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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+
The American Athletic Conference has experienced several changes over the last few years. Of course, the biggest is a name change. The Big East is only a basketball conference, with the football schools rebranded under the American Athletic Conference label.
Outside of the name, the biggest change has been the programs in the conference. Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh departed the old Big East for the ACC, West Virginia left for the Big 12, and Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten.
UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa joined the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA, while Temple rejoined the league after a short stint in the MAC. Navy is set to join the conference in 2015.
Despite the upheaval and uncertainty surrounding the league in previous years, the conference seems to be on stable ground entering 2014. Sure, this league isn’t going to challenge the SEC, Pac-12 or ACC for overall strength. However, the American Athletic shouldn’t have to worry about any defections for the foreseeable future.
Turning the page to 2014, it’s anyone’s guess which team should start No. 1 in preseason polls. UCF lost quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL, but the Knights still return a lot of talent next season. Cincinnati, East Carolina and Houston should also get consideration for the top spot.
Very Early American Athletic Conference Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, RB Hosey Williams, WR Shaq Washington, WR Chris Moore, WR Mekale McKay, LT Eric Lefeld, C Deyshawn Bond, RT Parker Ehinger, DE Silverberry Mouhon, DE Brad Harrah, LB Jeff Luc, LB Nick Temple, CB Howard Wilder, S Zach Edwards, S Adrian Witty
Key Losses: QB Brendon Kay, WR Anthony McClung, LG Austen Bujnoch, RG Sam Longo, DT Jordan Stepp, DT Adam Dempsey, LB Greg Blair, CB Deven Drane, S Arryn Chenault
Good luck picking the No. 1 team in the American Athletic Conference next season. Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and East Carolina can each make a strong case to be selected as the preseason favorite. It’s early, so this pick can change. However, let’s give a slight edge to the Bearcats at No. 1. Quarterback Brendon Kay must be replaced, but former top recruit Gunner Kiel is ready to step into the starting lineup. If Kiel is as good as advertised, Cincinnati’s offense will have few weaknesses. The defense is a concern for coach Tommy Tuberville, especially at defensive tackle where Jordan Stepp, Marques Aiken and Adam Dempsey depart. Linebacker Greg Blair and two other starters in the secondary will be missed. In 18 years as a head coach, Tuberville has just four losing seasons. That consistency, combined with Cincinnati’s recent success (seven years of at least eight wins since 2006), and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Bearcats to win the American Athletic title in 2014.
Key Returnees: RB William Stanback, WR Rannell Hall, WR J.J. Worton, WR Breshad Perriman, LT Torrian Wilson, C Joey Grant, DE Thomas Niles, DE Deion Green, LB Terrance Plummer, LB Justin McDonald, LB Troy Gray, CB Jacoby Glenn, CB Jordan Ozerities, SS Clayton Geathers, FS Brandon Alexander
Key Losses: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, WR Jeff Godfrey, LG Jordan McCray, RG Justin McCray, RT Chris Martin, DT E.J. Dunston, LB Sean Maag
Repeating as the American Athletic Conference champion will be a challenge for UCF. However, it’s certainly not impossible. Losing quarterback Blake Bortles to the NFL is a huge blow for the Knights. And Bortles isn’t the only one coach George O’Leary has to replace on offense. Running back Storm Johnson also decided to leave early for the NFL Draft, while three all-conference linemen expired their eligibility. UCF may not be as explosive on offense in 2014, but the defense returns nearly everyone and should help to pickup the slack. There’s plenty of talent for O’Leary to rebuild around. But how quickly can UCF find a quarterback?
3. East Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, WR Isaiah Jones, LT Ike Harris, C C.J. Struyk, RT Tre Robertson, DE Terrell Stanley, NT Chrishon Rose, LB Zeek Bigger, LB Brandon Williams, LB Montese Overton, LB Jeremy Grove, CB Josh Hawkins, CB Detric Allen
Key Losses: RB Vintavious Cooper, WR Lance Ray, WR Reese Wiggins, LG Jordan Davis, RG Will Simmons, DE Lee Pegues, LB Derrell Johnson, LB Kyle Tudor, CB Adonis Armstrong, S Damon Magazu, S Chip Thompson
Behind a prolific passing offense, the Pirates should be one of the frontrunners to win the American Athletic Conference in 2014. Quarterback Shane Carden has thrown 56 touchdowns over the last two years and returns top targets Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones in 2014. The biggest concern on offense will be a line that needs to replace first-team Conference USA lineman Will Simmons and left guard Jordan Davis. The defense has shown improvement under coach Ruffin McNeill, finishing sixth in Conference USA in total defense (368.8 ypg). This unit must replace three second-team All-Conference USA selections next year in end Lee Pegues, linebacker Derrell Johnson and safety Damon Magazu. Linebackers Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton and defensive end Terrell Stanley will lead the rebuilding effort on defense next season. Stepping into the American Athletic is a slight increase in competition, but McNeill has one of the top returning all-around teams in the conference in 2014.
Key Returnees: QB John O’Korn, QB Greg Ward, RB Kenneth Farrow, RB Ryan Jackson, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Daniel Spencer, WR Markeith Ambles, C Bryce Redman, RT Rowdy Harper, DE Trevor Harris, DE Tyus Bowser, DE Eric Braswell, DT Joey Mbu, DT Tomme Mark, LB Efrem Oliphant, LB Derrick Mathews, LB Steven Taylor, CB William Jackson, S Trevon Stewart, S Adrian McDonald
Key Losses: WR Xavier Maxwell, LT De’Anthony Sims, LG Ty Cloud, RG Kevin Forsch, CB Zach McMillian, CB Thomas Bates, P Richie Leone
Tony Levine’s debut at Houston did not go so well (5-7), but the Cougars rebounded with an 8-5 mark in 2013. Both sides of the ball contributed to the three-game improvement in the win column. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn was outstanding in his first year on campus (28 TDs, 10 INTs), and receiver Deontay Greenberry could be an All-American in 2014. A big concern for offensive coordinator Travis Bush next season will be the offensive line, which has to replace three starters. The defense allowed 415.8 yards per game but forced a whopping 43 turnovers. Can the Cougars repeat that formula again next season?
Key Returnees: QB Nick Montana, QB Devin Powell, FB/RB Rob Kelley, WR Justyn Shackleford, WR Xavier Rush, LT Arturo Uzdavinis, LG Nathan Shienle, RT Sean Donnelly, DE Tyler Gilbert, DE Royce LaFrance, LB Nico Marley, LB Jarrod Franklin, CB Lorenzo Doss, S Darion Monroe, S Sam Scofield
Key Losses: RB Orleans Darkwa, WR Ryan Grant, C Zach Morgan, RG Rio Mares, DT Julius Warmsley, DT Chris Davenport, LB Zach Davis, LB Dominique Robertson, DB Derrick Strozier, CB Jordan Sullen, K Cairo Santos
Tulane was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season. The Green Wave went 2-10 in 2012, but improved their win total by five games in Curtis Johnson’s second year, finishing 7-6 with a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl. Tulane had some good luck on its side in 2013, as it was outgained by an average of 49.5 yards per game in conference play and was +11 in turnover margin. Developing the offense will be a priority for Johnson in spring practice. Devin Powell and Nick Montana will battle for the starting quarterback spot, but the offense will miss running back Orleans Darkwa and receiver Ryan Grant. The defense led C-USA in fewest yards allowed per play (4.8) and returns largely intact next year. Tackles Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport, along with defensive backs Derrick Strozier and Jordan Sullen will be missed. However, the secondary remains a strength with Lorenzo Doss returning at cornerback, while Royce LaFrance and Tyler Gilbert return at end. Sophomore Nico Marley leads the linebacking corps after recording 67 stops in 2013. Tulane is also set to open its new on-campus stadium next year, which should help the Green Wave have a better home-field environment.
Key Returnees: QB P.J. Walker, RB Kenneth Harper, RB Zaire Williams, WR Robby Anderson, C Kyle Friend, RT Zach Hooks, DE Matt Ioannidis, DT Hershey Walton, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Nate D. Smith, LB Sharif Finch, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Robey, SS Jihaad Pretlow
Key Losses: WR Ryan Alderman, LT Cody Booth, LG Jeff Whittingham, LB Blaze Caponegro, CB Zamel Johnson, FS Abdul Smith
Matt Rhule’s first season resulted in a 2-10 mark, but there are a few reasons to be optimistic in 2014. The Owls lost each of their last four games by 10 points or less, including a three-point defeat to conference champion UCF. A key to the late-season surge was freshman quarterback P.J. Walker (20 TDs, 8 INTs). Walker’s development should be aided by a solid supporting cast next year, which includes two 500-yard rushers and favorite receiver Ryan Anderson (44 receptions). While the offense should have no trouble scoring points, the defense needs to make significant progress. Temple has ranked last in the conference in total defense in each of the last two years and allowed 6.4 yards per play in 2013. There’s not a ton of departing talent on defense, but this unit needs to show major progress before this team can make a bowl. Improvement should expected in the win column for Rhule’s second year.
7. South Florida
Key Returnees: QB Mike White, RB Willie Davis, WR Andre Davis, TE Sean Price, TE Mike McFarland, LT Darrell Williams, LG Brynjar Gudmundsson, C Austin Reiter, RT Quinterrius Eatmon, DT Elkino Watson,DT Todd Chandler, LB Reshard Cliett, LB Nigel Harris, CB Johnny Ward, CB Kenneth Durden, S Nate Godwin, K Marvin Kloss
Key Losses: RB Marcus Shaw, DE Aaron Lynch, DE Tevin Mims, DT Luke Sager, LB DeDe Lattimore, CB Fidel Montgomery, S Mark Joyce
If history is an indication of what’s to come in Willie Taggart’s second year, the Bulls could be one of the most-improved teams in the American Athletic Conference. At Western Kentucky, Taggart went 2-10 in his first season and rebounded to 7-5 the following year. Sophomore quarterback Mike White and receiver Andre Davis are the biggest reasons for optimism on offense for Taggart. The defense ranked No. 3 in the American Athletic Conference in fewest yards allowed per game. However, generating a pass rush and stopping the run were problems, and both areas are a concern with the departure of end Aaron Lynch and standout linebacker DeDe Lattimore. Taggart is bringing in the conference’s top recruiting class, which should help to fill some of the needs on this roster.
Key Returnees: QB Neal Burcham, RB Traylon Shead, RB Prescott Line, WR Der’rikk Thompson, WR Darius Joseph, LT Chauncey Briggs, C Taylor Lasecki, RG Ben Hughes, RT Kris Weeks, DE Zach Wood, DE Beau Barnes, DE Zelt Minor, LB Stephon Sanders, LB Jonathan Yenga, S Hayden Greenbauer, S Shakiel Randolph
Key Losses: QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Jeremy Johnson, WR Keenan Holman, LG Ben Gottschalk, LB Randall Joyner, LB Kevin Pope, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Chris Parks, SS Jay Scott
For the first time since 2008, SMU missed out on a bowl last year. For June Jones to get the Mustangs back to the postseason, he needs to find a replacement for quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Neal Burcham served as Gilbert’s backup in 2013, but Connor Preston, Kolney Cassel or an incoming freshman could push for time. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the quarterback will be surrounded by a solid supporting cast. Running back Traylon Shead needs to stay healthy, but Der’rikk Thompson and Darius Joseph will be one of the American Athletic Conference’s top duos at receiver. The Mustangs allowed 33.3 points a game last year and must replace standouts Randall Joyner (LB) and Kenneth Acker (CB). If Jones can develop a quarterback, SMU should have a good shot to return to the postseason in 2014.
Key Returnees: QB Paxton Lynch, RB Brandon Hayes, RB Doroland Dorceus, WR Joe Craig, WR Sam Craft, WR Tevin Jones, WR Keiwone Malone, LT Taylor Fallin, RG Al Bond, RT Nykiren Wellington, DE Martin Ifedi, DE Ricky Hunter, DE/LB Jackson Dillon, NT Terry Redden, LB Charles Harris, LB Tank Jakes, LB Ryan Coleman, CB Andrew Gaines, CB Bobby McCain, CB Bakari Hollier, SS Reggis Ball
Key Losses: OG/C Chris Schuetz, LB Anthony Brown, FS Lonnie Ballentine, SS Anthony Watson, P Tom Hornsey
Despite winning just seven games through his first two years at Memphis, Justin Fuente has this program trending in the right direction. The Tigers won only one conference game (USF) but lost to Louisville and UCF by a touchdown. In order for Memphis to exceed its 2013 win total, it needs to find some answers on offense (311.5 ypg). Quarterback Paxton Lynch had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter and should be better with another offseason to work with Fuente in 2014. The rushing attack received a boost when running back Brandon Hayes was granted an extra year of eligibility for 2014. Finding a new go-to back will be a priority for Fuente, but the receiving corps and offensive line should be two potential strengths for the offense. Memphis allowed only 24.6 points a game in 2013. Most of the core returns next year, including standout end Martin Ifedi. If Lynch takes a big step in his development, the Tigers have the talent on defense to approach five wins next season.
Key Returnees: QB Casey Cochran, QB Tim Boyle, RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Deshon Foxx, WR Shakim Phillips, C Alex Mateas, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Julian Campenni, LB Jefferson Ashiru, CB Byron Jones, S Obi Melifonwu, S Ty-Meer Brown
Key Losses: LT Jimmy Bennett, OG Steve Greene, OG Tyler Bullock, DE Jesse Joseph, DE Tim Willman, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Yawin Smallwood, CB Taylor Mack
UConn started 2013 0-9 but found momentum late in the year. Behind interim coach T.J. Weist, the Huskies won their final three games, including a 45-10 victory over Memphis in the season finale. New coach Bob Diaco was a solid hire and brings much-needed energy into the program. But UConn has a few holes on that roster that will take some time to fix through recruiting. Sophomore quarterbacks Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle are promising and will battle for the starting spot in spring practice. The offensive line was porous (41 sacks) and three starters depart. Considering the lack of success by the line, losing three starters isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Due to the struggles in the win column over the last few years, the defense has been overlooked. UConn ranked sixth in the conference in yards allowed last season, but this unit ranked No. 1 in the Big East in 2012. Diaco’s specialty is on defense, and he will have his work cut out for him in the spring, as linebacker Yawin Smallwood and tackle Shamar Stephen are big losses.
Key Returnees: QB Dane Evans, WR Keevan Lucas, WR Thomas Roberson, WR Keyarris Garrett, LT Garrett Stafford, LG Jake Alexander, C Dylan Foxworth, DE Brentom Todd, DE Derrick Alexander, DT Derrick Luetjen, LB Mitchell Osborne, LB Donnell Hawkins, Bandit Michael Mudoh, CB Darnell Walker Jr., FS Will Barrow
Key Losses: QB Cody Green, RB Trey Watts, RB Ja’Terian Douglas, WR Jordan James, RG Gabe Moyer, RT Stetson Burnett, LB Shawn Jackson
After winning 29 games from 2010-12, the Golden Hurricane experienced their worst season in 2013 since a 1-11 mark in 2002. Problems on both sides of the ball contributed to the regression for Tulsa, starting on offense with quarterbacks Cody Green and Dane Evans. Green missed time due to injury, but he completed only 55.5 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks when he was on the field. Evans wasn’t much better, completing only 43.1 percent of his throws and tossing 10 picks to four touchdowns. In order for Tulsa to get back to a bowl, Evans, Joseph Calcagni or Ryan Rubley has to settle the quarterback spot. And making matters even tougher for the offense is the departure of running back Trey Watts (171.4 all-purpose yards per game). The Golden Hurricane ranked 11th in Conference USA in total defense and allowed 33.9 points per game. While the final tally on defense wasn’t pretty, nearly everyone from the two-deep returns for 2014. Moving to the American Athletic Conference means a tougher schedule is on tap, and non-conference games against Colorado State, FAU and Oklahoma won’t leave much room for error. How high Tulsa can climb in the rankings largely depends on whether or not this team can find a quarterback.
If there could be a knock on a team that was already well on its way to its best season since 2005-06, it was that Iowa lacked two things: A win over a major contender and a statement road win.
Iowa claimed both Sunday.
Before facing Ohio State in Columbus, Iowa’s best wins were over Xavier and Notre Dame. Fine wins, but the Hawkeyes tantalized in close calls with Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin.
Behind the play of Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa defeated Ohio State 84-74 in Columbus on Sunday to give the Hawkeyes the signature win of their best season since the Steve Alford era.
"It was a battle of defenses," said Marble, the Athlon Sports National Player of the Week. "We scored a lot of points. They don't usually give up 84. That goes to show the character of our team to play our style of play, listen to our coaches and follow the game plan."
Athlon Sports National College Basketball Awards: Jan. 13
National Player of the Week: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
Marble led the way in the win at Ohio State with 22 points on 8 of 11 shots from the field. Marble came up with clutch plays throughout the game, including a steal that set up an Aaron White fast break to put Iowa up by 5 in the final four minutes. Marble added four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals against the Buckeyes. In a 93-67 rout of Northwestern earlier in the week, Marble scored 15 points with six assists and four steals.
National Freshman of the Week: Wayne Selden, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid so far have received all NBA Draft talk, but at least for a week, Selden was Kansas’ top freshman. Selden broke out for a pair of 20-point games against potential NCAA Tournament teams. Selden scored 20 points in an 86-60 win over Kansas State on Saturday and 24 in a 90-83 road win over Oklahoma on Wednesday. Selden shot 16 of 27 from the field and 8 of 15 from 3-point range this week.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Wilcox scored a season-high 31 points (on 12-of-18 shooting) as Washington improved to 3–1 in the Pac-12 with an impressive 71–54 win over Colorado. Wilcox, a senior guard, is second in the league in scoring with a 19.8-point scoring average. He also leads the Pac-12 with 3.1 made 3-point field goals per game.
Other Primetime Players this Week
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds while playing all 40 minutes as Syracuse — one of four undefeated teams in the nation — beat North Carolina 57–45 at the Carrier Dome. Fair, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is averaging 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in the Orange’s three ACC games.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Making just his second start of the season, Finney-Smith scored a career-high 22 points and added 15 rebounds to help Florida escape Fayetteville with an 84–82 overtime win over Arkansas. A transfer from Virginia Tech, Finney-Smith was in the starting lineup because Casey Prather, the Gators’ leading scorer, was out with a bone bruise in his right knee.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Memphis rebounded from a surprising loss at home to Cincinnati in its American Athletic Conference debut by recording wins at Louisville and vs. Temple last week. Goodwin, a 6-9 forward from Georgia, led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds against Louisville and 23 and 11 in the win over Temple.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Wichita State rallied from 19 points down in the second half to beat Missouri State in overtime 72–69 to keep its dream of an undefeated season alive. Early, the Shockers’ standout senior forward, only hit 4-of-14 from the field, but he went 13-of-14 from the foul line en route to a 22-point, 14-rebound performance. Early has scored 18 points or more in three of Wichita State’s Missouri Valley games.
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
McDaniels scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds to lead Clemson to a 72–59 win over Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum. McDaniels was one of three Tigers to record a double-double; Jaron Blossomgame had 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Landry Nnoko chipped in with 10 and 13 for Brad Brownell’s club. Clemson is 2–1 in the ACC.
Justin Cobbs, Cal
Cobbs has been remarkably consistent for surprising Cal, who jumped out to a 3–0 record in the Pac-12 with road wins at Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State. Cobbs, who began his career at Minnesota, scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds in the win over Oregon State on Saturday. He has converted 6-of-13 from the field and scored either 18 or 20 points in all three league games to date.
Doug McDermott, Creighton
One of the nation’s elite scorers was at his best Sunday afternoon, hitting 13-of-24 of the field for 35 points to lead the Bluejays to an 80–71 Big East win over visiting Xavier. McDermott, a senior forward, is second in the nation in scoring at 24.3 points per game.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson, who posted gaudy offensive numbers against a weak non-conference schedule, is proving he can get it done in league play as well. The Panthers’ senior guard scored 27 points and added five rebounds and six assists in Pitt’s 80–65 win over Wake Forest. Patterson has averaged 22.6 in three ACC games — all wins by the Panthers.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Smart played like an All-American last week, averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cowboys to Big 12 wins over Texas and West Virginia. The sophomore guard scored only 15 points in last week’s loss to Kansas State in the conference opener but bounced back with back-to-back double-doubles to help the Pokes improve to 2–1 in the league.
Some of the best coaching in 2013-14 is anything but a youth movement.
Veteran coaches — seasoned veterans, even — have done some of their best work at the midpoint of 2013-14.
True, some of our picks for the top coaches of the year this season are on the young side. Josh Pastner, Fred Hoiberg and Derek Kellogg were all born in the 1970s. Jay Wright, Gregg Marshall, Fran McCaffery and Mike Lonergan are a long way from getting senior citizen discounts.
But some of the most impressive coaching performances this season belong to Jim Boeheim, 69, Steve Fisher, 68, and Bo Ryan, 66. Among them, the three coaches have only one loss.
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.
Midseason Coaches of the Year
1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Anyone who thinks Wisconsin plays one kind of style, take note the Badgers have won games in the 40s (once), 50s (once), 60s (twice), 70s (six times), 80s, four times), 90s (once) and 100s (once). Ryan is automatic for a top-four finish in the Big Ten, but thanks to breakouts by Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin can shoot for a Big Ten title and a run in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers’ offensive efficiency rating has improved from 108th last season to fourth.
2. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Hard to believe Fisher is in his 15th season at San Diego State. The veteran coach has turned the Aztecs into a regular NCAA contender, but this may be his finest coaching job yet. Without Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, San Diego State is still 14-1 with its only loss at home to Arizona on Nov. 14. The Aztecs may have the best win of any team this season with a 61-57 win in Lawrence for Kansas’ first non-conference home loss since 2006.
3. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
The Shockers have won 21 of their last 22 games with the only loss in the Final Four to Louisville. As Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet have become regulars, Wichita State may have a stronger team that it did a year ago. Only two teams all season — Tennessee State and DePaul — have scored more than 70 points against Wichita State this season.
4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Few coaches have navigated the transfer market quite like Hoiberg, who added Marshall’s DeAndre Kane and junior college transfer Dustin Hogue to this season’s team. The new pieces in the lineup hasn’t harmed the Iowa State offense, which remains one of the most effective in the country for the second consecutive season. The next question may be to adapt to a roster without Kane in the short term.
5. Jay Wright, Villanova
Villanova became the Big East favorite thanks to wins over Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The key has been more consistency on offense, particularly within the 3-point line. Villanova still takes a ton of 3s, but its production from 2-point range has improved from 46 percent to 55.5 percent.
6. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
The Hall of Fame coach doesn’t need too many more tips of the cap, but he’ll get them anyway this season. Boeheim didn’t necessarily plan to play a freshman point guard this season until Michael Carter-Williams’ broke out meant he could head to the NBA Draft. Freshman Tyler Ennis has been superb, and Jerami Grant has been a breakout performer for an undefeated team.
7. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Pastner may be Exhibit A that it takes a few years for someone to find his legs as a head coach. A shortage of big wins in his first four seasons made him an easy target, but he won’t hear about it anymore. Pastner has picked up his first two wins over ranked teams in his career and neither were at the FedEx Forum — Oklahoma State in Orlando and Louisville on the road. Memphis is struggling from the 3-point line and free throw line, but this may end up as Memphis’ best team of the Pastner era.
8. Derek Kellogg, UMass
Kellogg needed six seasons to get to this point, but the Minutemen may have their best team since 1996, when John Calipari led UMass to a 35-2 season and the Final Four. If not, UMass likely is still headed to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Led by dynamic point guard Chaz Williams, UMass is a veteran team that could do damage in March. The Minutemen’s only loss this season is by five on a neutral court to Florida State.
9. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Aside from the temper tantrum that landed him a one-game suspension and aided a loss to Wisconsin, McCaffery has done a remarkable rebuilding job at Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ 84-74 win over Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday checked two key boxes this season — a road win and a victory over a top-10 team. McCaffery has been building a veteran core for this team, which could be Iowa’s first NCAA team since 2006.
10. Mike Lonergan, George Washington
The Colonials have lost two of the last four, both on the road, to Kansas State and La Salle, but Lonergan’s team should be in the thick of the Atlantic 10 race. George Washington has resume-building wins over Creighton and Maryland in the non-conference schedule. Transfers have found new life under Lonergan, most notably leading scorer Maurice Creek from Indiana and Isaiah Armwood from Villanova two seasons ago. George Washington should have its first 20-win season since 2007 and perhaps its first NCAA bid since the same year.
College football’s head coaching carousel hasn’t been as busy as some may have anticipated in November, but there has been plenty of movement in the coaching ranks.
Whether it’s a change in head coaches or a coach wanting to shake up his coaching staff, the coordinator carousel is always one of the most active aspects of the offseason. And there will be over 50 changes in the coordinator ranks in the 2013-14 offseason.
To help keep track of the latest moves, Athlon has compiled a coordinator tracker for the 2013-14 season. An important note: We listed a coordinator position if a change was made at head coach – even if the same coordinator was hired again at that school (FAU – Brian Wright, USC – Clay Helton).
We will keep this page updated until all of the jobs have been filled this offseason.
College Football's 2013-14 Coordinator Changes
|Air Force||Co-Defensive||Steve Russ, Charlton Warren||Steve Russ|
|Alabama||Offensive||Doug Nussmeier||Lane Kiffin|
|Arkansas||Defensive||Chris Ash||Robb Smith|
|Arkansas State||Co-Offensive||Bush Hamdan, Eliah Drinkwitz||Glen Elarbee and Walt Bell|
|Arkansas State||Defensive||John Thompson|
|Army||Co-Defensive||Payam Saadat, Chris Smeland||Jay Bateman|
|Ball State||Offensive||Rich Skrosky||Joey Lynch|
|Ball State||Defensive||Jay Bateman||Kevin Kelly|
|Boise State||Offensive||Robert Prince||Mike Sanford Jr.|
|Boise State||Defensive||Pete Kwiatkowski||Marcel Yates|
|Bowling Green||Offensive||Warren Ruggiero||Sterlin GIlbert, Matt Mattox|
|Bowling Green||Defensive||Mike Elko||Kim McCloud|
|Central Michigan||Offensive||Mike Cummings||Morris Watts|
|California||Defensive||Andy Buh||Art Kaufman|
|Cincinnati||Defensive||Art Kaufman||Hank Hughes, Robert Prunty|
|Duke||Co-Offensive||Scottie Montgomery, Kurt Roper|
|Eastern Michigan||Offensive||Stan Parrish||Kalen DeBoer|
|Eastern Michigan||Defensive||Ron English||Brad McCaslin|
|FAU||Offensive||Brian Wright||Brian Wright|
|FAU||Defensive||Jovan DeWitt||Jovan DeWitt, Roc Bellantoni|
|Florida||Offensive||Brent Pease||Kurt Roper|
|Florida State||Defensive||Jeremy Pruitt||Charles Kelly|
|Georgia||Defensive||Todd Grantham||Jeremy Pruitt|
|Hawaii||Defensive||Thom Kaumeyer||Kevin Clune|
|Houston||Co-Offensive||Doug Meachem, Travis Bush||Travis Bush|
|Indiana||Offensive||Seth Littrell||Kevin Johns|
|Indiana||Co-Defensive||Doug Mallory, William Inge||Brian Knorr|
|Iowa State||Offensive||Courtney Messingham||Mark Mangino|
|Kansas||Offensive||Charlie Weis||John Reagan|
|Louisiana Tech||Defensive||Kim Dameron||Manny Diaz|
|Louisville||Offensive||Shawn Watson||Garrick McGee|
|Louisville||Defensive||Vance Bedford||Todd Grantham|
|Miami, Ohio||Offensive||John Klacik||George Barnett, Eric Koehler|
|Miami, Ohio||Defensive||Jay Peterson||Matt Pawlowski|
|Michigan||Offensive||Al Borges||Doug Nussmeier|
|Mississippi State||Offensive||Les Koenning|
|New Mexico||Defensive||Jeff Mills|
|NMSU||Defensive||David Elson||Larry Coyer|
|North Carolina||Offensive||Blake Anderson||Seth Littrell|
|Notre Dame||Offensive||Chuck Martin||Mike Denbrock|
|Notre Dame||Defensive||Bob Diaco||Brian VanGorder|
|Ohio State||Co-Defensive||Everett Withers||Chris Ash, Luke Fickell|
|Oregon||Defensive||Nick Aliotti||Don Pellum|
|Oregon State||Offensive||Danny Langsdorf|
|Penn State||Offensive||Bill O'Brien||John Donovan|
|Penn State||Defensive||John Butler||Brent Pry, Bob Shoop|
|Rice||Offensive||John Reagan||Larry Edmondson, Billy Lynch|
|Rutgers||Offensive||Ron Prince||Ralph Friedgen|
|Rutgers||Defensive||Dave Cohen||Joe Rossi|
|San Jose State||Defensive||Kenwick Thompson|
|South Alabama||Defensive||Kevin Sherrer||Kevin Pearson|
|South Florida||Offensive||Walt Wells||Paul Wulff|
|Southern Miss||Offensive||Marcus Arroyo||Chip Lindsey|
|Stanford||Defensive||Derek Mason||Lance Anderson|
|TCU||Offensive||Jarrett Anderson, Rusty Burns||Doug Meachem, Sonny Cumbie|
|Texas||Co-Offensive||Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt||Joe Wickline|
|Texas||Defensive||Greg Robinson||Vance Bedford|
|Texas A&M||Offensive||Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital||Jake Spavital|
|Texas A&M||Co-Defensive||Marcel Yates, Mark Snyder|
|Texas Tech||Co-Offensive||Sonny Cumbie, Eric Morris||Eric Morris and ?|
|Toledo||Co-Offensive||Louis Ayeni, Jason Candle||Jason Candle and ?|
|Toledo||Defensive||Tom Matukewicz||Jon Heacock|
|Tulsa||Offensive||Greg Peterson||Denver Johnson|
|UCF||Defensive||Jim Fleming||Paul Ferraro|
|UCLA||Defensive||Lou Spanos||Jeff Ulbrich|
|UConn||Offensive||T.J. Weist||Mike Cummings|
|UConn||Defensive||Hank Hughes||Vincent Brown, Anthony Poindexter|
|UMass||Defensive||Phil Elmassian||Tom Masella|
|USC||Offensive||Clay Helton||Clay Helton|
|USC||Defensive||Clancy Pendergast||Justin Wilcox|
|Utah||Offensive||Dennis Erickson, Brian Johnson||Dave Christensen|
|Vanderbilt||Offensive||John Donovan||Karl Dorrell|
|Vanderbilt||Defensive||Bob Shoop||David Kotulski|
|Wake Forest||Offensive||Steed Lobotzke||Warren Ruggiero|
|Wake Forest||Defensive||Brian Knorr||Mike Elko|
|Washington||Offensive||Eric Kiesau||Jonathan Smith|
|Washington||Defensive||Justin Wilcox||Pete Kwiatkowski|
|West Virginia||Defensive||Keith Patterson|
|Western Kentucky||Offensive||Jeff Brohm||Tyson Helton|
|Western Kentucky||Defensive||Nick Holt|
|Wyoming||Offensive||Jim Harding, Pete Kaligis||Brent Vigen|
|Wyoming||Defensive||Jamar Cain||Steve Stanard|
The San Francisco 49ers take their road show to Charlotte where they will face the Carolina Panthers in this afternoon’s NFC Divisional Playoff game at 1:05 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers (13-4) won their Wild Card matchup with the Packers last week and look to extend their seven-game winning streak with their fourth straight victory away from home. The Panthers (12-4) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 after winning the NFC South. Ron Rivera’s team is 7-1 at Bank of America Stadium this season and also beat San Francisco on the road in Week 10.
Jim Harbaugh’s squad is looking to duplicate the success it had in Green Bay last week, as Colin Kaepernick tormented the Packers for a third time in a little more than a year. Kaepernick is now 3-1 in the playoffs in his young career, while his counterpart, Cam Newton is playing in his first postseason game. Kaepernick is hoping to lead his team to a third straight NFC Championship Game, while Newton would like to lead his team one step closer to the Super Bowl with a second win against the 49ers this season.
3 Things to Watch
Another Defensive Struggle?
Round 1 back in Week 10 was won by Carolina. The Panthers beat the 49ers 10-9 in Candlestick Park in a game that was dominated by defense. Carolina entered this game on a four-game winning streak and stayed hot, holding San Francisco to just three Phil Dawson field goals, all of them coming in the first half. The Panthers managed just two scoring drives of their own, but DeAngelo Williams’ 27-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the second quarter accounted for the only trip to the end zone. Graham Gano kicked a 53-yard field goal with 10 minutes left in the game, which ended up being the deciding score. Neither offense was that effective, but Carolina did outgain the home team 250-151 as Colin Kaepernick finished 11-of-22 passing for just 91 yards and an interception. He also was sacked six times. Cam Newton didn’t fare much better (16-of-32, 169 yds., INT), but the Panthers made the most out of Williams’ TD run, the longest play from scrimmage in the game, and bottled up the 49ers’ offense just enough to secure the huge road win. Carolina kept things rolling after this game, winning six of their last seven to overtake New Orleans for the NFC South division title. San Francisco lost its next game, in New Orleans, but hasn’t lost since, ratting off six straight victories to close out the regular season and then taking down Green Bay, 23-20, in last week’s Wild Card game. As far as the encore goes, the defenses are pretty much intact with one large exception. All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith saw limited snaps in the first game, which was his first action after he missed five games to deal with some personal issues. He has slowly worked his way back into the rotation and has 3.5 sacks in his last four games, including 1.5 in the Wild Card win over the Packers. Both defenses feature plenty of Pro Bowlers and finished among the top seven units in the four major categories (total, scoring, rushing, passing) in the regular season. Don’t be surprised to see another low-scoring affair this afternoon.
QB Playoff Experience
Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, has 48 games worth of experience under his belt, all of them starts. Colin Kaepernick, taken 35 picks later, has played in 35 career games, 26 of those starts. The difference, however, lies in the postseason. Kaepernick is 3-1 in the playoffs, with his only loss coming in Super Bowl XLVII last season, while Newton is making his postseason debut. Kaepernick has been productive in the playoffs, throwing for 1,025 yards and rushing for another 362 in those four games. He has accounted for eight total touchdowns (five pass, three rush) and just three interceptions. He’s been especially effective as a rusher, averaging 11.3 yards per carry and gashing Green Bay last season for a quarterback-record 181 on the ground. Kaepernick has been up and down for most of this season, and his first game against Carolina was one of the worst performances in his young career. He was just 11-of-22 passing against the Panthers in the Week 10 loss, tossing an interception, getting sacked six times and rushing for only 16 yards. Kaepernick knows he needs to play better, especially on the road, against this defense, but at least he has previous postseason experience and success to lean on. The same cannot be said for Newton, however, who needed three seasons to lead his team to the playoffs and will be under the microscope every snap against San Francisco. Even though Newton won the first matchup against Kaepernick and the 49ers, he didn’t exactly play lights out. He completed just half of his passes (16 of 32) for 169 yards and an interception, along with just 15 yards rushing on eight carries. The Panthers are coming off of a long layoff while the 49ers beat Green Bay at frigid Lambeau Field last week. Newton also may not have his full arsenal of weapons (see below), while Kaepernick’s corps is finally healthy and clicking at just the right time. The defenses are the focus of this game, and deservedly so, but someone is going to have make some plays on offense at some point. That’s where the quarterbacks come in. Will Kaepernick continue his postseason success or will Newton rise to the occasion in his first playoff game? Don’t forget, Kaepernick was in this exact position last season. Things worked out pretty well for him, right?
Progress in the Passing Game?
The first time these two teams played, Carolina and San Francisco combined for a 50 percent completion rate (27 of 54), 260 yards passing and two interceptions. Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick were sacked a total of nine times and also were held to a combined 31 yards rushing (on 12 carries). So what will be different this time around? For one, Steve Smith, the leading receiver in the first game (6 rec., 63 yds.), is dealing with a knee injury. He has been limited in practice and hasn’t been too optimistic about the condition of his knee. There’s little reason to expect Smith to miss this game, but it is pretty apparent he will not be close to 100 percent. Even though Smith’s numbers have been down, he remains Newton’s top target. A limited Smith will put even more pressure on fellow wideout Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen, to name a few, to produce in the passing game. That’s a tall order against the seventh-ranked passing defense (221.0 ypg) in the regular season. Meanwhile, the 49ers figure to be at full strength in their passing game, something they weren’t in the first meeting. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree didn’t play and tight end Vernon Davis sustained a concussion in the Week 10 home loss, which limited Kaepernick’s options even more. Since his Week 13 return from a torn Achilles, Crabtree has caught 27 passes for 409 yards and a touchdown. This includes the 125 yards he had on eight catches in the Wild Card win in Green Bay. Not surprisingly, Kaepernick’s passing numbers have improved since Crabtree’s return. The quarterback is averaging 231.2 yards through the air over the last six games, compared to 185.2 in his first 11. Crabtree’s presence only makes Davis and fellow wideout Anquan Boldin that much tougher to cover, which is something the Panthers’ sixth-ranked passing defense (214.3 ypg) will try and solve once again. For both offenses, it looks like their passing attacks may function differently this time around. Which team benefits the most from these changes remains to be seen.
San Francisco Key Player: Anquan Boldin, WR
Michael Crabtree is back and making an impact for the 49ers in the passing game. Vernon Davis posted a career-high 13 touchdowns and has been highly productive in the playoffs. However, the workhorse of this aerial attack is Boldin. The 11-year veteran is equally capable of making the tough catch across the middle or in tight coverage, as he is breaking off a long play. Of his 85 catches in the regular season, 62 of them resulted in a first down and he’s averaging nearly 14 yards per reception. He had 22 grabs for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the Baltimore’s Super Bowl run last season, including 10 for 104 against the 49ers in the big game. Boldin had just five catches for 23 yards in the first meeting with Carolina and only six for 38 in last week’s Wild Card win. If anything, he should find more space to operate in with the Carolina defense having to worry about Crabtree in addition to Davis, and I have little doubt Boldin has another big playoff performance in him.
Carolina Key Player: Cam Newton, QB
It may seem rather simplistic, but if the Panthers are going to win this afternoon they need their quarterback to make plays. Carolina’s defense is certainly capable of beating the 49ers, but someone will need to put some points on the board. This is Newton’s first playoff game, but franchise quarterbacks don’t get the benefit of the doubt in these cases very often. Even when their top wide receiver (Steve Smith) will be at less than 100 percent on the field. Newton has risen to the occasion more than once this season, but the slate has been wiped clean and all that matters now is what he does this afternoon. Every starting quarterback playing this weekend has at least one playoff win to his credit. Will Newton join the club?
Carolina already has beaten San Francisco once this season, on the road no less, but this is the Panthers’ first playoff game since 2008. The 49ers are the defending NFC champions, have won seven games in a row and already have a road victory (Green Bay) this postseason. Cam Newton is making his playoff debut, while Colin Kaepernick already has three postseason wins on his resume.
Carolina is the division champion and the No. 2 seed, but this is Ron Rivera’s first rodeo as a head coach in the postseason while Jim Harbaugh has gone three-for-three in his San Francisco tenure. The 49ers not only have a clear edge when it comes to experience on this stage, they should be at near full strength on both offense and defense. The Panthers’ passing game could feature its top receiver at less than 100 percent health.
Carolina’s defense will do its part to keep this a close game, but I just think San Francisco has too much experience, depth and momentum for the Panthers to overcome. Harbaugh and company keep things rolling with their eighth straight victory, earning their third straight trip to the NFC Championship Game and keeping their goal of a return to the Super Bowl very much alive.
San Francisco 20, Carolina 17
Division rivals meet for the third time this season when the San Diego Chargers take on the Denver Broncos in this afternoon’s AFC Divisional Playoff game at 4:40 p.m. ET on CBS. Philip Rivers and the Chargers (10-7) upset the Bengals in last week’s Wild Card win and now look to beat the AFC West champions on their home turf for the second time in a little more a month. Peyton Manning and the Broncos (13-3) are coming off of a bye that allowed them to get some rest and healthy and some payback against the only team to beat them at home this season.
San Diego earned the final wild card spot in the AFC on the strength of a four-game winning streak to end the regular season. One of those wins was a 27-20 upset of the Broncos in Denver in Week 15. The Chargers continued their strong play on the road last week, overcoming a 10-7 halftime deficit and outscoring the Bengals 20-0 in the final two quarters to win their Wild Card game 27-10. The loss also was Cincinnati’s first at home all season.
Denver, the top seed in the AFC, will try and avoid becoming the fourth division champ in these playoffs to lose at home in their first game. Besides Cincinnati (AFC North), Philadelphia (NFC East) and Green Bay (NFC North) also came up short at home in their respective wild card matchups. The Broncos also would like to finally move past last season’s playoff collapse against Baltimore in the Divisional round.
3 Things to Watch
The Rubber Match
San Diego and Denver split their two regular-season meetings with each team winning on the other’s home field. The Broncos won 28-20 in San Diego in Week 10 in their first game without head coach John Fox, who underwent emergency heart surgery in early November. Peyton Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns as Denver jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead and never looked back. San Diego had more rushing yards (131 to 84), but Philip Rivers had just 218 yards passing and the offense managed just two field goals despite being on the edge of the red zone on three of their first four possessions. The rematch came a month later with the Broncos a heavy favorite at home, where they were averaging nearly 480 yards of offense and more than 42 points per game in their first seven at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Someone apparently forgot to pass this on to the Chargers, however, as the defense held the NFL’s No. 1 offense to a season-low in both yards (295) and points (20). Rivers and company did their part too, scoring three straight touchdowns to turn a 10-3 deficit into a 24-10 advantage entering the fourth quarter. San Diego’s defense held, giving the Chargers an improbable 27-20 victory that kept their late-season momentum going. Once again, San Diego enjoyed much more success running the ball, outgaining Denver 177-18 on the ground behind Ryan Mathews’ 127 yards rushing. Manning threw for 289, but needed 27 completions and 41 attempts to get there, as Denver’s longest play from scrimmage was just 22 yards. Rivers completed just 12 passes, but two of them went for short touchdowns to rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, and he didn’t turn the ball over. The Broncos were without Wes Welker, who missed this game as well as the next two because of a concussion, and it was apparent that the normally high-scoring offense wasn’t the same without him. The Chargers left the Mile High City with a bunch of confidence, which carried over to their final two games of the regular season and last week’s Wild Card win, while the Broncos were left scratching their heads wondering what had happened. Denver did bounce back, winning their final two games to close things out, and now has a chance to take out two birds with one stone thanks to San Diego’s upset of Cincinnati last week.
Pressure on Peyton
Peyton Manning is all but assured of winning his fifth MVP award after setting new single-season records for both passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55), as Denver scored the most points (606) in a single season in NFL history. He also completed better than 68 percent of his passes with just 10 interceptions, finishing second in the league in passer rating (115.1). After leading the Broncos to the AFC’s best record at 13-3, Manning brought his regular-season victory total to 167 in his career and he also picked up his 10th division title. He was the only unanimous first-team All-Pro selection (seventh time overall) and he also earned his 13th Pro Bowl invitation. All of these numbers have one thing in common – they are related to the regular season. As far as the playoffs go, the number that matters most when it comes to Manning is 9-11. That is his career record in the postseason, the only real blemish to his otherwise sterling Hall of Fame resume. Manning has one Super Bowl ring in tow, but he’s also lost in the big game once and his sub-.500 career playoff mark includes eight one-and-done appearances. Manning’s last playoff victory came in the AFC Championship Game following the 2009 season when he was still with Indianapolis. At 37 years old and less than three years removed from multiple neck surgeries, Manning knows he’s nearing the end of his career. Nothing would be sweeter for him than to prove all the naysayers wrong by leading his team to another Lombardi Trophy, especially given all that he’s gone through in the last three years. However, Manning also knows that all eyes are on him and even though this is a team sport (and he doesn’t play defense), that Denver’s Super Bowl aspirations are riding on his right arm. Manning is as competitive as they come, but even he can’t dispute his postseason resume. The 9-11 record speaks for itself, but there’s also the 32:21 touchdown-to-interception ratio in playoff games, a number that looks rather pedestrian compared to his 491:219 career mark in the regular season. But there are also the gut-wrenching, game-deciding interceptions, such as the one he threw late in the first overtime against Baltimore in last season’s Divisional Playoff game, which set the Ravens up for Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal early in the second extra period. No matter that the game went to overtime in the first place because the Broncos’ defense gave up a 70-yard “Hail Mary” touchdown with just 31 seconds left to tie the score. The buck begins and ends with Manning, that’s just the way it works when it comes to being one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. And this also is why Manning is faced with yet another defining moment this afternoon. If he and the Broncos take care of business at home then he won’t have to deal with any one-and-done questions for at least another season. If Denver comes up short at home again, regardless of how well Manning plays, all of the talk will be focused around two numbers – 9-12 and what that means as far as No. 18’s status among his peers. Is Manning ready to silence some of his critics or give them more reason to sound off?
What’s the Rush?
In two games against Denver, San Diego has rushed for 308 yards or 154 per game. In the Chargers’ 15 other games, including last week’s Wild Card win over Cincinnati, they have averaged 123.5 rushing yards per game. San Diego’s ground dominance was a big reason why the Chargers split their two games against the Broncos and also played a part in holding the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to just 23.5 points per contest, which was more than 14 points below their average (37.9). The Chargers really had their ground game going last week against Cincinnati, gashing the Bengals for a season-high 196 yards on the ground on 40 carries (4.9 ypc) and would no doubt love to continue that success this afternoon. They did much of this damage with leading rusher Ryan Mathews sidelined because of a lingering ankle injury, which has him listed as Questionable on the injury report. Mathews rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games against Denver, so if he is limited or can’t go, it will fall to Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown, who sealed last week’s win with a 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, to pick up the slack once again. The Broncos are just as capable of running the ball successfully, as Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball have combined for nearly 1,600 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Denver didn’t have much success against San Diego in this department, however, posting a total of 102 yards rushing in two games. This needs to change, as the run not only helps set up the play-action passing game, but it could help keep the Chargers’ offense off of the field longer, something a beleaguered Broncos defense would definitely appreciate. From a defensive standpoint, Denver finished the regular season tied for seventh against the run (101.6 ypg), while San Diego wasn’t too far behind in 12th place (107.8 ypg). The Chargers surrendered 113 yards on the ground to the Bengals last week, but limited them to just one touchdown. After getting gashed by San Diego for a season-worst 177 yards rushing in Week 15, the Broncos yielded a total of 151 in wins over Houston and Oakland to close out the regular season. Quarterback play is obviously important, especially with Peyton Manning on one sideline, but whichever team controls the line of scrimmage and does the most damage on the ground will more than likely end up being victorious.
San Diego Key Player: Philip Rivers, QB
While most of the attention will be on Peyton Manning, and understandably so, his counterpart also has an opportunity to beef up his postseason resume. Rivers evened his playoff record to 4-4 following last week’s Wild Card win in Cincinnati and is looking to earn his second trip to the AFC Championship Game in 10 seasons with the Chargers. Rivers wasn’t asked to do a lot last week, as San Diego controlled the clock and the flow with a dominant running game, but he was solid nonetheless. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over. Turnovers have been a bit of a bugaboo for Rivers during his career, but he’s thrown just 11 interceptions and lost just two fumbles this season compared to his 32 touchdown passes. He is 10-7 in his career against Denver and 5-4 in head-to-head matchups against Manning. Rivers holds a 2-0 edge over the future Hall of Famer when it comes to playoff games, however, as the Chargers beat the Colts in a 2007 Divisional Playoff game in Indianapolis and in the ’08 Wild Card game at home. Manning has come out victorious in three of the four meetings since coming to Denver, but there’s no doubt which quarterback is under more pressure and scrutiny entering this one. The Broncos’ defense, especially its pass rush, hasn’t been the same since Von Miller suffered a knee injury. Can Rivers take advantage of this and embrace the underdog role to pull of another big upset?
Denver Key Players: Defense
Just because most of the focus will be on Peyton Manning, it doesn’t mean that the Broncos’ defense is off the hook. After all, Manning staked his team to a seven-point lead with 1:09 remaining in last season’s Divisional Playoff game against Baltimore. It was the defense that allowed the Ravens to go 77 yards in three plays to tie up the score before going on to win in double overtime. It also is the defense that finished 27th in the NFL against the pass this season, giving up 254.4 yards per game. This defense has had its moments and produced 26 takeaways, but it’s also given up 440 yards or more on four different occasions. In the postseason, the margin of error is so small (as in inches, right Rahim Moore?), and it’s too much to expect Manning and company to produce like they did in the regular season. This defense is capable of giving opposing offenses fits, but its task will be a little tougher without All-Pro linebacker Von Miller around to apply pressure and make some big plays. With Miller sidelined because of a knee injury, it falls to Shaun Phillips to lead the charge in the pass rush. The rest of the defensive line needs to disrupt things up front and make some plays in San Diego’s backfield, while linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan clean up the leftovers and protect the middle of the field. The group that’s under the most pressure, however, is arguably the secondary, especially considering last season’s playoff collapse. The Chargers have been more content to run the ball than throw it lately, but Philip Rivers will take his chances. This means the likes of Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie need to do their job in coverage, especially on rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen and veteran tight end Antonio Gates, as well as limit the big plays and bad mistakes. Manning will no doubt play a huge role in how this game turns out, but the fate of the Broncos’ season does not entirely lie in the hands of No. 18. There are 11 guys on the other side of the ball who need to do their job too.
Denver is the top seed in the AFC playoffs, went 7-1 at home this season and is feeling all of the pressure entering this one. The memory of last season’s playoff collapse against Baltimore lingers and Peyton Manning doesn’t want to go one and done in the postseason for the ninth time in his career. San Diego is relishing its underdog role, as the Chargers handed the Broncos their only home loss so far and are riding high after last week’s Wild Card win in Cincinnati.
San Diego has done a better job than other team this season of limiting the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, but you can’t help but wonder if Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Manning used the bye last week to come up with some new wrinkles. The bottom line is that the Broncos know they need to figure out a way to find some things that work against a defense that’s obviously benefitted from first-year head coach Mike McCoy’s familiarity with his former team.
There’s obviously a lot at stake in this rubber match, but I have a hard time seeing Manning and his teammates coming up short this time. There were several things that happened in last season’s loss to Baltimore that could only be defined as “fluky.” Also, it’s fair to say that the weather (13 degrees at kickoff) was a factor, as Manning just didn’t look comfortable throwing in those conditions. He’s already posted some pretty big numbers in less-than-ideal conditions this season and also it looks like the only weather that could be in play this afternoon is the wind.
For this one, I am expecting Denver to look more like the team that rolled up 480 yards of offense and 42 points in its first seven home games than the one that was held to just 295 and 20 by San Diego in December. I also think the defense will pull together and put forth one of its stronger performances this season, as the Broncos take care of business at home to set the stage for another Manning vs. Brady AFC Championship Game next week.
Denver 31, San Diego 23
The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots will renew their rivalry when they meet in the AFC Divisional Playoff game Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS. The Colts (12-5) staged the second-largest comeback in playoff history last week in their Wild Card win over the Chiefs. The Patriots (12-4) meanwhile got last week off and now have their sights set on a third straight AFC Championship Game appearance.
These two teams met in 10 straight regular seasons from 2003-12, a span that also included three playoff matchups. In the 2003 and ’06 playoffs, the Colts and Patriots faced off in the AFC title game, with the home team coming out victorious each contest. This game is at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots went 8-0 during the regular season and have gone 9-5 in the postseason during Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s time together.
The difference with this matchup is that Andrew Luck, not Peyton Manning, will be under center for Indianapolis. Much has been made of Brady’s 10-4 record against Manning in career head-to-head matchups, but this is just the second time Luck has played against his predecessor’s long-time foil. The first meeting didn’t go well, as the Patriots destroyed the Colts 59-24 last season. Luck and his teammates, however, are entering this one with plenty of confidence having pulled off the 28-point comeback against Kansas City last week.
3 Things to Watch
Captain Comeback vs. Tom Terrific
So it’s not Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady for the 15th time, not yet anyways, but it’s not like Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady is a horrible consolation prize. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Luck has clearly established himself as the current face of the Colts franchise and the unquestioned leader of this team. He’s won more games (22) than Manning (16) in their first two regular seasons and has led the Colts to back-to-back playoff berths. Last week Luck won his first career postseason game in just his second attempt (Manning needed four), and he did so in historic fashion. Trailing Kansas City 38-10 early in the third quarter at home, Luck sparked the second-largest comeback in playoff history. Even though he finished the game with three interceptions, Luck had 443 yards passin and four touchdown passes and he also recovered a fumble for a score in the Colts’ improbable 45-44 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Comebacks are nothing new for Luck, who has orchestrated 11 game-winning drives since entering the league in 2012. Those are the most of any quarterback over the last two seasons and eight of these were in the fourth quarter. Whether Luck will have the opportunity to add to his total will come down to the play of his counterpart, Brady. Between the offseason departure of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez’ legal issues and a rash of injuries to his other weapons, namely Rob Gronkowski, this has not been a typical season for Brady. His passer rating of 87.3 is his lowest in a full season since 2003 and his 25 touchdown passes are his fewest since 2006. That said, much of Brady’s Hall of Fame legacy is a result of what he’s done in the playoffs, as his 17 postseason victories are the most in NFL history and he has won three Super Bowl rings. Brady has gotten the better of Manning in his career and he’s 1-0 against Luck. However, Luck has already done several things that his legendary predecessor didn’t accomplish in his Colts tenure at a much earlier age. Will this success carry over against the Patriots? Or will the grizzled Brady run his career record against the Colts to 11-4?
When Luck and Brady Don’t Have the Ball
Neither team really wants their quarterback to have to drop back and pass the ball 40-plus times, as Andrew Luck did last week, which means each offense will need to run the ball effectively. New England has been able to do just that recently, as the Patriots have averaged 204.5 yards rushing per game over their last two. LeGarrette Blount has been the main catalyst, with more than half (265) of those yards, including 189 on 24 carries (7.9 ypc) in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay. Stevan Ridley still leads the team in rushing with 773 yards and could still be factor on Saturday, although his issues with ball security (four lost fumbles) are why Blount has been getting the majority of the carries. New England is dealing with some injury issues along its offensive line, but still needs to find a way to run the ball against an Indianapolis defense that finished 26th against the run (125.1 ypg) during the regular season. Last week, even with Jamaal Charles exiting after sustaining a concussion in the first quarter, Kansas City finished with 150 yards rushing on 32 carries against the Colts. Indianapolis also has employed a committee approach in its backfield for most of the season, as Trent Richardson (2.9 ypc) just hasn’t gotten the job done since being acquired by the Colts from Cleveland. Donald Brown has stepped up, averaging 5.3 yards per carry in the regular season and contributing 55 yards and two touchdowns (one rush, one receiving) in the Wild Card win. Luck also is capable of making plays with his legs, as he picked up 45 yards against the Chiefs. The Colts have averaged nearly 117 yards rushing over their last four games, and will need to maintain this balance to help open things up for the passing game. The Patriots fared even worse against the run (134.1 ypg) in the regular season than the Colts, so don’t be surprised if this game ends up being more of a ground-based encounter rather than an aerial one.
It’s been a rough season for New England’s defense with All-Pros Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork lost earlier due to injuries, along with fellow starters Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson. Unfortunately, the hits keep coming, as linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) joined them on injured reserve this week. This means that the Patriots will be without two-thirds of their starting linebackers, as veteran Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins join Dont’a Hightower in the middle. This also means that the depth chart at the position has been stretched pretty thin, with Ja’Gared Davis added from the practice squad to take Spikes’ roster spot. Starting safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory also appear on the injury report, as they have been limited in practice this week. Indianapolis is dealing with some bumps and bruises of its own on that side of the ball, as starting cornerback Greg Toler and defensive end Fili Moala both were placed on injured reserve this week. The Colts had already lost linebacker Pat Angerer to injuries earlier and their other starting cornerback, Vontae Davis, has been hampered by a groin injury. Additionally, safety LaRon Landry sustained a concussion in the Wild Card win last week and will need to be cleared by the league before he can play. The bottom line is both teams have had to dig deep into their rosters to fill out their defenses. Some of these players have near been in a pressure-packed situation like this before. Come playoff time, it’s survive and advance and both defenses will more than likely need some “new” faces to step up to do just that.
Indianapolis Key Player: T.Y. Hilton, WR
Hilton came up big last week against Kansas City, to the tune of 13 catches for 224 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown. The receptions and yards set new Colts franchise records for a playoff game, meaning Hilton has done something that neither Reggie Wayne nor Marvin Harrison accomplished. Hilton has been huge since Wayne, his teammate and mentor, was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in Week 7 at home against Denver. Even though Andrew Luck and the passing game struggled at times, Hilton was reliable, as he finished the regular season among the top 20 in both receptions (82) and yards (1,083). Hilton had just five touchdown catches, but his importance to the Colts’ offense can’t be overstated. No reliable, consistent secondary option has emerged behind Hilton, which means he will need to continue to have success against New England’s cornerback tandem of Logan Ryan and Aqib Talib. Hilton posted six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns last season against the Patriots, but that was with Wayne on the field with him. Even though he stands just 5-9, there’s nowhere for Hilton to “hide” on the field this time around.
New England Key Player: Danny Amendola, WR
Following Wes Welker’s departure to Denver, the Patriots signed Amendola to a five-year, $31 million free-agent deal to essentially replace the productive wideout. Unfortunately, Amedola’s first season with the Patriots has not gone according to plan. After getting off to a great start (10 rec., 104 yds.) against Buffalo in Week 1, Amendola injured his groin late, which caused him to miss the next three games. A concussion later in the season cost him another game, which only reinforced the injury-prone label that’s already been attached to him. Whether it was injury or getting comfortable in a new system, Amendola’s impact was limited to just 54 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns. The time missed also hurt Amendola’s chemistry with Tom Brady, who turned to Julian Edelman in the wake of Amendola’s and Rob Gronkowski’s injury issues. Edelman responded with a career year (105 rec., 1,056 yds., 6 TDs), but he can’t do it alone. With rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins dealing with their own injuries, there’s no better time than now for Amendola to step up and produce like the receiver the Patriots thought they were getting when they signed him. The opportunities should be there for Brady to make some plays, as the Colts are already down one starting cornerback (Greg Toler) and have two other defensive backs (Vontae Davis and LaRon Landry) dealing with injuries. Remember this is the same secondary that gave up 378 yards passing and four touchdowns to Alex Smith and the Chiefs last week. There’s no question that Brady is a better quarterback than Smith. The question is can Amendola help his signal-caller make plays against the Colts?
Andrew Luck had some pretty big shoes to fill when he replaced Peyton Manning as quarterback of the Colts. However, in just two seasons, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick has already done several things that the future Hall of Famer didn’t accomplish during his time in Indianapolis. The latest of which was winning his first playoff game in just his second try, while orchestrating the second-biggest comeback in postseason history in the process.
The scene now shifts to New England, where Luck will try to do something else Manning hasn’t done – win a road playoff game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Manning is 0-2 at Gillette Stadium in the postseason and just 4-10 against Belichick/Brady in his career. Luck lost his first head-to-head meeting against this duo last season, but the Colts are riding a ton of momentum entering this one following last week’s furious and historic comeback.
However, there’s a reason that Brady has the most playoff wins (17) of any quarterback in history and Belichick trails only Tom Landry and Don Shula with 18 postseason victories. The Patriots went 8-0 at home this season and I think they just have too much playoff experience, both on the roster and coaching staff, for the young, upstart Colts to overcome. Indianapolis puts up a good fight, thanks in large part to New England’s depleted defense, but in the end Brady does to Luck what he did to Manning twice before — sends the Colts home with a loss.
New England 27, Indianapolis 20
After a successful three-year stint as Vanderbilt’s head coach, James Franklin is returning home. Franklin was announced as Penn State’s new head coach on Saturday, replacing Bill O’Brien who departed Happy Valley for the NFL.
Prior to taking over at Vanderbilt, Franklin worked as an offensive coordinator at Maryland and Kansas State and worked for one year as an assistant with the Packers. Franklin also spent time at James Madison, Washington State and Idaho State.
Franklin finishes his three-year stint at Vanderbilt with a 24-15 record, including three consecutive bowl appearances. The Commodores won 18 games over the last two seasons.
Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania and played his college ball at East Stroudsburg, which is less than three hours outside of Happy Valley.