3,251).
80,000: 17 programs averaged at least 80K in attendance this fall
Thirteen of those 17 hail from either the Big Ten or the SEC. In fact, 10 of the top 12, 15 of the top 21 and 17 of the top 24 come from the two most powerful and lucrative leagues in America.
4: SEC wins by at least 23 points in the last two seasons by Vanderbilt
From 1957 to 2010, the Commodores won four SEC games by at least 23 points. In the last two seasons, Vandy has matched the total with four wins over Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky (twice). Tailback Zac Stacy also became the school’s all-time leading rusher at 3,036 yards.
5,000 and 2,000: Career totals topped by Taylor Martinez before his senior year
Only three players have ever passed for at least 5,000 yards and rushed for 2,000 yards prior to entering their senior season. Missouri’s Brad Smith and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick were the only two in the club before Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez crossed those benchmarks this season. T-Mart has 6,387 yards passing (44 TD, 25 INT) and 2,812 yards rushing (31 TD) in just three seasons.
Each week, the Athlon editors and others who closely follow college football vote on the most prestigious award in the sport. A 13-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports and other publications cast their votes for their top Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the results will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every week of the regular season.
Voting: Each first-place vote receives 10 points. A second-place vote receives nine points. So on and so forth with a 10th-place vote receiving one point. Here are Athlon's guest voters:
Barrett Sallee: Bleacher Report SEC Lead Writer (@BarrettSallee)
Jim Young: ACCSports.com (@ACCSports)
Blair Kerkhoff: Kansas City Star (@BlairKerkhoff)
Chris Level: RedRaiderSports.com (@ChrisLevel)
And the winner is...
1. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame (six first-place votes, 121 points)
Stats: 103 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 7 INT, 1.5 sack, FR, 4 PBU
Te'o tied with Manziel for the most first-place votes and won a razor-thin Athlon Sports Heisman vote due to more second place votes (five to three). Judging by our own exercise, the second- and third-place votes may play as strong a role in the award than the first-place. Notre Dame is unbeaten and playing Alabama for the BCS title after playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and Te'o was arguably the most consistent performer through the season of the finalists. He has a golden reputation as a leader and in his off-field actions. On the field, he finished second in the nation in interceptions and put on marquee performances against Oklahoma and USC. His defense led the nation in fewest points allowed. Should the Irish defeat the Crimson Tide in Miami, Te'o could make the case he easily deserved the award.
2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (six first-place votes, 119 points)
Stats: 273-400, 3,419 yards, 24 TD, 8 INT, 184 att., 1,181 yards, 19 TD
The arguement for Johnny Manziel is his competition (the best in the nation) and the "wow" factor. He made plays few in the nation can make. His statistical production was record-setting and his signature performance against No. 1 Alabama will go down in college football history as one of the greats. Yet, his team lost two games — including a home game to LSU in which his three interceptions cost Texas A&M an SEC West championship and a shot at a national title.
3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (one first-place vote, 110 points)
Stats: 180-272, 2,490 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT, 194 att., 890 yards, 22 TD
Klein finished his stellar K-State career with a convincing win over Texas to clinch a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl bid. He was a higher-rated passer than Manziel, both in and out of conference play. He rushed for more touchdowns (especially, in conference) and his team won more games. His heart and toughness is unmatched by anyone (except maybe Te'o) and his off-the-field character is second to none.
Comparing the two quarterbacks in conference play:
How the final voting turned out:
|1.||(2)||Manti Te'o||LB||Notre Dame||121/130||6||5||2||-||-||13/13|
|2.||(1)||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M||119/130||6||3||4||-||-||13/13|
|3.||(3)||Collin Klein||QB||Kansas St||110/130||1||5||6||1||-||13/13|
|4.||(4)||Braxton Miller||QB||Ohio St||89/130||-||-||1||9||3||13/13|
|9.||(10)||Jordan Lynch||QB||N. Illinois||23/130||-||-||-||-||3||7/13|
|10.||(8)||Tavon Austin||WR||W. Virginia||16/130||-||-||-||-||-||4/13|
|14.||(13)||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||S. Carolina||8/130||-||-||-||-||-||3/13|
|17t.||(14)||Giovani Bernard||RB||N. Caroliona||3/130||-||-||-||-||-||2/13|
|17t.||(17)||Damontre Moore||DE||Texas A&M||3/130||-||-||-||-||-||1/13|
Stats: 148-254, 2,039 yards, 15 TD, 6 INT, 227 att., 1,271 yards, 13 TD
Stats: 112 rec., 1,680 yards, 14 TD, 28 KR, 802 yards, TD, 106 yards rushing
Stats: 218-312, 2,511 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT, 98 att., 690 yards, 4 TD
Stats: 248 att., 1,624 yards, 21 TD, 19 rec., 232 yards, TD
Stats: 275 att., 1,757 yards, 20 TD, 33 rec., 288 yards, TD
Stats: 222-353, 2,962 yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 271 att., 1,771 yards, 19 TD
10. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Stats: 110 rec., 1,259 yards, 12 TD, 61 att., 598 yards, 3 TD, 28 KR, 738 yards, TD, 15 PR, 165 yards, TD
In one of the biggest surprises of the offseason coaching carousel, Bret Bielema decided to depart Wisconsin for Arkansas. Bielema led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and was coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles. However, whether it was the attraction of coaching in the SEC or some friction with athletic director Barry Alvarez, Bielema chose to depart and won't coach Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl.
10 Replacement Coaches for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Could the Badgers choose to stay in house for a Bielema replacement? Ash is a rising star in the coaching ranks, coming to Wisconsin in 2010 to coach defensive backs, before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2011. In addition to his time in Madison, Ash had stops at San Diego State and Iowa State but has no head coaching experience. Bielema was a young defensive coordinator when he was promoted to head coach - could Wisconsin choose to do the same path this year?
Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks – Since all signs point to Paul Chryst staying in Pittsburgh, Wisconsin’s next option might be Bevell. The former Badger quarterback has been an assistant coach since 1996, starting his career at Westmar University. He worked at Iowa State and Connecticut, before jumping to the NFL to serve as an offensive assistant with the Packers, Vikings and Seahawks. Bevell has been Seattle’s offensive coordinator for the last two years and has played a key role in developing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Bob Bostad, offensive line coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bostad is regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, developing top units at Wisconsin and in the NFL with the Buccaneers. He also has experience during stops as an assistant at San Jose State and New Mexico from 1997-2005 but has never served as a head coach. Bostad worked under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, so there’s some natural ties to the program. However, not having head coaching experience has to be a drawback for athletic director Barry Alvarez.
Paul Chryst, head coach, Pittsburgh – Even though Chryst has expressed his commitment to Pittsburgh, Wisconsin still make a run for his services. Chryst played at Wisconsin from 1986-88 and coached in Madison in 2002 and 2005-2011. He also has experience from stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Chryst is the perfect candidate for Wisconsin but leaving Pittsburgh after one season will be difficult.
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Wisconsin chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Bielema. The New Jersey native played at Iowa, so he’s certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).
Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones has been a hot name in coaching searches this offseason, interviewing at Colorado and Purdue for openings at those schools. He has six years of head coaching experience, spending three years at Central Michigan and recording a 27-13 mark. During his time in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas made three bowl appearances and claimed two MAC Championships. Jones moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and guided the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark over the last three seasons. Cincinnati has claimed a share of the Big East title in each of the last two years after going 4-8 in Jones’ first season in 2010.
[NOTE: Since publishing, Jones has been hired at Tennessee.]
Pete Lembo, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the coaching ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi doesn’t have any head coaching experience but is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top assistant coaches. The Connecticut native started his coaching career at Rhode Island in 1993 and stayed until 2000 when he left to go to Northern Illinois. After three seasons with the Huskies, Narduzzi spent one year at Miami (Ohio) and joined Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati in 2004. Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007 and has helped to build one of the Big Ten’s best defenses over the last few years. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense this season.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., which is just under 50 miles to Raymond James Stadium. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford.
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NFL Week 14 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Broncos (9-3) at Raiders (3-9)
Denver MVP candidate Peyton Manning had his best game of the season against Oakland in Week 4, throwing for a season-high 338 yards, three TDs and zero INTs during a 37–6 win that pulled the Broncos back to the .500 mark with a 2–2 record. Manning lost to Tom Brady’s Patriots the following week, but has reeled off seven straight wins since then.
Broncos by 10
Ravens (9-3) at Redskins (6-6)
The hits keep on coming for Robert Griffin III. After making his four-TD Thanksgiving debut, RG3 shined under the lights in his first appearance on Monday Night Football. Up next: The Battle of the Beltway. Since a Week 10 bye, Griffin has thrown for 667 yards, nine TDs and one INT, while rushing for another 185 yards and leading the Skins to a 3–0 record.
Redskins by 2
Cowboys (6-6) at Bengals (7-5)
After throwing nine TDs and 13 INTs with a 3–4 record over his first seven games, Tony Romo has thrown 10 TDs and just two INTs with a 3–2 mark over his last five games.
Bengals by 2
Rams (5-6-1) at Bills (5-7)
St. Louis rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins has scored three TDs — on two pick-sixes and a fumble recovery — over the past two weeks, or as many as Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller has scored over the last 10 weeks this year.
Rams by 1
Eagles (3-9) at Buccaneers (6-6)
Philly puts its eight-game losing streak on the line against a Tampa team that is the definition of mediocre — 3–3 at home, 3–3 on the road.
Buccaneers by 6
Falcons (11-1) at Panthers (3-9)
Atlanta earned a 30–28 win over Carolina in Week 4 thanks to a game-winning FG by Matt Bryant with just five seconds remaining.
Falcons by 8
Chiefs (2-10) at Browns (4-8)
Romeo Crennel returns to Cleveland, where he went 24–40 in four years as the team’s coach. In the four seasons since, the Browns have an 18–42 record (and counting).
Browns by 3
Chargers (4-8) at Steelers (7-5)
With Ben Roethlisberger already sidelined, 2004 draft classmate Philip Rivers will try to avoid a similar fate as he takes on the Steel Curtain without three starting O-linemen.
Steelers by 6
Titans (4-8) at Colts (8-4)
The legend of Andrew Luck grew in Week 8, when Indy pulled off a 19–13 overtime win in Tennessee. But home is where the heart is, as Luck and Co. are 5–1 at Lucas Oil Field.
Colts by 4
Jets (5-7) at Jaguars (2-10)
The Tim Tebow three-ring circus has added a third QB just as Tebow heads back home to Jacksonville. Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy both played while Tebow watched with injured ribs last week. Who knows which QB(s) will play this week. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are running out of winnable games as they look to avoid the worst season in team history — a 4–12 mark in their inaugural season of 1995.
Jaguars by 1
Bears (8-4) at Vikings (6-6)
Chicago’s O-line could be out for justice against Minnesota sack artist Jared Allen, whose illegal block on guard Lance Louis resulted in a torn ACL during a 28–10 Bears win in Week 12.
Bears by 6
Dolphins (5-7) at 49ers (8-3-1)
Don’t expect Marino or Montana-style passing in this Super Bowl XIX rematch.
49ers by 9
Cardinals (4-8) at Seahawks (7-5)
Arizona got the best of Seattle during a 20–16 win in Week 1. But this game will be played at CenturyLink Field, where the Hawks are 5–0.
Seahawks by 9
Saints (5-7) at Giants (7-5)
The roller-coaster ride season continues for New Orleans. After an 0–4 start, the Saints went 5–1. Since then, Drew Brees and Co. are channeling the Aints, with back-to-back 10-point losses to the 49ers and Falcons. In those games, Brees has thrown a combined three TDs and seven INTs, while taking six sacks.
Giants by 4
Lions (4-8) at Packers (8-4)
The wheels have fallen off for Detroit. The Lions have lost four consecutive contests, including three straight when leading in the fourth quarter with 2:00 left in regulation — becoming the first team to match that streak of collapsing futility since 2000. In Week 11, the Packers saw one such meltdown up close in a 24–20 win.
Packers by 8
Texans (11-1) at Patriots (9-3)
The Pats just locked up their 12th straight winning season by clinching their fourth consecutive division title. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old Texans secured just their second-ever playoff berth. Houston is 6–0 on the road this season, but that perfect streak will be put to the ultimate test in prime time on Monday night.
Patriots by 1
Last week: 9–7 // Season: 129–63
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Houston Texans remain the top team, while the Jacksonville Jaguars moved back to the bottom this week.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 13 of the season:
1. Texans (11-1) Punch playoff ticket, set franchise record for wins.
2. Falcons (11-1) Earn NFC South title for second time in three years.
3. Patriots (9-3) Tom Brady becomes first QB to win 10 division titles.
4. Broncos (9-3) Von Miller’s pick-six adds to Defensive POY resumé.
5. Steelers (7-5) James Harrison forced fumble shifts momentum.
6. Ravens (9-3) Fifteen-game winning streak in Baltimore snapped.
7. 49ers (8-3-1) Lose to Rams on Greg Zuerlein 54-yard FG in OT.
8. Packers (8-4) Have won 10 consecutive games vs. NFC North foes.
9. Bears (8-4) Tied with Packers for division lead following defeat.
10. Giants (7-5) Can’t catch RG3, have lost three of last four games.
11. Seahawks (7-5) Third straight win at second home in Soldier Field.
12. Colts (8-4) First game-winning TD with no time left since 1990.
13. Bengals (7-5) Fourth consecutive win ends on Andy Dalton TD run.
14. Redskins (6-6) RG3 breaks Cam Newton’s rookie QB rushing record.
15. Saints (5-7) Drew Brees’ TD streak ends at 54 on five-INT night.
16. Vikings (6-6) Adrian Peterson runs wild for 210 yards in defeat.
17. Cowboys (6-6) Tony Romo breaks Troy Aikman’s TD record in win.
18. Rams (5-6-1) Just 26 ticks away from second tie in four weeks.
19. Buccaneers (6-6) Unable to stop Broncos’ ironman star Mitch Unrein.
20. Jets (5-7) Sanchez benched, Tebow inactive, McElroy cheered.
21. Chargers (4-8) Low voltage Bolts have lost seven of last eight games.
22. Titans (4-8) David Stewart (leg), Steve Hutchinson (knee) injured.
23. Dolphins (5-7) Sloppy execution results in fifth straight loss to Pats.
24. Bills (5-7) Ryan Fitzpatrick answers critics with win over Jags.
25. Lions (4-8) Ndamukong Suh cheap shots, late collapses a trend.
26. Browns (4-8) Earn first victory on the road since Sept. 18, 2011.
27. Cardinals (4-8) Ryan Lindley struggles in Cards’ eighth straight loss.
28. Eagles (3-9) Nick Foles to start at QB for remainder of season.
29. Raiders (3-9) “Can’t stop the run” or “the pass,” says Michael Huff.
30. Chiefs (2-10) Jovan Belcher murder-suicide a Kansas City tragedy.
31. Panthers (3-9) Unable to maintain MNF momentum in loss at K.C.
32. Jaguars (2-10) Mike Mularkey blown out in return trip to Buffalo.
Apparently no one told this year’s rookie class of quarterbacks about the proverbial “rookie wall,” which, for years, has stood as an obstacle to stardom for even the best and brightest.
Four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw threw six TDs and 24 INTs in his first season. Two-time Super Bowl winner John Elway started off by completing just 47.5 percent of his passes, with seven TDs and 14 INTs. Four-time MVP Peyton Manning broke the single-season INT record as a rookie, throwing 28 picks.
Even for future Hall of Famers, the wear and tear of an NFL season can be too much to bear during that first go-round as a professional.
But this season, first-year signal-callers are playing some of their best football down the stretch.
Seven rookie quarterbacks started in Week 13, posting a combined 4–3 record. Three, in particular, stood out — Seattle’s undersized underdog Russell Wilson, Indianapolis’ No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and Washington’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III — en route to close-call victories that kept their respective teams alive in the playoff hunt.
Wilson led a 12-play, 97-yard scoring drive for a go-ahead touchdown in a 23–17 upset at Chicago. The 5'11" dynamo took charge of the huddle and then marched the Seahawks down the field for just their second road win of the season
“I just told the guys, ‘This is what the season comes down to, right here and right now,’” said Wilson, a third-round draft pick at No. 75 overall.
Across the Great Lakes in Detroit, Luck threw a 14-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Donnie Avery as time expired on a 35–33 comeback victory over the Lions. The winning play — a short dump off toss that Avery hustled across the goal line — capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive and secured another “Chuck Strong” win for the Colts, who are 8–4 this season after finishing with a league-worst 2–14 record last season.
“You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, for fear of the clock running out with a guy in bounds,” said Luck. “Took the calculated risk that Donnie could get there in the end zone, and he did.”
Finally, on Monday night, RG3 outran the Big Blue Wrecking Crew of the defending Super Bowl champs, during a 17–16 win over the Giants. The win moves the Redskins to 6–6 and just one game behind the Giants in the NFC East division race.
The dynamic dual-threat run-pass ability of Griffin was on full display against a New York defense that was gasping for air all night long.
“If he stays healthy,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, “he’s going to be a havoc on defenses for a long time.”
When it’s all said and done, that could be the case for several members of the quarterback class of 2012.
Argument reigned supreme last season when one-loss Alabama got the nod to rematch with LSU over Oklahoma State in the BCS Championship game. Had the Cowboys simply beaten Iowa State two weeks earlier, there would have been no room for discussion. Since there is no playoff (yet) and a hodge-podge of very qualified one-loss teams — Oregon, Florida, Kansas State namely — are looking up at Alabama/Georgia in the BCS standings, it got me wondering, what if?
What national championship games could have, would have, should have, almost took place over the last 15 seasons? Some are justified, some are not. But all would have been intriguing and many would have completely rewritten the history books — like last season, for example. It goes to show that one bounce of the ball, one missed tackle, one injury can change the entire perception of a team, coach or player. Imagine how we would view at LSU and Les Miles historically if they had defeated Mike Gundy and the Pokes instead of losing to Alabama?
1. Auburn vs. USC, 2004
There has been no other team in the BCS era more worthy of playing for the national title without being invited to the big game than the 2004 Auburn Tigers. The Cincinnati Bearcats of 2009 are the only other BCS conference team to go undefeated and not play for the BCS National Championship. Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Marcus McNeil and an athletic alphabet soup at wide receiver (Aromashodu and Obomanu) made this offense as talented as any in War Eagle history. Carlos Rogers and Jay Ratliff led a stacked defense that stifled ranked opponents LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia Tech to a total 38 points. This team would be a heavy underdog to the USC powerhouse that crushed Oklahoma in the BCS title game that year, however, it is clear in hindsight that Auburn at least deserved a shot at the mighty Trojans.
2. USC vs. LSU, 2003
USC ended the 2003 season at No. 1 in both the AP and Coach’s Poll, but was third in the final BCS poll due to an early season overtime road loss to an eight-win Cal team. Oklahoma and LSU both lost as well, the Sooners in embarrassing 35-7 fashion to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game. Yet, they still finished No. 1 in the BCS. The Trojans ended up handling Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease and split the National Championship with LSU. There were 52 NFL players on the ’03 USC roster and it’s fairly obvious they deserved to play in the official BCS national title game. Other than Cal, only one other regular season game was played with 20 points (a 35-18 win over BYU).
3. Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, 2012
Certainly, I would pick Alabama, Georgia or Florida to beat Ohio State if they were to match-up in a National Championship this winter. That doesn’t mean they would win the game and fans seem to have totally forgotten there are actually two unbeaten teams in the nation this season. If it were eligible, Ohio State would deserve to play Notre Dame for the national championship this season. The Buckeyes have a Heisman caliber quarterback, a two-time National Champion (in the SEC, I might add) head coach and a solid defense. Until the playoff is put in place in 2014, the current system is built to award unbeaten teams from power conferences. This year’s title game should be a historic match-up between two of college football blue-blood programs (even if you think Bama or Georgia is the best team).
4. Ohio State vs. Tennessee, 1998
Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes and Vols were the best two teams in the nation back in the inaugural BCS season. After starting the year No. 1 and crushing their first eight opponents, a turnover-filled upset against Michigan State on Nov. 7 cost the Buckeyes a trip to the title game. This was a loaded OSU team that beat five ranked opponents and likely would have been favored over a Florida State team that got beat by 17 points to NC State and didn’t have it’s starting quarterback. But because the Noles loss came in Week 2, they had time to work their way back into the title game. Tennessee-Ohio State would have been a battle for the ages as many Buckeyes fans believe this was the best OSU team of the last 20 years.
5. West Virginia vs. Ohio State, 2007
Major Harris and the 1988 Mountaineers finished the regular season unbeaten and No. 3 in the polls. Had it beaten unblemished No. 1 Notre Dame in the bowl game, it likely would have won the school’s first and only national championship. In eerily similar fashion, WVU lost starting quarterback Pat White to an injury at Pitt on the final weekend of the 2007 regular season. The Panthers won 13-7 and eliminated the No. 2-rated Mounties from the BCS championship game. Had they won that game, Rich Rodriguez, White and Steve Slaton would have faced Ohio State in the title game with as good a shot to upset the Buckeyes as the two-loss LSU Tigers. Those two seasons are the closest WVU has ever come to winning a national title.
6. Oklahoma State vs. LSU, 2011
The debate over Oklahoma State and Alabama getting the right to face LSU was ended in abrupt fashion when the Tide crushed LSU in New Orleans last winter. However, that doesn’t mean the Cowboys didn’t deserve the opportunity to prove itself in the championship setting. One of the most productive (and talented) offenses ever assembled against one of the most productive and talented defenses (either Alabama or LSU) ever assembled would have been a tremendous showdown. Brandon Weeden vs. Eric Reid. Joseph Randle against the lawfirm of Mingo, Montgomery and Logan. How about Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne? And finally, Jordan Jefferson against the defense that forced more turnover (44) than anyone in the nation. Sign me up. Of course, had the Pokes not lost in double ovetime to Iowa State on the road in the penultimate game of the season, this would have been the match-up and the nation would have a new 2011 champion.
7. USC/Texas vs. Florida, 2008
The Trojans lost on a Thursday night on the road to a nine-win Oregon State team 27-21 in Week 3. They were not challenged the rest of the season, pitching three shutouts and holding three other teams to seven points or fewer. USC, which finished 12-1, led the nation in scoring defense (9.0 ppg allowed), passing defense and finished No. 2 in total defense. Oklahoma lost to Texas by 10 in the Red River Shootout but stayed ahead of the Horns and Trojans for the right to play Florida. Texas lost to Texas Tech in the Blake Gideon-Michael Crabtree thriller in Lubbock and finished in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. The Sooners got the nod based on BCS ranking. In fact, Utah and Boise State were the only unbeatens left after the regular season as Texas, Alabama, Penn State and Texas Tech all finished the regular season with one loss. Since Penn State lost to USC and Bama lost to Florida, a USC (or Texas) and Florida match-up might have actually been the most compelling.
8. Florida vs. Alabama, 2009
“Rematch” is a taboo word these days, but the 2009 SEC championship game decided the national championship game. Both teams entered the final weekend unbeaten and No. 1 Florida lost convincingly in the Georgia Dome 32-13 (we all remember Tim Tebow on the sidelines). The Gators were the defending national champs and had been No. 1 all season, so the question is who was the better team: Texas or Florida? Obviously, we will never know, but watching a Colt McCoy-less Longhorns teams fail to compete with the Tide while Tebow torched the unbeaten Bearcats didn’t help. A best out of three between these two would be just fine with me.
9. Tennessee vs. Miami, 2001
The Vols lost in heart-breaking fashion to Georgia 26-24 (I know, I was there) in the hob-nailed boot game early in 2001. However, after a huge win at No. 2 Florida to win the East in a game that was postponed due to 9/11, Tennessee worked its way back to the No. 2 spot in the BCS. All it had to do was defeat No. 21 LSU in the SEC championship game. Well, the Tigers (with a back-up QB) won a game that signified Nick Saban’s arrival in the SEC while the Volunteers were relegated to the Citrus Bowl. The Big Orange would have been crushed by the Hurricanes — arguably the best college football team ever assembled — so the end result likely wouldn’t have been any different. But one has to think Tennessee would have given The U a better battle than a Cornhuskers team that allowed 99 points in its final two games of the year.
10. Michigan vs. Ohio State, 2006
It might have been the best Ohio State-Michigan game ever played. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and the Wolverines were ranked No. 2 and the game ended in a 42-39 win for Ohio State. Both were unbeaten and the eye-ball test indicated they were the best two teams in the nation. Florida backed its way into the game and proved that theory wrong in hindsight. However, if a rematch is good for the SEC, it’s good for the Big Ten as well. Much like Florida-Alabama in 2009 or LSU-Alabama in 2011, a best out of three would have been extraordinary for all parties involved.
11. Georgia vs. Ohio State/LSU, 2007
LSU lost twice en route to its national title in 2007 but never had to face the 11-2 Bulldogs. One could make the case that the Dawgs were the best team in the SEC that year, but a road loss to the Vols sent Tennessee to Atlanta to face LSU. I guess we’ll never know.
12. Oregon vs. Florida, 2012
Oregon is the best team not playing in the national championship game this fall. A one-loss Florida team also deserves to be mentioned amongst the nation’s elite as well. Of course, a playoff would have solved this issue.
13. Boise State vs. Alabama, 2009
The 2006 Boise State team was more memorable but the 2009 version was likely the best. Five teams finished the regular season unbeaten but TCU, who lost to Boise, Cincinnati and Texas lost in bowl games. Boise State and Alabama were the lone unbeatens that year.
14. Boise State vs. Ohio State, 2006
One thing we can all agree on is that Boise State-Ohio State would have been a much more entertaining national title than the one we got. The only thing that would have made the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma better is if it had come against Ohio State in the national title game.
15. TCU vs. Auburn, 2010
Oregon and Auburn were clearly the best two teams in the nation, but after an excellent performance against Wisconsin in a Rose Bowl win, TCU finished 13-0. Gary Patterson’s defense against Cam Newton would be fun to watch.
There are plenty of others out there I have failed to mention but would have loved to have seen played out. Here a few others I would have enjoyed:
Stanford vs. Alabama, 2011
UCLA vs. Tennessee, 1998
Oregon vs. Notre Dame, 2012
Oregon vs. Kansas State, 2012
Utah vs. USC, 2004
Stanford vs. Auburn, 2010
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, 1998
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama, 2011
Penn State vs. Ohio State, 2005
The SEC is college football's No. 1 conference, so it's no surprise there's a lot of interest in the coaching positions at Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas. Although each of the three schools has a lot of positives, is there much separating this trio? The Razorbacks and Volunteers have upgraded their facilities in recent years, while the Tigers are just two years removed from a national title.
Which job is the best opening in the SEC: Arkansas, Auburn or Tennessee?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Perhaps a few years ago, I would have said something other than Tennessee, but now it’s pretty obvious Tennessee is the best open SEC job this season. The Volunteers are on more solid ground after cycling through Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley in three years. Even through all the turnover and losing, good players still found their way to Knoxville, even if them could tackle. Like most SEC schools, the commitment is there, the facilities are there, the money is there. Instead, the Tennessee job is better for right now than the other two for what it’s not. The Vols aren’t in the West, even if they have to play Alabama every year. They don’t have the headaches of an Auburn job that eats its own. They have a better track record than Arkansas. All the jobs are tough, a good coach can win at any of them. But Tennessee has the greatest potential for short- and long-term success.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Tennessee is the best job opening in the SEC, but they are all solid gigs. Arkansas has done much to elevate its standing in the college football hierarchy with major facility upgrades in the last few years. But this program lacks an elite recruiting base, is in arguably the toughest division in college football and has yet to prove it can win an SEC title. Auburn has more upside than the Razorbacks, as 2010 proved, and has the best in-state talent pool of the three, but a bizarre and unreasonable fanbase (and their expectations) combined with always being No. 2 in their own state makes the Plains an volatile place to coach. Tennessee has a better tradition of sustained success than both and has arguably the best facilities in the nation. And today, the East is a slightly "easier" place to reside than the West. In the SEC, my rankings would go Tennessee (6th), Auburn (7th) and then Arkansas (9th) — but all three are top 30 jobs nationally.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering each of these jobs would rank among the top 25 in the nation, it’s not easy to choose the best one out of this trio. Arkansas strikes me as a program on the rise, especially as it continues to upgrade the facilities and after recording back-to-back seasons of at least 10 victories from 2010-11. However, the Razorbacks don’t have a ton of in-state talent to build a program around, which means recruiting Texas is a priority. And of course, there’s already Alabama and LSU in the same division, which makes getting to the SEC Championship – at least right now – very difficult. Although Auburn won a national title in 2010, dealing with in-state rival Alabama is never going to be an easy task. The Tigers also seem to be in a bit of disarray right now, especially with the NCAA snooping around the program for recruiting violations. Tennessee has an easier path to a SEC Championship right now, even though Florida is back on the rise, and South Carolina continues to improve under Steve Spurrier. The Volunteers have solid facilities and are willing to spend to get a good coach, but just like Arkansas, there’s not a ton of in-state talent to build a program. With all of those factors considered, I’d have to give a slight edge to Tennessee as the best job out of this trio. However, if Arkansas can hire the right coach and successfully recruit Texas, the Razorbacks have a chance to surpass the Volunteers for the No. 1 spot.
For me, it comes down to Arkansas or Tennessee, because as long as Nick Saban's in Tuscaloosa, I want nothing to do with the job at the "other" Alabama school. That said, it's very close, but I'll go with the Hogs' job over the Volunteers' gig. Yes, Arkansas resides in the same division as Alabama and LSU, not to mention Mississippi State, a Texas A&M program that appears to be on the rise and an improving Ole Miss, but that doesn't mean the Hogs aren't in position to make some noise of their own. Don't forget what Bobby Petrino had accomplished with the program before his unexpected dismissal. That's not the case with Tennessee, who has seven or fewer wins in each of the last four seasons and will be hiring its fourth head coach in four years in the near future. Tennessee was once considered one of the best jobs in all of college football, and I'm not saying it won't ever reach that level again. However, the Volunteers' glory days seem almost like a distant memory these days, and I'm not convinced it won't take some time to get the program back to the level the powers that be and the fan base expect it to be at. Regardless of how long that takes, the pressure will always be there to win "now" in Knoxville, especially with what James Franklin has already done in just two seasons at Vanderbilt, the "other" Tennessee school. Arkansas also has made more of a commitment recently to improving its football facilities, an aspect that can never be overlooked, especially in the SEC, and whoever gets the Hogs' job doesn't have to worry about competing with another SEC program, let alone major FBS member school, in his state. Both teams have plenty of questions surrounding them headed into the offseason and will likely be looking at major turnover, as it applies to the coaching staff and player personnel, and both will play difficult schedules in 2013. Still, if I had to choose, I would probably take the Arkansas job over the other open ones in the SEC because I think the Hogs are better situated to turn things around in the near future and there's no question that there is less pressure to win in Fayetteville than Knoxville, or even Auburn for that matter. Of the three jobs, I think it's less stressful and much sweeter to win big with the Hogs than either the Vols or the Tigers.
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College football's 2012 regular season is over, which means it's time to hand out the hardware. It's never easy compiling a postseason All-America team, especially after watching several players have excellent 2012 campaigns. Some positions required little debate (linebacker - Manti Te'o) but others (quarterback and running back) were difficult to sort out.
First-Team All-America Offense
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, USC
WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
C Barrett Jones, Alabama
OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
First-Team All-America Defense
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
S Matt Elam, Florida
S Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
First-Team All-America Special Teams
K Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
P Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech
KR Reggie Dunn, Utah
PR Venric Mark, Northwestern
AP Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Second-Team All-American Offense
QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
WR Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
C Braxston Cave, Notre Dame
OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OG David Yankey, Stanford
OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Second-Team All-America Defense
DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
DT Jordan Hill, Penn State
DT Kawann Short, Purdue
LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB Chase Thomas, Stanford
CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
S Eric Reid, LSU
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
Second-Team All-America Special Teams
K Caleb Sturgis, Florida
P Kyle Christy, Florida
KR Dri Archer, Kent State
PR Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Chances are your fantasy league’s playoffs either start this week or next, should your team be eligible for the postseason. If that is the case, time is running out to fortify your roster as you prepare to begin your quest for a championship. Injuries also continue to be a factor and another reason why the waiver wire is such an important tool. To that end, here are some possible options worth considering for Week 13 and the rest of the season.
Week 13 Recap: Kevin Kolb missed another game, but if Ryan Lindley’s performance against the Jets (10-of-31, 72-0-1) on Sunday is any indication, Kolb still appears to have a good shot at getting the starting job back if he’s able to return. Jake Locker was battered and bruised by the Texans’ defense all afternoon long, finishing with 309 yards passing, but also five turnovers (3 INTs, 2 fumbles).
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Henne struggled (208-1-1 and a fumble) against Buffalo, but he’s in no danger of losing the starting job for the rest of the season. He also threw for a combined 615 yards and six touchdowns (with just one interception) in his previous two games combined. Henne’s matchup this week with the Jets isn’t the best, but after that he has Miami, New England and Tennessee. All three rank among the bottom fourth of the league in passing defense and No. 17 and higher in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis did a much better job of containing Kaepernick the second time around in the Rams’ overtime win over the 49ers on Sunday. Still, the dangerous dual-threat quarterback made his share of plays, including a key 50-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, and for the time being, it looks like he will remain as the 49ers’ starting quarterback over Alex Smith. If Jim Harbaugh has any intentions of going with Kaepernick in the playoffs, then it stands to reason that he will give him as much playing time as possible for the rest of the regular season. Miami and New England are next up on the schedule, with conference tilts in Seattle and against Arizona also remaining. As long as Kaepernick keeps the starting job, he will remain an intriguing fantasy option that could either pay off big or end up falling short. Smith still bears watching, however, should he get his job back, especially these next two weeks based on the matchups with the Dolphins and Patriots.
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
Palmer has thrown seven touchdown passes and five interceptions over his last four games. However, he’s also passed for 300 or more yards in all but one of these games and has no fewer than 34 pass attempts during this span. As long as Darren McFadden remains sidelined, the Raiders will continue to throw the ball and overall Palmer has had only two games in which he’s scored fewer than 17.1 fantasy points. You could do a lot worse in terms of a backup quarterback than Palmer.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Entering Sunday’s game in Chicago, Wilson had yet to put together a solid game on the road. That is no longer the case after Wilson threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 71 with no turnovers in the Seahawks’ overtime win over the Bears. He still has conference games with Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis remaining, but two of these are at home, where he has been stellar (11 TDs, 0 INTs) all season, while his only road contest is in Buffalo. He may not be an every-week starter just yet, but if he continues to play like he did against the Bears, it won’t be long.
Week 13 Recap: Matt Forte (ankle) not only played against Seattle, he dominated the carries (21 to 7) and scored on a touchdown reception in the Bears’ overtime loss to the Seahawks. As long as Forte is able to play, Michael Bush doesn’t carry much fantasy value, other than as a must-have handcuff. Beanie Wells found the going pretty tough (15 att., 22 yds.) against the Jets, but had twice as many carries as the rest of the team combined. David Wilson had as many carries as he did kick returns (four each) in the Giants' loss to Washington on "Monday Night Football."
Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis offense is all about Andrew Luck and how far the rookie quarterback can carry the Colts, but don’t overlook Ballard. As long as he gets more opportunities than Donald Brown, the rookie running back could have value. Especially with games against Tennessee and Kansas City remaining, not to mention two games against Houston, a team that has already clinched a division title and may be resting its starters in Weeks 15 and 17.
Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Dwyer was named the Steelers’ starter a few weeks ago and he did receive the bulk of the carries (16 of team’s 26) in the win over Baltimore. The Steelers’ offense should only get better once Ben Roethlisberger returns under center, and they definitely need to keep winning to secure a playoff spot. As long as Dwyer maintains his position as the Steelers’ lead back, he will hold some degree of fantasy value.
Justin Forsett and Ben Tate, Houston Texans
Whether it’s Forsett or Tate, whoever is backing up Arian Foster is a must-have handcuff for owners of the Texans’ workhorse. Houston has already clinched the AFC South division title, so it’s highly likely Foster will see fewer carries the rest of the way. Look no further than yesterday’s win in Tennessee, as Foster carried it 14 times for 38 yards, while Forsett matched that with 14 totes of his own, gaining 64 yards. There’s no debate that Foster’s No. 1 and he’s most likely in for a busy day at the office against New England this coming Monday, but for now it appears that Forsett may have supplanted Tate, who’s been dealing with numerous injuries this season, as the backup. However it shakes out, both names should be watched closely, especially if any sort of announcement regarding Foster’s workload is made in the near future. In fact, if you own Foster and can make it work, I would strongly consider adding both Forsett and Tate to your roster. That’s how highly I think of the Texans’ ability to run the ball.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
He was mentioned in this space last week, but bears mentioning again because of his position as the starting back in Denver. Moreno has seen 20 carries and caught four passes in each of his first two games as the Broncos’ lead back in place of an injured Willis McGahee. The Broncos have clinched the AFC West division title, but still have seeding and home field to play for, so there’s no reason to think Moreno’s load will lessen any over the next few weeks. Oakland, who is 28th in the league against the run, is next up, with home dates against Cleveland and Kansas City also remaining. Unless you are absolutely loaded at running back there is no reason to not at least consider adding Moreno to your roster, if not starting him right away.
Week 13 Recap: Cole Beasley and Julian Edelman posted identical stat lines (1 rec., 13 yds.), while Justin Blackmon fared even worse with one catch for nine yards. Still, of these three, Blackmon by far is the most intriguing fantasy option for the playoffs. Ryan Broyles, however, will not be an option for the playoffs, as he tore the ACL in his right knee in the game against Indianapolis and is done for the season. Pierre Garcon posted just his second 100-yard game of the season (other coming in Week 1) and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown against the Giants on Monday night.
Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers
All Alexander has done in his last five games is lead the Chargers in targets, receptions and yards, while matching fellow wideout Malcom Floyd in touchdown catches with three. Alexander has become Philip Rivers’ new deep threat and as much as Rivers has struggled throwing the football this season, it’s not like he’s getting benched anytime soon and he will not hesitate to continue to air it out. Also, while this Sunday’s matchup with Pittsburgh appears daunting, the Steelers’ lost their top coverman, cornerback Ike Taylor, to injury last week and have dealt with injuries in their secondary all season long. After the Steelers, the Chargers close out things with Carolina, the Jets and Oakland.
Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
As long as Andrew Luck continues to throw the ball as well as he has lately, both Avery and Hilton (who showed up here last week) could be valuable WR3/flex options. Reggie Wayne is the clear-cut No. 1 option for Luck, but Avery and Hilton combined for 11 catches, 191 yards and two scores (both Avery’s) on Sunday against the Lions. Hilton also has value as a returner for leagues that include that aspect in their scoring. The Colts are leading the chase for a Wild Card berth right now and have games with Tennessee and at Kansas City left, along with two games against a Houston team that already has its playoff ticket punched and may not have much else to play for by the time Weeks 15 and 17 come around. All reasons why you may want to give Avery and/or Hilton a close look if you are in need of some receiving depth.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans
It has been a disappointing fantasy season to put it mildly for Britt and all other Titans, with the possible exception of Chris Johnson. That said, there’s still plenty of time left for Britt, who when healthy has the ability to produce like a No. 1 wide receiver, to have an impact. He and quarterback Jake Locker hooked up for a 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Houston on Sunday and considering the duo figures to be the future of the Titans’ passing attack, it’s safe to assume they will work to build on their chemistry as the season winds down. The Titans still have games with Indianapolis, the Jets, Green Bay and Jacksonville remaining, so there also should be opportunities to produce some decent offensive numbers as well.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
It took five games, but Gordon finally got back into the scoring column on Sunday against the Raiders, thanks to another big play. Gordon’s 44-yard scoring strike from Brandon Weeden may have been his first touchdown in five games, but it’s also indicative of the playmaking ability he brings to the table. Gordon is averaging 19 yards per reception for the season and more than a third of his catches (12 of 34) have gone for 20 yards or more. Kansas City and Washington are next on the docket for Cleveland, so the opportunity for more of these types of plays appears to be there.
Week 13 Recap: Dallas Clark maintained his recent stretch of solid play with a touchdown catch against Denver, while Rob Housler led Arizona in receptions, albeit it was a total of four and they went for only 15 yards.
Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders
I have no idea why the No. 5 tight end in fantasy football is owned in a little more than half of Yahoo! leagues, but that's the story with Myers. The leading receiver for the Raiders by a whopping 31 catches and 86 yards over Denarius Moore, Myers had 14 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against Cleveland. Myers has posted fewer than five catches only once in his last eight games. Really, what else are you looking for in your starting fantasy tight end?
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
After going through a three-game stretch in which he caught just two passes total, Rudolph has recorded no fewer than five receptions in each of his last three contests. He also has hauled in a touchdown in each of these three games, giving him a total of eight on the season. For all his inconsistency, Rudolph is tied for second among tight ends with those eight scoring strikes. If Christian Ponder's going to have any sort of success the rest of this season, Rudolph figures to be a key reason for it.
Week 13 Recap: Cleveland had just one sack and an interception in its 20-17 win in Oakland.
The Falcons have been a borderline top 10 fantasy DST for most of the season and picked off five Drew Brees passes in their win last week. The unit has produced eight double-digit performances on the season and has been a fairly reliable source for both sacks (27) and turnovers (24 total).
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are the No. 7 fantasy DST thanks to an opportunistic ball-hawking unit that has produced 22 total turnovers and scored six defensive touchdowns and a safety. The NFL playoffs may not be a possibility for them, but with games remaining against Carolina, the Jets and Oakland, the Chargers' DST could be just what your fantasy team needs for its own postseason push.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point per 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
As the saying goes, no one really wants to know how the sausage is made.
The same could be said of the polls that make up the BCS. The mishmash of 59 coaches, 115 Harris voters and six computer rankings spits out the BCS standings to determine the title game, eligibility for the BCS games and perhaps some bragging rights.
For the last several years, the final ballots have been open to inspection. Sifting through the ballots can be a fascinating and perhaps infuriating exercise, revealing coaches voting in their best interests, regional and conference favoritism and inexplicable decisions.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting notes for the individual ballots:
Related: Final BCS analysis | Ranking the bowl games | Week 14 recap
THE COACHES’ POLL
From USA Today: Final poll | Graphic of each ballot
|Vanderbilt coach James Franklin|
Notre Dame not a unanimous No. 1
Three of the 59 coaches did not vote undefeated Notre Dame No. 1. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville voted SEC champion Alabama No. 1. Stockstill and Tuberville voted Notre Dame No. 2, which brings us to the most interesting coaches’ ballot...
James Franklin’s SEC-friendly votes
The Commodores coach loves his conference, that’s certain. Franklin’s ballot began with: 1. Alabama, 2. Georgia, 3. Florida, 4. Notre Dame, 5. LSU. Altogether, he included eight SEC teams on his ballot including No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 South Carolina, No. 16 Vanderbilt and No. 21 Mississippi State. The final coaches’ poll included six SEC teams in the top 25 despite Franklin's endorsement of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Coaches love their own teams
Franklin wasn’t alone in giving his team a boost -- 23 coaches voted for their own schools in the poll. Twenty of those coaches voted their teams higher than they appeared in the final poll. The biggest offenders were Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State received 20 points, 10 from his No. 16 ranking), Todd Graham (he was one of two coaches to vote for Arizona State, placing the Sun Devils at No. 20. The other coach voting for ASU was his former offensive coordinator, Malzahn), and Rocky Long (San Diego State finished 32nd in the voting, Long ranked his team No. 20). Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes was the only coach who ranked his team lower than how it appeared in the polls, and even that comes with an asterisk: Louisiana Tech appeared on only one ballot at No. 24 from North Texas’ Dan McCarney.
The Big 12 coaches got the memo on Northern Illinois
The Huskies’ No. 16 ranking in the coaches’ poll helped Northern Illinois achieve a No. 15 ranking overall, clinching an automatic BCS bid, likely at Oklahoma’s expense. Of the five Big 12 coaches voting in the poll, four voted Northern Illinois outside of the top 16 threshold needed for BCS inclusion. The Sooners’ Bob Stoops and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen voted Northern Illinois at No. 24, but neither were the lowest votes for NIU. That honor belonged to Michigan’s Brady Hoke, who placed NIU at No. 25. The MAC coaches, however, weren’t in lockstep in boosting Northern Illinois’ ranking. Toledo’s Matt Campbell, Ohio’s Frank Solich and NIU’s Dave Doeren all put the Huskies in the top 15. Kent State’s Darrell Hazell and Ball State’s Pete Lembo did not.
Alabama not unanimous in the top two
Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter and Oregon State’s Mike Riley were the only coaches who did not have Alabama in the top two. They both turned in ballots with Notre Dame first, Oregon second and the Crimson Tide third. Interestingly, Riley put a rival (Oregon) ahead of his alma mater (Alabama).
USC’s stunning fall
USC was ranked third in the preseason coaches’ poll, but received only two points in the final poll -- both from Michigan’s Brady Hoke ranking USC at No. 24. Hoke also gave Texas one of its highest rankings at No. 16. The Longhorns finished 25th.
The poll included five coaches who have lost their jobs: Auburn’s Gene Chizik, USF’s Skip Holtz, Southern Miss’ Ellis Johnson, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Cal’s Jeff Tedford. USC coach Lane Kiffin was originally on the panel but relinquished his vote in August after he claimed he did not vote his team No. 1 when in fact the Trojans were in the top spot on his ballot.
Related: Five reasons why: Notre Dame will win the title, Alabama will win the title
THE HARRIS POLL
From Harris Interactive: Final top 25 (.pdf) | Every ballot (.pdf)
From Athlon: Who votes in the Harris poll?
|Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly|
No surprise: Notre Dame an overwhelming No. 1
Only nine of the 115 voters had Alabama in the top spot ahead of the Irish. As in the coaches’ poll, Alabama was not a consensus top two team. Four voters ranked the Tide third behind Notre Dame and Oregon: former Fresno State athletic director Scott Johnson, former Ball State player Terry Schmidt, Washington Times reporter Patrick Stevens and former Hawaii coach Bob Wagner.
Northern Illinois runs the gamut
The Huskies finished 16th in the Harris poll, helping them to the No. 15 BCS ranking overall. Northern Illinois’ highest ranks were at No. 9 for former Iowa State and Washington State coach Jim Walden and No. 12 for Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reporter Tom Luicci. The Huskies were unranked in one ballot belonging to former Connecticut athletic director John Toner. Joe Novak Northern Illinois’ coach from 1996-2007, ranked the Huskies 15th.
A handful of Harris voters seemed at a loss with what to do with Georgia, a team that took Alabama to the wire in the SEC Championship Game yet lost by 28 to South Carolina and defeated only one ranked team (Florida). The Bulldogs were ranked third on a handful of ballots, but ranked outside of the top 10 for three voters: former Stanford player Todd Husak, former Notre Dame player Derrick Mayes and former SMU player Lance McIlhenny.
The 8-5 Badgers entered the poll after demolishing Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten title game. That win must have made an impression on former Army player Bob Anderson (No. 14) and former Sports Illustrated and The Daily writer John Walters (No. 15) who both voted Wisconsin in the top 15. Nebraska ranked 18th after the rout but did not appear on 10 ballots. The Cornhuskers were ranked as high as 12th on one ballot belonging to former Georgia Tech player Pat Swilling.
Friendly to the Big 12
Orangebloods.com reporter Chip Brown was friendly to the Big 12 at the end of his ballot as one of the few who ranked TCU (No. 16), Baylor (No. 18), Oklahoma State (No. 19) and West Virginia (No. 24). He also ranked Kansas State sixth, Oklahoma 10th and Texas 17th.
A USC sighting
The Trojans’ 7-5 season did nothing to deter former USC and Cincinnati athletic director and Duke coach Mike McGee. He ranked the Trojans 15th, nine spots ahead of UCLA (who defeated USC 38-28). He was one of three voters to rank USC. McGee also ranked Mississippi State 19th. Former Minnesota player Darrell Thompson also placed both Mississippi State and USC in his top 20.
There are 347 division-I college basketball teams. Following college hoops these days can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college basketball week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriuging, most important and most interesting stats from around the world of college basketball:
517: Career wins by the late Rick Majerus
The former coach at Marquette (1983-86), Ball State (1987-89), Utah (1989-2004) and Saint Louis (2007-12) died Saturday after a long battle with heart disease. Stories of the coach and broadcaster who impacted lives for more than four decades flooded the internet and airwaves, each encapsulating his gracious and gregarious personality. He won five Coach of the Year Awards in the WAC, seven regular season conference championships and led Utah to the Final Four in 1998.
23: Combined margin of defeat for Kentucky last week
Kentucky had lost back-to-back games only once under John Calipari — road games against Ole Miss and Florida back in 2010-11. The Wildcats’ worst loss under Cal was by 17 to UConn that same year. But after seven games, Kentucky (4-3) lost to Notre Dame and Baylor last week for two of the four worst losses under Calipari. The 14-point loss to the Irish was the second-worst loss of the Calipari era. The nine-point loss on Saturday to Baylor was tied for the third-worst defeat. Keep in mind: Kentucky rolled through Baylor in the Elite Eight last season en route to the national title. The loss to the Bears was the first home loss under Calipari at Kentucky, snapping the nation’s longest home winning streak at 55 games.
81: Mason Plumlee’s free throw percent against top-five teams
Entering his final season at Duke, big man Mason Plumlee was a 50.5 percent free throw shooter. But through the first eight games of his senior year, he is shooting 76.1 percent from the stripe. Against three top-five teams, Ohio State (9 of 12), Louisville (4 of 4) and Kentucky (4 of 5), he has missed only four freebies in 21 attempts. His play — 19.6 points, 1 rebounds — is a big reason Duke is still unbeaten.
18.8: UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett’s points per game
Marcus Thornton of William & Mary is the top scoring freshman in the country at 19 points per game in seven games, but UNLV’s Bennett is nipping at his heels after his first six games at 18.8 points per game. Bennett is shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and adding 7.8 rebounds per game for the 5-1 Rebels. UNLV’s postseason potential is built around veteran Mike Moser, an Athlon preseason first-team All-American, but Bennett’s development over the course of the season could be the difference between an early Tournament exit or deep postseason run.
219: SMU’s RPI in 2011-12
Larry Brown’s Mustangs are one of the top stories early in the season. SMU was 13-19 last season and hasn’t had a winning overall record since 2002-03 (17-13). After an 8-1 start with wins over Pac-12 (Utah) and Big 12 (TCU) programs, the nation is starting to take notice. SMU is No. 37 in Yahoo’s preliminary RPI, ahead of programs like North Carolina and Michigan State, and is poised for its best season in over a decade. Keep en eye on the cagey Brown and his intriguing ‘Stangs.
The New York Giants will try and increase their lead in the NFC East when they face off with the Washington Redskins tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants hold a two-game edge over the Redskins and Cowboys, thanks in part to their 27-23 home win over the Skins back in Week 7. The Redskins, on the other hand, are hoping to make Robert Griffin III’s “Monday Night Football” debut a successful one by stretching their winning streak to three and also gaining some ground on the Giants in the process.
When the New York Giants have the ball:
The New York Giants’ offense ranks among the top 10 in the league in total, scoring and passing offense. The Giants are generating nearly 370 yards (10th), scoring nearly 28 points, and are ninth in passing offense at nearly 255 yards per game. Quarterback Eli Manning has struggled somewhat recently, as he’s thrown three touchdown passes and interceptions apiece over his last four games combined. When he’s on his game, however, Manning is one of the best in the league and can team with wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to do a lot of damage. The Giants also are 13th in rushing offense at nearly 115 yards per game, but suffered a big hit last week when backup running back Andre Brown was lost for the rest of the season with a broken leg. The onus falls to starter Ahmad Bradshaw to not only stay healthy, but also to continue to produce. First-round pick David Wilson should also get a chance to contribute, as it’s likely he will finally receive some significant playing time. The G-Men have done a good job of protecting the football (11 INTs, only five fumbles lost) and an exceptional job keeping Manning upright (14 sacks allowed, fewest in NFL).
Washington’s defense is ranked 28th in the league, as it is giving up an average of 390.5 yards per game. The Redskins can be described as a feast-or-famine type of defense, as they are No. 3 against the run (89.2 ypg), but second-to-last against the pass (301.4 ypg). The yardage allowed has been accompanied by a fair number of points as well, as they are giving up nearly 26 per game (25th in NFL). Pass rush has been an issue for this unit with just 20 sacks (26th), but it also has produced 22 takeaways, including 12 interceptions. Over all, the offense has done more than its part to assist the defense, as evidenced by the 31 points and 458 total yards surrendered to the Cowboys in last week’s 38-31 win on Thanksgiving Day.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Washington is seventh in the NFL in both total (384.9 ypg) and scoring (26.8 ppg) offense. The Redskins have been clicking on all cylinders these past two weeks as they are averaging nearly 35 points and 400 yards of offense in their past two games, both wins. No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III has been the driving force for this offense all season long and he has taken it to another level recently. He became the first quarterback in Redskins history with four touchdown passes in consecutive games after dismantling the Cowboys (19-of-27, 304-4-1) on Thanksgiving Day last week. Griffin has been just as dangerous with his legs, however, as he and fellow rookie Alfred Morris have combined to form the league’s top rushing offense (163.5 ypg). Morris is fifth in the league in rushing yards, while Griffin, a quarterback, comes in at No. 21. These two combined for 467 yards of total offense (258 pass, 209 rush) the first time the Redskins and Giants played back in Week 7. While the Redskins may not be able to match up with the Giants’ receiving corps as a whole, they will have a “new” weapon at their disposal this time around. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed the first meeting with a foot injury, but he appears to be close to 100 percent after scoring on a 59-yard catch-and-run against the Cowboys last week. Another reason why the Redskins have been so effective on offense is they have committed a total of 10 turnovers. Remember this is an offense with a rookie quarterback and running back primarily handling the ball.
The New York Giants’ defense has done a good job of bending, but not breaking this season. The Giants are 23rd in the league in yards allowed at 366.6, but are ninth in scoring defense, surrendering 20.5 points per game. The defending Super Bowl champions have had their share of problems stopping both the run (114.0 ypg, 16th) and pass (252.6 ypg, 25th), but have made up for their deficiencies with production in other areas. The G-Men are tied for fifth in the league with 30 sacks and are second only to the Bears in the NFC in takeaways with 29, including 18 interceptions. They also are coming off of a game in which they held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just 10 points. Rodgers finished with just 219 yards passing and a touchdown, as the Giants picked off the league’s reigning MVP once and sacked him five times.
The Giants have already faced Robert Griffin III once and came away impressed, as the rookie quarterback piled up 359 yards of offense and put the Redskins ahead late in the fourth quarter back in Week 7. The Giants were able to respond thanks to a 77-yard scoring strike to Victor Cruz to pull out the 27-23 win at home on Oct. 21. Now the scene shifts to FedEx Field in RGIII’s “Monday Night Football” debut. The Redskins gave the Giants all they could handle and then some in the first game, out-gaining them 480 to 393 overall and 248 to 64 on the ground alone, and Griffin in particular has maintained his high level of play since that Week 7 meeting. In the four games since, Griffin has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 896 yards, nine touchdown passes, to go along with 172 yards rushing and just one turnover (INT). Compare that to the Giants, who dropped their last two games headed into their Week 11 bye as Eli Manning and the offense struggled mightily. In the four games following the win over the Redskins, Manning has completed less than 55 percent of his passes for 781 yards and three touchdowns, while turning it over four times (3 INTs, fumble lost). The good news, however, is that the Giants came out of the bye refreshed and seemingly renewed, much like they did last year in their journey to winning the Super Bowl, and manhandled the Packers 38-10 last week. Manning threw three touchdown passes in that game, and the Giants played mistake-free football whereas they had committed seven turnovers in the previous three games combined. So while Griffin and the Redskins appear to be playing at their best right now, the Giants seem to be back on track as well and they also bring experience and a championship pedigree to this party. And that especially applies when to comes to the respective defenses.
Giants 31, Redskins 23
After struggling to find success under Tyrone Willingham, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis, Brian Kelly has led Notre Dame back to promience. The Fighting Irish are playing in their first BCS bowl since the 2006 season and have not won a national title since 1988. Notre Dame faces a tall task trying to win the BCS title on Jan. 7, as it has to knock off Alabama and end the SEC's recent run of dominance in national championships.
5 Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win the National Title
1. It’s time for the SEC’s run to end
All good things must come to an end. Even though the SEC has claimed six consecutive national championships, a team from one of the other power conferences or Notre Dame will end its run in the next few seasons. So why not 2012? The Fighting Irish defeated nine bowl teams this year and beat another squad (Miami) that finished 7-5. Notre Dame proved its mettle on the road, beating Oklahoma 30-13 and at USC 22-13 in its regular season finale. There’s no question the SEC is the nation’s best conference and plays at the highest level of college football. However, at some point, the SEC’s success in the national championship will end, even if it’s just for one season.
2. The defense might be the best in the nation
Picking the nation’s best defense is no easy task. Florida, Florida State, LSU and Alabama all have a legitimate case for the No. 1 honor, but let’s not overlook Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rank first nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to 10.3 points a game. Notre Dame is fourth nationally in rush defense, sixth in total defense and is allowing only 194.4 passing yards per game. Led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish have allowed just 10 touchdowns this season, which is the fewest allowed in college football.
3. Experience on the offensive line
Alabama’s 3-4 defense has been consistently one of the best in college football since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide lost a bevy of key players to the NFL Draft, yet finished 2012 ranked No. 1 in total defense and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. Although it’s not a glamorous matchup, the battle between the Notre Dame offensive line and Alabama’s front seven will have a huge impact on who hoists the national title. The Crimson Tide has an athletic front seven, but the Fighting Irish can counter with an experienced offensive line. Zack Martin is a standout performer at left tackle, starting 38 consecutive games. Center Braxston Cave has 34 career starts, while left guard Chris Watt, right tackle Christian Lombard and right guard Mike Golic Jr. have a combined 53 career starts. Winning starts in the trenches, and Notre Dame’s front five is more than capable of holding its own against Alabama’s defense.
4. Quarterback Everett Golson was playing his best ball at the end of the season
Even though Notre Dame led with its defense this year, the offense started to come alive at the end of the year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson threw for at least 200 yards in each of his final four games, including a 346-yard effort against Wake Forest. Golson has tossed only five picks this season and turned in a key performance in a road win over Oklahoma (13 of 25, 177 yards). Although the redshirt freshman is making strides as a passer, his ability to make plays outside of the pocket is what makes him dangerous. Golson rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns this year and considering Alabama struggled to stop Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, another dual-threat quarterback is not what Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart wanted to see.
5. Don’t underestimate Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
Alabama’s Nick Saban is widely regarded as the best coach in the nation, but Kelly has to rank in the top five of any best coaching list. The Massachusetts native has been a winner at each stop in his career, recording a 118-35-2 mark and two national championships in 13 years at Grand Valley State. Kelly went 19-16 with a MAC Championship in three seasons at Central Michigan, followed by a 34-6 mark in three full years with Cincinnati. While it took Kelly two years to surpass the eight-win mark at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish are on the right track and are poised to emerge once again as an annual top-10 team. While Kelly isn’t as proven as Saban on a national championship stage, his background and playcalling on offense shows Notre Dame will have an excellent chance to end the SEC’s national title streak.
Related College Football Content
Alabama is back in the national championship for the third time in four seasons. The Crimson Tide survived an early November loss to Texas A&M to wind up No. 2 in the BCS rankings and has a shot to continue the SEC's recent dominance.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the National Title:
1. The SEC’s recent success in national title games
It’s no coincidence the SEC has won six consecutive national championships. For a conference that has the most rabid fanbases and support in FBS play, along with recruiting the nation’s top high school prospects, the SEC has established a blueprint on how to dominate college football. Alabama can add to the SEC’s run of dominance with a win over Notre Dame on Jan. 7, and it’s no surprise the Crimson Tide are already listed by some places as a touchdown favorite. Winning a national title requires luck, but considering the SEC is on the doorstep of its seventh consecutive title, it’s all about talent and owning the top programs in the nation. Notre Dame is worthy challenger, but the SEC is the best of the best and that will show on Jan. 7 in Miami.
2. The continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron
Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key reason why Alabama knocked off LSU in last season’s title game. He completed 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and no interceptions in New Orleans, which significantly relieved the pressure on running back Trent Richardson and the defense. McCarron has taken another step in his development this year, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns, while tossing just three picks. The junior is also completing 66.8 percent of his throws and ranks first nationally in passing efficiency. Moving the ball against Notre Dame’s defense won’t be easy, but McCarron is getting better with every snap and has progressed significantly since last year’s national title victory over LSU. Considering the junior quarterback scored a road win over LSU and led Alabama to a victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship, the national stage against a stout Notre Dame defense won’t be too big for McCarron.
3. Alabama has the best defense Notre Dame has played this year
Although Notre Dame’s schedule features nine teams playing in a bowl game this year, it hasn’t played a defense quite like the one it will see in Miami on Jan. 7. Alabama has more team speed and depth than anyone the Fighting Irish have played this season and rank first nationally in yards allowed and are second in scoring defense. The secondary had some lapses during the regular season but no opponent threw for more than 296 yards this year. With a month to gameplan for Notre Dame, coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart should have a few new wrinkles to throw at quarterback Everett Golson. The Crimson Tide’s pass rush (2.5 sacks per game) will challenge an experienced Fighting Irish offensive line.
4. Emerging playmakers on offense
Despite losing running back Trent Richardson and receiver Marquis Maze, Alabama’s offense was statistically better in 2012. The Crimson Tide averaged 439.1 yards and 38.5 points per game, slightly increased from 34.9 points and 429.6 yards a game in 2011. The development of quarterback AJ McCarron as played a key role in the increased production, but the Crimson Tide also have a group of emerging playmakers to also thank for the success. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon each topped 1,000 yards this year, while freshman receiver Amari Cooper emerged as the go-to threat for McCarron, catching 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. With another set of practices to work with the coaching staff, expect Yeldon, Cooper and receiver Christion Jones to be even more comfortable in the offense by Jan. 7, which only adds to an offense that features McCarron and one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
5. Nick Saban in national title games
Even though Nick Saban has routinely had some of college football’s best rosters at Alabama and LSU, winning a national championship requires more than talent. And when ranking the best coaches in the nation, Saban should be No. 1 by a wide margin. In 11 years in the SEC, he has a 67-21 conference record and has only one season of fewer than eight victories. Saban has been simply unstoppable since coming to Alabama, as the Crimson Tide has won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. That record looks even more impressive when you consider the three national championships on Saban’s resume. He won the 2003 title at LSU by beating Oklahoma and claimed the 2009 and 2011 championships with the Crimson Tide. Saban is 3-0 in national title appearances and 4-1 in bowl games during his career at Alabama. Needless to say, Saban is at his best when everything is on the line.
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After starting his career at South Florida with a solid 8-5 season, Skip Holtz appeared to have the Bulls in position to contend for Big East championships. However, the program never managed to take the next step under Holtz's watch. The Bulls went 5-7 in 2011 and continued the downward spiral with a 3-9 record in 2012. Holtz was fired on Sunday, which means South Florida will be looking for just its third coach in program history.
10 Replacements for Skip Holtz at South Florida
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012.
Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Considering Cristobal has spent most of his career in Florida, he would be a logical target for South Florida. However, Cristobal could have a hard time leaving the Miami area, especially with FIU making the jump from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. Cristobal has a 27-47 record in six years with the Golden Panthers but helped to resurrect a program that was in awful shape when he became head coach in 2007.
Eddie Gran, RB coach, Florida State – Gran has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1987, making stops at Miami, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State. The California native has never been a coordinator but is a relentless recruiter and has been a key addition to the Seminoles’ staff over the last three seasons. Not having head coaching experience has to be a drawback for Gran’s chances of landing at South Florida.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State – Herman is a longshot in this coaching search but a rising star to watch over the next couple of seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career at Texas Lutheran in 1998, before working his way through the ranks at Texas, Sam Houston State and then as an offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005-06. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman worked at Rice as the offensive coordinator, then jumped to Iowa State in 2009 and came to Columbus to work with Urban Meyer.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones wanted to leave SMU last season, so it’s a bit of a surprise his name hasn’t popped up for more jobs this year. Although the Mustangs haven’t made dramatic improvements under his watch, SMU is making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Jones is 30-34 in six seasons with the Mustangs and was 76-41 in nine years with Hawaii. Considering South Florida needs to build some excitement in the fanbase, hiring a coach that runs a pass-first offense would be ideal.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – If South Florida really wants to make a splash with its hire, Kingsbury should be one of its top targets. The Texas native has been coaching in college since 2008, beginning his career under Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Kingsbury helped to orchestrate one of the nation’s best offenses with the Cougars in 2011 and played a key role in the development of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M this season. Kingsbury has no head coaching experience but runs an exciting offense and has worked under some successful coaches – Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen.
Dan McCarney, head coach, North Texas – Just like Houston Nutt, McCarney’s name has been mentioned as an early candidate for the vacancy at South Florida. McCarney has a career record of 65-100 but spent 12 years coaching at a difficult place to win (Iowa State). He also has one season of experience at South Florida (2007) and coached at Florida from 2008-2010. McCarney is 9-15 in two years at North Texas.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken is another coach with a background on offense and is also due for his shot to run a program. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but has built a solid resume with stops as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Oklahoma State and in the NFL with the Jaguars. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has helped to build a foundation for offensive success in Stillwater, but Monken has done a tremendous job this season, starting three quarterbacks and dealing with a revamped offensive line to rank No. 3 nationally in scoring offense.
Brent Pease, offensive coordinator, Florida – Pease has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1991, which included a stop as Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2011. The Idaho native also worked at Kentucky, Baylor and helped to improve Florida’s offense in 2012. Pease doesn’t have head coaching experience but he has a solid resume from his time as an assistant and would help South Florida spark a struggling offense.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., which is just under 50 miles to Raymond James Stadium. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford.
A few wildcards to watch
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is 17-8 in two seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette and has SEC experience from a two-year stint at Mississippi State. Although Hudspeth would be a great hire, he may be holding out for a chance to land in the SEC.
Houston Nutt, former Ole Miss head coach – The early rumor mill has suggested Nutt could be in the mix for the opening at South Florida, which would certainly be an interesting fit for both parties. Nutt recorded a 75-48 mark during his tenure at Arkansas, including at least a share of three SEC West titles. Nutt started 18-8 at Ole Miss but went 6-18 during the next two seasons.
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 13 of NFL play:
299.7: Andrew Luck yards passing per game
Luck threw for 391 yards and scored two touchdowns in the final 2:39 seconds of the improbable come-from-behind win over Detroit on Sunday. It was his sixth 300-yard passing effort in 12 career games and he now has 3,596 yards in his first season. If he continues at his current pace, not only would he set the single-season NFL rookie passing record — set by Cam Newton last fall at 4,051 yards — he would shatter it by over 700 yards. Luck is on pace for 4,794 yards in his first season. And oh by the way, he also has 216 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground. His eight wins are the most by a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in NFL history. There is nothing lucky about No. 12 in white and blue.
162: Russell Wilson's total offense on Seattle's final two drives
Wilson got the ball on his own three-yard line with 3:40 left to go in the game trailing the Bears by four points in Soldier Field. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 77 yards, rushed twice for 19 yards and finished the 12-play, 97-yard drive with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Golden Tate (who made a great play to get into the end zone). After a miraculous Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall 56-yard completion that allowed Chicago to send the game into overtime, Wilson was asked to win the game again. He was masterful on yet another 12-play drive — this time 80 yards — to lead his team to a huge road victory. He was 3-of-3 for 38 yards, rushed for 28 yards on three carries and connected with Sidney Rice on the game-winning touchdown pass with 7:33 left in overtime. On his final two drives he accounted for 115 of his 293 passing yards and 47 of his 71 rushing yards and connected on his final seven passes. He didn't turn the ball over once. I mentioned this was against the Bears in Chicago, right?
3: NFL-worst rushing TDs by Green Bay
With 2:12 left in the third quarter and trailing the Vikings at home, James Starks ran off right tackle around the Minnesota defense and into the end zone for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown. It was the just the third rushing touchdown of the season for the Packers. The ability to run the football effectively will make this team more dangerous come playoff time and it was the difference in the crucial divisional win over the Vikes. The Packers rushed 36 times for 152 yards as Starks set the pace with 66 yards. Oakland and St. Louis are tied with Green Bay with only three rushing touchdowns on the season as well. Aaron Rodgers won his 49th career start on what was his 29th birthday.
149:34: Minutes the 49ers and Rams played this season
The most amount of time any two teams could possibly play in the regular season under the current NFL rule book is 150 minutes exactly. The first time the Rams and Niners met this season, the game ended in a tie. It was the first tie in the NFL since 2008. On Sunday, these two played a second overtime game and came 26 seconds shy of tying for the second time. The Rams' Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in OT to give the Rams the home victory. After 149 minutes and 34 seconds of gameplay, these two had decided absolutely nothing until the kick sailed through the uprights with just seconds remaining.
45: Philip Rivers turnovers the last two seasons
The San Diego quarterback threw an interception and lost a fumble in a close home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. He failed to throw a touchdown pass and the Chargers lost their eighth game of the season. Rivers has turned the ball over 20 times this season (15 INT, 5 FL) after turning it over 25 times last season (20 INT, 5 FL). He has thrown exactly 45 touchdown passes over that span (with one rushing score) to match his 45 giveaways. He is 12-16 as the starter the last two seasons and is only 8-15 in his last 23 games. This organization has folded and many believe changes in the front office and on the sideline are coming. But maybe it's time to look at a new name under center as well? Just as a frame of reference, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 74 touchdowns passes, only 13 interceptions, lost two fumbles, scored three rushing touchdowns and is 22-5 in one less game as a starter over that same time span.
119.0: Calvin Johnson's receiving yards per game
Megatron caught 13 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown in the brutal loss to the Colts this weekend. However, he now has 1,428 yards receiving through 12 games for an average of 119.0 yards per game. Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record set back in 1995 (1,848 yards) is in major danger of being surpassed by Johnson. If the Lions' wide receiver continues on his pace, he will finish as the only player in history to top 1,900 yards receiving in a single year (1,904). Only four players have ever topped 1,700 yards in a single season and Johnson's career high of 1,681 in 2011 currently ranks seventh all-time. Isaac Bruce is second all-time with 1,781 — also in 1995.
Game 6, 2013: When Tom Brady would set NFL record for consecutive games with a TD
Drew Brees threw five interceptions in the loss to Atlanta on Thursday night. He failed to throw a touchdown, snapping his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass at 53. After throwing one touchdown in the win over Miami on Sunday, Tom Brady owns the top active streak with 44 straight games with a TD toss. Brady would pass Johnny Unitas (47) for second all-time in Week 17 this year and would pass Brees in game six of the 2013 season. The win over the Dolphins clinched the AFC East Championship for the Patriots and gives Brady an NFL-record 10 division titles.
798: Days since Charlie Batch threw a TD pass
It had been 798 days since Steelers starter Charlie Batch last threw a touchdown pass in the NFL. He tossed three touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay on Sept. 26, 2010. In fact, those three scores were his only touchdowns since Dec. 30, 2007. That is, until he connected with Heath Miller on a game-tying seven-yard touchdown pass with 7:24 left in the game at M&T Bank Stadium. He finished 25-of-36 for 276 yards, that key touchdown and an interception in a massive road win over the AFC North-leading and rival Ravens.
Which bowls should you tune into? Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. Although Alabama and Notre Dame is clearly the biggest bowl game, with 34 other contests, there are plenty of other quality pairings to watch this postseason.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0) – Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1) – Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2) – Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2) – Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4) – Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) – Jan. 1
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
11. Alamo Bowl – Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3) – Dec. 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Last season’s Alamo Bowl was the highest-scoring game in bowl history. Although Texas and Oregon State are each averaging over 30 points a game, it’s unlikely these two teams will match last year’s ridiculous totals set by Baylor and Washington. The Longhorns are dealing with more quarterback uncertainty, as David Ash was banged up in the loss to TCU and Case McCoy tossed two picks in a 42-24 defeat to Kansas State on Dec. 1. While the passing attack has been inconsistent, Texas has a talented trio of backs, which will test an Oregon State defense ranked 28th against the run. The Beavers have also dealt with some quarterback issues, but Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have each had their moments. Both quarterbacks have plenty of targets to choose from, as Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks each topped 1,000 receiving yards. This is the first meeting between these two teams since 1987, with Texas owning a 2-0 edge in the series.
12. Gator Bowl – Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
It may not mean much to the players, but this game is a crucial one in the ongoing Big Ten-SEC battle for bragging rights. And this matchup features teams headed in the opposite direction at the end of the year. Northwestern won three out of its final four games, while Mississippi State closed out 2012 by losing four out its last five contests. The Wildcats have not won a bowl game since 1949 but have lost two out of their last three postseason contests by seven points or less. Mississippi State’s defense struggled late in the year and drew a tough matchup against Northwestern, which features running back Venric Mark (109.2 ypg) and dynamic dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter.
13. Buffalo Wild Wings – TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 10:15 p.m. ET
With both teams returning a solid core of talent next season, this bowl could be a springboard to a big 2013. Despite losing quarterback Casey Pachall and moving to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs finished with a 7-5 record and are making their eighth consecutive bowl game. Michigan State was expected to be one of the frontrunners for the Big Ten title this year but needed a victory over Minnesota in the regular season finale just to get bowl eligible. This could be the final game for Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell, who could be entering the NFL Draft. Points could be at a premium with both teams ranked in the top 20 of total defense.
14. New Mexico Bowl – Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5) – Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
The 2012-13 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, N.M., featuring an exciting matchup between the Wolf Pack and Wildcats. There should be no shortage of points between these two teams, as both teams averaged over 500 yards a game during the regular season. Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation with an average of 146.4 yards per game, while Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson was second at 141.9 yards per contest. A matchup of 7-5 teams is usually a game to miss, but this one has all of the makings for an entertaining shootout.
15. Famous Idaho Potato – Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3) – Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Utah State makes its second consecutive appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and it hopes for a different result after losing a heartbreaker to Ohio in 2011. The Aggies had a 6-0 record in conference games and lost by two points to Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Utah State’s offense is led by dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but the defense allowed just 15.4 points a game. All three of Toledo’s losses were by a touchdown or less and one of its nine victories came against Cincinnati. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game but countered that with an offense that averaged 32.9 points a contest. Running back David Fluellen missed the season finale with a sprained ankle but should be close to 100 percent for the bowl.
16. Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5) – Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Boise State is making its third consecutive trip to the Las Vegas Bowl and interestingly enough, these two teams will meet in the season opener next year. Despite heavy personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Broncos won 10 games for the seventh consecutive season and their two losses were by four points or less. Washington is making progress under coach Steve Sarkisian, winning four out of its final five games. The Huskies showed improvement on defense but took a step back on offense this year. A young offensive line is to blame for some of the offensive woes, but quarterback Keith Price also took a step back in performance.
17. Music City Bowl – Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5) – Dec. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
After winning eight games for the first time since 1982, Vanderbilt probably deserves to be headed to a bigger bowl game. However, the Commodores will be making the short trip to LP Field with a chance to earn their first bowl victory under coach James Franklin. And Franklin has some history with NC State, as its athletic director (Debbie Yow) picked him to be the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland. Motivation is a concern for the Wolfpack, especially after coach Tom O’Brien was released after the season finale against Boston College. Although new coach Dave Doeren won’t be on the sideline for this game, the NC State players want to make a good impression. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon is one of the ACC’s top signal-callers and will test a Vanderbilt secondary that ranks 10th nationally against the pass.
18. GoDaddy.com Bowl – Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Kent State (11-2) – Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Arkansas State is making its second consecutive trip to Mobile, while Kent State is in a bowl game for the first time since 1972. The Red Wolves closed out the regular season by winning seven consecutive games and seemed to find their offensive rhythm late in the year under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. Kent State will counter Arkansas State’s offense with a defense that forced 38 turnovers and averaged 2.5 sacks per game. The Golden Flashes have struggled to establish a passing attack this year but are led on offense by a dangerous one-two punch at running back with Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
19. Poinsettia Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3) – Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
The first mid-week bowl game of the season is an intriguing battle between two former WAC and Mountain West rivals. Despite having to replace quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman, the Aztecs topped last season’s victory total and enter the bowl game on a seven-game winning streak. BYU lost four of its five games by six points or less, but closed out the year by scoring 50 points in two out of its final three games. The Cougars have dominated San Diego State in the series history, owning a 27-7-1 record. The Aztecs last win against BYU occurred in 2005 and have lost nine out of the last 10 matchups in this series.
20. Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Two old Big East rivals will meet in Yankee Stadium for what should be a high-scoring affair. The Mountaineers rank sixth nationally in passing offense, led by senior quarterback Geno Smith and two of the nation’s best receivers – Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The Orange closed out the year on a high note, winning five out of their last six games, including a victory against eventual Big East champion Louisville. Quarterback Ryan Nassib ranked 13th nationally in total offense at 312.3 yards per game but an improved rushing attack was critical during the second half of the season. Syracuse leads the overall series 32-27 between these two teams and won the last two meetings as Big East conference foes.
21. Military Bowl – Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2) - Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
This will be the first meeting between the Falcons and the Spartans, two teams separated by over 2,000 miles. Led by an offense averaging 35.3 points per game, San Jose State recorded its first season of double-digit wins since 1987. Coach Mike MacIntyre is also one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks, providing a quick turnaround for one of the nation’s worst teams just a few seasons ago. Bowling Green is making its first bowl appearance since 2009 and finished 2012 by winning seven out of its last eight games. San Jose State’s firepower on offense will be tested by a Falcons’ defense allowing just 15.8 points per game.
22. BBVA Compass Bowl – Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6) – Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh will be making its third consecutive trip to Birmingham, while the Rebels return to the postseason after a two-year absence. New Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze engineered a quick turnaround, taking the Rebels from 2-10 last season to 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. In Pittsburgh’s last two BBVA Compass Bowl appearances, it was forced to play with an interim coach. Don’t expect that to happen this time around, as Paul Chryst isn’t leaving the Steel City this year. This game features an intriguing quarterback matchup, as Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri had a much-improved season, while Bo Wallace threw for 2,843 yards in his first year at Ole Miss.
23. Liberty Bowl – Tulsa (10-3) vs. Iowa State (6-6) – Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The only rematch from the regular season features Conference USA’s champ (Tulsa) and an Iowa State team that played much better than its 6-6 record indicates. The Cyclones won the first matchup 38-23, but the Golden Hurricane is a much-improved team since the season opener. Tulsa’s offense is led by three players with at least 700 rushing yards, while quarterback Cody Green has 2,499 passing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Iowa State found a spark on offense late in the year, as quarterback Sam Richardson threw for seven touchdowns over the final two contests. This is the Cyclones’ first trip to the Liberty Bowl since 1972.
24. Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6) – Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Two old Big East foes meet for the first time since 2003. The Scarlet Knights have not defeated Virginia Tech since 1992 and trail 11-3 in the overall series. The Hokies had high expectations in the preseason but slumped to a 6-6 record. Quarterback Logan Thomas did not take the next step in his development, but the offense also dealt with inconsistency on the offensive line and in the rushing attack. Rutgers was just a couple of plays away from a BCS bowl and its top-10 defense drew a favorable matchup against the Hokies.
25. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – (Navy 8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 4 p.m. ET
Navy is back in the postseason after a one-year absence and drew a tough matchup against Arizona State. The Sun Devils closed out the regular season with a key 41-34 win over rival Arizona, which gave it more than six victories for the first time since 2007. Arizona State’s offense is loaded with playmakers, and quarterback Taylor Kelly finished the season with 25 touchdown tosses to nine interceptions. The Midshipmen are always a difficult opponent due to their style of play and should have a homefield advantage in San Francisco. Navy’s last win over a Pac-12 team came in 2006 against Stanford.
26. Independence Bowl – Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) – Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. ET
With not enough ACC or SEC teams bowl eligible, the Independence Bowl landed an intriguing matchup between two non-BCS teams. Ohio started the year with a bang, winning on the road at Penn State and opened 7-0 before a loss to Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats suffered a handful of season-ending injuries, which played a key role in the team’s struggles in the second half of the year. Louisiana-Monroe is making its first bowl appearance in program history and it also started the year off with a huge upset, beating Arkansas 34-31 in Week 2. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Browning had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns on 389 attempts. Both teams average over 30 points a game, so expect plenty of fireworks on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La.
27. New Orleans – Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4) – Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
There should be no shortage of points when the Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns meet in New Orleans on Dec. 22. Both teams are averaging over 30 points a game and each finished the year with a three-game winning streak. Louisiana-Lafayette won a 32-30 thriller over San Diego State in last season’s New Orleans Bowl and with its campus less than 200 miles away from the Superdome, should have a significant homefield advantage over East Carolina. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden finished the year by throwing nine touchdowns over his last three games and should be able to take advantage of a Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt.
28. Belk Bowl – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6) – Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
The last three matchups in the Belk Bowl have each been decided by seven points or less. And this season’s game should be just as competitive, especially after Cincinnati found its rhythm on offense with the switch to Brendon Kay at quarterback. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux as the team’s No. 1 passer and finished with six touchdowns over the final four games. The Bearcats allow 373.8 yards per game on defense but are holding opponents to 17.2 points a contest. Duke is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 but closed out the year by losing its final four games. The Blue Devils have made solid progress under coach David Cutcliffe and will test Cincinnati’s secondary with quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon.
29. Sun Bowl – USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7) – Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
From preseason No. 1 to the Sun Bowl. That’s the kind of year it has been for USC. The Trojans lost four out of their final five games to slip out of contention in the Pac-12 South, while quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. The good news for USC is Barkley is expected to play against Georgia Tech, who limps into the bowl season as the only team with a losing record. The Yellow Jackets lost in the Sun Bowl against Utah last season and will give the Trojans’ defense a challenge with its option attack. If Barkley and a deep USC receiving corps get on track early, it could be an uphill battle for Georgia Tech to keep this one close.
30. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3) - Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Looking for something to do on the Friday before Christmas? How about this MAC vs. C-USA matchup? These two teams have met three times, with Ball State owning a 2-1 edge. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive victories but head into the bowl game with some uncertainty surrounding their quarterback Keith Wenning, who suffered an Achilles injury against Ohio. UCF fell just short of a Conference USA title and three of its losses came by five points or less, with its only other loss coming to Ohio State in Week 2. Ball State’s rush defense has struggled this year, which is bad news against a UCF team with running backs Latavius Murray and Miami transfer Storm Johnson.
31. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
In a bit of a surprise, Oklahoma State ended up in the final allotted Big 12 bowl. The Cowboys were 7-5 but lost three games by a touchdown or less and were forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries this year. Despite making back-to-back bowl games, Purdue fired coach Danny Hope after the season finale. The Boilermakers found a spark on offense from quarterback Robert Marve late in the year but will have a tough time keeping pace with the Cowboys on Jan. 1.
32. Meineke Car Care – Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) – Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Considering Minnesota lost six out of its last eight games, this game has potential to be a blowout victory by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn’t exactly close out the year on a high note either, losing four out of their final five games. However, the Golden Gophers will need a huge effort on defense to stop Texas Tech’s passing attack (No. 2 nationally). Minnesota’s offense never managed more than 17 points in each of its final four contests, which won’t be good enough against the high-scoring Red Raider attack.
33. Hawaii Bowl – SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3) – Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Former Hawaii coach June Jones makes his first appearance in Aloha Stadium since a 35-28 victory over Washington in Dec. 1, 2007. Despite leaving Hawaii after the 2007 season, Jones is still a popular figure and should help build the local interest in this game. SMU has made four consecutive bowl games but needed a victory over Tulsa in its final game just to get eligible this year. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. New coach Tim DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to a share of the Mountain West title in his first season and brings a high-powered offense to Hawaii. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, while running back Robbie Rouse topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. These two teams were once conference mates in the WAC, and Fresno State holds a 5-1 edge over SMU in the all-time series.
34. Little Caesars – W. Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) - Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
This matchup in Detroit might not be one of the most intriguing games, but there are some interesting aspects surrounding both teams. After getting passed in the bowl selection process last year, Western Kentucky is making its first trip to a postseason game. The Hilltoppers have one of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches in Willie Taggart, along with running back Antonio Andrews, who leads the nation with 248.1 all-purpose yards per game. Central Michigan returns to the postseason after a two-year absence and had a road win over Iowa this year but failed to beat a team with a winning record.
35. Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
The Armed Forces Bowl is just one of two of postseason games with both teams sporting a 6-6 record. Air Force is making its fifth consecutive bowl trip under coach Troy Calhoun and its third game in the Armed Force Bowl in the last five years. Rice was picked by most to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division but won its final four games to get bowl eligible. The Owls are playing in a postseason game for the first time since 2008 but will have their hands full trying to stop Air Force’s offense, which averages 328.8 rushing yards per game.
For another year, the Big East football season almost seemed to be a sidenote.
In 2011, charter football members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their departures as did never-was member TCU. In 2012, Louisville and Rutgers bolted.
To put it in further perspective: Three of the four teams that shared the Big East title in 2012 will be out of the league in two seasons.
The conference realignment soap opera masked an interesting season for the Big East, which went down to the final weekend of the season when Louisville defeated Rutgers 20-17 to seal a BCS bid and deny the Scarlet Knights their first outright championship.
The intrigue of the league is best reflected in the coach of the year rankings: Charlie Strong completed his rebuild of Louisville in his third year on the job, and it may not have been the best coaching job in the league this season.
First-year coach Kyle Flood, who was a backup option for the job when he was promoted, had Rutgers within a field goal of a conference title. Butch Jones exceeded expectations once again at Cincinnati. Doug Marrone led the best in-season turnaround. And though Temple failed to reach the postseason, Steve Addazio kept his team competitive for most of the year.
Here's a look back at the Big East in 2012.
Other season recaps and awards
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville -- No team was more dependent on its quarterback than Louisville. Bridgewater (right) fought through injuries at the end of the season to deliver the Cardinals their first BCS appearance since 2006. The sophomore from Miami led the league in pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He also finished strong with 16 touchdown passes in the last six games.
2. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse -- Nassib led the Big East with 3,619 passing yards and was one of the focal points of the Orange’s 5-1 finish. He’ll leave school as Syracuse’s all-time passing leader and the fourth Big East quarterback with 9,000 career yards.
3. Alec Lemon, Temple -- While it’s tempting to pick Temple’s Montel Harris and his 351-yard effort, we’re sticking with Lemon. The senior was the Big East’s only 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, boosted by his performance in the final six games. Lemon caught 46 passes for 801 yards with seven touchdowns in the 5-1 stretch for Syracuse.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Sio Moore, Connecticut -- Where to start with the Huskies’ defense? Connecticut could claim a handful of slots on the All-Big East first team defense after finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense and run defense. The veteran linebacker Moore was in the middle of these efforts, finishing second in the league in sacks and tackles for a loss.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- The reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year seems poised for another run at postseason honors, though it seems possible he could share the award again. Greene led the Big East in tackles (125) and forced fumbles (six) while adding two interceptions and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
3. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh -- The Panthers defensive tackle finished the season on a hot streak with 25 tackles and nine tackles for a loss in his final three games. Pitt’s breakout player finished sixth nationally in tackles for a loss with 18.5 and pestered quarterbacks all season.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- We picked Cincinnati to finish fifth in the Big East, so it’s time to give due credit. Despite rebuilding the offense and losing his best player on defense midseason, the Bearcats earned a share of the Big East title. A win in the bowl game will clinch Cincinnati’s fifth 10-win season in the last six. Then again, the Bearcats would have clinched that mark in the regular season if not for a loss to Toledo.
2. Doug Marrone, Syracuse -- It would have been easy for Syracuse to call it a season by mid-October. At that point, the Orange had lost four games and the only wins were over Pittsburgh in a snoozer and Stony Brook. Marrone saved the season and possibly his job by putting the focus on a physical run game and his veteran quarterback. Syracuse finished 5-1 and earned a share of the Big East title.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Although the season finished with two losses in the final three games, Strong led the Cardinals to their best season (10-2) since the final year under Bobby Petrino. And with a young roster, Louisville is built to last into the ACC. Will Strong join the Cards in the new league?
10 Things We Learned from the Big East in 2012
1. Change is the new normal
By 2014, only one team from the 2003 lineup will be in the Big East, and that team (Temple) was kicked out of the league only to rejoin in 2012. By comparison, the ACC raid that claimed Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech seems tame. Since the start of 2011, six teams have left the Big East, including TCU, which never played a game as a league member. The trend may continue in the next round with Cincinnati and Connecticut ripe to be picked up in the next round. Even Boise State and San Diego State, on a Western island in the Big East, could draw the eye of another league. For 2013, however, the league has its alignment set. The new Western teams may be best equipped to compete right away -- particularly if looming NCAA sanctions render UCF ineligible -- but long road trips may take their toll.
Big East Realignment
Bold indicates teams joining the Big East. Italic indicates teams leaving.
|Cincinnati||Cincinnati||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
|Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Houston||East Carolina||East Carolina|
|USF||Temple||San Diego State||San Diego State||Navy|
|West Virginia||USF||SMU||SMU||San Diego State|
2. Teddy Bridgewater is poised for a 2013 Heisman run
Bridgewater’s final game of 2012 will give him plenty of momentum for player of the year awards going into 2013. Despite a broken non-throwing wrist and injured ankle, Bridgewater battled through a 20-of-28 performance for 263 yards with two touchdowns to clinch Louisville’s BCS bid. Beyond guts, he showed accuracy, too. A perfectly threaded pass to Andrell Smith in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for Louisville. He’ll enter next season with as much preseason fanfare of any Cardinals quarterback since Brian Brohm.
3. Louisville is only getting started
With Bridgewater only a junior next season, the Cardinals will be the frontrunner in the Big East in 2013 and perhaps the ACC a year later. As Charlie Strong rebuilt the roster, Louisville has been one of the nation’s youngest teams for the last two years. That youth will all grow up at the same time next year. The Cardinals lose only a handful of seniors including center Mario Benavides, offensive tackle Alex Kupper and cornerback Adrian Bushell. A young Louisville team went 15-3 since Oct. 21, 2011. What’s in store for a veteran team over the next two seasons?
Week 14 recap: Alabama wins SEC classic, Bridgewater shines
4. Gary Nova will be under pressure in the bowl game and into 2013
Credit Kyle Flood for sticking to his plan to stay with one quarterback for an entire season. He had an experienced backup on hand (Chas Dodd), but he never wavered on Nova. That means pressure on the Rutgers quarterback into the bowl game and next season. Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final six games of the season, including six against Kent State and another pick on a ghastly miscommunication to seal the loss to Louisville. With Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins returning, Rutgers’ power run game will be the focus of the offense, but Nova must be more consistent if the Scarlet Knights are going to win a bowl game and contend in 2013.
5. USF is starting from scratch
The Bulls made the move formal Sunday afternoon by firing Skip Holtz after a dismal 3-9 season. Beyond changing the head coach, USF will have to start from scratch in a number of areas. The Bulls played the final three games without B.J. Daniels, an exercise that only proved the Bulls had no one ready to replace their senior quarterback. Beyond Daniels, the Bulls will lose senior lineman Mark Popek, cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, all of whom played critical roles the last three years. Beyond the obvious personnel issues, USF has a broke psyche to mend. The rash of fourth quarter losses from last season eventually turned into blowouts at the end of 2012. And the injury bug continued to play a major role for another season. This job is a sleeping giant of sorts -- a big public school sitting in a fertile talent base -- but whether it was Jim Leavitt or Holtz in charge, it has yet to break through.
6. Butch Jones enjoyed the best coaching job of his career
At Central Michigan, Jones inherited a program built up by Brian Kelly along with quarterback Dan LeFevour. At Cincinnati, Jones also stepped into Kelly’s shoes. The last two seasons, though, have proven that Jones is not in Kelly’s shadow. Jones started with a new starting quarterback and no clear replacement for Isaiah Pead. As the season went along, Jones made a quarterback switch and lost his best defensive player, Walter Stewart, to injury. The Bearcats still finished 9-3 and with a share of the Big East title. The loss to Toledo should sting, but Cincinnati’s only conference losses were by a combined 10 points to Louisville and Rutgers.
7. Doug Marrone worked magic in the second half
Syracuse played the toughest schedule in the Big East with non-conference games against Northwestern (9-3), USC (7-5), Minnesota (6-6) and Missouri (5-7). It’s a fair question to wonder where Syracuse may have finished if it played a more manageable non-conference slate. But perhaps the Orange needed a few lessons in winning and losing. The Northwestern game was lost on turnovers and poor defense, and the Minnesota game was lost on sloppy effort. Those problems rarely manifested themselves late in the season for Syracuse. The Orange averaged 216 rushing yards in the final six games and improved a turnover margin from minus-10 in the first half of the season to plus-nine in the second. Marrone deserve a fair amount of credit for turning a lost season into Syracuse’s second postseason trip in three years.
8. Pittsburgh got its man in Paul Chryst
Finally, the Panthers will reach a bowl game with a coach who doesn’t have the word “interim” in front of his title. The season was a wild one for Pitt, starting with a loss to Youngstown State, continue with a triple overtime loss to No. 1 Notre Dame and a win over Rutgers. It was a messy trip to 6-6, but coach Paul Chryst may have settled the scene in a tumultuous program. He inherited a fractured locker room that came together as the season went along. And, meanwhile, quarterback Tino Sunseri became one of the league's most improved players, running back Ray Graham regained his 2011 form, and the defense finished in the top three in the league. Next season will bring new challenges, including an ACC schedule and a new backfield of highly touted 2012 signees Rushel Shell and Chad Voytik. But the program his finally in steady hands.
9. Was this the last hurrah for defenses at Rutgers and Connecticut?
Rutgers and Connecticut finished the season with the top two defenses in the Big East, and both ranked in the top 10 nationally. For Rutgers, this group will have one more game after a standout two-year run. Linebackers Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Ka’lial Glaud, defensive tackle Scott Vallone and safety Duron Harmon are all seniors, and cornerback Logan Ryan may be an NFL early entry candidate. Rutgers has had little trouble rebuilding its defense over the years, but that was with Greg Schiano at head coach. That will be a key storyline this spring. As for Connecticut, the Huskies’ defense was good enough they only needed the offense to be barely average to compete. This, however, did not always happen. In 2013, Connecticut will undergo its own changing of the guard with linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz and defensive end Trevardo Williams gone.
10. Temple is going to be competitive
The Owls never topped their early season moment in the sun when they defeated USF and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks, but Temple still showed potential. Temple was competitive for the first half against Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse -- a good sign for a rebuilding program that was in the MAC a year ago. Montel Harris will be gone, but Steve Addazio may have found his 2013 quarterback in Juice Granger.
|2||Notre Dame (10)||12-0||413||1|
The most drama in the BCS selection was settled by the most dramatic game of the season when Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship Game.
While the Notre Dame-Alabama championship game was clear from the final seconds in Atlanta, the most unlikely BCS crasher wasn’t revealed until Sunday afternoon.
Northern Illinois became an automatic bid, giving the Huskies a series of firsts in MAC and BCS history: Northern Illinois is the first MAC team to play in the BCS and the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to reach the BCS despite a loss. NIU reached the Orange Bowl by a BCS rule triggering an automatic bid for a non-AQ conference to play in BCS game as long as it finished in the top 16 and finished ahead of a champion of an AQ conference.
By rule, Northern Illinois is an automatic bid to the BCS, but the snubs -- Oklahoma, Clemson and a slew of SEC teams -- have gripes for being left out of the five major bowl games. The bowls themselves, however, had little choice as the BCS rulebook won over the eye test.
Here are a few more observations from the final release of the BCS standings:
|Coaches' Poll||Harris Poll||Comp. Avg.||Last Wk.|
|1. Notre Dame||1||1||1||1|
|5. Kansas St.||6||6||T-4||6|
|9. Texas A&M||9||9||10||9|
|10. S. Carolina||10||10||9||10|
|12. Florida St.||12||12||16||13|
|13. Oregon St.||14||14||12||15|
|15. N. Illinois||16||16||19||21|
Northern Illinois. Clearly, the first MAC team in a BCS game is the big winner. But a series of events had to occur to put Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl as the Huskies weren’t one of the top two candidates for a BCS bid going into the final week of the season. Kent State and Boise State were considered more likely possibilities at the time. But Northern Illinois defeated Kent State 44-37 in overtime for the MAC, moving the Huskies from No. 21 to No. 15 in the BCS. Aiding NIU’s move was a rout by then-No. 12 Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and losses by Nos. 16-18 in the rankings in the final week of the season. With the Wisconsin win over the Cornhuskers, Northern Illinois ended up ranked ahead of two AQ conference champions.
Oklahoma and Georgia. Georgia lost the SEC title on the final play, and Oklahoma lost an outright Big 12 title with a loss on Sept. 22 to Kansas State. With all automatic bids exhausted, Oklahoma was left to the Cotton Bowl. Despite stumping by Alabama coach Nick Saban, Georgia had no place to go in the BCS. At No. 7, the Bulldogs were the highest ranked team to be left out in the BCS as No. 15 Northern Illinois, No. 21 Louisville and unranked Wisconsin will all play BCS games.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (JAN. 7): No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama. A ratings bonanza will pit the Alabama run game against Manti Te’o and the formidable Irish run defense.
ROSE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin. This is a rematch of the 2000 Rose Bowl, in which Wisconsin defeated an 8-3 Stanford team. This team, the Badgers are the team with the mediocre record at 8-5.
ORANGE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois. The MAC champs have every reason to have a chip on their shoulders after being derided as undeserving of their automatic bid. Florida State has ample talent, but after the Noles allowed NC State and Georgia Tech to hang around, does NIU have a shot?
SUGAR BOWL (JAN. 2): No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for both of Florida’s titles under Urban Meyer. This is an intriguing matchup against another defensive stud in Will Muschamp.
FIESTA BOWL (JAN. 4): No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State. Whose tempo will win out? Chip Kelly wants to run as many plays as possible. Bill Snyder is methodical. An interesting chess match.
Disagreement among the human polls and computers pushed Northern Illinois into the BCS. How did NIU end up at No. 15 when none of the elements ranked the Huskies that high? Northern Illinois ranked 16h in the Harris and coaches’ polls and 19th in the computers, yet ranked 15th in the BCS. Meanwhile, the Harris and the coaches both ranked Boise State ahead of Northern Illinois. The answer is the havoc in the title games - Big Ten title game loser Nebraska ranked 13th in the computers, 21st in the coaches and 18th in the Harris; UCLA ranked 17th in the Harris and computers and 19th in the coaches. And even though the human voters favored Boise State, the computers hammered the Broncos with a No. 22 ranking. That mess allowed NIU to ascend to No. 15.
All 10 BCS slots went to automatic qualifiers. The six champions of Big Six leagues were automatic qualifiers, as was Notre Dame. Northern Illinois earned its bid by finishing better than 16th and ahead of the Big East and Big Ten champions. Florida and Oregon also earned automatic bids by BCS rules. The Gators earned an automatic bid by finishing third, and Oregon followed suite by finishing fourth. In terms of selection, the Sugar selected Florida, followed by Kansas State to the Fiesta, Louisville to the Sugar and Northern Illinois to the Orange.
Seven SEC teams in the top 10. A sign of SEC dominance or a sign that no other conference could supply top flight teams? The SEC had seven teams in the top 10 -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina.
Notes on BCS selection:
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The Big East’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Fiesta Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Orange.
The SEC Championship matchup between Alabama and Georgia might have been the best played game in 2012. The Bulldogs had a chance to win late, but the Crimson Tide defense held on the final drive to clinch a spot in the national title.
And considering this game matched two of the best defenses in the nation, it was no surprise there were plenty of hard hits. At the end of the first half, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray tossed an interception and was leveled by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial. Considering how important protecting the quarterback is, it's a surprise there wasn't a penalty called on Alabama.
Nebraska didn't have many highlights from Saturday night's loss to Wisconsin, but there were a few noteable plays for the Cornhuskers.
In addition to Taylor Martinez's ridiculous touchdown run, receiver Kenny Bell destroyed Wisconsin defensive back Devin Smith on a third-quarter pass, which was called back due to a penalty. However, the block on Smith might be one of the most vicious hits in college football this season.
Nebraska had a horrible showing in Saturday's Big Ten Championship, but quarterback Taylor Martinez had a ridiculous touchdown dash in the first half, which might be one of the best runs in recent memory.
Wisconsin was able to bring a rusher that was virtually untouched by Nebraska's offensive line, which forced Martinez to retreat back to the eight-yard line. From there, it was a series of moves and then nothing but pure speed to give Martinez the 76-yard touchdown run.