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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 16.
• Emmy Rossum of Showtime's "Shameless" will be on Conan tonight. I'm a big fan (of Conan, yes, but mainly of Emmy Rossum).
• ESPN surveyed NFL players and found out that Peyton's the most respected player and the guy most would want to start a team with. More fodder for Brady to play the disrespect card.
• Lauren Tannehill, wife of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, accidentally left an AR-15 rifle in the trunk of her rental car. Hot woman with rifle; the NRA's marketing department needs to pounce.
• An overly optimistic Seahawks fan got a Super Bowl XLVIII champions tattoo — before the season. Prophet, or moron? No matter the outcome of the playoffs, I'm going moron.
• Oscar noms are in. It was a good year; I've actually seen several of the nominated movies. Not that you care, but my favorite was probably "Captain Phillips." Speaking of movies, here's a map with each state's most famous movie character.
• James Franklin took time out from raiding Vandy's recruiting class to buy a newspaper ad in Nashville thanking Vanderbilt. Probably would have gone over better without a giant headshot.
• In other news, Mike Trout is athletic. And water's wet.
• Paging Bryce Drew: Toledo's Juice Brown went Valpo on Buffalo last night.
• A Rockies prospect crashed through the Rawlings logo on the outfield wall to make a spectacular catch in an Australian baseball game.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 isn’t far behind in 2014.
Oregon, Stanford and UCLA each could rank inside of the top 10 in preseason polls. The Ducks should be a slight favorite to win the Pac-12, but there's not a wide gap to the Cardinal or Bruins.
Oregon has a slight edge over Stanford in our early Pac-12 predictions, but there’s very little separating these two teams in the North. With quarterback Marcus Mariota returning, along with this year’s matchup taking place in Eugene, the Ducks get the nod at No. 1 – for now.
Outside of the top trio of teams, Arizona State, USC and Washington should be preseason top 25 squads, while Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State won’t be too far behind.
The conference has plenty of depth for 2014, as California, Colorado and Utah should improve from last season’s record.
Early North Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison, WR Keanon Lowe, TE Johnny Mundt, LT Tyler Johnstone, LG Hamani Stevens, C Hroniss Grasu, RG Cameron Hunt, RT Jake Fisher, DE Tony Washington, DE DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead, DT Alex Balducci, LB Derrick Malone, LB Rodney Hardrick, LB Joe Walker, LB Rahim Cassell, LB Tyson Coleman, LB Torrodney Prevot, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Troy Hill, CB Dior Mathis, S Erick Dargan
Key Losses: RB De’Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, DT Taylor Hart, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Ricky Heimuli, LB Boseko Lokombo, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Avery Patterson, SS Brian Jackson
As we mentioned in the introduction, it’s a close call between Oregon and Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 North. These two teams won’t be separated by many spots in most preseason top 25 rankings, but for now, a slight edge goes to the Ducks. Why Oregon over Stanford? Marcus Mariota is back for one more year in Eugene, and the Ducks return five starters on the line. There’s also no shortage of skill players at Mariota’s disposal. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum won’t have to make too many tweaks to a defense that led the Pac-12 in fewest yards per play (4.6).
Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Barry Sanders, WR Ty Montgomery, WR Devon Cajuste, WR Michael Rector, WR Kodi Whitfield, LT Andrus Peat, OT Kyle Murphy, OG Joshua Garnett, DE Henry Anderson, DE Blake Lueders, DT David Parry, LB A.J. Tarpley, LB James Vaughters, LB Joe Hemschoot, LB Kevin Anderson, CB Alex Carter, CB Wayne Lyons, S Jordan Richards
Key Losses: RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson, LG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Josh Mauro, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB Jarek Lancaster, DB Usua Amanam, S Ed Reynolds, S Devon Carrington
As we mentioned with Oregon's writeup, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North next season. The Cardinal will have to play the Ducks in Eugene and face UCLA, Arizona State and USC in crossover play. Add in road dates at Washington and Notre Dame and it’s easy to see why Stanford might have the toughest schedule in college football next year. Quarterback Kevin Hogan should take another step in his development in 2014, but the Cardinal will have four new starters on the offensive line. The defense loses a few key pieces (Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds), but there’s enough talent returning to keep this unit near the top of the Pac-12.
Key Returnees: QB Cyler Miles, RB Jesse Callier, RB Dwayne Washington, RB Deontae Cooper, WR Jaydon Mickens, WR Kasen Williams, WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR John Ross, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, C Mike Criste, RG Colin Tanigawa, RT Ben Riva, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DE Cory Littleton, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, DT Evan Hudson, LB Shaq Thompson, LB John Timu, LB Travis Feeney, LB Scott Lawyer, CB Marcus Peters, S Kevin King
Key Losses: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kevin Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Princeton Fuimaono, LB Thomas Tutogi, CB Gregory Ducre, S Sean Parker, S Will Shamburger, S Tre Watson
Behind new coach Chris Petersen, the Huskies will be a team to watch in 2014. Former coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, and the schedule is very manageable. Replacing Bishop Sankey is the team’s top question mark on offense, as new quarterback Cyler Miles was solid in relief duty last season. Another positive for Washington is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. The secondary has a few holes to fill in the offseason, but the front seven could be one of the best in the Pac-12.
4. Oregon State
Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, RB Storm Woods, WR Richard Mullaney, TE Connor Hamlett, TE Caleb Smith, C Isaac Seumalo, RT Sean Harlow, DE Dylan Wynn, DT Edwin Delva, LB Jabral Johnson, LB D.J. Alexander, LB Rommel Mageo, LB Caleb Saulo, LB Joel Skotte, CB Steven Nelson, S Tyrequek Zimmerman, S Ryan Murphy
Key Losses: WR Brandin Cooks, WR Kevin Cummings, LT Michael Philipp, LG Josh Andrews, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DT Mana Rosa, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin
The Beavers started 6-1 last season but finished 1-5 in their final six games. 2013 was an up-and-down campaign for Mike Riley’s team, as it lost the opener to Eastern Washington and fell by only eight points to Stanford and by one to Oregon. The NFL Draft early entry deadline wasn’t kind to Oregon State. Receiver Brandin Cooks and end Scott Crichton left early for the next level, but quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year. Mannion’s return is a huge plus for the offense, and the Beavers still have good talent at the skill positions. The offensive line is the biggest concern on offense next year. The defense will miss Crichton and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. But most of the starting core returns in 2014, including safety Ryan Murphy and cornerback Steven Nelson.
5. Washington State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Gabe Marks, WR Kristoff Williams, WR Dom Williams, WR River Cracraft, WR Rickey Galvin, LT Gunnar Eklund, LG Joe Dahl, DE Xavier Cooper, DT Kalafitoni Pole, DE/LB Kache Palacio, DE/LB Destiny Vaeao, LB Darryl Monroe, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Tana Pritchard, CB Daquawn Brown, FS Taylor Taliulu
Key Losses: WR Vince Mayle, C Elliot Bosch, RG Matt Goetz, RT John Fullington, NT Ioane Gauta, LB Justin Sagote, LB Jared Byers, CB Damante Horton, CB Nolan Washington, SS Deone Bucannon, S Casey Locker
After making a three-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013, can the Cougars make a similar leap in 2014? Make no mistake, Washington State should be a better overall team next season. But improving to eight or nine wins might be a challenge. Quarterback Connor Halliday will have a better grasp of Mike Leach’s system, and the Cougars return one of the top receiving corps in the Pac-12. The offensive line and getting just a bit more production from the ground game are the two spring priorities for Leach and his staff. The defense regressed slightly in the stat column last season. All-American safety Deone Bucannon will be tough to replace, and the secondary will also miss cornerbacks Damante Horton and Nolan Washington.
Key Returnees: QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Chris Harper, WR Kenny Lawler, WR Darius Powe, LT Christian Okafor, C Jordan Rigsbee, RG Alejandro Crosthwaite, RT Steven Moore, DE/LB Kyle Kragen, DE/LB Puka Lopa, LB Hardy Nickerson, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Michael Barton, LB Lucas King, CB Stefan McClure, CB Joel Willis, CB Cedric Dozier, SS Cameron Walker, FS Michael Lowe, FS Damariay Drew, S Avery Sebastian
Key Losses: TE Richard Rodgers, DE Dan Camporeale, NT Deandre Coleman, DT Viliami Moala, LB Khairi Fortt, CB Kameron Jackson
Injuries and youth played a huge role in California’s struggles last season. The Golden Bears were able to allow some of their young players to play a lot of snaps due to the injuries, but losing Richard Rodgers, Viliami Moala, Khairi Fortt and Kameron Johnson early for the NFL is a blow to the depth. While Sonny Dykes’ debut was a disappointment, it’s hard for the Golden Bears to sink much lower in 2014. Improvement should be noticeable on both sides of the ball next year. Quarterback Jared Goff will have another offseason to work under Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. And Dykes smartly cleaned house on defense and will hire a new coordinator for 2014. California should be more competitive next season, but a winning record is a year (or two) away.
Early South Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Paul Perkins, RB Jordon James, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, WR Devin Lucien, TE Thomas Duarte, OT Simon Goines, OL Scott Quessenberry, C Jake Brendel, OG Alex Redmond, RT Caleb Benenoch, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Kenny Clark, DT Ellis McCarthy, DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Eric Kendricks, LB/RB Myles Jack, LB Isaako Savaiinaea, CB Ishmael Adams, CB Fabian Moreau, CB Priest Willis, S Tahaan Goodman, S Anthony Jefferson
Key Losses: WR Shaquelle Evans, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Keenan Graham, DT Seali’l Epenesa, LB Jordan Zumwalt, LB Anthony Barr, S Brandon Sermons
Could 2014 be a special season for UCLA? Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down a shot at the NFL for one more year with the Bruins, and a challenging schedule will allow Jim Mora’s team to make a compelling case for one of the four playoff spots. Hundley’s return is a huge plus for UCLA, and the junior should have more help from an offensive line that shuffled a handful of players into the lineup due to injuries. Replacing linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh will be the biggest obstacles to overcome on defense. However, Mora has recruited well, and Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes are two players poised for a bigger role in 2014. As for the schedule, UCLA has crossover games against Stanford, Oregon and Washington, along with a non-conference test against Texas. But two of those games (Oregon and Stanford) are in the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins host Arizona and USC in key Pac-12 matchups.
Key Returnees: QB Cody Kessler, RB Tre Madden, RB Javorius Allen, RB Justin Davis, WR Nelson Agholor, WR Darreus Rogers, TE Randall Telfer, LT Chad Wheeler, LG Max Tuerk, DE Leonard Williams, DL J.R. Tavai, NT Antwaun Woods, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Anthony Sarao, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Jabari Ruffin, CB Josh Shaw, CB Kevon Seymour, S Su’a Cravens, S Leon McQuay III
Key Losses: RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, TE Xavier Grimble, C Marcus Martin, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE George Uko, LB Morgan Breslin, LB Devon Kennard, CB Torin Harris, S Dion Bailey, S Demetrius Wright
It’s a coin flip for the No. 2 spot in the South Division between USC and Arizona State. Before spring practice gets underway, there’s very little separating these two teams. For now, a slight edge goes to the Trojans. New coach Steve Sarkisian is still dealing with scholarship limitations and depth issues at USC. However, the Trojans’ roster isn’t totally depleted. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw only one interception over his last five games and will have a deep group of running backs at his disposal. The receiving corps isn’t overflowing with options, but Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell is a solid trio to build around. The biggest concern on offense is the line, as there’s not a lot of depth, and three starters left after 2013. Assuming the defense avoids any major injuries next year, the Trojans have enough pieces returning to finish near the top of the Pac-12 in total defense again.
3. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong, WR Richard Smith, LG Jamil Douglas, RG Vi Teofilo, RT Tyler Sulka, DL Jaxon Hood, DL Marcus Hardison, LB Salamo Fiso, LB Carlos Mendoza, CB Lloyd Carrington, S Damarious Randall, LB/S Viliami Moeakiola
Key Losses: RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, TE Chris Coyle, LT Evan Finkenberg, RG Kody Koebensky, DE Davon Coleman, DT Will Sutton, DT Gannon Conway, LB Carl Bradford, LB Anthony Jones, LB Steffon Martin, LB Grandville Taylor, LB Chris Young, CB Robert Nelson, CB Osahon Irabor, S Alden Darby
Todd Graham has his work cut out for him this spring. The Sun Devils are the defending Pac-12 champions, but there are a handful of standout players leaving. Offensively, there are concerns. But there’s enough returning for Arizona State to remain near the top of the Pac-12 in scoring. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is back after throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 scores last season. Running back Marion Grice will be missed, but D.J. Foster is a capable replacement. The Sun Devils may have to win a lot of shootouts next season, especially with a defense that was decimated by departures. Tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford, safety Alden Darby, cornerback Robert Nelson and linebacker Chris Young were all selected to the Pac-12 all-conference team in 2013. Needless to say, that’s a ton of talent to replace in one year. Arizona State does catch a break in scheduling, as UCLA and Stanford visit Tempe in 2014.
Key Returnees: RB Jared Baker, WR Samajie Grant, WR Nate Phillips, WR Garic Wharton, WR David Richards, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Cayman Bundage, C Steven Gurrola, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, LB Scooby Wright, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Jared Tevis, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Jourdon Grandon, S William Parks
Key Losses: QB B.J. Denker, RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Terrence Miller, RG Chris Putton, DE Sione Tuihalamaka, NT Tevin Hood, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Jake Fischer, CB Shaquille Richardson
Rich Rodriguez has Arizona trending in the right direction (back-to-back 8-5 seasons). But the Wildcats may take a small step back in 2014, especially with quarterback B.J. Denker expiring his eligibility, and running back Ka’Deem Carey leaving for the NFL. The quarterback battle will be the biggest storyline in the spring, and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon could be the frontrunner to replace Denker. The Wildcats have options to replace Carey, but there’s no clear-cut favorite. After finishing last in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2012, Arizona made small progress in 2013. The Wildcats finished eighth last season, and on a positive note, return most of last year's starting group for 2014. A favorable schedule should allow Arizona to open 4-0 next year. But the next four games on the slate are brutal: at Oregon, USC, at Washington State and at UCLA.
Key Returnees: QB Adam Schulz, RB Bubba Poole, WR Dres Anderson, WR Geoff Norwood, LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RG Junior Salt, RT Siaosi Aiono, DE Nate Orchard, DE Hunter Dimick, LB Jason Whittingham, LB Jared Norris, LB Jacoby Hale, LB V.J. Fehoko, LB/S Brian Blechen, CB Davion Orphey, CB Justin Thomas, S Eric Rowe, K Andy Phillips
Key Losses: RB Kelvin York, WR Sean Fitzgerald, WR Anthony Denham, LG Jeremiah Tofaeono, C Vyncent Jones, DE Trevor Reilly, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT LT Tuipulotu, CB Keith McGill, S Michael Walker, DB Mike Honeycutt, TE Jake Murphy
After an 8-5 debut in the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are just 10-14 over their last two years. Defense certainly hasn’t been the problem in Salt Lake City. Utah has ranked seventh or higher in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three seasons. Rebuilding the line will be a priority for Kyle Whittingham and coordinator Kilani Sitake, as Trevor Reilly and tackles Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu have expired their eligibility. If the Utes want to end a two-year bowl drought, the offense has to improve. And Whittingham made a solid addition to his staff by bringing aboard former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to call the plays. Although Christensen should make a difference, the quarterback situation is unsettled. Can Travis Wilson return to the team? Or will Adam Schulz get the nod under center? Will redshirt freshman Conner Manning factor into the position? Utah won’t have much room for error to get to a bowl in 2014, as the schedule features crossover games against Oregon and Stanford, along with a non-conference matchup against Michigan.
Key Returnees: QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, RB Michael Adkins II, WR Nelson Spruce, WR D.D. Goodson, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Kaiwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer, RT Stephane Nembot, DE Juda Parker, DE Samson Kafovalu, DT Justin Solis, DT Josh Tupou, LB Addison Gillam, LB Woodson Greer III, CB Greg Henderson, CB Kenneth Crawley, S Jered Bell, S Tedric Thompson
Key Losses: WR Paul Richardson, LT Jack Harris, C Gus Handler, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, LB Derrick Webb, S Parker Orms
The Buffaloes improved their win total by three games in Mike MacIntyre’s first season, and all signs point to this program getting back on track under this coaching staff. There should be more improvement in 2014, especially as Sefo Liufau gets a full offseason of practice under his belt. As a freshman, he threw for 1,779 yards and 12 scores last season. The biggest loss on offense is receiver Paul Richardson, while the offensive line has to replace two starters. Colorado’s defense has ranked 10th or worse in the Pac-12 in yards allowed in each of the last three years. Most of last year’s core returns in 2014, including standout linebacker Addison Gillam. But can this unit make significant progress next season? The Buffaloes have to get tougher against the run and need to generate a better pass rush (only 17 sacks in 2013).
The SEC’s national title streak was stopped at seven with Florida State’s victory over Auburn on Jan. 6. But all was not lost for the SEC, as the conference finished the BCS era with nine championships, and the playoff era will only help the SEC get more teams into elite bowls.
Turning the page to 2014, the balance of power is clearly in the West Division. Alabama and Auburn should be preseason top-five teams, LSU is likely to be ranked in the 10-15 range, while Texas A&M and Ole Miss may also begin the year in the top 25. Mississippi State is a team on the rise next season, and Dan Mullen’s team could surprise in 2014.
While the picture is relatively clear in the West, things are cloudy in the East. For starters, which team should be the favorite? Is it Georgia? The Bulldogs return most of their key personnel, but Hutson Mason is in his first year as the starting quarterback. Also, is the hire of Jeremy Pruitt enough to elevate the defense? South Carolina loses a handful of key players on defense, and underrated quarterback Connor Shaw is also out of eligibility. Missouri must replace end Michael Sam, quarterback James Franklin and cornerback E.J. Gaines. But new starter Maty Mauk and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be one of the top pass-catch duos in the SEC.
Tennessee is expected to improve under second-year coach Butch Jones, and Florida has more talent than its 4-8 record last year indicated. Kentucky is also making progress under Mark Stoops, while Vanderbilt figures to be in bowl contention despite the loss of coach James Franklin.
Early East Division Predictions for 2014
There’s not much separating Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri in the East next year. A slight pre-spring edge goes to the Bulldogs, but a strong case can be made for South Carolina or Missouri. New quarterback Hutson Mason was able to make two starts at the end of 2013 due to Aaron Murray’s season-ending knee injury, and the senior will be surrounded by one of the top supporting casts in the SEC. Running back Todd Gurley is back, while receiver Malcolm Mitchell and running back Keith Marshall return from knee injuries. Replacing three starters is arguably Georgia’s biggest concern on offense next year. With eight new starters, the defense was expected to struggle in 2013. The Bulldogs ranked eighth in the SEC in yards allowed and gave up 29 points per game. But this unit should show significant improvement next year, as Jeremy Pruitt has been hired away from Florida State to coordinate the defense and there’s a ton of talent returning. The linebacker duo of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should be among the best in the nation.
2. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have three consecutive 11-win seasons and should be in the mix to win the East Division in 2014. But this team isn’t without question marks. Quarterback Connor Shaw has expired his eligibility, and Dylan Thompson will take over the reigns under center. Thompson has played well in a relief role and threw for 222 yards in a win over Missouri last season. Running back Mike Davis returns, and the Gamecocks should be solid on the offensive line with four starters returning. The defense suffered a few significant personnel losses in the trenches, as end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles left early for the NFL Draft and Chaz Sutton expired his eligibility. Cornerback Victor Hampton also declared for the NFL. South Carolina has to play at Florida, Clemson and Auburn next year, but Georgia and Missouri visit Williams-Brice Stadium.
Despite the departures of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, Missouri will be back in the mix for the SEC East title. Replacing Franklin under center will be Maty Mauk, who finished 2013 with 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are slated to replace Josey’s production, while the receiving corps is in good hands with Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt. Left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland will be missed on the offensive line. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Gary Pinkel’s team, but can the defense match last year’s production? Ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are gone, and cornerback E.J. Gaines also expired his eligibility. The Tigers have to play at South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M, but Georgia visits Faurot Field.
There wasn’t much that went Florida’s way last year. The Gators started 4-1, but injuries and an inconsistent offense eventually doomed this team to a 4-8 final mark. Will Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, bringing in Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays and Mike Summers from USC to replace Davis. Roper and Summers should help the offense, but the Gators also need more from quarterback Jeff Driskel and the receiving corps. Running back Kelvin Taylor is a solid piece to build around, and there’s no question Florida has recruited well. It’s time for some of that talent to turn into production on offense. Even with cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and linebacker Ronald Powell leaving for the NFL, the Gators should be one of the best in the SEC on defense. Crossover games with LSU and Alabama will be tough, but Missouri and South Carolina visit the Swamp.
As expected, Butch Jones’ first season in Knoxville wasn’t easy. Tennessee finished 5-7 for the third consecutive year, but this team was just a couple of plays away from making a bowl. The Volunteers lost by four to Vanderbilt and by three to Georgia. Improvement should be noticeable in 2014, especially as Jones continues to reel in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will battle for the starting quarterback spot, and the coaching staff has to find a way to replace all five starters on the offensive line. The question marks aren’t limited just to offense, as the Volunteers allowed 6.08 yards per play in SEC games last season. More talent and overall depth is needed on that side of the ball, but the coaching staff has a few pieces to build around, including linebacker A.J. Johnson and cornerback Cameron Sutton.
James Franklin set the bar high in Nashville. The Commodores played in three consecutive bowl games and posted back-to-back nine-win seasons under Franklin. Can the next coach elevate Vanderbilt once again? Regardless of who is on the sidelines, the Commodores have a few significant holes to fill. On offense, receiver Jordan Matthews will be tough to replace. Matthews accounted for 112 receptions out of Vanderbilt’s 243 completions in 2013. Not only is Matthews out of eligibility, but Jonathan Krause is set to depart, leaving Jordan Cunningham (15 receptions) as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Quarterbacks Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary are promising, while running back Jerron Seymour is a potential 1,000-yard rusher in 2014. The defense also loses some key players, including tackle Jared Morse, end Walker May, linebacker Chase Garnham and all four starters in the secondary.
Mark Stoops has the Wildcats trending in the right direction. Recruiting is going well, and Kentucky is upgrading their facilities. Even though the Wildcats did not win a SEC game last year, this team was more competitive than it was in 2013. Kentucky lost by six to Mississippi State and by seven to South Carolina. With more talent, the Wildcats will be able to close the gap even more in 2014. Settling the quarterback spot and filling a few holes on defense are the top priorities for Stoops this spring. The Wildcats have Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith returning for 2014, but incoming freshman Drew Barker is a name to watch in the quarterback derby. Defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, along with linebacker Avery Williamson will be tough to replace.
Early West Division Predictions for 2014
Flip a coin between Alabama and Auburn for the top spot in the West next year. For now, a slight edge goes to the Crimson Tide, largely due to next year’s matchup being in Tuscaloosa. After losing the final two games of 2013, Nick Saban decided to shake up the coaching staff, and former USC coach Lane Kiffin will call the plays in 2014. Kiffin has to settle on a quarterback, whether that’s Blake Sims, David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris. And of course, there’s a possibility a transfer could change the outlook of the quarterback battle. While the offense settles on someone under center, the team can lean on a deep stable of running backs. The one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry could be the best in the nation in 2014. As usual, Alabama will be strong on defense. But linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and end Ed Stinson are big losses. If the Crimson Tide is going to get back to the national championship, they have to navigate road dates at LSU and Ole Miss.
As we mentioned above, it’s a close call for the top spot in the West for 2014. A compelling case could be made for either Auburn or Alabama. The Tigers and Crimson Tide are essentially 1A and 1B in the West right now. Auburn made the unlikely jump from 3-9 to nearly winning the national championship last season, and there’s little reason to doubt this team can make a similar run in 2014. Quarterback Nick Marshall is the perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense and should improve with another offseason to work in this scheme. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are big losses, but four other starters are back on the line, and Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are capable replacements at running back. The biggest concern for Auburn this spring will be the defense. The Tigers allowed 29.6 points per contest in nine SEC games, and end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, cornerback Chris Davis and linebacker Jake Holland are significant departures. But Malzahn is recruiting well, and three sophomores (Elijah Daniel, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams) will be the new leaders up front. Late-season road games against Georgia and Alabama should determine whether or not Auburn repeats as the West Division champ.
For the second consecutive season, LSU was hit hard by departures to the NFL Draft. This year, the Tigers lost receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, running back Jeremy Hill and offensive lineman Trai Turner. Although LSU has recruited well, it’s inevitable the early departures could hurt this team’s depth at some point. In addition to the NFL Draft early entrants, the Tigers need to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was one of the most-improved players in the nation in 2013. Anthony Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but this team will likely rely on its rushing attack next year. LSU is bringing in the nation’s top running back in Leonard Fournette, and four starters return on the line. The Tigers returned only three starters on defense in 2013 and still finished third in the SEC in fewest yards allowed per game. Even with the departure of both starting defensive tackles, safety Craig Loston and linebacker Lamin Barrow, LSU should rank near the top of the conference in total and scoring defense once again.
4. Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss trending up after 15 wins in his first two seasons in Oxford. The Rebels reeled in one of the nation’s top-five recruiting classes last season, and Freeze should see that talent develop into All-SEC contributors in 2014. The offseason should help quarterback Bo Wallace return to 100 percent after shoulder surgery slowed his development last year. Wallace won’t have Donte Moncrief available after he left early for the NFL Draft. But the Rebels are stockpiling an impressive group of weapons, starting with Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders at receiver, along with Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers at running back. The offensive line will be overhauled this offseason, but the return of guard Aaron Morris from a season-ending knee injury is a huge plus. The Rebels won’t lose much on defense. And this unit should improve with Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner returning for their sophomore seasons. With Alabama and Auburn visiting Oxford next year, Ole Miss could play a key role in shaping the outcome of the West Division.
5. Texas A&M
With the Aggies recruiting at a high level, Kevin Sumlin’s team will be back in the mix for a SEC title in the next few years. But with Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans declaring for the NFL Draft, Texas A&M is due to take a step back in the win column in 2014. Who replaces Manziel is a huge question mark, but again, there’s talent in place. Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will push senior Matt Joeckel for the starting spot. Allen is regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2014 signing class. Even with Evans leaving and tackle Jake Matthews expiring his eligibility, the winner of the quarterback battle will have a strong supporting cast. Regardless of how well the offense performs, Texas A&M has to find answers on defense. The Aggies allowed 499.1 yards and 36.5 points per game in eight SEC contests. Youth and inexperience factored prominently into the struggles, so another offseason under coordinator Mark Snyder should help this unit eliminate some of the mistakes. And there’s plenty of help on the way from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
6. Mississippi State
Looking for a potential sleeper in the SEC West next year? Take a look at the Bulldogs. No, we don’t expect Mississippi State to win the division. But if there’s one team that could easily outperform its preseason rank in 2014, the Bulldogs would have our vote. Dan Mullen has raised expectations in Starkville, and the 2014 squad could be the best of his tenure. Dak Prescott looks like the answer at quarterback, and receiver Jameon Lewis figures to be in the mix for All-SEC honors. The biggest loss on offense is replacing standout guard Gabe Jackson. Nearly everyone is back from a defense that finished fifth in the SEC in total defense. Tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Benardrick McKinney are two players to watch next year.
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, so improvement could be minimal in the win column for Arkansas in Bret Bielema’s second year. Before spring practice starts, Bielema needs to fill two voids on his coaching staff, including the defensive coordinator position after Chris Ash left for Ohio State. The Razorbacks need a jump in production from quarterback Brandon Allen in 2014, and the junior will have plenty of help from running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, along with tight end Hunter Henry. Center Travis Swanson will be tough to replace. Defensive end Chris Smith has expired his eligibility, but the pass rush should be set after Trey Flowers decided to stay for his final season. The rest of the defense largely returns intact, with tackle Darius Philon due for a breakout year. One positive for Arkansas last season was this team didn’t quit despite the losing record. The Razorbacks lost by 10 to Ole Miss, followed by an overtime defeat to Mississippi State and a four-point loss to LSU. Arkansas should be better in 2014, but improvement may only result in a 4-8 or 5-7 mark overall.
The early entry deadline for the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and a record number of college football underclassmen are set to jump to the next level.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.
Florida State lost Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, but the Seminoles have to be considered one of the big winners of the deadline. The defections to the next level could have been a lot worse in Tallahassee, as offensive linemen Cameron Erving, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias are all set to return to Florida State for 2014.
One of the losers of the draft deadline was LSU. The Tigers are set to lose six players to the NFL this offseason.
College Football’s NFL Draft Winners and Losers for 2014
Running back Lache Seastrunk will be missed, but quarterback Bryce Petty’s decision to return keeps Baylor in the win column. Petty was the top quarterback in the Big 12 last season and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Petty’s return also provides Baylor an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 champions.
Sure, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will be missed. But the defections to the NFL could have been a lot worse. Left tackle Cameron Erving and guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias will anchor an offensive line that returns four starters. Receiver Rashad Greene’s return provides quarterback Jameis Winston a go-to target until some of the younger options emerge. Jernigan is the team’s biggest loss out of the early entry announcements.
The Hurricanes didn’t have many glaring targets for the NFL, but end Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman decided to return to Coral Gables for their senior season. While neither player was likely to be a selection in the first two rounds, their return is a huge boost for a defense that has struggled mightily in each of the last two seasons. The Hurricanes allowed 32.8 points a game in eight ACC contests in 2013. Chickillo and Perryman should be all-conference candidates in 2014.
The Cornhuskers ended last season with a little momentum thanks to their win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. But the good news extended into early January for Bo Pelini and his coaching staff. Running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory decided to return next season, and both players could be among the best in the Big Ten in 2014.
It’s hard to place Ohio State strictly in the winners category with linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby leaving Columbus for the NFL. After all, the defense was the biggest issue for the Buckeyes in 2013. However, the biggest piece in Ohio State’s national title hopes next season is quarterback Braxton Miller. When healthy, Miller is a Heisman contender and one of the top players in the Big Ten. Yes, the Buckeyes have issues on defense. But it’s hard to win a national title if you don’t have a quarterback.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State
Let’s group both SEC schools from Mississippi into this category. It may seem strange to list both teams in this article – especially Ole Miss since Donte Moncrief left early – but there’s a bigger picture victory here. With Texas A&M losing Johnny Manziel and LSU losing another batch of players early to the NFL, the opportunity is there for Ole Miss and Mississippi State to move up in the SEC West pecking order. Can they seize that opportunity in 2014?
The Ducks lost cornerback Terrance Mitchell to the NFL Draft and it was no surprise when De’Anthony Thomas also declared. However, the key piece in Oregon’s national title hopes is back on campus for 2014. Quarterback Marcus Mariota decided to return for his junior year and should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman next year. Mark Helfrich’s bid to lead the Ducks back to the Pac-12 title was also helped by the decisions of center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return next year.
Yes, Stanford, USC and Oregon suffered some key personnel losses. However, the return of Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley should allow the Pac-12 to have two national title contenders in 2014.
The Badgers had few players capable of leaving early for the NFL Draft. Running back Melvin Gordon was one of the Big Ten’s top rushers in 2013, recording 1,609 yards on 206 attempts. With a short shelf life of running backs, Gordon was expected to declare for the NFL. However, he announced his intentions to return in mid-December and should be the focal point of the Badgers’ offense in 2014. With James White expiring his eligibility, Gordon should approach 250-275 carries next year and will be a preseason All-American.
Running back Tre Mason and tackle Greg Robinson were two key cogs in Auburn’s run to a spot in the national championship game. Neither player had much to gain by returning, so it’s no surprise Mason and Robinson declared for the NFL Draft. Mason was one of the top offensive players in the nation this year and finished sixth in Heisman voting. Robinson – only a sophomore in 2013 – was already one of the top offensive tackles in the SEC.
As if a 1-11 record in 2013 wasn’t bad enough, the Golden Bears couldn’t catch a break in the early entry process. Five players declared for the draft, including linebacker Khairi Fortt, cornerback Kameron Jackson, defensive tackle Viiliami Moala, tight end Richard Rodgers and running back Brendan Bigelow. With injuries hitting California hard last season, some of the younger players had an early chance to play. That should help the depth in 2014, but Dykes and his coaching staff are losing five potential starters to the draft.
The Tigers received some last-minute deadline news, as end Vic Beasley announced his intention to return in 2014. But Beasley’s decision was the lone bit of positive news around the deadline for Clemson. The Tigers lost receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, along with cornerback Bashaud Breeland. With quarterback Tajh Boyd already out of eligibility, Clemson is set to take a step back in the win column in 2014.
It’s hard to find many bright spots on last year’s 4-8 team. But if there was one area Florida could feel good about, the defense was that place. The Gators finished second in the SEC in total defense and first against the pass. Those numbers will be tested in 2014, as cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the draft. Linebacker Ronald Powell is also leaving Gainesville early, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley decided to pass on applying for a medical redshirt due to a season-ending knee injury.
Another year, another spot in this category for LSU. It’s a good sign the Tigers are attracting top-notch talent and sending those players to the NFL. However, losing 11 players last season and six after 2013 is a lot of talent to replace in a short period of time. LSU was able to navigate the personnel losses to a 10-win season, and it’s not unreasonable to expect this program to hit that mark in 2014. But some of the losses will be tough to overcome in one offseason. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 catches in 2013. And Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are huge losses at defensive tackle, leaving Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas as the top options on the interior. LSU is going to be fine in the long run. But the early entries have dealt this team a significant blow to have a shot at winning the SEC West in 2014.
After winning six out of their final seven games, the Tar Heels are one of the frontrunners to win the Coastal Division in 2014. But Larry Fedora’s team will have to overcome a few personnel defections, including tight end Eric Ebron and center Russell Bodine. Left tackle James Hurst was already set to depart, which makes Bodine’s decision to leave an even bigger setback for the offensive line.
Brian Kelly has been a busy man this offseason. The Fighting Irish have to replace both coordinators for 2014, quarterback Everett Golson is slated to rejoin the team, and there’s holes on the roster thanks to a few early departures to the NFL. Tackle Louis Nix, end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III all declared early. Atkinson III’s decision to leave was a surprise, but Nix and Tuitt could be first-round picks in the draft. Niklas averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2013 and was primed to be one of the nation’s top tight ends in 2014.
Mike Riley’s team had quite the roller coaster ride in 2013. The Beavers lost the opener to Eastern Washington but won their next six games. Oregon State won just one of its last six games (Hawaii Bowl vs. Boise State), so there’s plenty of work ahead for Riley and his staff this offseason. Although quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year, losing receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton is a huge blow. Cooks led the nation with 1,730 receiving yards, while Crichton led the team with 7.5 sacks.
The Nittany Lions made one of the offseason’s top hires by pulling James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But Penn State and quarterback Christian Hackenberg won’t have one of the Big Ten’s top receivers at his disposal, as Allen Robinson decided to declare for the NFL. Robinson caught 97 of the Nittany Lions’ 241 receptions last year.
Due to some heavy personnel losses on defense, scoring was up in the SEC in 2013. The narrative could be switched in 2014, as the SEC watched some of its top offensive players leave early for the draft. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief and Missouri’s Henry Josey all declared for the NFL. Add in the departures of AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Jordan Matthews and it’s clear offenses will regress in the SEC next year.
There’s not much separating Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina in the SEC East next year. Could the Gamecocks’ early departures prevent this team from winning the division? It’s possible, but Steve Spurrier and this staff have recruited well, and there’s talent waiting to step up. However, the production on the defensive line will drop with end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles leaving for the NFL. Cornerback Victor Hampton and receiver Bruce Ellington are two other early entries.
After winning 34 games over the last three seasons, David Shaw will have his work cut out for him in 2014. Stanford is losing a handful of key players due to graduation, but the early entry deadline also added a few departures. Tackle Cameron Fleming, safety Ed Reynolds and guard David Yankey passed on another year on the Farm for life in the NFL. Yankey and Reynolds were arguably the best players at their position in college football, while Fleming was an All-Pac-12 tackle. Stanford has some huge holes to fill for 2014.
The departures of quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans to the NFL Draft was no surprise for Texas A&M’s coaching staff. But that doesn’t make it any easier for coach Kevin Sumlin, especially in the brutal SEC West. There was one bit of good news for the Aggies at the draft deadline. Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi decided to stay for his senior year. He could be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation next year.
After a 12-1 mark in 2013, it will be hard for the Knights to have a better year in 2014. The American Athletic Conference is wide open, but UCF’s hopes of repeating took a blow when quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson declared for the NFL Draft. The Knights aren’t short on talent on the roster and most of the core returns next year. But Bortles – a likely first-round pick – and Johnson were two of the conference’s top offensive players.
With scholarship limitations, USC can’t afford to have many players leave early for the NFL Draft. The Trojans had a few this year, as center Marcus Martin, receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Xavier Grimble, defensive tackle George Uko and safety Dion Bailey all passed on another year in Los Angeles. Martin’s departure is a setback for an offensive line that was already set to lose a couple of starters and was short on depth.
It was no surprise when running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins declared for the NFL Draft. However, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins are two elite playmakers in the Pac-12 and will be tough to replace. The departure of both players is magnified even more when you consider Washington is set to break in a new starting quarterback next year.
Craig Bohl was a great hire for Wyoming, but the first-year coach inherits a team with very little experience at quarterback. Brett Smith decided to leave early for the NFL this offseason, and backup Jason Thompson transferred to Utah. Smith’s departure is a huge setback, as he was set to be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks next year.
The list of breakout players for 2013-14 got an early start.
The first name on the countdown of the biggest surprise players, at least chronologically, started Nov. 19 when Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points on North Dakota. Opponent aside, this was a guy who had averaged 2.5 points per game in two seasons before the start of the 2013-14 season.
Kaminsky, of course, hasn’t been the only revelation.
From role players turned stars to secondary scorers turned MVPs, from the injury-prone to the former underachievers, these 10 players have refined their games through the first half of this season to become the surprise breakout performers of the year.
Related: NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
2013-14 Midseason Breakout Players
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
With Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk returning, New Mexico appeared to have an inside out duo capable of leading the Lobos through the Mountain West. Those two are having career years, but nothing close to what Bairstow is doing. The 6-9 Australian is averaging 20 points per game, though he never scored 20 points in a single game in his first three seasons. Maybe we should have seen it coming as Bairstow averaged 13.8 points per game over the last eight games of last season.
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
What’s the best place to start with Oklahoma’s surprise squad? Buddy Hield was a bench player for most of last season, but he scored 22 points in wins over Iowa State and Texas since conference play started. Ryan Spangler was buried at Gonzaga, but he’s leading the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.5 boards per game. The nod, though, should go to Clark. After a promising first season in 2010-11, he essentially played himself deeper down the bench. He’s now Oklahoma’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Jerami Grant could have received this pick, but a breakout was more or less expected from the Syracuse forward. He thrived when inserted in the lineup for an injured James Southerland and fit the profile of a Syracuse forward primed to take the next step. Cooney, who is averaging 14.1 points per game, is a bit of surprise after he competed with Michael Gbinije for the starting two-guard spot. Cooney averaged only 26.7 percent on 3-pointers last season and improved his average to 42.3 percent this season. Not bad for a guy taking more than seven 3s per game.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
Maurice Creek, George Washington
Creek arrived at Indiana as part of the 2009 signing class that would help bring the Hoosiers back to national prominence — the class also included 2012-13 contributors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Injuries, though, derailed Creek's contributions. Now healthy, Creek is leading a George Washington team in Atlantic 10 contention. Creek’s 14.1 points per game is his best production since his freshman season at IU.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Bo Ryan has a knack for unearthing his big guys, but none has been a more stunning revelation than the seven-foot Kaminsky. He scored the most unlikely 43 points of the season against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season. Throw that outlier out of the mix, and Kaminsky is still averaging 11.6 points per game. He was barely cracking 10 minutes per game a year ago.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh will learn a bit about itself in ACC play after a lackluster non-conference schedule, but Patterson has nonetheless flourished as the Panthers’ go-to player after the departure of Tray Woodall. Patterson has improved from 10 to 17.6 points per game while hitting career highs in field goal percentage (52 percent, up from 46.4) and 3-pointers (up nearly 10 points to 42.7). Patterson, a forward, has thrown in 4.6 assists to boot.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Casey Prather, Florida
How often does a role player for three seasons become a contender for conference player of the year as a senior, especially at a place like Florida? Prather is doing that right now. With the Gators’ roster in flux for most of the season, Prather has been the glue. Prather scored a total of 276 points in his first three seasons, a total he’ll double by the end of January.
Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Qualls’ last second, put-back dunk to beat Kentucky on Tuesday could be the highlight of the year for Arkansas, but he’s had quite a season leading up to that win. A three-star recruit, Qualls averaged only 4.6 points as a freshman, but his athleticism was apparent. He’s averaging 13 points per game for a team that’s contending for an NCAA title spot.
Nik Staustaks, Michigan
An improvement was expected from a highly touted recruit who was a key contributor from the perimeter as a freshman. But Stauskas has improved in other ways beyond averaging 17.7 points per game. Staustaks is getting to the basket with more regularity and has already topped his assist total from a year ago.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Before the season, the Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the top two scorers in consecutive seasons, but they may be better because of the development of former role player Thames. The senior guard is getting more opportunities, but he’s also improved his effective field goal percentage from 42.3 percent to 52.3.
It's hard to believe that the Internet didn’t exist three decade ago. Or that High Definition television is something we ever lived without.
It doesn't seem that long ago that I was scoring my father’s fantasy team by hand with USA Today box scores. Today, I can reach into my pocket and swap running backs two minutes before kickoff with my smart phone and a Yahoo! app while sitting in my seat at a Titans game.
To say that technological advances have changed the way we enjoy, consume, interact, view and support our favorite sports team is a gross understatement. But new ideas and inventions have changed the game itself as well. In the NFL’s case — the most scrutinized and examined sport in America — a few specific changes in technology have drastically changed the way the game is viewed and played.
Here are the biggest (and some of our favorite) technological advances in NFL history and maybe some ideas that are right around the corner.
Obviously, this one could be grouped in with HD TV and other film-related advances that have literally helped the sport from every angle. But instant replay itself stands alone as one of the most important advances in not only how fans consume the NFL but how the outcome is determined. The NFL first implemented a partial IR system in 1986 and a full system of review in '99. It has been progressively tweaked ever since, taking away challenges in the final two minutes as well as on scoring plays and turnovers. The obvious next step that needs to take place is a centralized review system. It works for the NHL and it will work perfectly for the NFL to have one office review every call at the league offices.
Certainly, the Internet has changed life on this planet forever. But as it pertains to the NFL specifically, the Internet contributed two massive and underlying lynchpins to the NFL’s unbelievable success. Gambling and fantasy sports — which some consider to be one in the same — have propelled the NFL to new heights off the field in terms of popularity. Tracking your favorite team (or sport) with hundreds of analytical, statistical and historical websites has added to the NFL’s fan experience. So the Internet has given gamblers and fantasy junkies the ability to analyze and speculate at a higher — and more lucrative — level than ever before. Gambling and fantasy sports, like it or not, are a huge part of the NFL’s overwhelming status as the most powerful sport in this country.
DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket
My family was living in Austin, Texas, in 1994 when DirecTV first launched. The problem was we were all diehard Green Bay Packers fans. But DirecTV could offer something never before provided by cable companies. DirecTV arrived months before the ’94 NFL season began with the promise of NFL Sunday Ticket delivering every NFL game to anywhere in the nation. Needless to say, neither my father nor myself have ever used another service provider. The satellite company has constantly improved on the product, adding a mix channel and the Red Zone Channel in the mid-2000s. Sunday Ticket meant no more smoke-filled bars, expensive meals or spending Sunday afternoons away from home for millions of fans across the nation. It changed the way we watched our teams forever.
One of the biggest and most difficult aspects to running an NFL team is field upkeep. Green Bay has spent a small fortune on keeping real grass playable in the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field with additions like heating coils. The advent of FieldTurf and its subsequent upkeep has allowed more games to take place in poor conditions with little to no additional costs incurred. Sure, the turf costs more on the front end, but the overall gameplay got a major upgrade when NFL teams began converting to one type of field turf or another. Unlike its predecessor, AstroTurf, the advancements in FieldTurf are here to stay and have positively impacted the game in a big way. Currently 14 of the 31 NFL stadiums boast a real, natural grass-only surface.
My brother and I got a TurboGrafx-16 when we were small kids around 1990. I loved the Super Bowl by that age but didn’t know all of the players. Soon my doomed-to-fail TG-16 became a Sega Genesis due solely to one thing: EA Sports. By 1993, I was hooked on "Madden NFL Football" and would go on to waste thousands of hours of my life leading Brett Favre, Dorsey Levens and Robert Brooks to Super Bowl championships. My story isn’t all that unique for anyone born after 1980. Video games are no longer a part of my life but they are an unquestioned behemoth in modern society and have no doubt changed many kids' life when it comes to interest in the NFL or other sports.
First Down Line
This one is totally selfish in that it has had zero impact on the game itself. But few things have changed as much for the fans at home as on-screen graphics. The super-imposed first down line — officially titled “1st and Ten” — was a thing of genius when it was first used on screen during ESPN’s coverage of a Bengals-Ravens game in 1998. Since then, a line of scrimmage line has been added as well as a variety of other on-screen visuals. Down and distance, number of timeouts, game clocks, play clocks, pop-up stat trackers and more have made sitting at home as thorough an experience as there has ever been. And thus, has increased TV ratings.
Facemasks, Gloves and Helmets
Equipment advancements are far reaching and constantly changing, so it is hard to pinpoint one specific item or change that has had the most impact. The face mask wasn’t an orginal part of the NFL but once plastic helmets (an equally important advancement) were put into place, the face mask followed shortly thereafter. Wide receivers back in the 1960s and '70s never used gloves — like, say, Kellen Winslow in The Freezer Bowl. Under-pad attire has changed dramatically over time as well as wicking fabrics and cooling materials now cover the body from head to toe during practice and games. And as the NFL continues to move forward, the most important equipment improvement will be safer helmets.
Baseball and the Olympics get all of the headlines when it comes to steroid or HGH usage but many believe that football has the worst PED problem. The physicality and speed of the game packaged with the alarming growth in the size of NFL players over the last two decades creates a huge need for PEDs. Some rumors, if you believe them, say that more than half of the league would test positive for some sort of PED. Big plays, car-wreck-like collisions and ultra-fast speeds are what move the needle for the NFL and most believe this progression hasn't happened naturally. Is there a greater understanding of dietary concerns, nutritional information and proper body management today than two decades ago? Yes. But not every one has competed on a level playing field and fans too easily ignore how these young adults become hulking gladiators.
HD Television and the NFL Network
Along the same lines as Sunday Ticket and Instant Replay, the evolution of film technology has dramatically shifted the NFL experience. HD TV is a must for in-home viewing. Digital still photography is instantly transmitted from the coaching booth to the sideline after ever play. Film study for both game and draft preparation is easier and more prevalent. Skycam and various other camera angles have been added to the field to improve the overall coverage of the game. In all, the development of the audio/visual component has had a huge impact on the game. It began with the launch of NFL Films and is now carried on by a 24-hour NFL Network.
Retractable Roofs and Jumbotrons
NFL executive are searching for ways to curtail spiraling attendance numbers across the league. Two of the biggest additions to the stadium gameday experience were the first retractable roof introduced in Houston when Reliant Stadium opened in 2002 and the jumbotron. Adding in-stadium video boards is nothing new but making it a massive high-def instant replay booth for fans was critical to keeping butts in seats. And to make those seats more accommodating, being able to control the climate in the building has become a huge factor in getting people through the turnstiles.
What’s next for the NFL?
It is this gameday, in-stadium experience that fans can expect the most innovation in the near future. General managers and owners are looking at ways to keep people coming to the games and adding new bar and restaurant experiences, Wi-Fi or even on-site daycare centers will be next to show up across the league. Shuttle services, TVs in chair backs and even seats that rumble when a big-play happens could appear.
Safety also is a huge issue moving forward for the NFL. Some (dramatic) columnists like to think that the end of football is near as parents begin to realize the dangers of football for their young children. So the NFL will do everything in its power to design the safest equipment possible. Virginia Tech is already using on-field, real-time sensors that measure impacts and rate helmet safety. Expect this to move to the NFL soon, if it hasn’t already.
Along those safety lines, what if the NFL had on-site, pre-game drug testing that provided instant results? What if the NFL could test a player seconds before he stepped onto the field for warm-ups and determine if he was using something illegal? Would fans approve?
Cameras also will continue to get smaller, better and more versatile. Will there be a pylon cam? What about cameras on the referee's hat or a player’s helmet? Centralized replay appears to be coming in the very near future and fans also should expect more and better angles from the TV companies to keep coming.
Finally, what about spotting the ball? It’s the most important and most inexact science on the field today and there is no reason for it to be that way. Why not use motion sensors or imaging technology to spot the ball perfectly on every play? The refs really do an amazing job placing the ball most of the time but why not make it an exact science? The skin of the football could be composed of hundreds of sensors and the field outlaid with a grid of motion detectors, therefore the spot of the ball is perfect down to the inch.
The NFL may be weeks away from things like centralized replay but years away from exact spotting. The NFL is a big business machine that won’t stop improving because it is too lucrative to become stagnant.
This, like all of the aforementioned technological progressions, bodes well for future generations of NFL fans.
More than any recent week, upsets shook up this week’s NCAA Tournament projections.
Clemson upset Duke, Indiana upset Wisconsin and Arkansas upset Kentucky to shape some of the NCAA Tournament hopes for a handful of teams in different ways.
Indiana confirmed an already strong case, Arkansas put itself into the field, and Clemson rendered itself worth watching for the rest of the ACC season.
At the midpoint of the year we’ve taken stock of the field so far, pinpointing the teams looking for a bid and the start of the bubble watch. So far, the Big Ten is the bell cow of all conferences with eight teams in this week’s projections.
NCAA Tournament Projections: Jan. 15
Feeling good: Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Duke
Bubble in: Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina
Bubble out: Clemson, Maryland, NC State
Notes: Pittsburgh’s schedule is finally going to get tougher with road trip to Syracuse. ... Clemson’s win over Duke as great, but the Tigers’ non-conference schedule, including a loss to Auburn, is dismal. ... Virginia and Florida State have near-identical resumes, though the Cavaliers won in Tallahassee. ... North Carolina’s three big non-conference wins are still keeping the Heels in the field, but their margin for error is shrinking.
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: Connecticut, SMU
Bubble out: None
Notes: Louisville’s best wins to date are over Southern Miss and SMU. ... Cincinnati has three top-50 wins (Pitt, Memphis, SMU). ... Memphis is 6-2 away from the FedEx Forum. ... UConn’s loss to Houston is ugly, but the Huskies are 6-2 against the top 100. ... SMU to date has avoided the bad loss.
Atlantic 10 (4)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, George Washington
Bubble in: VCU
Bubble out: Dayton
Notes: The A-10 is sixth in conference RPI, ahead of the SEC, American, Mountain West and Missouri Valley. ... Saint Louis’ only two losses are to Wisconsin and Wichita State ... George Washington continued to build its case with a home win over VCU on Tuesday. ... VCU will hope its non-conference win over Virginia in Charlottesville continues to hold up. ... A game against Saint Louis was a missed opportunity for Dayton to undo some of the damage from USC, Illinois State losses.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
Big 12 (6)
Feeling good: Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Baylor
Bubble in: Oklahoma, Kansas State
Bubble out: Texas
Notes: Baylor’s only losses are to Syracuse and Iowa State away from Waco. ... Kansas State has defeated Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma, all at home. ... Win over Iowa State is a boon for the Sooners. ... Texas has no bad losses, but no great wins, either.
Big East (4)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier, Georgetown
Bubble out: Marquette, Providence
Notes: Georgetown’s loss to RPI No. 235 Northeastern could be a resume killer. ... Marquette is 2-7 against the RPI top 100, and one of those wins is at home over DePaul. ... Providence may come to rue a one-point home loss to Seton Hall.
Big Ten (8)
Feeling good: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa
Bubble in: Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois
Bubble out: Purdue
Notes: The Big Ten has four top-10 teams Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. ... Michigan is 8-0 without Mitch McGary, but that’s about to get tested in the next three games (at Wisconsin, Iowa, at Michigan State). ... Wednesday’s win over Wisconsin puts Indiana in the field this week. ... The profile the Hoosiers and Minnesota is similar, but the Gophers have the edge in RPI (44 to 56). ... Illinois is playing with fire after loss at Northwestern.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Missouri Valley (1)
Feeling good: Wichita State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Notes: Indiana State is off to a 4-0 start in the Missouri Valley and has two top-100 non-conference wins (Belmont, Notre Dame)
Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: San Diego State, New Mexico
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State
Notes: San Diego State has two marquee wins away from home against Kansas (on the road) and Creighton (on a neutral site). ... New Mexico is ranked 23rd in the RPI. ... Boise State is 0-5 against the top 100.
Feeling good: Arizona, Oregon
Bubble in: Cal, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford
Bubble out: Arizona State
Notes: Cal entered the mix after Jan. 9 road win over Oregon to go with no bad losses. ... Colorado will slip out of the field if the Buffaloes can’t prove they can win without Spencer Dinwiddie. ... UCLA showed nice fight in loss to Arizona, but the Bruins need to pick up top-50 wins. ... Stanford has nice duo of road victories over Oregon and Connecticut.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Missouri, Arkansas
Bubble out: Tennessee, LSU
Notes: With roster at full-strength, Florida may be No. 1 seed material. ... Kentucky still No. 14 in the RPI despite loss at Arkansas. ... With one game apiece against Florida and Kentucky, Missouri starting to wonder how many NCAA Tourney teams they’ll face this season. ... Win over Kentucky puts Arkansas in for now, but the Razorbacks must conquer their road woes.
West Coast (1)
Feeling good: Gonzaga
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: BYU, Saint Mary’s
Notes: A loss to Portland is troubling, but Gonzaga’s non-conference wins over Arkansas, New Mexico State and West Virginia are looking a little better. ... Bad losses may catch up to BYU (Pepperdine, Loyola-Marymount, Utah) and Saint Mary’s (Hawaii, Santa Clara, George Mason).
One-bid leagues (21)
America East: Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Northern Colorado
Big South: Radford
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
WAC: New Mexico State
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 15.
• So does Michelle Jenneke want to be an elite hurdler? Or is she content just being an Instagram hottie and former SI swimsuit model? Just curious; I'm fine either way.
• I really like this: Every NFL logo if it were a hipster. I particularly applaud the Bucs' "Gluten Kills" logo.
• Deadspin readers had fun with the new Cubs logo, including adding naughty bits. CSN Washington aired a picture of Clark the Cub that included the frank and beans.
• Matt Leinart sighting: Leinart says that unless Kurt Warner is coming with Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans made a bad hire.
• LeBron's latest daydream: What if I shot as much as Kevin Durant? Left unsaid: I would crush his puny stats like a cockroach.
• Given the nation's sizable unemployment rate and the number of people who have given up and left the workforce, it's unconscionable that some of these people are still gainfully employed.
• This is how every game should end: a put-back slam at the buzzer.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The ACC finished the BCS era on a high note. Florida State defeated Auburn for the national championship, and Clemson won the Orange Bowl over Ohio State. Also, the ACC had 11 teams play in a bowl.
After a satisfying end to the 2013 season, the ACC is poised for another solid year in 2014. Florida State is an early favorite to win the national championship, and despite losing quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson is ranked in many early preseason top 25 lists.
Louisville loses quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the return of Bobby Petrino should ensure the Cardinals won’t suffer too much on offense. Syracuse is also a team to watch in 2014, as coach Scott Shafer returns most of his starting lineup from last season.
While the Atlantic Division seems set at the top, the Coastal Division is an enigma. Miami has talent, but is this the year the Hurricanes finally play for the conference title? If Miami isn’t the Coastal favorite, how about North Carolina? Is Duke ready to repeat?
Considering the uncertainty in the Coastal, it’s possible no team from this division may begin the year ranked.
Early Atlantic Division Predictions for 2014
1. Florida State
Key Returnees: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Rashad Greene, WR Christian Green, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, RG Tre Jackson, RT Bobby Hart, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DE Chris Casher, DE Eddie Goldman, DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Terrance Smith, LB Reggie Northrup, LB E.J. Levenberry, LB Ukeme Eligwe, CB Ronald Darby, CB P.J. Williams, CB/S Jalen Ramsey, CB Nick Waisome, S Tyler Hunter, S Nate Andrews, K Roberto Aguayo
Key Losses: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, C Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Telvin Smith, LB Christian Jones, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks
Repeating won’t be easy for Florida State. After all, only one team in the BCS era was able to pull off the back-to-back title (Alabama – 2011-12). However, the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the national championship. Quarterback Jameis Winston set the bar high in his freshman season and should benefit from another offseason to learn under Jimbo Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders. There’s some turnover on the supporting cast, but Karlos Williams and incoming freshman Dalvin Cook will be a standout pair at running back. The bigger question mark is at receiver, where Kelvin Benjamin left early for the NFL and Kenny Shaw departs after averaging 17.3 yards per catch in 2013. Fisher needs to replace coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and a handful of key players on defense, but Florida State has capable replacements waiting in the wings at linebacker and in the secondary. There’s concern at defensive tackle, especially with Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL. The schedule also sets up favorably for a run at the title once again. Florida State opens the year with a rebuilding Oklahoma State squad and hosts Florida to finish the regular season. The toughest road games in conference play are very manageable: at Syracuse and at Miami.
Key Returnees: RB Zac Brooks, RB D.J. Howard, WR Adam Humphries, WR Charone Peake, WR Mike Williams, WR Germone Hopper, TE Stanton Seckinger, LG David Beasley, RT Isaiah Battle, C Ryan Norton, DE Corey Crawford, DE Vic Beasley, DE Shaq Lawson, DT Grady Jarrett, DT D.J. Reader, LB Stephone Anthony, LB Kellen Jones, S Jayron Kearse, S Robert Smith, S Travis Blanks
Key Losses: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Martavis Bryant, LT Brandon Thomas, RG Tyler Shatley, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Quandon Christian, CB Darius Robinson, CB Bashaud Breeland, K Chandler Catanzaro
Clemson is coming off the best three-year stretch in school history. Dabo Swinney has raised expectations in Death Valley, but with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins leaving, the Tigers have some work to do in order to post their fourth straight season of at least 10 wins. Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly are the frontrunners to replace Boyd, but incoming freshman Deshaun Watson is a name to watch. With Chad Morris calling the plays, this offense shouldn’t suffer too much, but Boyd and Watkins will be missed. Clemson finished third in the ACC in total defense last season (5.03 yards per play) and held ACC opponents to just 21 points a game. The Tigers should be set in the front seven, but cornerback is a concern with Bashaud Breeland leaving early for the NFL.
Key Returnees: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB George Morris, WR Ashton Broyld, WR Brisly Estime, WR Jarrod West, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, RG Nick Robinson, RT Ivan Foy, DE Robert Welsh, DE Micah Anderson, DE Ron Thompson, DT Eric Crume, LB Cameron Lynch, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Josh Kirkland, LB Marqez Hodge, CB Brandon Reddish, CB Wayne Morgan, S Durell Eskridge, S Ritchy Desir, S Darius Kelly
Key Losses: RB Jerome Smith, WR Christopher Clark, C Macky MacPherson, DT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes
The Orange were picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division at ACC Football Kickoff in late July. With quarterback Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone leaving Syracuse to coach for the Bills, most expected Syracuse to finish with a losing record. Instead, the Orange claimed third behind Florida State and Clemson in the division and won four out of their last six games. Quarterback Terrel Hunt showed progress late in the year, and receiver Brisly Estime caught 20 passes over the final four games. With Hunt expected to take the next step in his development this offseason, and four starters returning on the line, Syracuse should be set on offense. Defense is coach Scott Shafer’s specialty, and the Orange have a few holes to fill in the spring. Tackle Jay Bromley was one of the ACC’s most underrated players from 2013. Linebacker Marquis Spruill (5.5 sacks) and cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson are other key losses on defense. Syracuse should be able to improve on offense and maintain its 2013 totals on defense. With Louisville visiting the Carrier Dome, that schedule edge might be enough to swing third place in the Atlantic in favor of the Orange.
Key Returnees: RB Dominique Brown, RB Michael Dyer, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, WR Robert Clark, TE Gerald Christian, LT Jamon Brown, LG John Miller, C Jake Smith, RT Ryan Mack, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DE Nick Dawson, DE B.J. Dubose, DT Sheldon Rankins, LB James Burgess, LB Keith Kelsey, CB Terell Floyd, CB Jermaine Reve, CB Charles Gaines, S Gerod Holliman, K John Wallace
Key Losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR Damian Copeland, TE Ryan Hubbell, RG Kamran Joyer, DE Marcus Smith, NT Brandon Dunn, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB George Durant, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor
Change is the buzzword surrounding Louisville for 2014. The Cardinals are set to play their first season in the ACC, and there’s a new quarterback (Will Gardner) and coaching staff. Bobby Petrino returns to Louisville after leaving for the NFL in 2007. Petrino comes with baggage, but he also wins a lot of games (83-30 college record). His first assignment will be the development of Gardner at quarterback. Gardner does have a strong supporting cast, including former Auburn running back Michael Dyer. Receiver DeVante Parker turned down the NFL for one more season at Louisville. Charlie Strong’s departure will be felt on defense in 2014. New coordinator Todd Grantham plans to switch to a 3-4 scheme, and the Cardinals have a few big losses, including defensive end Marcus Smith and safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. The schedule is more demanding in the ACC, but Louisville is a program on solid ground.
5. Boston College
Key Returnees: RB Myles Willis, WR Dave Dudeck, WR Dan Crimmins, WR Spiffy Evans, TE C.J. Parsons, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, RG Harris Williams, DE Brian Mihalik, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, DT Connor Wujciak, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Manuel Asprilla, CB Bryce Jones, S Sean Sylvia, S Dominique Williams, S Spenser Rositano, S Justin Simmons
Key Losses: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, FB Jake Sinkovec, WR Alex Amidon, TE Mike Naples, LT Matt Patchan, RT Ian White, DE Kaleb Ramsey, DE Kasim Edebali, DT Jaryd Rudolph, LB Steele Divitto, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
With running back Andre Williams and quarterback Chase Rettig expiring their eligibility, Boston College has to replace 4,243 of its 4,774 total yards on offense for 2014. Additionally, receiver Alex Amidon and tackles Matt Patchan and Ian White are also out of eligibility. That’s not exactly a recipe for success, but second-year coach Steve Addazio is bringing in help on the recruiting trail, and this team should be in the mix for a bowl. Myles Willis should get the first crack at replacing Williams in 2014, as he averaged 5.8 yard per carry last year. Rettig’s replacement is a bigger mystery. Is the answer Josh Bordner? Or will a freshman (Darius Wade or James Walsh) win the job? How about Florida transfer Tyler Murphy? With the uncertainty at quarterback, expect Boston College to lean on its strength in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is one of the best in the ACC. Even with a few personnel departures, the Eagles should be solid on defense.
6. NC State
Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, RB Matt Dayes, WR Bryan Underwood, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR Jumichael Ramos, LT Joe Thuney, C Quinton Schooley, RG Alex Barr, RT Tyson Chandler, DE Art Norman, DE Mike Rose, DT Monty Nelson, NT Thomas Teal, NT Carlos Gray, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Brandon Pittman, LB M.J. Salahuddin, LB Rodman Noel, CB Jack Tocho, CB Juston Burris, S Hakim Jones
Key Losses: QB Brandon Mitchell, WR Rashard Smith, LG Duran Christophe, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, LB Robert Caldwell, LB D.J. Green, S Dontae Johnson
NC State had a less-than-stellar debut under Dave Doeren, but the Wolfpack have a relatively favorable schedule, and there’s enough talent to expect improvement in the win column. After shuffling quarterbacks in 2013, there’s no question who will start under center in 2014: Jacoby Brissett. The Florida transfer doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he’s the best fit to run NC State’s spread offense. And Brissett is working with a solid supporting cast, including running back Shadrach Thornton, along with three receivers who caught at least 20 passes in 2013. The offensive line allowed 35 sacks last season, but four starters are back. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. The line could get a boost if Rob Crisp is awarded an extra year of eligibility. Doeren has to find answers on defense, as NC State ranked eighth in the ACC in yards allowed and gave up 30.2 points a game in 2013. Defense seems to be an ongoing issue for the Wolfpack, finishing eighth or worse in the ACC in total defense in five out of the last seven years. Can this group find some answers in the spring? There are pieces for Doeren to build around, including cornerback Jack Tocho, tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman.
7. Wake Forest
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Cameron, RB Dominique Gibson, WR Tyree Harris, WR Jared Crump, WR Jonathan Williams, LG Ty Hayworth, C Cory Helms, RT Dylan Intemann, DE Josh Banks, LB Brandon Chubb, LB Hunter Williams, LB Teddy Matthews, LB Marquel Lee, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, S Ryan Janvion, S Anthony Wooding Jr., P Alexander Kinal
Key Losses: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, TE Spencer Bishop, LT Steven Chase, RG Frank Souza, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kristopher Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson, LB Justin Jackson
Dave Clawson is an outstanding hire for Wake Forest, but the first-year coach faces an uphill battle for a winning record in 2014. The Demon Deacons must replace quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. The offensive line continues to be a concern, and the offense needs to develop a more consistent rushing attack. Wake Forest finished fifth in the ACC in total defense, and new coordinator Mike Elko developed some of the MAC’s best units in his stint at Bowling Green. Nikita Whitlock will be missed on the defensive line, but there’s enough talent to expect the Demon Deacons’ defense to finish in the top half of the ACC in 2014. Expect improvement as the season goes on. However, Clawson needs a little time to get Wake Forest back into bowl contention.
Early Coastal Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Ryan Williams, RB Duke Johnson, RB Dallas Crawford, WR Stacy Coley, WR Herb Waters, WR Phillip Dorsett, TE Clive Walford, LT Ereck Flowers, LG Jon Feliciano, C Shane McDermott, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DT Olsen Pierre, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Thurston Armbrister, LB Alex Figueroa, LB Tyriq McCord, CB Tracy Howard, CB Antonio Crawford, CB Artie Burns, S Deon Bush, S Rayshawn Jenkins
Key Losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, LG Malcolm Bunche, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DT Justin Renfrow, DT Luther Robinson, DT Curtis Porter, DE Shayon Green, LB Jimmy Gaines, LB Tyrone Cornileus, P Pat O’Donnell
Good luck picking the No. 1 team in the Coastal next season. Miami is the early favorite here, but North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech could each make a case for the top spot. The Hurricanes need to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but the offense should be fine with the return of running back Duke Johnson, receiver Stacy Coley and three starters on the offensive line. As indicated by the returning talent on offense, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Miami. However, the defense has been a problem in each of the last two years. The talent level is increasing, but the Hurricanes still need to develop more depth on the line. With road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech, along with a crossover game against Florida State, Miami doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to win at least 10 games for the first time since 2003.
2. North Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Marquise Williams, RB Romar Morris, RB T.J. Logan, RB Khris Francis, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, WR T.J. Thorpe, TE Jack Tabb, LG Caleb Peterson, RG Landon Turner, RT Jon Heck, DE Junior Gnonkonde, DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, DE/LB Darius Lipford, DT Ethan Farmer, LB Jeff Schoettmer, LB Travis Hughes, LB Nathan Staub, LB/S Malik Simmons, LB/S Brandon Ellerbe, CB Tim Scott, SS Dominique Green, S Brian Walker, S Darien Rankin, K Thomas Moore, P Tommy Hibbard
Key Losses: RB A.J. Blue, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, DT Tim Jackson, CB Jabari Price, S Tre Boston
A tough schedule hampered the Tar Heels in the first half of 2013, but Larry Fedora’s team rebounded to win six out of its last seven games. Can the Tar Heels continue that momentum in 2014? The emergence of quarterback Marquise Williams and a deep group of skill players should help North Carolina pick up where it left off in the bowl win over Cincinnati. The offensive line is a concern, as left tackle James Hurst expired his eligibility, and center Russell Bodine left for the NFL. While the offense could be one of the best in the ACC, the defense is a huge concern for Fedora. The Tar Heels ranked eighth in the conference in yards allowed last season and last against the run. Most of the core on defense returns, but end Kareem Martin, tackle Tim Jackson, cornerback Jabari Price and safety Tre Boston are significant losses.
Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Josh Snead, RB Shaquille Powell, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Max McCaffrey, WR Issac Blakeney, TE Braxton Deaver, LT Takoby Cofield, C Matt Skura, RG Laken Tomlinson, DE Dezmond Johnson, DE Jonathan Woodruff, DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, NG Jamal Bruce, NG Carlos Wray, LB David Helton, LB Kelby Brown, LB Kyler Brown, LB C.J. France, CB Bryon Fields, CB Breon Borders, S Jeremy Cash, S Deondre Singleton, S DeVon Edwards, S Dwayne Norman, S Corbin McCarthy, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday
Key Losses: RB Jela Duncan, WR Brandon Braxton, LG Dave Harding, RT Perry Simmons, DE Kenny Anunike, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, CB Garett Patterson, CB Ross Cockrell, S Anthony Young-Wiseman
The defending Coastal Division champions are positioned for another run at playing for the ACC title. Duke misses Clemson and Florida State in crossover play, and Virginia Tech and North Carolina visit Durham. Road games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Miami will be challenging, but David Cutcliffe has established a solid foundation in Durham. The two-quarterback system of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will make life easy on the new play-caller. Jela Duncan will be missed at running back, but Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell are a capable one-two punch on the ground. An underrated cog in Duke’s turnaround was the offensive line, and three starters are back in 2014. The defense allowed 418 yards per game in 2013. However, forcing 26 turnovers helped to balance out some of the yardage allowed. The Blue Devils have some nice pieces returning on defense, but ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, along with cornerback Ross Cockrell will be tough to replace.
4. Virginia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Mark Leal, RB Trey Edmunds, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Willie Byrn, WR Demitri Knowles, WR Joshua Stanford, TE Kalvin Cline, LT Jonathan McLaughlin, LG Caleb Farris, C David Wang, OT Laurence Gibson, OT Brent Benedict, DE Dadi Nicolas, DT Luther Maddy, DT Nigel Williams, LB Josh Trimble, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Brandon Facyson, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner, S Chuck Clark, P A.J. Hughes
Key Losses: QB Logan Thomas, WR D.J. Coles, RG Andrew Miller, DE J.R. Collins, DE James Gayle, DE Tyrel Wilson, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, CB Antone Exum
After winning at least 10 games for eight consecutive seasons (2004-11), the Hokies have won only 15 games over the last two years. Can Beamer and his staff return Virginia Tech back to the top of the Coastal Division? There’s not much separating the top six teams in the division, so don’t count out the Hokies from pushing for the top spot. However, this team also has a handful of questions surrounding its offense once again. Is Mark Leal the answer at quarterback? Can Virginia Tech find a consistent rushing attack? And will the offensive line stabilize this season? With a developing offense, the defense will have to carry this team early in the year. And as usual, Bud Foster should be up to the task. Some key players are gone, but the line and secondary will be strengths.
Key Returnees: QB Chad Voytik, RB Isaac Bennett, RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd, TE Manasseh Garner, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, OT Dorian Johnson, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE Ejuan Price, DE Bryan Murphy, DE Shakir Soto, DE David Durham, DT Darryl Render, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, LB Nicholas Grigsby, LB Matt Galambos, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Titus Howard, FS Ray Vinopal
Key Losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, LG Ryan Schlieper, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Shane Gordon, CB K’Waun Williams, SS Jason Hendricks
Looking for an early sleeper in the Coastal Division? Keep an eye on the Panthers next year. Quarterback Tom Savage must be replaced, but coach Paul Chryst has to feel positive about Chad Voytik’s future under center. And Pittsburgh has an emerging star at receiver (Tyler Boyd), along with a potential 1,000-yard back in James Conner. The offensive line has struggled over the last two years, but most of the core returns in 2014, and the stability should pay off in terms of improvement. There’s no question defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be missed on defense. However, the schedule is favorable. Pittsburgh won’t play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in crossover play, and Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Virginia Tech visit the Steel City.
6. Georgia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, RB Synjyn Days, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, WR Michael Summers, LG Trey Braun, RG Shaquille Mason, RT Bryan Chamberlain, NT Adam Gotsis, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Paul Davis, LB Tyler Marcordes, CB D.J. White, S Demond Smith, S Domonique Noble, S Chris Milton, S Jamal Golden
Key Losses: QB Vad Lee, RB Robert Godhigh, RB David Sims, LT Will Jackson, C Jay Finch, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DT Euclid Cummings, LB Brandon Watts, CB Louis Young, S Jemea Thomas
Is 2014 a make-or-break season for Paul Johnson? Despite a 31-17 overall mark in Johnson’s six seasons, 2014 is an important year for his future in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets have never finished under .500 in ACC play in Johnson’s tenure and won the Coastal Division in 2013. But for all of the positives, Georgia Tech is just 14-13 over the last two years and is just 1-5 in its last six bowl games. The Yellow Jackets are a team flying under the radar entering 2014 and could easily surprise in the standings. But there are a few glaring concerns. Quarterback Vad Lee transferred, leaving the talented, but inexperienced Justin Thomas under center. Three senior starters depart from the line, and running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh have expired their eligibility. The defense made progress under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, but he will have to find replacements for end Jeremiah Attaochu, safety Jemea Thomas and cornerback Louis Young. The schedule isn’t particularly kind, especially with road dates at Georgia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
Key Returnees: QB David Watford, QB Greyson Lambert, RB Kevin Parks, RB Khalek Shepherd, RB Taquan Mizzell, WR Darius Jennings, WR Keeon Johnson, TE Jake McGee, LG Conner Davis, RG Jay Whitmire, RT Eric Smith, DE Eli Harold, DT David Dean, DT Donte Wilkins, LB Henry Coley, LB Daquan Romero, LB Demeitre Brim, LB Max Valles, CB DreQuan Hoskey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Phelps, CB Tim Harris, CB Demetrious Nicholson, SS Anthony Harris
Key Losses: WR Tim Smith, LT Morgan Moses, C Luke Bowanko, DE Jake Snyder, DT Brent Urban, FS Rijo Walker
Mike London enters 2014 squarely on the hot seat. He has reeled in three consecutive top-35 recruiting classes, but Virginia is just 6-18 over the last two years. London is set to bring in another outstanding recruiting haul this season, so there’s no shortage of talent in Charlottesville. For the Cavaliers to show improvement in the win column, London has to find a quarterback. Is David Watford the answer? Or will Greyson Lambert unseat him in spring practice? The winner of the quarterback competition will have a solid group of running backs at their disposal. Virginia finished 2013 ranked 11th in the ACC in total defense, but this unit should carry this team in 2014. The front seven has solid depth and talent, with end Eli Harold set to have a breakout year. The Cavaliers played a tough schedule in 2013, and the non-conference slate in 2014 will be challenging with a home game against UCLA and a road trip to BYU. Virginia doesn’t catch a break in ACC play, as Florida State and Louisville are the crossover opponents with the Atlantic Division.
People are tired of hearing about the SEC, but it was a truly remarkable season for quarterbacks in the nation’s toughest conference.
And the roster of SEC signal-callers in 2014 could be as bad as '13 was good.
Mike Slive will say goodbye to half of his starting quarterbacks this offseason, including the SEC’s all-time leading passer (Aaron Murray), a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel), the most decorated QB in league history (AJ McCarron), the winningest signal-caller in South Carolina history (Connor Shaw) as well as a guy who played for two SEC teams (Zach Mettenberger).
While defense and running the ball figures to be back en vogue down South next year, that isn’t the case with the rest of the nation. The ACC returns the reigning Heisman and national title winner. The Big Ten has its top three talents back under center — all of which could press for All-American honors. And the Pac-12, in particular, will return a deep collection of elite passers with more than one eyeing a trip to New York in December.
A playmaking, game-changing super-quarterback isn’t a must to win a division, conference or national crown. But it sure does help. It’s the most important position on the field and, frankly, a great signal-caller can be plucked from any state in the nation.
So where do the best programs in college football find their on-field leaders?
Athlon has projected the starting quarterbacks for 66 of the biggest programs in the nation, a list that includes the big five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) as well as Notre Dame and BYU.
Note: This isn’t meant to be a knock on “small school” players like Navy’s Keenan Reynolds or Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. It’s merely focused on the biggest programs in the nation and where they find their quarterback.
Some liberties had to be taken. For example, two true freshmen are projected at Alabama (David Cornwell) and Texas A&M (Kyle Allen). Marquise Williams is given the nod over highly-touted Mitch Trubinsky at North Carolina. Talented up-and-comers (Anu Solomon, Johnny McCrary) and guys with some experience (Cyler Miles, Anthony Jennings) were given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a starting spot.
Another note: I acknowledge many of these names won’t start but it is the best possible educated guess at this time.
Here is what I learned about what the state of quarterback play will be in ’14:
There’s stability out West… but not from California
Texas (8), Georgia (6) and Florida (6) are the only states with more starting quarterbacks than California’s five. And the Pac-12 has easily the deepest and most talented roster of quarterbacks of any conference in the nation. However, the league out West hasn’t found a lot of talent in the Golden State’s ranks. Of the 12 Pac-12 starters, only three come from California (Cody Kessler, Sean Mannion, Jared Goff) and only three stayed home to play their college ball (Kessler, Goff, Connor Halliday). Heisman candidates Marcus Mariota (Hawaii), Brett Hundley (Ariz.), Taylor Kelly (Idaho) and Kevin Hogan (Va.) all hail from out-of-state high schools and none are from California. Even rising stars Cyler Miles and Sefo Liufau swapped states, as Miles is from Colorado and playing at Washington while Liufau is from Washington and playing at Colorado. There are great QBs out West but very few of them come from California.
SEC looks to the Peach State
Georgia has established itself as the fourth-most talent-rich state in the country behind the big three (Texas, California, Florida). And the SEC will have a distinct Peach State flavor under center in 2014. Five of the 14 starters — including a new starter at LSU, Georgia and potentially Vanderbilt — will hail from the state of Georgia. Hutson Mason and Anthony Jennings both got their feet wet at the end of ’13 and will be better off for it next fall in their first full season for two conference contenders. Johnny McCrary is the most talented signal-caller Vandy has ever signed (sorry, Jay Cutler) and has a chance to be special for the Dores. Joshua Dobbs has the inside track at Tennessee if he can hold off redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson. And then there is Nick Marshall. Auburn’s zone-read master is likely the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback and is the defending SEC champ. He is from Pineview, Ga. Additionally, another Southeastern school, Louisville, will likely start a Georgia-based quarterback in Will Gardner. In all, Georgia is second nationally with six projected starters among the top 66 teams.
Ohio could be in for a big year
The State of Ohio ranks fifth nationally in producing starting quarterbacks in 2014 with four potential starters. But what makes this collection of starters special is their massive upside. Connor Cook at Michigan State is already a Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and has yet to lose a league game in his career. Braxton Miller has Ohio State thinking national championship again after going 24-0 in the regular season the last two years. Maty Mauk is the heir apparent to James Franklin at Missouri and already has shown he has big-time ability in spot duty in 2013. Mauk was a two-time Ohio Player of the Year and owns the national high school passing records for yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), pass completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681). Finally, Clemson will likely feature an Ohio prospect as Cole Stoudt is in line to take over for the departed Tajh Boyd. All four Ohio quarterbacks will be leading ranked teams in the preseason with eyes on a conference championship.
Big 12 Locks up the Lone Star State
Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams, including 15 of the last 16 teams to win the Big 12 title, will claim a quarterback from the state of Texas in 2014. Lone Star product Bryce Petty is the star of the league and returns to Baylor while Trevor Knight at Oklahoma, J.W. Walsh at Oklahoma State, David Ash at Texas and Davis Webb at Texas Tech all hail form Texas as well. Additionally, Trevone Boykin and Paul Millard could begin the season as starters at TCU and West Virginia, respectively. Both played their high school football in Texas. Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are the only teams in the league not projected to employ a starting quarterback from the state of Texas. Jake Heaps is from Washington, Jake Waters is from Iowa and Grant Rohach is from California respectively. In all, Texas leads the nation with eight starting quarterbacks — Tommy Armstrong Jr. at Nebraska is from Cibolo, Texas.
Out of state still rules
Of the 66 programs included in this exercise, only 22 teams will start a quarterback from within its state’s borders. Further, six of those 22 starters are the only player from their state pegged to start for the one of the 66 top programs. Devin Gardner at Michigan is the only projected starter from the state of Michigan. Brandon Allen is the only projected starter from the state of Arkansas. The same can be said for Terrel Hunt at Syracuse (New York), Wes Lunt at Illinois, Danny Etling at Purdue (Indiana) and Philip Nelson at Minnesota. Otherwise, of the very early preseason top 10 teams in 2014, only two boast an in-state quarterback.
• Pennsylvania used to be a hot bed for elite quarterbacks as a long list of NFL Hall of Famers hail from the Keystone State. Now, however, the talent appears to have dried up. Two years ago when I did this exercise, there were four starters at the major college programs — CJ Brown, Ryan Nassib, Tino Sunseri, Matt McGloin — but only Maryland’s Brown remains as a starting quarterback from Pennsylvania in big-time college football.
• A few years ago, the ACC was chalk full of quarterbacks from Virginia. Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel, Bryn Renner, Mike Glennon and Logan Thomas have all moved on from the league and only David Watford at Virginia remains. That said, Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) are excellent quarterbacks from the Commonwealth but the ACC let both of them get away.
• In general, Idaho doesn’t produce many big-time college football prospects. There were eight total players ranked by 247Sports in the entire 2013 signing class from Idaho and only one, Eric Cotton to Stanford, signed with a “Big 5” program. However, two potential Heisman candidates in ’14 hail from The Gem State. Arizona State’s third-year starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation’s most effective players while BYU’s Taysom Hill is one of the best athletes in the country who showed marked improvement as a passer ball during his first full season as the starter in Provo.
• Florida is considered my many to be the most talented state in the country. But it could be severely lacking in talent under center. Jeff Driskel should be back at Florida and gets a bad rap for his play. Trevor Siemian is a solid player who splits time at Northwestern. Jake Rudock might be the best of the bunch as he helped turn Iowa around this fall. Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Cameron and Mark Leal should all step into starting roles in the ACC at NC State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech respectively. The Sunshine State is second nationally with six starters but do any of them strike fear into opposing defenses?
|Josh Bordner, BC||MD||Wes Lunt, Illinois||IL||David Cornwell, Alabama||OK|
|Cole Stoudt, Clemson||OH||Nate Sudfeld, Indiana||IN||Brandon Allen, Arkansas||AR|
|Anthony Boone, Duke||NC||Jake Rudock, Iowa||FL||Nick Marshall, Auburn||GA|
|Jameis Winston, FSU||AL||C.J. Brown, Maryland||PA||Jeff Driskel, Florida||FL|
|Justin Thomas, Ga. Tech||AL||Devin Gardner, Michigan||MI||Hutson Mason, Georgia||GA|
|Will Gardner, Louisville||GA||Connor Cook, Mich. St||OH||Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky||AL|
|Kevin Olsen, Miami||NJ||Philip Nelson, Minn.||MN||Anthony Jennings, LSU||GA|
|Marquise Williams, UNC||NC||Tommy Armstrong, Neb.||TX||Bo Wallace, Ole Miss||TN|
|Jacoby Brissett, NC St||FL||Trevor Siemian, NW||FL||Dak Prescott, Miss. St||LA|
|Chad Voytik, Pitt||TN||Braxton Miller, Ohio St||OH||Maty Mauk, Mizzou||OH|
|Terrel Hunt, Syracuse||NY||Christian Hackenberg, PSU||VA||Dylan Thompson, S. Car||SC|
|David Watford, Virginia||VA||Danny Etling, Purdue||IN||Kyle Allen, Texas A&M||AZ|
|Mark Leal, Va. Tech||FL||Gary Nova, Rutgers||NJ||Joshua Dobbs, Tenn.||GA|
|Tyler Cameron, Wake||FL||Joel Stave, Wisc.||WI||Johnny McCrary, Vandy||GA|
|Bryce Petty, Baylor||Texas||Anu Solomon, Arizona||Nevada|
|Grant Rohach, Iowa St||Calif.||Taylor Kelly, Arizona St||Idaho|
|Jake Heaps, Kansas||Wash.||Jared Goff, Cal||Calif.|
|Jake Waters, Kansas St||Iowa||Sefo Liufau, Colorado||Wash.|
|Trevor Knight, Oklahoma||Texas||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Hawaii|
|J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma St||Texas||Sean Mannion, Oregon St||Calif.|
|Trevone Boykin, TCU||Texas||Kevin Hogan, Stanford||Virginia|
|David Ash, Texas||Texas||Brett Hundley, UCLA||Arizona|
|Davis Webb, Texas Tech||Texas||Cody Kessler, USC||Calif.|
|Paul Millard, West Virginia||Texas||Adam Schulz, Utah||Wisc.|
|* Everett Golson, Notre Dame||S. Car.||Cyler Miles, Washington||Colo.|
|* Taysom Hill, BYU||Idaho||Connor Halliday, Wazzu||Wash.|
No one had to wait until Dec. 28 to see the 2013-14 didn’t really go as anyone expected.
By then, Kansas had already lost three times, Duke twice and North Carolina had proven itself as the most unpredictable team in the country.
But Dec. 28 was the day Kentucky and Louisville — the last two national champions and preseason top two teams — met. At that point, both teams were still seeking their best win of the season.
Kentucky took the in-state bragging rights and picked up the key win. In recent weeks, the Wildcats have started to look a little more like the team Big Blue Nation envisioned this season. Playing that SEC schedule helps, of course.
Louisville, though, makes our list of the most disappointing teams of the season so far. Kansas, despite four non-conference losses, has started to move off that list as its freshmen have become accustomed to the college game.
Granted, Louisville and others on this list may follow the trajectory of Kansas and turn early setbacks into second-half rebounds, but some teams' seasons may be too far gone to hope for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
This seemed to be the key season for Steve Donahue at Boston College. Donahue needed eight seasons to get Cornell to its first NCAA Tournament of his tenure, but he entered his fourth at BC with hopes of breaking through. With Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson returning from a team that went 7-11 in the ACC this was supposed to be the season BC could make a postseason push. Those hopes were dashed before Thanksgiving as the Eagles opened 1-4 with losses to Providence, UMass and UConn. At 5-12 overall and 1-3 in the ACC, Boston College probably won’t play in any postseason.
In the Athlon Sports preseason annual, we projected BYU to reach the NIT, so it’s not a huge surprise for the Cougars to be in an 11-7 predicament. The Cougars returned high-scoring guard Tyler Haws while adding sophomore Kyle Collinsworth and highly touted freshman Eric Mika to the roster, so BYU was still worth keeping an eye on early. Instead, BYU has struggled away from Provo, including an 0-2 start in West Coast Conference play with losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. BYU defeated defeated both on return trips to the Marriott Center, but a four-game road losing streak (including Utah and Oregon) isn’t a good look.
The Blue Devils may well be the No. 2 team in the ACC, but the season should still be tough to swallow for a team that was in the preseason top 10. Duke defeated Virginia 69-65 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday, but the overall trend is still troubling. A team that started in the preseason top three is in danger of being unranked thanks to difficulties on the defensive end. The Blue Devils rank 12th in the ACC in points per possession at 101 points per 100 possessions. Freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood have shown moments of brilliance, but they’re still learning to play together and with point guard Quinn Cook. Meanwhile, Rasheed Sulaimon has been invisible for parts of the season. For a team with national title aspirations, a 13-4 record with ACC losses to Notre Dame and Clemson are cause for concern.
Maybe calling Louisville a disappointment is an overreaction for a 14-3 team, but the Cardinals had to wait until Jan. 12 to get their biggest win of the season, a victory over SMU at that. The Cardinals played a lackluster non-conference schedule and lost their biggest games to North Carolina, Memphis and Kentucky, all before dismissing Chane Behanan. That said, Rick Pitino has had teams that played their best basketball in March. If Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock continue to take the pressure of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, Louisville could make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
The trouble started with an embarrassing 52-35 loss on the road to Ohio State on Nov. 16. The offense has been the worst of the Buzz Williams era, ranking outside of the top 100 in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Marquette hasn’t been helped by losing two key newcomers in Duane Wilson, who is going to redshirt with a leg injury, and junior college transfer Jameel McKay, who transferred to Iowa State without playing a game. The preseason Big East favorites are 10-7 and fighting for an NCAA berth.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Maybe a team losing a National Player of the Year who happened to be a point guard shouldn’t have be ranked in the top 12 in the first place. Especially when Trey Burke’s replacement was a freshman. Athlon’s preseason ranking for the Wolverines was a show of faith in John Beilein, who can develop point guards, and Michigan's returning talents like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has improved in recent games, but McGary is out for the remainder of the season following back surgery. At 11-4 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan may still be an NCAA Tournament team, but another deep run seems unlikely.
Through three ACC games, the Tar Heels’ season crossed the line from fascinatingly inconsistent to just bad. The Heels are 0-3, including losses to Syracuse and Miami, and they’re now a month removed from their last big win over Kentucky. North Carolina can win when Marcus Paige is making shots, but Pagie is 12 of 43 from the floor in three conference games. A year after being a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina may need to be a few games over .500 in the ACC to hit that mark this season.
A team with four top-100 players opened Big East play with three consecutive losses to go with a 9-3 mark during the non-conference schedule. Granted, two of those losses were to Wisconsin and Syracuse, but St. John’s best wins of the season came against Columbia and Georgia Tech. For a team with an NCAA-caliber roster, those aren’t NCAA-caliber results.
The SEC has Kentucky and Florida and few other certainties. Teams like LSU and Tennessee were supposed to make NCAA Tournament runs this season, but that prospect is looking iffy. Even Missouri deserves skepticism after a loss Georgia in overtime last week. LSU added two freshmen, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, to a roster that already includes forward Johnny O’Bryant, but the Tigers are 11 days removed from a home loss to Rhode Island. Tennessee just dropped a home game to Texas A&M. And Ole Miss is still a Marshall Henderson 3-point-fest, just with a lesser supporting cast.
The Runnin’ Rebels lost Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall, Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt before the season, but UNLV still had enough returning to finish with a nice record in a weakened Mountain West. That seems in doubt after UNLV dropped back-to-back home games to Air Force and Nevada. A season that features no top 100 wins now has two bad losses despite a roster that features proven players like Khem Birch and Bryce DeJean-Jones.
Jeremy Pruitt was one of the 2013 coaching carousel’s top coordinator hires and was a key piece in Florida State’s national title run. However, he won’t return to Tallahassee in 2014, as Pruitt has been named as the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
Pruitt is a rising star in the coaching ranks, spending 2007-12 on Alabama’s staff as an assistant under Nick Saban. Prior to his stint with the Crimson Tide, Pruitt worked at Hoover High School in Alabama.
Despite never working as a coordinator on the college level, Pruitt was hired by Jimbo Fisher to coordinate Florida State’s defense in 2013. The Seminoles had to replace seven starters but finished third nationally in total defense and allowed only 4.09 yards per play.
Pruitt inherited a lot of talent but did a nice job of blending the Seminoles’ depth and returning players with a new scheme. And it certainly didn’t hurt for Pruitt to have veteran assistants Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly at his disposal.
Pruitt will eventually be a head coach in the next few years, but his hire at Georgia is an upgrade over former coordinator Todd Grantham. Although the Bulldogs weren’t awful on defense under Grantham's watch, Pruitt’s work with Florida State should be a good sign for Richt in 2014.
The coaching cycle isn’t complete, but Richt’s hire of Pruitt might be the best coordinator hire of the offseason.
Georgia hires FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt http://t.co/6l7bHn2MKn— Saturday Down South (@SDS) January 14, 2014
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 14.
• Nick Saban doesn't like to lose. He also doesn't mind trolling his players.
• Here's a question I really hadn't considered: Is Pete Carroll the best coach in football?
• There's a chance the Titans' CEO has yet to meet his new coach. I guess the guy nailed the phone interview.
• Family Feud surveyed 100 people and asked them who the second-best basketball player of all time was. An alarming number of those people said Shaq.
• The rich get richer: The SEC Network is set to be a cash cow for the league.
• Click if you dare: the scariest video games of all time.
• Poor Carmelo just needs a break.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Losses to Auburn and Oklahoma aren’t sitting well with Alabama coach Nick Saban. And believe it or not, despite the fact the 2013 season just ended on Jan. 6, Saban has already started to work on motivating his team for next year.
The Crimson Tide ended the 2013 on a two-game losing streak, dropping contests to Auburn and Oklahoma.
And as the poster hanging in every Alabama locker indicates, Saban doesn’t want to repeat that two-game losing streak next season.
The Crimson Tide should be one of the favorites to win the title next year, and this poster should provide plenty of motivation for the players over the next few months.
This poster is currently hanging above every Alabama player's locker pic.twitter.com/AzPWgx0jog— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) January 13, 2014
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has announced his intention to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Carey was one of the top running backs in the nation over the last two years, rushing for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013. His numbers were even better as a sophomore in 2012, recording 1,929 yards and 23 scores on 303 attempts.
After recording over 300 rushing attempts in back-to-back seasons, Carey has plenty of mileage on his legs and moving to the NFL is the right move.
Carey could be the first running back selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Divisional Weekend:
19: Playoff wins for Bill Belichick
With the convincing win over the Colts in Foxboro on Saturday, Bill Belichick pushed his career playoff record to 19-8 all-time. The win ties him for second all-time in NFL history with the great Don Shula (19-17) and moves him to within one of tying Tom Landry’s all-time NFL record of 20 playoff victories (20-16). With a win over the Broncos, Belichik would win his 20th playoff game, earn a trip to his sixth Super Bowl and give Tom Brady an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl start.
6: Patriots rushing touchdowns
There is no doubt that the face of the Patriots organization is Tom Brady. But New England used its newly discovered running game to beat the Colts and will likely have to hand it off another 46 times to beat the Broncos this Sunday. LeGarrette Blount tied Curtis Martin's franchise playoff record with 166 yards and set a record with four rushing touchdowns while the team set a regular-season and playoff team record with six rushing touchdowns. (A stat that may shock some people is that the Patriots have been in the top three in the NFL in rushing touchdowns for four consecutive seasons.) In all, the Pats rushed 46 times for 234 yards and six scores while Brady completed just 13 passes for 198 yards. It was his fifth-lowest postseason total in 25 starts and just the second time (2010) since 2005 that he failed to reach 200 yards in a postseason game.
27: Undrafted players on the Patriots' roster
Eight starters and 27 members of the Patriots current active roster were undrafted free agents coming out of college. Blount and Danny Amendola are just two of the major contributors that were undrafted. Center Ryan Wendell and right guard Daniel Connolly each started all 16 games on the offensive line and both were undrafted. As was Kyle Arrington, Tommy Kelly and Steve Gregory on defense. This isn’t a vintage Patriots roster and its 27 undrafted free agents are yet another testament to the job Belichick has done this year. By comparison, 16 Broncos were undrafted free agents entering the league.
3: Consecutive road playoff wins for Jim Harbaugh
The 49ers have gone on the road twice to top Green Bay and Carolina in order to earn the right to visit Seattle this weekend. Add to it a win at Atlanta last year in the NFC Championship Game and Jim Harbaugh can brag about three straight true road wins in the playoffs. To this point, the 49ers have gone 8-2 on the road overall with one of those two losses coming in Seattle in Week 2. Jim Harbugh is 1-2 against the Seahawks in Seattle, 4-2 against Seattle regardless of location and 6-3 head-to-head with Pete Carroll including a 2-1 mark while at Stanford. San Francisco has won eight straight overall and five straight on the road.
7:01: Denver’s longest drive of the year
The Broncos had to hold on late to top the overmatched Chargers in Denver on Sunday, but Peyton Manning appeared to be in complete control the entire game. The Broncos' first drive was a 14-play, 86-yard march to the end zone that chewed up 7:01 of clock — the longest drive Denver has constructed all season. In fact, the Broncos dominated time of possession by running the ball 34 times for 133 yards and claiming 35:27 of clock time.
8: Times an NFL team didn’t punt in the postseason
The Broncos posted 26 first downs against the Chargers on Sunday, going 9-of-13 on third down. San Diego had just 13 first downs and was 4-of-12 on third downs. It marked the first time in Denver playoff history that the Broncos went an entire postseason game without having to punt. It was just the eighth time any team has accomplished the feat in NFL playoff history. Of course, three of those eight have had Peyton Manning under center (Colts twice).
6:8: Andrew Luck's career playoff TD:INT ratio
As easy as it has been for me to gush about Andrew Luck, it’s time to be fair about his postseason turnovers. He threw three interceptions against the Chiefs but somehow managed to lead his team to a miracle comeback. Unfortunately, neither he nor his teammates were able to overcome four more interceptions this weekend, as the Patriots constantly forced him to make imperfect throws. In three career playoff games in two seasons, Luck has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Luck had nine interceptions all season this year. For the record — and some perspective, however — Peyton Manning needed four tries to win his first playoff game and had just one touchdown pass (and two interceptions) in his first three postseason contests.
140: Marshawn Lynch's Seattle playoff record for rushing yards
In just his fifth playoff game, Lynch set the Seahawks single-game playoff rushing record by carrying 28 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns — the latter of which clinched the playoff win for Seattle. It was Lynch’s third playoff game of at least 130 yards or more, trailing only Terrell Davis (5) and Thurman Thomas (4) for the all-time NFL record. It was Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 against Atlanta.
103: Russell Wilson's career-low passing yards
The running game saved the day in what was yet another lackluster performance by a struggling Hawks offense. Seattle totaled just 277 yards of offense and 13 first downs while the Saints gained 403 and 25. Russell Wilson completed just 9 of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards passing. He was sacked three times and failed to reach paydirt for the first time since Week 6. Over his last five games, Wilson has four touchdowns, three interceptions and just one game over 200 yards passing (206 vs. NYG).
The Big 12 was one of the toughest conferences to predict last season. The conference had a significant amount of turnover at quarterback, and most preseason predictions placed the projected champion outside of the top 10.
Fast forward to 2014, and the outlook has changed for the Big 12. Oklahoma went 11-2 in a rebuilding year and is poised to make a run into college football’s playoff. Baylor is the defending conference champion, and the Bears return quarterback Bryce Petty, along with likely All-Big 12 performers in receiver Antwan Goodley and running back Shock Linwood.
Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma State round out the top five of Athlon’s early Big 12 predictions for 2014. The Wildcats finished the year by winning six out of their last seven games, while the Longhorns are under the direction of a new coach in Charlie Strong. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors, but Mike Gundy has established a solid foundation in Stillwater.
Texas Tech is a team on the rise under the direction of second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, while the TCU should be improved with most of its core returning for 2014
West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas rank as the last three teams in the conference for next season.
Very Early Big 12 Football Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, LT Tyrus Thompson, OG Adam Shead, OG Nila Kasitati, RT Daryl Williams, DE Charles Tapper, DE Geneo Grissom, DT Chuka Ndulue, DT Jordan Wade, DT Jordan Phillips, LB Frank Shannon, LB Dominique Alexander, LB Eric Striker, CB Zack Sanchez, S Quentin Hayes, DB Julian Wilson, S Ahmad Thomas, K Michael Hunnicutt
Key Losses: RB Brennan Clay, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Lacoltan Bester, C Gabe Ikard, OG Bronson Irwin, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin, S Gabe Lynn
After winning 11 games in a rebuilding year, it’s easy to see why expectations are high in Norman for 2014. Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama only fueled the anticipating for next season, especially after quarterback Trevor Knight delivered his best performance of 2013. If Knight builds on his performance against the Crimson Tide, he should blossom into one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore has a solid supporting cast, but receiver Jalen Saunders and center Gabe Ikard are big losses. With the departure of running back Brennan Clay, talented incoming freshman Joe Mixon and sophomore Keith Ford should carry the rushing attack. The defense ranked second in the Big 12 by holding opponents to just 22.1 points per game. Cornerback Aaron Colvin is a big loss, but the rest of the unit returns largely intact, and the defense will have more overall depth in 2014. Another factor working in Oklahoma’s favor next year is the schedule. The Sooners host Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Key Returnees: QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley, WR Levi Norwood, WR Clay Fuller, WR Corey Coleman, LT Spencer Drango, RG Desmine Hilliard, RT Troy Baker, DE Shawn Oakman, DE Jamal Palmer, NT Beau Blackshear, DT Byron Bonds, DT Andrew Billings, LB Bryce Hager, LB Aiavion Edwards, S Terrell Burt, S Orion Stewart
Key Losses: RB Lache Seastrunk, RB Glasco Martin, WR Tevin Reese, TE Jordan Najvar, OG Cyril Richardson, C Stefan Huber, OT Kelvin Palmer, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, LB Eddie Lackey, CB K.J. Morton, CB Demetri Goodson, DB Sam Holl, S Ahmad Dixon
The defending Big 12 champions will be back in the mix for the conference title in 2014. There are some personnel losses to overcome, but most importantly, Art Briles is back on the sidelines in Waco, and quarterback Bryce Petty decided to return for his senior season. Running back Lache Seastrunk is a big loss, but Shock Linwood is a capable replacement. The biggest concern for the offense is the line, which loses guard Cyril Richardson, center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Baylor, but the turnaround on defense was an underrated factor in 2013. Coordinator Phil Bennett will have some holes to fill, starting at defensive end where Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister will depart. Linebacker Eddie Lackey and safety Ahmad Dixon were first-team All-Big 12 selections last season and will be tough to replace in 2014. The Bears will have to play at Oklahoma and Texas next year. However, TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State visit Baylor’s new stadium.
3. Kansas State
Key Returnees: QB Jake Waters, QB Daniel Sams, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Curry Sexton, LG Cody Whitehair, C B.J. Finney, DE Ryan Mueller, DE Marquel Bryant, DT Demonte Hood, DT Travis Britz, LB Jonathan Truman, LB Will Davis, CB Randall Evans, S Dante Barnett
Key Losses: RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, LT Cornelius Lucas, RG Keenan Taylor, RT Tavon Rooks, DE Alauna Finau, DT Chaquil Reed, LB Jake Slaughter, LB Tre Walker, CB Kip Daily, CB Dorrian Roberts, S Ty Zimmerman
After a 2-4 start, Kansas State quietly finished 2013 with six victories over its final seven games. And all five of the Wildcats’ losses last season came by 10 points or less. Considering 2013 was essentially a rebuilding year, Kansas State is poised to begin 2014 as one of the top 20-25 teams in the nation. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams form a solid duo at quarterback, and receiver Tyler Lockett is one of the best in college football. There’s no clear replacement for running back John Hubert and three offensive line starters (including both tackles) are gone. Despite returning only three starters, the defense finished third in the Big 12 in total defense. This unit should rank near the top of the conference once again, especially with end Ryan Mueller returning. The biggest concern on defense will be replacing linebackers Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker, along with safety Ty Zimmerman.
Key Returnees: QB David Ash, QB Tyrone Swoopes, RB Malcolm Brown, RB Joe Bergeron, RB Johnathan Gray, RB/WR Daje Johnson, WR Jaxon Shipley, WR Kendall Sanders, WR Marcus Johnson, C Dominic Espinosa, OT Kennedy Estelle, DE Cedric Reed, DT Malcom Brown, DT Desmond Jackson, DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Steve Edmond, LB Dalton Santos, LB Jordan Hicks, LB Peter Jinkens, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Duke Thomas, S Mykkele Thompson, S Josh Turner
Key Losses: QB Case McCoy, WR Mike Davis, LT Donald Hawkins, RG Mason Walters, RT Trey Hopkins, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Chris Whaley, CB Carrington Byndom, S Adrian Phillips, P Anthony Fera
A new era is underway in Austin. Mack Brown is gone, and Charlie Strong is in. And despite a new coaching staff, a similar theme remains with the Longhorns. There’s no shortage of talent, but the offense is a question mark. Since Colt McCoy has expired his eligibility, Texas has struggled to get consistent play from its quarterbacks. Will the return of David Ash be the answer? Or will the Longhorns turn to talented sophomore Tyrone Swoopes? With concerns at quarterback, expect the Longhorns to lean on a talented trio of running backs. New line coach Joe Wickline will have his hands full this spring, as Texas needs to replace three starters in the trenches. The offense is clearly a work in progress, but the defense – especially under Strong’s leadership – will be one of the best in the Big 12. End Jackson Jeffcoat will be missed. However, Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson is a solid start in the trenches. And the defense will get a boost from the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks from injury, while cornerback Quandre Diggs turned down the NFL for one more season in Austin.
5. Oklahoma State
Key Returnees: QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales, WR Marcell Ateman, LT Daniel Koenig, OT Devin Davis, C Jake Jenkins, DE Jimmy Bean, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Sam Wren, DT James Castleman, LB Ryan Simmons, LB Kris Catlin, CB Kevin Peterson, CB Ashton Lampkin, S Lyndell Johnson
Key Losses: QB Clint Chelf, RB Jeremy Smith, WR Josh Stewart, WR Tracy Moore, WR Charlie Moore, OG Brandon Webb, OG Parker Graham, DE Tyler Johnson, DT Calvin Barnett, LB Caleb Lavey, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Joe Mitchell, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Tyler Patmon, S Daytawion Lowe, S Shamiel Gary
With 28 seniors leaving, Oklahoma State will have a hard time replicating its 10-win mark from 2013. But the Cowboys won’t fall too far in the Big 12 pecking order, as coach Mike Gundy has the program on stable ground, and there’s talent in the program. Gundy’s first order of business is to find a replacement for quarterback Clint Chelf. Will J.W. Walsh get the nod? Or will incoming freshman Mason Rudolph earn the right to start next year’s season opener against Florida State? Regardless of who starts at quarterback, expect running back Desmond Roland to get a heavy workload in 2014. The offensive line will regain the services of tackle Devin Davis, but losing line coach Joe Wickline is a huge blow. While the offense has question marks, the defense is a bigger concern. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, along with tackle Calvin Barnett and cornerback Justin Gilbert will be tough to replace. The Cowboys also face a challenging schedule, one that features road tests at TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
6. Texas Tech
Key Returnees: QB Davis Webb, QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams, RB DeAndre Washington, WR Jakeem Grant, WR Bradley Marquez, WR Jordan Davis, WR Reginald Davis, LT Le’Raven Clark, LG Alfredo Morales, C Jared Kaster, RG Beau Carpenter, DT Branden Jackson, DT Jackson Richards, LB Pete Robertson, LB Sam Eguavoen, LB Micah Awe, SS Austin Stewart, S Keenon Ward, S J.J. Gaines
Key Losses: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Eric Ward, TE Jace Amaro, RT Rashad Fortenberry, DE Kerry Hyder, NT Dennell Wesley, DT Dartwan Bush, LB Will Smith, LB Terrance Bullitt, CB Olaoluwa Falemi, CB Bruce Jones, S Tre Porter
A soft schedule helped Texas Tech jump to a 7-0 start in 2013. The Red Raiders were unable to build off their early momentum and finished the regular season at 7-5. However, Texas Tech was one of the winners of the bowl season, handling Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl. Second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury has this program trending in the right direction, and the Red Raiders will be a tough out for every team in the Big 12. Quarterback Michael Brewer should be healthy after dealing with a back injury last year, but Davis Webb finished the season by throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns against the Sun Devils. The winner of the quarterback battle will need to find new go-to targets with Eric Ward and Jace Amaro moving onto the NFL. Defensive end Kerry Hyder is the biggest loss on defense. Texas Tech will have some holes to fill on defense outside of Hyder, but a top priority for spring practice is creating more turnovers after forcing only 19 in 2013.
Key Returnees: QB/WR/RB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, RB Aaron Green, WR LaDarius Brown, WR Brandon Carter, WR Josh Doctson, WR David Porter, OT Aviante Collins, C Joey Hunt, DE Devonte Fields, DE Terrell Lathan, DE James McFarland, DT Chucky Hunter, DT Davion Pierson, DT Jon Lewis, LB Paul Dawson, LB Jonathan Anderson, LB Marcus Mallet, CB Kevin White, S Chris Hackett, S Derrick Kindred, S Sam Carter, K Jaden Oberkrom
Key Losses: QB Casey Pachall, OT James Dunbar, RG Eric Tausch, DE Jon Koontz, CB Jason Verrett, S Elisha Olabode
The Horned Frogs are coming off their worst season under coach Gary Patterson. And over the last two years, TCU is just 6-12 in Big 12 play. However, all is not lost in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have been hit hard by injuries, including significant ones to end Devonte Fields and quarterback Casey Pachall last season. Fields is set to return in 2014, and TCU should have one of the best defenses in the Big 12 – even with top cornerback Jason Verrett expiring his eligibility. While the defense is in good shape, the offense is in need of an overhaul. Patterson shuffled his coaching staff, bringing aboard Doug Meacham from Houston to call plays. Meacham should be an upgrade as the team’s offensive coordinator, but TCU has to find a quarterback. Is Trevone Boykin the answer there? Or is he suited to be an all-around threat? Perhaps the answer for the quarterback question is an incoming freshman.
8. Iowa State
Key Returnees: QB Grant Rohach, QB Sam Richardson, RB Aaron Wimberly, RB DeVondrick Nealy, WR Quenton Bundrage, WR Tad Ecby, WR Jarvis West, WR Dondre Daley, TE E.J. Bibbs, C Tom Farniok, OT Brock Dagel, OG Daniel Burton, DE Cory Morrissey, DT Rodney Coe, DT David Irving, NG Brandon Jensen, LB Luke Knott, LB Jevohn Miller, LB/DB Jared Brackens, CB Sam E. Richardson, CB Nigel Tribune
Key Losses: RB Shontrelle Johnson, RB James White, WR Justin Coleman, DE Willie Scott, LB Jeremiah George, CB Jansen Watson, S Jacques Washington, S Deon Broomfield, P Kirby Van Der Kamp
With Paul Rhoads on the sidelines, the Cyclones are always a candidate to outperform their preseason prediction. Iowa State started 2013 with a disappointing loss to Northern Iowa, but Rhoads’ team rallied with back-to-back wins to finish the year. The Cyclones have momentum going into 2014, and there is enough returning to contend for a bowl. Mark Mangino was a solid choice to be the team’s offensive coordinator, and the veteran coach has to find an answer at quarterback between Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. Rohach finished the year with back-to-back 300-yard games and should have an edge over Richardson. Running back Aaron Wimberly and receiver Quenton Bundrage are potential breakout players in 2014, and the offensive line returns largely intact. Without Jake Knott and A.J. Klein anchoring the linebacking corps, Iowa State took a step back on defense last year. The Cyclones have a few significant losses on defense this season, as linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington were All-Big 12 performers. If Mangino is able to build off Rohach’s late-season success, and the defense shows progress, there’s enough returning for Iowa State to get back to the six-win mark.
9. West Virginia
Key Returnees: QB Clint Trickett, QB Paul Millard, RB Dreamius Smith, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Daikiel Shorts, WR Kevin White, WR Mario Alford, LG Quinton Spain, RG Mark Glowinski, DE Kyle Rose, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, LB Jared Barber, LB Isaiah Bruce, LB Brandon Golson, CB Travis Bell, CB Daryl Worley, CB Ishmael Banks, S Karl Joseph, S K.J. Dillon
Key Losses: RB Charles Sims, WR Ronald Carswell, LT Nick Kindler, C Pat Eger, RT Curtis Feight, DT Will Clarke, NT Shaq Rowell, LB Doug Rigg, S Darwin Cook
Is 2014 a make-or-break year for Dana Holgorsen? After a 10-3 mark in his first season, the Mountaineers are just 11-14 over the last two years. Moving to the Big 12 certainly increased West Virginia’s competition, and the offense lost three of the top players in school history after the 2012 season (Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin). Replacing Smith, Bailey and Austin was no easy assignment, as the Mountaineers used three starting quarterbacks and averaged only 26.3 points a game. Developing a quarterback (Paul Millard or Clint Trickett) is critical for Holgorsen’s offense, but West Virginia has a potential All-Big 12 running back in Rushel Shell eligible to play in 2014. The defense was a disaster in 2012 and showed some improvement with Keith Patterson calling the plays in 2013. Injuries hit the unit hard throughout the season, but with the personnel set to return, the Mountaineers should be able to make slight improvement on defense in 2014. West Virginia doesn’t catch a break in scheduling next year. The Mountaineers play Alabama in the season opener and travel to Maryland two weeks later. If there’s a bright spot, West Virginia has five conference home games, including swing games against TCU, Kansas State and Kansas.
Key Returnees: QB Jake Heaps, QB Montell Cozart, RB Darrian Miller, RB Brandon Bourbon, RB/WR Tony Pierson, WR Tre’ Parmalee, WR Rodriguez Coleman, TE Jimmay Mundine, OG Ngalu Fusimalohi, OG Mike Smithburg, DE/LB Ben Goodman, DE/LB Michael Reynolds, DT Keon Stowers, LB Ben Heeney, LB Jake Love, CB JaCorey Shepherd, CB Dexter McDonald, SS Isaiah Johnson, S Cassius Sendish, DB Victor Simmons, DB Courtney Arnick
Key Losses: RB James Sims, LT Riley Spencer, C Gavin Howard, RT Aslam Sterling, DE/DT Keba Agostinho, DL Kevin Young, DT Jordan Tavai, S Dexter Linton
Charlie Weis has made small progress in Lawrence. The Jayhawks ended a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 victory over West Virginia in mid-November. However, Kansas’ other two victories were against South Dakota and Louisiana Tech, and this team lost by a combined score of 65-10 in its final two games (Iowa State, Kansas State). Running back James Sims (3,592 career rushing yards) has expired his eligibility, but Darrian Miller, Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon are capable options on the ground. While Sims is a big loss, quarterback play and developing targets at receiver is a bigger issue for Weis. New coordinator John Reagan was a good hire for the Jayhawks, and he will be tasked with developing quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart. The defense returns largely intact, and coordinator Dave Campo should have better depth in 2014. The Jayhawks ranked eighth in the Big 12 in total defense last season, but Big 12 opponents averaged 37.2 points a game. The returning talent should help Kansas make small gains on defense next year.
The Pac-12 might be the best conference in college football next season.
The 2014 season will be remembered forever as the first edition of the playoff era. But it also might be remembered as the year the SEC’s reign of terror ended. One look at early preseason top 25 polls and it’s easy to see just how deep and difficult the Pac-12 will be in ’14. Three of the top nine and six of the top 21 teams in the nation hail from the league out West. Throw in bowls teams Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State and it’s clear to see why the Pac-12 has closed the gap on the mighty SEC.
It also means that these teams will cannibalize each other — much like what happened in 2013. Additionally, the league plays the toughest out-of-conference schedule of any league as well. Below is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 schedules as they were finalized recently by the league. But before we jump into UCLA’s critical crossover home games, here is a breakdown of the league’s ’14 schedule as a whole.
Biggest Game in the North: Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
Biggest Game in the South: USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown: Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown II: Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown III: UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, AT&T Stadium)
South’s Toughest Crossover Slate: UCLA (Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford)
North’s Toughest Crossover Slate: Stanford (USC, at Arizona State, Utah, at UCLA)
League’s Toughest Schedule: UCLA
League’s Easiest Schedule: None (maybe USC)
Now, onto the team-by-team breakdown:
Arizona Wildcats (8-5, 4-5)
The Wildcats have been successful in Rich Rodriguez’ first two seasons but have yet to post a winning league record. Luckily, the Cats are 8-0 under RichRod in non-conference play and that shouldn’t change in 2014 with another manageable three games out of conference. In the league, however, things look brutal once again with road games at Oregon, Wazzu, UCLA and Utah. Arizona does get five home games, including marquee showdowns with USC, Washington and Arizona State. For what should be another mildly successful bowl team, a win over a key South Division foe at home could define the season (USC or Arizona State).
Best Non-Conference Game: at UTSA
Crossover Games: Cal, at Oregon, at Wazzu, Washington
Upset Opportunity: USC (Oct. 11) or Washington (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: A rivalry home game with Arizona State in the season finale
Arizona State Sun Devils (10-4, 8-1)
In just his second season, Todd Graham posted the best record in the conference (8-1) but came up short against Stanford in the title game. This team will play yet another tough out-of-league slate in 2014 with Notre Dame coming to town, but getting the Irish at home is a big win for ASU. Graham is 11-3 in Sun Devils Stadium since taking over. Oregon is noticeably absent from the schedule again this year and both UCLA and Stanford must come to Tempe. The front half of the schedule is loaded as the most critical stretch of the year comes over a five-week span in which the Devils will face UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington in October.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Nov. 8)
Crossover Games: Stanford, at Washington, at Oregon State, Wazzu
Upset Alert: at Oregon State (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: Back-to-back early games with UCLA and at USC (Weeks 5-6)
Colorado Buffaloes (4-8, 1-8)
Mike MacIntyre used a soft non-conference schedule to improve Colorado from one win in 2012 to four this season (3-0 in non-con.). Yet, this team still only beat one Pac-12 foe and will have to face another brutal schedule in 2014. The South is loaded but the Buffaloes get Arizona State, UCLA and Utah all at home in Folsom Field. A win at Cal to end September could set this team up for an upset or two in the final two months, but MacIntyre will have to make headway early in the year before a nasty late-October gauntlet that features four straight at USC, UCLA, Washington and at Arizona.
Best Non-Conference Game: Colorado State (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: at Cal, Oregon State, Washington, at Oregon
Upset Opportunity: Utah (Nov. 29)
Defining Moment: A win over Oregon State at home could give CU a 2-1 start in Pac-12 play
UCLA Bruins (10-3, 6-3)
The early frontrunner to win the South won’t have an easy path to the Pac-12 title game. Two tricky non-con games away from home (at Virginia, Texas in Arlington) get things started in 2014. The Bruins then get an off weekend before opening league play against one of the top teams in the league (at Arizona State) before back-to-back home games with Utah and Oregon. Crossover play will be difficult — Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford — but at least the two toughest games will come at home. Following a trip to Seattle in November, the Bruins get a nicely placed off weekend before finishing in brutal fashion as USC and Stanford come to town over the season’s final two weeks.
Best Non-Conference Game: Texas (Sept. 13, AT&T Stadium)
Crossover Games: Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford
Upset Alert: Arizona (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: The final two weeks of the regular season against USC and Stanford
USC Trojans (10-4, 6-3)
Steve Sarkisian won’t slide easily into his tenure at USC. The Trojans' new head man has to face Fresno State, visit Stanford and then travel 3,000 miles to Chestnut Hill to face an improved Boston College team in his first three games. The crossover schedule offers some comfort as USC will miss both Oregon and Washington but critical road division games balance the schedule out — at UCLA, at Arizona, at Utah. A big positive aspect of USC's ’14 schedule is how spread out the three critical conference games are with Stanford in Week 2, Arizona State in Week 6 and UCLA in Week 13. Between those three games are winnable contests that could allow the Trojans to push for a Pac-12 title in Coach Sark’s first season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at Stanford, Oregon State, at Wazzu, Cal
Upset Alert: at Washington State (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: USC at UCLA in the final Pac-12 game of the year
Utah Utes (5-7, 2-7)
The Utes played one of the toughest schedules in the nation a year ago and it doesn’t look like it's getting any better in 2014. Non-conference games with Fresno State and at Michigan will be tricky before conference play begins. The road conference schedule includes trips to UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford and Colorado while Utah gets to host Washington State, USC, Oregon and Arizona. A four-week stretch from Week 9 to Week 12 includes USC, at Arizona State, Oregon and at Stanford. There is an outside chance that Utah isn’t favored in a single Pac-12 game in 2014. Kyle Whittingham’s bunch played hard against the league’s best teams this year (UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford) but next fall doesn’t appear to be the year the Utes will return to pre-Pac-12 form.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Michigan (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: Wazzu, at Oregon State, Oregon, at Stanford
Upset Opportunity: USC (Oct. 25)
Defining Moment: Final two weeks against Arizona and at Colorado
California Golden Bears (1-11, 0-9)
Get work done early should be the offseason theme for second-year head man Sonny Dykes. The Bears return the home-and-home favor to Northwestern to start and that might be one of the easier games on the entire ’14 slate. After a road trip to Washington State in Week 6, there are very few chances for wins as the back half of the schedule features three straight “home” games with top-tier teams Washington, UCLA and Oregon (Levi’s Stadium) before back-to-back road tests with Oregon State and USC. Wrapping up the year are home bouts with rival Stanford and BYU. To improve on their one-win campaign, Cal must pick up some wins early against Northwestern, Sacramento State (their only guaranteed win), Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.
Best Non-Conference Game: BYU (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, at USC
Upset Opportunity: Stanford (Nov. 13)
Defining Moment: The month of September
Oregon Ducks (11-2, 7-2)
The Ducks have another chance to be a preseason top-five team and could again be the preseason favorite in the Pac-12. But to get things started right, Oregon will have to battle with reigning Rose Bowl and Big Ten champ Michigan State in a juicy non-conference tilt in Autzen Stadium on Sept. 6. A win there would catapult the Ducks into a very winnable stretch of games before the heart of the schedule gets daunting. Oregon will face UCLA on the road and Washington and Stanford at home over a four-week span to end October that will likely determine the North Division champion. Games with Utah, Colorado and Oregon State to finish isn’t all that difficult. In fact, with no Arizona State, USC and Notre Dame on the slate like Stanford has, Oregon might get the nod in the preseason solely based on scheduling.
Best Non-Conference Game: Michigan State (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: Arizona, at UCLA, at Utah, Colorado
Upset Alert: at Washington State (Sept. 20)
Defining Moment: A visit from Stanford on Nov. 1
Oregon State Beavers (7-6, 4-5)
Barring an unforeseen upset like 2013, Oregon State should start the year in much better shape in 2014 as Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State should all be wins. And with Colorado and Utah in the first six games as well, the Beavers could easily be 5-1 before visiting Stanford on Oct. 25. The crossover slate isn’t all that daunting other than a trip to USC in late September as Arizona State comes to Corvallis and Utah and Colorado will be picked as the worst two teams in the South. Oregon, Washington State and Cal all come to Corvallis in divisional play as well as trips to Seattle and Palo Alto will be brutal. Oregon State needs to be bowl-eligible before the final three weeks of the season: Arizona State, at Washington, Oregon.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Hawaii (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: at USC, at Colorado, Utah, Arizona State
Upset Opportunity: Oregon (Nov. 29)
Defining Moment: The start of November with three straight winnable home Pac-12 games
Stanford Cardinal (11-3, 7-2)
A brutal schedule was enough to knock Stanford out of national title contention in 2013 but not enough to keep the Cardinal from defending their Pac-12 title. A third straight championship will be again a huge undertaking and the schedule offers no help. The Pac-12 season begins in just Week 2 as USC comes to town as the first FBS opponent Stanford will face. After Army and a bye week, Stanford travels to Washington, Notre Dame and Arizona State in a four-week span. By the time Stanford returns home from Tempe on Oct. 25 to face Oregon State and Oregon in back-to-back games, David Shaw’s bunch will either be ranked No. 1 in the nation or totally eliminated from Pac-12 contention. The back half of the schedule is “easier” but that still includes a trip to Oregon and UCLA sandwiched around an off weekend, a visit from Utah and a road trip to Cal. Stanford could once again be facing the nation’s toughest schedule.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
Crossover Games: USC, at Arizona State, Utah, at UCLA
Upset Alert: at Washington (Sept. 27)
Defining Moment: Weeks 5-8 with road games in Seattle, South Bend and Tempe
Washington Huskies (9-4, 5-4)
Many are pointing to the Huskies, under new coach Chris Petersen, to challenge the balance of power in the Pac-12 North. And an easy early-season schedule could be part of the reason prognosticators like Washington. Four easy non-conference games (yes, four) give way to Stanford at home in the first month of the season. Folks in Palo Alto know what happened the last time the Cardinal came to Seattle. There is a nasty road trip to Eugene on Oct. 18 to deal with but critical second-half crossover games with Arizona State (Oct. 25) and UCLA (Nov. 8) both come at new Husky Stadium. Should U of W get passed all of those tests, the final three weeks could prove helpful as Washington finishes with tricky but winnable road trips to Arizona and Washington State sandwiched around a home bout with Oregon State.
Best Non-Conference Game: Illinois (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Arizona State, at Colorado, UCLA, at Arizona
Upset Alert: at Arizona (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: Facing Stanford and Oregon over a three-game span from Weeks 5-8
Washington State Cougars (6-7, 4-5)
On the back of some impressive road wins — at USC, Arizona and Cal — the Cougars made it to the postseason for the first time in a decade in 2013. To return, Wazzu will have to once again win some critical swing games. Rutgers in Seattle and at Nevada aren’t gimmies but should be wins for a team with bowl aspirations to start the year. Especially, because games with Oregon (home, Week 4) and Stanford (road, Week 7) take place in the first four weeks of conference play. Mike Leach will have to face three of the top four teams in the South again this year, making divisional swing games with Cal (home), Washington (home) and Oregon State (road) all the more important.
Best Non-Conference Game: Rutgers (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field)
Crossover Games: at Utah, Arizona, USC, at Arizona State
Upset Opportunity: USC (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: Between the bye weeks against Arizona, USC and at Oregon State
The way the story of the 2013-14 season has been told, a casual fan might think the entirety of the Midseason All-America team would be made up of freshman.
Certainly, the rookies were a key storyline during the preseason and a conversation only amplified when Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle all excelled in the first week of the season.
Indeed, all three freshmen are on our All-America teams at the midpoint, along with Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
Some reliable veterans, though, are doing just as much to shape the season from Stillwater to Omaha to Syracuse.
This week marks the midpoint between the first college basketball games of the season and Selection Sunday, and Athlon Sports will recap all the major developments of the season this week in the College Basketball Midseason Report.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
College Basketball Midseason All-America Team
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The numbers: 17.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg
Smart slumped a bit in late December and early January, weeks after a dominant 39-point, five-steal performance in a rout of Memphis on Nov. 19. Smart, though, is showing signs of returning to his All-America form in the last two games with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Texas and 22 points, 13 rebounds and rive assists against West Virginia.
G DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
The numbers: 16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.9 apg
The Marshall transfer is a major reason Iowa State started the season with 14 consecutive wins. But the talent Iowa State has around him also improved his output since playing in Huntington — his shooting percentage (53.2 percent) more than 10 percentage points higher than his career-best at Marshall as a freshman. In his return from an nakle injury, Kane scored 21 points and added eight rebounds Monday in a loss to Kansas.
F Jabari Parker, Duke
The numbers: 18.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
His production has slipped in recent games, particularly in the defensive end when Mike Krzyzewski bench him in the second half against Notre Dame. But we can’t forget his torrid pace to start the season. Parker is still tied for second in the ACC in scoring and sixth in rebounding.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton
The numbers: 25 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Shoulder sprain or no shoulder sprain, McDermott is doing to the Big East what he did to the Missouri Valley. The senior has two 30-point games in four conference games and seven overall this season, including 30 against San Diego State.
F C.J. Fair, Syracuse
The numbers: 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg
The play of floor general Tyler Ennis deserves some of the credit for Syracuse’s undefeated start, but don’t lose sight of the veteran who is setting a career high with 17.4 points.
G DeAndre Kane, Iowa State (Marshall)
G Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (Tulsa)
F Rodney Hood, Duke (Mississippi State)
F Joseph Young, Oregon (Houston)
F Josh Davis, San Diego State (Tulane)
The numbers: 16.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6 apg
The Huskies’ leader in points, rebounds and assists is on the short list of the most valuable players in the country.
G Nick Johnson, Arizona
The numbers: 16.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
The all-around senior holds everything together for the undefeated Wildcats. Also scored 22 in a tough road win over UCLA last week.
F Casey Prather, Florida
The numbers: 17 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
Former role player has been a revelation this season for the Gators even though he’s been injured in recent games.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky
The numbers: 16.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg
The rest of the Wildcats’ talented roster is finally giving opponents more to think about than stopping Randle down low.
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The numbers: 14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg
The sophomore followed up a promising freshman season by leading the undefeated Badgers in scoring and rebounding.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
The numbers: 11.6 ppg, 5.7 apg
Rookie point guard averages an outstanding 4.1 assists for every turnover.
G Keith Appling, Michigan State
The numbers: 16.4 ppg, 4.6 apg
The Spartans have frustrated Tom Izzo but they’re still 4-0 in Big Ten play behind Appling’s 18 ppg in conference play.
F Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The numbers: 12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg
Standout defender has been key cog for undefeated Wildcats.
F T.J. Warren, NC State
The numbers: 22.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg
The ACC’s leader in scoring and offensive rebounding is a one-man show for the Wolfpack.
F Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The numbers: 15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg
The freshman leads the Jayhawks in scoring and looks like he’s about to take charge.
The Jan. 11-12 weekend in college basketball may have been the most important to date during the season so far, or at least since November.
The ranks of the undefeated dropped by one with Iowa State’s loss Saturday to Oklahoma. That leaves only Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin and Wichita State among the unbeaten, though the Shockers had a close call of their own Saturday.
The Cyclones, though, weren't alone with an upsetting loss. Five of the top 10 teams lost at least one game last week. Ohio State started the week 15-0 and finished 15-2. But the bigger news will be on the injury front for point guards. DeAndre Kane may return in time for Kansas tonight, but the outlook isn’t so optimistic for Spencer Dinwiddie at Colorado.
Elsewhere, Tobacco Road has a share of problems it hasn’t had for a long time. Duke and North Carolina are a combined 1-5 in the ACC this season as North Carolina can’t make a shot and Duke can’t seem to stop them.
If you missed anything during the college basketball weekend, here’s what you need to know.
The 10 Most Important Things in College Basketball: Jan. 13
1. Iowa State lost twice Saturday
The Cyclones had a chance to avoid their first loss of the season despite trailing by as much as 13 in the second half before a few disastrous possessions allowed the Sooners’ to hold for an 87-82 win. The biggest news, though, was a sprained ankle to star point guard DeAndre Kane in the final minutes. Teammates carried him to the bench, and the Cyclones have precious little time to wait for him to return to full strength. Kane may be able to play against Kansas, but it won’t be comfortable. After hosting the Jayhawks, Iowa State faces Texas, Kansas State, Kansas again, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all before Feb. 8. Kane’s replacement would be Monte Morris, a freshman who has a 44-to-9 assist-to-turnover ratio in 21.7 minutes per game. He’s capable, but he could get exposed in extended duty against the deeper-than-expected Big 12.
2. Colorado may have sustained the biggest loss of the weekend
The Buffaloes’ hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season hang in the balance as Colorado waits for the results of an MRI on guard Spencer Dinwiddie after he sustained a knee injury in a 71-54 loss to Washington. Tad Boyle’s initial reaction to the injury to his to player was not encouraging. “My gut says it’s not good, but we’ll see,” Boyle told reporters. In the next two weeks, Colorado plays host to UCLA and USC before visiting Arizona and Arizona State.
3. Reversing fortunes in the Big Ten
After narrow losses to Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin away from Iowa City, Iowa still needed a big-time win to legitimize the Hawkeyes’ best season since 2005-06. Iowa got it in an 84-74 win over Ohio State in Columbus, signaling Iowa’s ability to contend for the Big Ten title. Iowa trailed by as much as nine in the second half but quickly rallied to tie and then closed out the game by making 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, Ohio State has lost two in a row in the Big Ten, one after a furious second-half rally at Michigan State and the latest at home to Iowa. The Buckeyes have a four-game stretch against Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State to recover before facing Wisconsin and Iowa in back-to-back games to start February.
Related: Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble is Athlon's National Player of the Week
4. Problems at _uke
As in no D. Cheap shot aside, Duke is having a miserable defensive season by Blue Devils standards. That much was exposed even more in a 72-59 loss at Clemson on Saturday — The Tigers, incidentally, are surprise NCAA Tournament contenders thanks to one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Clemson shot 47.2 percent against Duke and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. Duke’s defensive efficiency rating and rank (96th nationally) on KenPom.com is the worst going back to 2003. If opponents continue to shoot 44.9 percent from the floor against Duke, it will be the worst field goal percentage defense for the Blue Devils since allowing opponents to shoot 46.7 percent in 1991-92. Duke won the national title that season, but that was a different era. The Blue Devils are 1-2 in the league so far.
Related: Boeheim is one of our midseason coaches of the year
5. Crisis time in Chapel Hill
Not many teams, if any, are going to win in the Carrier Dome this season, so a 57-45 loss to Syracuse on its face isn’t a major issue. Compounding that with losses to Wake Forest and Miami, though, is a problem. North Carolina is 0-3 in the ACC for the first time since 1996-97 and is starting to look like a team that has more bad losses ahead of it than out-of-nowhere wins. Two keys for North Carolina to stay in NCAA contention: Marcus Paige needs to make shots and the Heels need to get the 3-point line under control. Paige is shooting 46.2 percent from the floor in wins and 34.1 percent in losses. North Carolina has to take fewer 3s. The Tar Heels average 14.3 shots from 3 in losses (at a 24.4 percent clip) and 9.4 3-point attempts in wins (at a 36.2 percent rate).
Virginia at Duke (Monday)
Kansas at Iowa State (Monday)
Wisconsin at Indiana (Tuesday)
Oklahoma at Kansas State (Tuesday)
Washington at Cal (Wednesday)
UCLA at Colorado (Thursday)
Ohio State at Minnesota (Thursday)
Wichita State remained among the undefeated, but the Shockers faced their toughest test of the season on the road against Missouri State. A disastrous first half yielded eight turnovers and eight field goals (on 22 attempts). Wichita State rallied from an 18-point deficit to force overtime on the way to a 72-69 win, but the game was a clear signal that road wins in the Missouri Valley won’t be easy.
7. What happened to Oregon?
Two weeks ago, Oregon was undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Now, the Ducks are one overtime victory over Utah away from being winless in the Pac-12. The Ducks have been a mess in the defensive end since conference play began, contributing to losses to Colorado on the road and Cal and Stanford at home. Pac-12 opponents are shooting 49.6 percent against the Ducks while Oregon has the 10th-best defensive rebound rate in the league since Pac-12 play began.
8. McDermott is just fine
Creighton’s player of the year contender Doug McDermott suffered a shoulder sprain a week ago, but you couldn’t tell by his performance against Xavier. McDermott went 13 of 24 from the floor for 35 points in a 95-89 win. If the Bluejays can beat Providence and Butler, Creighton and Villanova could both be undefeated in league play when they meet in Philadelphia on Jan. 20.
9. Saint Louis is darn good
Is it time to declare Saint Louis the Atlantic 10 favorite? Seems that way after the Billikens defeated Dayton 67-59 on the road Saturday. The Flyers shot only 19 of 62 from the floor, including 4 of 14 from 3-point range against Saint Louis. The Billikens don’t have a slew of great wins (Dayton and Indiana State are the best right now), but Saint Louis’ only losses are by single digits to undefeated Wisconsin and Wichita State.
10. Wayne Selden’s emergence
Kansas has been waiting all season for its freshmen to play with an edge. The Jayhawks finally got it this weekend, not from Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid, but from Wayne Selden. A McDonald’s All-American and a five-star recruit, Selden could only be overlooked on a freshman class of this caliber. The last two games, though, have been his best of the season. He scored 24 in a road win over Oklahoma and 24 against a hot Kansas State team while shooting 16 of 27 for the week.
The official 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with dates, start times, television information and defending winners.
The official 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with dates, start times, television information and defending winners.
The official 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule with dates, start times, television information and defending winners.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 13.
• Celebrities continue to take to Instagram to display their assets. I'm trusting that these are celebrities; I've never heard of most of them.
• All in all, a pretty great weekend of football. Enjoy this Divisional Round remix courtesy of the NFL.
• Other weekend NFL highlights: Wes Welker looking like Dark Helmet from "Spaceballs"; the Niners' Colin Kaepernick mocking Cam Newton's Superman celebration; and Andrew Luck disgustingly spewing fluid from his mouth like a rabid Ol' Yeller.
• For his part, Peyton just wants to chillax with a tasty Bud Light.
• Tom Brady, of all people. is playing the disrespected underdog card. That's right, Tom — nobody on earth thinks the most successful franchise of the 21st century can possibly win the AFC Championship for the sixth time.
• So baseball won one in the A-Rod case. But was it worth it?
• The mid-majors continue to dazzle with off-the-glass alley-oop dunks. This time, it's Wagner.
• Sir Charles weighs in on the Patriot Way.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
After three successful years at Vanderbilt, James Franklin has been hired as the new head coach at Penn State. Franklin replaces Bill O’Brien, who decided to leave Happy Valley for the NFL after two seasons.
During his three-year stint with the Commodores, Franklin guided Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games (a first in program history). The Commodores also recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons and won nine SEC games over the last two years.
While Franklin didn’t win a SEC title at Vanderbilt, his 24 wins from 2011-13 was the best three-year stretch in school history.
Franklin should be an excellent fit at Penn State. He is a Pennsylvania native and played college football at East Stroudsburg.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for Penn State, followed by the final grade.
Positives for Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin
The Perfect Fit
It can be a bit of a cliché. Coaches tend to throw out the “dream job” talk a lot during introductory press conferences. But for Franklin, this job is the perfect fit. As a Pennsylvania native, he is familiar with the history and tradition of Penn State. Former coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t crazy about being the face of a program, while dealing with all of the off-the-field obligations that goes with being a head coach. But Franklin will have no trouble filling all of those roles and more. Franklin just gets the college experience and thrives on building relationships with students, recruiters, coaches and administrators. Considering the long-term uncertainty of who will serve as the school’s athletic director, Franklin will have no trouble taking the torch for the football program and doing all of the fundraising or booster glad-handling.
Expect Franklin to excel at recruiting to Penn State. From 2007-11, Vanderbilt did not sign a top-50 class. But in 2012, the Commodores inked the No. 44 class and nearly landed in the top 25 last season (No. 26 by 247Sports). Franklin can clearly recruit. And considering Penn State is one of the top 15-20 jobs in the nation, it should be easier to attract talent to Happy Valley. Franklin also has experience recruiting this area from his time as an assistant at Maryland. The Terrapins have ace recruiter Mike Locksley on staff, but Franklin’s move to Penn State is a blow to Maryland's recruiting. Franklin will help the Nittany Lions close the in-state borders for recruiting wars and will help this program win some head-to-head battles with Ohio State or Michigan.
Background on offense
Vanderbilt never finished higher than seventh in the SEC in total offense under Franklin’s watch. However, that stretch was a clear upgrade from previous seasons. Prior to his three-year stint at Vanderbilt, Franklin served as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland. Bill O’Brien might be more of an offensive innovator, but Franklin and sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is going to be a dangerous combination for the rest of the Big Ten. Franklin will also maximize the talent the talent on the roster and tailor his schemes to fit the personnel.
Negatives for Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin
Searching…searching…are there any?
It’s hard to find any negatives for this hire. Sure, you can nitpick Franklin’s record at Vanderbilt. The Commodores weren’t beating the SEC’s elite and lacked victories over teams with winning records. But again, 24 wins over the last three years is the most in program history. Winning eight or nine games a season at Vanderbilt is almost equivalent to winning 10 or 11 contests a year at Alabama. There’s no question Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC, so going to bowl games on a consistent basis and pushing for a 10-win season is quite an accomplishment.
Franklin to Penn State likely supplants Washington’s pick of Chris Petersen as the No. 1 head coach hire for the 2013-14 coaching carousel. While Franklin could have interest in a NFL job down the line, it seems unlikely he leaves Penn State over the next five years. There’s simply not a better fit for the job in Happy Valley. Franklin is a master recruiter, motivator and a sharp X’s and O’s coach. Penn State is still short on scholarships and has two more years left on its bowl ban. However, Franklin will have no trouble selling Penn State to recruits. Most importantly, Franklin won’t back down from any challenge, including recruiting against Ohio State or Michigan. If the Big Ten wants to close the gap that has developed between the other conferences and SEC and Pac-12 for the best in the nation, it needs Penn State to thrive. Behind Franklin, the Nittany Lions are going to win a lot of games and will be a factor on the national scene once again.
Grading Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin: A+