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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.
After a successful three-year stint in Nashville, James Franklin has left Vanderbilt for Penn State. With less than a month before Signing Day, expect the Commodores to move quickly in replacing Franklin.
Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC. But Franklin guided the Commodores to a 24-15 mark over the last three years, which included three consecutive bowl appearances.
While Vanderbilt is not an easy place to sustain success, the job is better than it was in 2009. A new indoor practice facility has helped the Commodores keep up in the SEC arms race, and the school is willing to pay good money for a head coach.
Much like the other academic institutions (Stanford, Duke and Northwestern), Vanderbilt can offer good job security. Even though the expectations are always to win a national title in the SEC, going to bowl games and winning seasons are a reasonable (and attainable on a yearly basis) for the Commodores.
Who will replace James Franklin at Vanderbilt? Here are 10 potential candidates to watch.
10 Candidates to Replace James Franklin at Vanderbilt
Herb Hand, offensive line coach, Vanderbilt
Hand joined the Vanderbilt staff under former coach Robbie Caldwell in 2010. The New York native has brought significant improvement to the Commodores’ offensive line over the last four years and has a wealth of experience from other stops in his career. Hand worked under Todd Graham at Tulsa from 2007-09, including a stint as the co-offensive coordinator. Prior to Tulsa, Hand served as an assistant at West Virginia, Clemson, Concord College, Glenville State College and West Virginia Wesleyan. Hand doesn’t have any head coaching experience on the FBS level. However, if he’s promoted, Hand could help keep most of the staff intact and salvage this year’s recruiting class.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 45.5 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. As a member of Mensa and a coach with a stint at Rice, Herman would be a good fit at Vanderbilt. But is he ready to leave Ohio State? If he returns to Columbus in 2014, Herman would have one more year to work with Braxton Miller, which could only raise his stock for a head coaching job next season.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
Hudspeth has quietly built an impressive resume from a handful of stops, including the last three years as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette is 27-12 under Hudspeth’s direction, and the Ragin’ Cajuns claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013. The 27 wins under Hudspeth are the most in a three-year span in school history. Prior to taking over at Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth spent two years as a receivers coach at Mississippi State (2009-10) and worked as the head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08. In seven years at North Alabama, Hudspeth recorded a 66-21 mark. As a former SEC assistant, Hudspeth certainly knows his way around the league and would be another high-energy coach for the Commodores. However, Hudspeth does not have experience recruiting to an academic institution like Stanford’s Derek Mason. Could that have an impact on his candidacy?
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo doesn’t have the name recognition of a Chad Morris or Pat Narduzzi, but he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and has been successful at three different stops. The New York native went 44-14 at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-13 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history. Moving from Ball State to Vanderbilt would be a sizeable jump. However, Lembo is ready for a chance to run a BCS program and his success at small schools like Elon and Lehigh should be attractive for athletic director David Williams.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, Colorado
MacIntyre would be an outstanding hire for Vanderbilt. However, he indicated this week he does not plan to pursue the job. Even if MacIntyre does not plan to throw his name into the ring to replace Franklin, Vanderbilt would be wise to at least inquire. MacIntyre just finished his first season at Colorado (4-8) after three years at San Jose State (16-21). While MacIntyre’s overall record is just 20-29 overall, San Jose State’s win total improved in each season, and the Buffaloes made considerable improvement in 2013. MacIntyre has an interesting backstory, as his father (George) coached at Vanderbilt from 1979-85. And Mike played with the Commodores from 1984-85 before transferring to Georgia Tech.
Derek Mason, defensive coordinator, Stanford
Mason has been a key piece of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. He is regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators and is an excellent X’s and O’s coach. Prior to joining Stanford’s staff in 2010, Mason worked in the NFL with the Vikings as a defensive backs assistant from 2007-09. Mason’s first college job was in 1994 at San Diego Mesa College, followed by stops at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico State and Ohio. Under Mason’s direction, Stanford has finished first or second in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three years. Considering Mason is familiar with recruiting and coaching at an academic institution, those attributes could work prominently in his favor for the opening at Vanderbilt.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and just finished his third season calling the plays at Clemson. Under Morris’ direction, the Tigers have averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three years. Clemson has also averaged at least 40 points a contest in in back-to-back seasons. In 2013, Morris guided the Tigers to an average of 508.5 yards per game, while the offense also averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per play. In one season as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator (2010), the Golden Hurricane averaged 505.6 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. As if it wasn’t obvious by those numbers, Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. However, his only head coaching experience was on the high school level. While Morris may experience a few ups and downs as a head coach, his offensive background is worth the risk. For Vanderbilt, Morris would be an exciting hire and would build on the momentum from the past three years under Franklin.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut and was believed to be in the mix at Louisville before Bobby Petrino was rehired. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans finished second nationally in total defense and allowed just 4.0 yards per play this season. Narduzzi’s defense at Michigan State was a key reason why the Spartans claimed the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford this year. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience. He is regarded as a good recruiter.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman interviewed at Vanderbilt before James Franklin was hired in 2010. Could he get another look this year? Most of the New Jersey’s native experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Although he has no head coaching experience, Roman has worked under one of the best coaches in the NFL (Harbaugh) and is an excellent offensive mind. How quickly Roman would be available depends on how far San Francisco goes in the NFL playoffs. Roman’s name was in the mix for the Penn State opening.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Smart’s name has popped up for a few jobs over the last few years, but the former Georgia defensive back can afford to be patient in choosing his first head coaching gig. Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. He followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. As we mentioned earlier, Smart does not have any head coaching experience, which seems to be the only concern on his resume. Is Smart waiting for a job in the SEC to open? If so, is Vanderbilt an appealing destination for him? Or is Smart waiting for a chance at Georgia, LSU or one of the other premier jobs in the league?
Others to Watch
Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia
Bobo interviewed for the Georgia Southern vacancy but was passed over in favor of Willie Fritz. Bobo has been a successful offensive coordinator with the Bulldogs, working in Athens since 2001.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
Hamilton was hired as the Colts’ offensive coordinator in 2013. Prior to jumping to the NFL, Hamilton served as Stanford’s play-caller from 2011-12. And he has stops as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears. Hamilton has never been a head coach.
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain was in the mix for the open job at Louisville. After two years at Colorado State, he has a 12-14 and guided the Rams to a New Mexico Bowl victory in 2013. Prior to coming to Fort Collins, McElwain served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt was an unknown coming into 2013. After all, he had no coordinator experience on the FBS level and worked as a defensive backs coach at Alabama from 2010-12. However, Pruitt was a key cog in Florida State’s national title run, guiding the Seminoles to a No. 1 national rank in scoring defense. He is also regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator, Vanderbilt
Shoop had a successful three-year stint as Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator under James Franklin. However, as a Pennsylvania native, he could follow Franklin to Penn State. Shoop went 7-23 in three years as Columbia’s head coach from 2003-05.
Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells recorded a 9-5 mark in his first season at Utah State, which was a difficult year considering the Aggies lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton due to a knee injury. While Wells did an outstanding job this year, he inherited a good team from previous coach Gary Andersen. Wells has only been a head coach for one season.
Fresh off of their first road playoff victory in franchise history, the New Orleans Saints will go for two in a row when they take on the Seattle Seahawks in Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game at 4:35 p.m. ET on FOX. Sean Payton’s Saints (12-5) defeated the Eagles 26-24 a week ago in Philadelphia, setting up a rematch in Seattle against Pete Carroll and the NFC West champion Seahawks (13-3).
Seattle handed New Orleans its worst loss of the season, dominating the Saints 34-7 on “Monday Night Football” to close out Week 13. The Seahawks were near unstoppable at home this season, going 7-1 at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks also have won their last five home playoff games, including a memorable 41-36 victory over the then-defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the Wild Card game following the 2010 season.
3 Things to Watch
Third Time’s a Charm?
New Orleans’ past two trips to the Pacific Northwest have not gone well. Three years ago, the defending Super Bowl champion Saints lost 41-36 to the Seahawks in an unforgettable Wild Card matchup. A little more than a month ago, Sean Payton’s team fared even worse at CenturyLink Field, as the Saints were dominated 34-7 on “Monday Night Football.” In the Wild Card game, New Orleans kept pace with Seattle thanks to a big game from Drew Brees (finished with 404 yards passing, 2 TDs), trailing just 24-20 at halftime. The Seahawks, with Matt Hasselbeck under center, scored 10 points in the third to take a 14-point lead, but the Saints answered with 10 straight of their own in the fourth to make it a four-point game. That was until Marshawn Lynch rumbled 67 yards, breaking six tackles and escaping from eight would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone. Not only did the highlight-reel run put the Seahawks away for good, it also introduced the NFL to “Beast Mode.” While the playoff game featured plenty of offense, New Orleans found the going much tougher in December when Seattle held Brees and company to one single touchdown and 188 total yards of offense. The Seahawks’ defense dominated the highly touted matchup of division leaders from the start, jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to a fumble return for a touchdown and a scoring strike from Russell Wilson to tight end Zach Miller. Brees attempted 38 passes on the night, but completed just 23 of them for 147 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t throw an interception and was sacked just once, but he still was held to the third-fewest passing yards in a game in his eight seasons with the Saints. As a team, New Orleans totaled just 44 yards rushing on 17 carries (2.6 ypc), and the 188 total yards represented the fewest by the Saints since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006. CenturyLink Field has certainly been a house of horrors for the Saints recently, but with the road playoff monkey finally off of their backs following last week’s win, perhaps this time will be different?
The Seahawks went 7-1 at CenturyLink Field this season, feeding off the frenzied support of their home fans, also known as the 12th Man. One of the loudest home environments, the 12th Man set a new Guinness World Record for crowd noise when the 68,387 in attendance for the Week 13 “Monday Night Football” win over New Orleans were measured at 137.6 decibels. Not surprisingly, Seattle won easily, 34-7, a common theme this season. Buoyed by their loyal home crowd, the Seahawks outscored opponents 233-110 in their eight home games. Seattle owns home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, something that should not be overlooked. That said, the Seahawks were not at their best in their last two home games. In Week 16, Seattle lost to Arizona, 17-10, snapping their 14-game winning streak at home. The Seahawks did close the regular season out with a win the following week, but weren’t particularly impressive in defeating St. Louis 27-9. Against the Cardinals, the Seahawks were outgained 307-192 on offense, as Russell Wilson threw for just 108 yards and was sacked four times. Seattle also was flagged nine times for 102 yards. The defense did pick off Carson Palmer four times, but a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd with 2:13 left and a two-point conversion by Rashard Mendenhall ended up being the difference in the game. Against the Rams, the defense again did its part, scoring the first points of the game on an interception return for a touchdown and completely shutting down the running game (13 yards). For the second straight contest, however, the offense struggled. Wilson went just 15-of-23 passing for 172 yards and was sacked four more times, while the team converted just four of 13 on third down. Seattle opened December by thoroughly dominating New Orleans on both sides of the ball, as Wilson (310 yards, 3 TDs) had arguably his best game of the season. However, the slippage at home at the end does give some pause for concern, especially considering the Seahawks worked so hard during the regular season to put themselves into this exact position. As long as the home team takes care of business on Saturday, the road to the Super Bowl will go through CenturyLink Field. There’s no doubt the 12th Man will be ready to go. The question is will Pete Carroll’s team give them a reason to get really loud?
New Orleans’ New-Look Offense?
The No. 4 passing offense in the regular season, the Saints went with a different game plan last week, and it paid off. New Orleans rushed for 185 yards on 36 carries in its Wild Card win over Philadelphia, the first road playoff victory in franchise history. Led by Mark Ingram’s 97 yards, the Saints’ rushing total was the second-highest this season, surpassed only by the 242 they racked up at home against Dallas in Week 10. Besides running the ball successfully against the Eagles, the Saints also held the league’s No. 1 rushing attack to just 80 yards, as rushing champion LeSean McCoy managed just 77 on 21 carries (3.7 ypc). Drew Brees threw for 250 yards, but he attempted just 30 passes, his fewest of the season, and had more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one). New Orleans’ ability to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, not only allowed the Saints to control the clock (had the ball for nearly 35 minutes), but also overcome Brees’ two miscues and Philadelphia’s fourth-quarter rally. One of the keys to winning in the postseason is running the ball and it looks like the Saints are peaking in this department at just the right time. The defense is giving up less than 80 yards rushing per game over the last three contests, while the offense is averaging 136.3 yards on the ground during that same span. Continuing this success will be crucial if the Saints want to put up a better fight in their second trip to the Pacific Northwest in a little more than a month. In Week 13, Seattle manhandled New Orleans 34-7, as the Seahawks outrushed them 127 to 44. The Saints’ defense actually did a good job containing Marshawn Lynch (16 att., 45 yds.) in that game, but Russell Wilson and backup running back Robert Turbin combined for 81 yards, while New Orleans’ top ground-gainer was Mark Ingram with a total of 22 (on eight carries). Leading rusher Pierre Thomas missed last week’s game because of a chest/back injury, but Ingram and undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson (8 att., 45 yds.) picked up the slack and then some. Seattle’s defense was No. 1 in the NFL for a reason and the Saints found out firsthand in December. However, some teams enjoyed success running against the Seahawks, something New Orleans would like to duplicate. Any semblance of a running game on Saturday should only help open up things for Brees and the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and others, especially if the Saints are able to contain Seattle’s ground game like they did in Philadelphia last week.
New Orleans Key Player: Drew Brees, QB
The Saints earned their first road playoff win in franchise history last week against the Eagles due in large part to their success running the football and holding the NFL rushing champion in check. But make no mistake; this team will only go as far as Brees’ right arm will take it. The diminutive signal-caller has already established himself as one of the greatest to ever play and he has the statistics and Super Bowl ring to back this up, but he has not enjoyed much success in the postseason on the road. The Saints’ first playoff win away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome also was Brees’ first, as he’s now 1-3 on the road in his career. In these four games, Brees has averaged an impressive 367.5 yards passing per contest, but his completion percentage (62.4) is lower than his career mark (65.9) and he’s had nearly as many total turnovers (seven) as touchdowns (nine). He also played one of the worst games of his career (23-38, 147 yards, TD, fumble) in the first meeting with Seattle in December, which led to the Saints’ worst loss of the season. Regardless of how well the Saints run the ball or fare on defense, they will need Brees to contribute if they want to make it two road playoff wins in a row.
Seattle Key Player: Marshawn Lynch, RB
New Orleans is already familiar with Lynch in the playoffs, as the Saints were the first victim of the burly running back’s “Beast Mode.” In the Seahawks’ Wild Card win over the then-defending Super Bowl champs three years ago, Lynch sealed the deal with an electrifying 67-yard touchdown rumble that featured six broken tackles, eight flailing would-be tacklers and one powerful stiff arm on his way to the end zone. Lynch finished that game with 131 yards on 19 carries, but followed it up with just four yards on two attempts as Seattle lost in Chicago 35-24 in the Divisional round. Last season, Lynch came up big once again, this time racking up 132 yards in the Wild Card win in Washington, before stumbling to just 46 in the Divisional round loss in Atlanta. In the regular season, Lynch finished sixth in rushing with 1,257 yards, but he didn’t post more than 97 in each of his last six games, including only 45 in the first meeting against New Orleans. Russell Wilson has been near unbeatable at home in his career, but he will need Lynch’s help if he wants to keep things going in the postseason. The Saints’ defense held LeSean McCoy, the league’s rushing champion, to just 77 yards last week. Can Lynch be beastly against the Saints again or will the visitors continue their dominance on the ground this postseason?
Give credit to New Orleans for finally getting that first road playoff win. The Saints dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Eagles, which allowed them to use their running game to control the clock and put them in position to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. The road gets much tougher from here out, however, and no one knows that better than Sean Payton’s team.
Seattle went 7-1 at home and enjoys one of the best home-field advantages that exist in all of sports, let alone the NFL. The Seahawks have waited for this opportunity for a while and I fully expect Pete Carroll’s team to capitalize on playing in front of the 12th Man at CenturyLink Field.
The Saints will put up much more of a fight than they did back in December, but in the end the Seahawks’ defense is just too much for Drew Brees and company to overcome. Russell Wilson shakes off the rust from the long layoff, as he and the rest of his teammates take care of business at home and earn a trip back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in eight seasons.
Seattle 24, New Orleans 17
Lane Kiffin is coming back to the SEC. On Friday, Alabama officially announced the former USC coach will join Nick Saban’s staff as the offensive coordinator for the next three years.
Kiffin was looking for a job after he was fired at USC earlier this season. The Trojans went 28-15 under his watch, which followed a one-year stint at Tennessee in 2009.
While the Kiffin-Saban work relationship will be an odd one, this hire should work out well for Alabama. Yes, you read that correctly.
For all of his faults as a head coach, Kiffin is a solid offensive coordinator. And at Alabama, Kiffin won’t have any other obligations other than to call plays and recruit – two areas where he excels.
Saban is the best coach in college football. And despite Kiffin’s relative lack of success as a head coach, Saban sees potential. So while Kiffin is a bit of a punching bag in the SEC, Alabama (and Saban) will benefit from his tweaks and play-calls on offense.
Interestingly enough, Kiffin’s hire could signal Alabama wants to run more up-tempo offense in 2014.
The top priority for Kiffin this spring will be to develop a new quarterback, as AJ McCarron expired his eligibility after the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
Alabama football has hired Lane Kiffin to be its next offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. #RollTide— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) January 10, 2014
College basketball has hit its midseason, and there’s still little consensus on the top freshman college player in the country.
Aaron Gordon and Tyler Ennis are leading two of the last five undefeated teams. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins remain the top NBA prospects, but they’ve had struggles of late.
Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle might not even to be able claim status as the most valuable freshman on their own teams in the last week.
That’s why partly why we’re sticking with Gordon at the top spot this week. After Arizona’s win over UCLA on the road on Thursday, there’s little reason to drop Gordon thanks to his performance on both ends of the floor this season.
The Freshman 15: Jan. 10
1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gordon has something Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle haven’t had for a while — an undefeated season. Gordon scored 10 points and added six rebounds in a hard-fought 79-75 win over UCLA on Thursday, but his trademark continues to be defense. Going into the game with the Bruins, Gordon held opponents to 34 percent shooting as an on-ball defender, notes ESPN’s Ryan Feldman.
Related: Breaking down college basketball's undefeated teams
2. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Kentucky started slow against Mississippi State, but the Wildcats pulled away for an 85-63 win. Randle was held under 10 points for the first time in his career, but he still grabbed 14 rebounds. Randle is averaging 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker found his way into the doghouse as he struggled against Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton in the defensive end of the court. Parker was benched late in the loss and returned to play only 21 minutes with four fouls in a rout of Georgia Tech. Parker has shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range in his last four games. Parker remains third in the ACC in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
To compete for the national championship, Kansas probably needs Wiggins to become the unquestioned go-to player. That hasn’t happened, but he’s still be awfully productive at 15.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. The learning curve has been a little steep, though, against the Jayhawks’ hellacious non-conference schedule. KU’s conference schedule doesn’t start any easier: Kansas State, at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor all before its first game against a non-contender on Jan. 25.
5. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is 10th in they country with a 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. The pace has been even better with 14 assists and three turnovers in two ACC games, albeit against Virginia Tech and Miami.
Weekend Preview: Syracuse prepping for giant-killer North Carolina
6. James Young, Kentucky
Kentucky’s offense is becoming less and less Randle-centric thanks in part to the development of Young. The 6-5 wing has a total of 44 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in the last two games against Mississippi State and Louisville.
7. Joel Embiid, Kansas
In his last five games, Embiid is averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 67.9 percent from the floor. After an eye injury in practice, however, Embiid had six points and six rebounds in the win over Oklahoma. The center likely will wear goggles for the second consecutive game when KU faces Kansas State on Saturday.
8. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Foster was the Athlon freshman of the week with a 17-point, eight-rebound performance in an upset at home over Oklahoma State on Saturday. A stroke of luck for Bruce Weber, Foster landed at Kansas State when Weber hired assistant Alvin Brooks III, who evaluated Foster at Sam Houston State before he started to draw higher Division I offers. Foster gained weight and struggled at point guard during his final year in AAU which caused other schools to back off. At Kansas State, he’s playing his natural position at the two.
9. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh remains a force as a rebounder. He averages 9.5 rebounds per game and ranks second in defensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom.com. The offensive game still needs work as he has four field goals in two Big Ten losses to Michigan State and Illinois, though he was 10 of 12 from the free throw line against Illinois.
10. Jordan Mickey, LSU
LSU’s postseason hopes took a hit with back-to-back home losses to Tennessee and Rhode Island, but Mickey remains a consistent performer on both ends of the court with 14.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds.
11. Zach LaVine, UCLA
LaVine has been something of a boom or bust player, but the Bruins’ 6-5 guard has given UCLA a lift. He hit a 3-pointer to narrow Arizona’s lead to 2 late in the game, but missed another in the final seconds. LaVine is averaging 12.3 points per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field.
12. Wayne Selden, Kansas
The Jayhawks’ other top freshman had a breakout game against Oklahoma on Wednesday, scoring 24 points in the 90-83 win. Selden shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
Related: Is North Carolina on the NCAA Tournament bubble?
13. Austin Nichols, Memphis
Nichols was held to two points in the loss to Cincinnati last week but came back to score 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in a road win over Louisville. He added seven rebounds.
14. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
Williams-Goss is averaging 12.3 points, 4.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds for the Huskies.
15. Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart has been a consistent contributor for the Big East-frontrunning Wildcats with 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in his last six games.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|1||Florida State (16)||14-0||400||1|
There were seven coaching jobs open when the NFL’s coaching carousel began and three seats have already been taken. There’s a mad scramble on for the final four, too, as plenty of out-of-work coaches are positioning themselves for new jobs.
But let’s face it: There are jobs and there are JOBS and the difference can be huge. Most coaches don’t have a choice. They take what’s offered. But what if a coach did have his choice of all seven vacancies? Would he follow the money to Washington and work for the dysfunctional Redskins, or follow the talent to Houston for less exposure (and probably less cash)?
It would be a tough choice that most coaches won’t have to make, but if they did, here’s how the seven NFL jobs that are either open or were open this offseason would rank:
1. Detroit Lions
Out: Jim Schwartz, fired (29-48 in five seasons)
This has been one of the most snakebitten franchises in the league the last few decades, but look at what the new coach will be starting with – a franchise quarterback (Matthew Stafford), a top running back/weapon (Reggie Bush), one of the best receivers in history (Calvin Johnson) and one of the most feared defensive players in the game (defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh). That’s not exactly starting from scratch. They also have a patient ownership not afraid to spend money and a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball. They were also big underachievers this season, yet they were in the playoff hunt right until the end. It will take tweaking to get them to contender status, not a major overhaul. Schwartz did not exactly leave the Lions’ cupboard bare.
How good is the Detroit job? A-plus
2. Houston Texans
Out: Gary Kubiak, fired (63-66 in 8 seasons)
In: Bill O’Brien, former Penn State coach
Think about how badly the Houston Texans have underachieved over the last few years, and how badly they underachieved this season when they plummeted to 2-14. You know what that tells you? That they have plenty of talent, at least as far as NFL personnel and scouts and coaches are concerned. The Texans were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders and some of the pieces are still in place, including RB Arian Foster, DE J.J. Watt, and WR Andre Johnson, just to name a few. Oh, and by the way, for their collapse this season? They were rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And that’s big, especially since it looks like Matt Schaub’s days as the franchise quarterback are over.
How good is the Houston job? A-minus
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Out: Greg Schiano, fired (11-21 in two seasons)
In: Lovie Smith
One year ago, Schiano had been praised for turning the losing culture in the Bucs’ organization around and for building what looked like a good young team. There certainly is a lot of talent, and an exciting piece in running back Doug Martin. The problem was he built it around Josh Freeman, an immature young quarterback of questionable talent. Well, Schiano provided his successor with one last gift, jettisoning Freeman and turning the keys over to QB Mike Glennon. A terrific young quarterback, plus a talented young running back and the No. 7 pick in the draft will give Smith a huge head start.
How good is the Tampa Bay job? B-plus
4. Tennessee Titans
Out: Mike Munchak, fired (22-26 in three seasons)
In: The Titans were the definition of a middling team during Muchak’s rein, even though he built a strong offensive line, had a powerful all-pro running back (Chris Johnson) and had a defense that was ranked in the top half of the league. The problem was that he never had enough play-makers in the passing game, in large part because QB Jake Locker was erratic and this season, when many expected him to emerge, he was hurt. The job would be much better if it was clear what Locker was going to eventually be.
How good is the Tennessee job? B-minus
5. Washington Redskins
Out: Mike Shanahan, fired (24-40 in four seasons)
In: Jay Gruden
Well, one year ago this looked like a great job. A powerful running game, a dynamic young franchise quarterback, an emerging defense. Now? Not so much. They had a huge collapse this season, and worse, they traded away their first-round draft pick so they can’t even reap the benefits. On top of that, the franchise quarterback – Robert Griffin III – is now an unknown quantity because of his lingering knee problems. And even worse than that, reports have suggested an absolutely toxic situation with the owner, Dan Snyder, who apparently sided with his quarterback over his coach in some internal disputes. Snyder does have plenty of money, but his organization rarely has a plan.
How good is the Washington job? C-plus
6. Minnesota Vikings
Out: Leslie Frazier, fired (21-32 in four seasons)
If you’re starting with a defense that has defensive end Jared Allen and a running back in Adrian Peterson, it should be a great job, right? OK, but who’s the quarterback? Christian Ponder wasn’t the answer and it seems highly doubtful that Josh Freeman will be. Maybe they can find a good one with the eighth pick of the draft, but then they’re just hitting the reset button. Again. And it’s not as if the new quarterback will be surrounded by a ton of offensive weapons. Plus, that defense that was once an anchor? It finished last season ranked 31st in the league.
How good is the Washington job? C-minus
7. Cleveland Browns
Out: Rob Chudzinski, fired (4-12 in one season)
Another franchise playing “Who’s our quarterback?” (Brandon Weeden? Jason Campbell?) Plus, they need to answer who their running back is after trading away Trent Richardson, a former first-round draft pick. They did have an improving defense and an emerging offensive line, plus with receiver Josh Gordon they have one of the NFL’s top skill position players. But you know why this is a terrible job? Start with the fact that Chudzinski was fired after just one season. He was the seventh head coach for the Browns since 2000. None of the last three have lasted more than two seasons and no Browns coach has lasted more than four seasons since Bill Belichick (1991-95). They do have the fourth overall pick in the draft, but the new coach better consider renting a home rather than buying one because history suggests he won’t be there long.
How good is the Cleveland job? D-plus
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 10.
• A line I never thought I'd write: Presenting the hot women of curling. Hot enough to melt the ice, in fact.
• Note to NFL GMs: Dipping into the college ranks for coaches can work, even if Saban and Spurrier were failures. The 10 most successful college coaches who turned pro.
• Kevin Durant tweeted a photo of himself smoking from a hookah, then deleted it and claimed he was hacked. Dude, hookahs are legal. Don't act guilty if you're not.
• An in-depth story on Greg Maddux on the occasion of his Hall call. Random observation: The Professor's grown a couple chins in retirement.
• Northwestern unveiled some player-designed custom unis. Gotta be honest: pretty hideous.
• I'm not a big fan of trash talk. Unless it's good. Like these.
• From the "Do as I say, not as I do" files: The BBWAA vice president is outed as a hypocrite over the Dan Le Batard situation. More Hall of Fame stuff: An interesting article on how to fix a broken voting system. Still more: Newly minted Hall of Famer Tom Glavine's house could be yours. A cozy 10,000 square feet.
• The headline says it all: What the hell is Bill Walton talking about?
• Twitter is both a blessing and a curse. Here's the blessing part: The funniest tweets of the week.
• I don't know much about hockey, but even I know that you can't play the puck from the penalty box.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
For those a little late to the party: Welcome to basketball season.
College football is over, and conference play has started. For the casual fan, this is when the basketball lightbulb goes on.
This weekend won’t have a true headline game, though. Those occurred Tuesday when Ohio State visited Michigan State and Baylor visited Iowa State.
We’re still watching the Buckeyes, even if their loss in overtime to the Spartans knocked them from the ranks of the undefeated. Ohio State will face Iowa, home of the other major storyline in the Big Ten. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s bout with the referees brought on a one-game suspension and may have cost his Hawkeyes a signature win in Madison. They’ll try to regroup against Ohio State.
Beyond that, here’s all you need to know for the weekend ahead.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 11-12
Game of the Week:
Iowa at Ohio State (Sunday, CBS, 1:30 p.m.)
Ohio State just missed another miracle comeback Tuesday against Michigan State. The same team that overcame an eight-point deficit in the final minute to beat Notre Dame outscored the Spartans 20-3 down the stretch to force overtime. Ohio State suffered its first loss of the season, but somehow no lead is safe even against a team without the most scoring punch in the country. Against the Spartans, the Buckeyes forced overtime on hustle, mainly in the form of Aaron Craft. Iowa will have Fran McCaffery back from his one-game suspension as the Hawkeyes still have to prove they’re a top-tier Big Ten team. Iowa’s three losses have come by thin margins against the three best teams on their schedule — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin.
North Carolina at Syracuse (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Adding an 0-2 start in the ACC to bizarre non-conference losses, North Carolina is putting together a puzzling NCAA Tournament resume. Given the up-and-down results, undefeated Syracuse has every reason to be concerned. North Carolina, though, will have to shoot better than 35 percent from the floor as the Heels did against Miami and Wake Forest.
Best Coaching Matchup:
SMU at Louisville (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Rick Pitino vs. Larry Brown, not a bad matchup early in the existence of the American Athletic Conference. Louisville, though, needs a win more than the coaching storyline. The Cardinals finally got production from Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, but it didn't matter as Louisville shot 39.1 percent from the floor in a Thursday home loss to Memphis. After defeating Connecticut on Saturday, SMU may be in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but this is the Mustangs’ only chance for a big statement until a Feb. 1 game against Memphis.
Team in Trouble:
Xavier at Creighton (Sunday, 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The worst was avoided for Creighton after potential player of the year Doug McDermott and guard Grant Gibbs sustained injuries against DePaul, but neither will be available against Xavier. McDermott has a shoulder sprain and Gibbs is out with 4-6 weeks with a dislocated kneecap. Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will need to carry the load for a bit.
Tricky Road Trip:
Duke at Clemson (Saturday, 2 p.m., ACC syndication)
Duke came back from its loss to Notre Dame to pound Georgia Tech 79-57. Freshman Jabari Parker still only played 21 minutes after being benched late for defensive lapses against the Irish. Meanwhile, Clemson is quietly one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
Under the Radar Game to Watch:
Saint Louis at Dayton (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2)
In Saint Louis’ two losses, the Billikens gave Wisconsin and Wichita State fits. Opponents have been able to shut down Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett, but Saint Louis has been a stout defensive team for the second consecutive year. With an 83-80 win over Ole Miss on the road last week, Dayton is showing signs that its performance in the Maui Invitational was no fluke.
Others to watch:
Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Wildcats have defeated Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma State since Dec. 21. KU’s freshmen have all the NBA upside, but Kansas State’s rookies aren’t so bad, either. Marcus Foster leads the Wildcats in scoring, and point guard Jevon Thomas is working his way into the rotation after becoming eligible.
Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, is working his way into the national player of the year conversation after an outstanding performance in a win over a top-10 Baylor team on Tuesday. Oklahoma has lost two of its last three, including home games against Louisiana Tech in overtime and Kansas. Still, Oklahoma may be good enough to give Iowa State trouble in Norman in an off game.
Florida at Arkansas (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2)
The enthusiasm for Arkansas’ season probably dimmed a bit after the Razorbacks’ ongoing road problems resurfaced in a 69-53 loss at Texas A&M. The Hogs were a different team in Fayetteville last season, and now they face Florida and Kentucky in back-to-back road games. Freshman Bobby Portis and sophomore Michael Qualls have been two of the league’s surprise players this season.
Villanova at St. John’s (Saturday, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Villanova has been one of the season’s surprises, and St. John’s has been one of the season’s disappointments. The talented Red Storm lost big on the road to Xavier and Georgetown last week and will have to hope a return to Madison Square Garden against Villanova and a light schedule thereafter turns the tide.
Minnesota at Michigan State (Saturday, 2:15 Big Ten Network)
Minnesota is one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this season behind veteran guards Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation). Michigan State played a poor half against Penn State on Tuesday, came back to win by 26 and pound Indiana on Saturday and then nearly coughed up a 17-point lead at home against Ohio State. This may be one of the great coaching mismatches in college basketball this season with the 31-year-old Richard Pitino up against Tom Izzo.
Virginia at NC State (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)
No game is a must-win in early January, but this is a key game for both teams in the ACC. Virginia seems to have the same problem that landed the Cavaliers in the NIT a year ago by losing in ways they shouldn’t — on the road to Green Bay, in a blowout to Tennessee. NC State has surprised behind high-scoring sophomore T.J. Warren, but the Wolfpack need to change course after recent home losses to Missouri and Pittsburgh.
Maryland at Florida State (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Point guard Seth Allen’s return from a broken left foot has given Maryland’s offense a shot in the arm at times, but Allen is still working his way into becoming a full-time player. Florida State has one of the best defensive teams in the country, but the Seminoles haven’t shown the consistency in the offensive side of the court to be true ACC contenders.
Arizona State at UCLA (Sunday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
Arizona State star point guard Jahii Carson has seen his numbers dip in recent games, but backcourt mate Jermaine Marshall has proven capable of carrying the scoring load. UCLA nearly handed Arizona its first loss of the season with a second-half rally before coming up short in a 79-75 loss.
College football’s 2013 season is officially in the books. While kickoff for the 2014 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to make a jump in the rankings next year.
Of course, with a few months to dissect rosters, opinions can change on teams.
No matter the conference or school, there are always a handful of teams that will be poised to regress in the win total department. Whether it’s injuries, lost personnel, a tougher schedule or other various reasons, some teams just aren’t built to maintain a high level of success in back-to-back years.
So what teams have our attention as potential programs that will struggle to match their win total from 2013 in 2014? Fresno State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and UCF get the nod as our top five teams on the decline. And while all of those teams fit the profile to regress in win total next season, most seem to have a bright future, including Texas A&M where there’s no shortage of talent set to deliver over the next couple of years in College Station.
Five College Football Teams on the Decline for 2014
Tim DeRuyter will have his work cut out for him in 2014. The Bulldogs have won 20 games over the last two years, but the departures of quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams will be tough to overcome next season. With Carr at the helm, Fresno State averaged 546.2 total yards per game and claimed the Mountain West title over Utah State in 2013. The Bulldogs have been to six bowl games in the last seven years and recorded only two losing seasons since 1999. Clearly, the program is on solid ground, and DeRuyter is one of the top coaches in the Mountain West. But how quickly can the Bulldogs reload from replacing one of the top players in school history (Carr), along with one of the nation’s top receivers (Adams) over the last two years)? Zack Greenlee, Myles Carr and Brian Burrell are the frontrunners to replace Carr at quarterback. But none of the three candidates have a start at Fresno State, and last year’s backup (Burrell) has thrown just 12 career passes. In addition to replacing Carr and Adams, standout left tackle Austin Wentworth, defensive end Andy Jennings, tackle Tyeler Davison and cornerback L.J. Jones will be missed. Don’t expect Fresno State to slip too far in the Mountain West. However, asking the Bulldogs to win 11 games again seems unrealistic, especially with non-conference matchups against Utah, Nebraska and USC, along with a road trip to Boise State in Mountain West play.
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
The Cowboys said goodbye to 28 seniors after the Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri. Included in the departing group was quarterback Clint Chelf, standout defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis. And as expected with several key players leaving, Oklahoma State’s coaching staff is certainly going to have its hands full. Replacing Chelf is the biggest priority on offense, with J.W. Walsh and incoming freshman Mason Rudolph expected to be the top options to earn the starting job. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a good supporting cast, as Desmond Roland returns at running back, and Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman are ready to fill the void left behind by Josh Stewart at receiver. One other piece of good news for Oklahoma State will be the return of tackle Devin Davis, who missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. Despite the losses on offense, the Cowboys are still in relatively good shape there and have a track record of success on that side of the ball under coach Mike Gundy. But the defense has several voids to fill and is arguably the biggest concern for Gundy. With Barnett, Lewis and Lavey departing, the front seven will have a new look in 2014. The secondary also needs to be revamped, as Gilbert, and Tyler Patmon are gone at cornerback, and both safeties (Shamiel Gary and Daytawion Lowe) have expired their eligibility. Since 2008, Oklahoma State has not won fewer than eight games in a season. Also, the Cowboys have claimed three years of at least 10 victories since 2010. Gundy has a solid foundation in place in Stillwater, but the departure of 24 seniors, along with an improved Big 12 will make it tough for Oklahoma State to match its 10 wins from 2013. The schedule provides few breaks for the Cowboys, as a date against likely preseason No. 1 Florida State is ahead in the opener, while road dates at TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State will be tough to overcome. Oklahoma State may take a step back in 2014, but the Cowboys could be reloading for a run at the conference title in 2015.
With the way Kevin Sumlin and his staff are recruiting, Texas A&M isn’t going to be down for long. However, with quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans leaving for the NFL, there were be a few growing pains in College Station next year. Both sides of the ball have significant question marks, but none are bigger than finding a replacement for Manziel. While the former Heisman Trophy winner leaves big shoes to fill, there is talent waiting in the wings. Kenny Hill ranked as the No. 219 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one score in four appearances this year. Incoming freshman Kyle Allen looks like a future star in the SEC and ranks as the No. 22 national recruit by 247Sports for the 2014 class. Allen and Hill will benefit from a strong supporting cast next season, which includes redshirt freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and running backs Brandon Williams, Tra Carson and Trey Williams. Another factor working in the new quarterback’s favor: Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi announced his intention to return for his senior year. In time, the offense for Texas A&M will be explosive. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the Aggies can maintain their 2013 averages (538.4 ypg and 44.2 ppg). And a regression on offense is a huge problem for Sumlin, especially if answers on defense aren’t found in preseason practices. Texas A&M ranked last in the SEC in yards allowed (475.8) and opponents averaged 32.2 points per game in 2013. There’s promising young talent, but can this unit make enough improvement to make up for the losses on offense? Another problem for the Aggies is the schedule. Road trips at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn could equal four losses. Again, Texas A&M is going to be fine over the next five seasons. But the Aggies may take a step back in the win column with Manziel taking snaps on Sundays in 2014.
2013 is easily one of the top seasons in UCF program history. The Knights finished 12-1, claimed the American Athletic Conference title and defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. George O’Leary’s team also scored a huge upset win at Louisville (38-35) and nearly defeated South Carolina (28-25) in late September. But the success came at a price, as quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Bortles and Johnson formed one of the top duos in the American Athletic Conference last season and will be missed. Quarterbacks Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo have potential but replacing Bortles’ production in one offseason will be a challenge. UCF also has to replace three starters on the offensive line. With Bortles departing, non-conference games against Penn State, Missouri and BYU suddenly look less winnable, and the American Athletic Conference is up for grabs at the top. Repeating last year’s 12 wins is simply too much to ask. But if Holoman or DiNovo settles into the quarterback job, UCF could win the conference championship once again.
Frank Beamer has been one of the nation’s most consistent coaches during the BCS era. From 2004-11, Virginia Tech won at least 10 games in every season and played in five BCS bowls. However, the last two years haven’t been as prosperous. The Hokies are just 15-11 since 2012 and only 9-7 in ACC games. Every coach is due a mulligan or two at various times during their career, but Virginia Tech has posted back-to-back seasons of at least three losses in ACC play for the first time since 2002-03. The unpredictability of the Coastal Division in 2014 should help the Hokies push for a spot in the conference title game, but how far has the program slipped in recent years? That’s what college football is about to find out next year. With Bud Foster calling the plays, Virginia Tech should be solid on defense in 2014. But end James Gayle, tackle Derrick Hopkins, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Kyle Fuller will be missed. And with Logan Thomas departing at quarterback and question marks about the rushing attack and offensive line, the defense will have to carry the Hokies early in the season. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, but Virginia Tech will have to play at Ohio State and hosts a dangerous East Carolina team on Sept. 13. The conference slate features three tough road games (Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh), with Miami and Georgia Tech visiting Blacksburg. Don’t expect a major regression in the win total, but those expecting Virginia Tech to win 10 or 11 games again will be disappointed in 2014. Considering the personnel question marks, 7-5 overall and just hitting .500 in conference play would be a good season.
Johnny Manziel couldn’t do it. Neither could Jason White, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram or Sam Bradford.
So why is Jameis Winston any different?
The odds of Winston repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner are slim to none. It’s not an indictment of his talents or Florida State’s general trajectory — both of which are incredibly impressive. But the Heisman Trophy is a unique award that is given to a player who captivates the nation for a few months each fall. Generating that same type of buzz and riding that tidal wave a second time is pretty much impossible.
This is why Jameis Winston isn’t going to be the frontrunner to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Just like Manziel wasn’t last year. Funny thing about greatness… it’s hard to duplicate. And keep in mind that three of the last four Heisman winners didn't play football the year before — Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Winston.
So with 230-something days left until the kickoff of the new era of playoff college football, Athlon puts an early handicap on next year’s Heisman race.
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
A sprained knee kept Mariota from finishing what was turning into one of the great single seasons by a Pac-12 quarterback in history. Over the first eight games, Mariota posted 511 of his 715 yards rushing and all nine rushing touchdowns. Poor games against Stanford and Arizona cost Oregon the Pac-12 title and Mariota a trip to New York after his knee injury. When healthy, the Ducks' signal-caller is one of the most naturally gifted players in the nation and he orchestrates one of the most explosive offenses in the country. He is 23-3 overall in two seasons under center and set the conference record for consecutive passes without an interception (353 att.). In 2013, his total touchdowns (40), total yards (336.9) and passing efficiency (167.66) all went up from '12 and fans could expect yet another jump in '14. He is one of few players in the nation whose overall talent matches that of Jameis Winston.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
From an electricity standpoint, few players in the nation can match Miller’s dual-threat talents. His first step is explosive and his ability to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground is unprecedented in Columbus. He posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground in 2013 while showing marked improvement as a passer. His 58.3 percent completion rate in 2012 became 63.5 percent this fall while his 15:6 TD:INT ratio improved to 24:7. More importantly, Miller is 24-0 in the last two regular seasons as a starter with his only two losses coming against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Should Ohio State make a run at one of the playoff spots, as expected, then Miller should find himself in New York at season’s end. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The UCLA quarterback had more passing yards and touchdowns as a freshman two years ago but improved his efficiency and rushing production while decreasing his turnovers as a sophomore. With the Bruins the potential frontrunner in the Pac-12 South, Hundley now carries big expectations into his third year as the starter. The dual-threat signal-caller finished last year with 3,071 yards passing, 748 yards rushing and 35 total touchdowns for a team that won 10 games last year. The talent around him is still a bit of question mark, as he had a better supporting cast in 2012 than he did last fall, but his overall athletic ability is second to none in the nation.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
The level of efficiency Petty exhibited in Waco this season was astounding. He accounted for 46 total touchdowns (32 pass, 14 rush) while only throwing three interceptions and finishing second nationally to only Jameis Winston in passing efficiency (174.29). His 4,409 total yards (4,200 pass, 209 rush) were sixth nationally. Petty led his team to its first-ever Big 12 championship, BCS bowl and 11-win season in one fell swoop. With road trips to Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma on tap next fall, the Baylor signal-caller has numerous opportunities to prove himself on the national stage. Only a slip-up against Oklahoma State this season kept Petty from Heisman contention. And frankly, his omission from New York was laughable.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
The reigning Heisman winner gets the nod based solely on his accomplishments in 2013. He is one of just four Heisman winners to cap his stiff-armed season with a win in the BCS title game and is one of just six players in college football history to go unbeaten, win the Heisman and claim the national championship. He set an NCAA record for freshmen with 40 touchdown passes and was the nation’s No. 1-rated passer (184.85). The odds are stacked convincingly against him winning the award for a second straight season, however, Florida State will likely be the preseason No. 1 team and again faces a weak ACC schedule.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The most talented running back in the nation is back as the focal point of an offense known for churning out great ball carriers. The 230-pounder averaged 6.0 yards per carry on just 165 attempts this year, missing big chunks of time due to injury. When healthy, however, no one in the nation is more physically gifted than the Dawgs tailback. Despite missing three games and lots of snaps in a few others, he finished with 1,430 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns on 202 offensive touches. Imagine what he could do with, say, 375 touches — a number that led the nation this season (Ka’Deem Carey).
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Gordon combined with James White to form the most productive backfield in NCAA history in 2013. The duo rushed for 3,053 yards, setting a national record for most yards by two runners in the same backfield. Gordon averaged an absurd 7.8 yards per carry on 206 attempts and scored 12 times. With White now out of the picture and quarterback Joel Stave entering his third season as the starter, the explosive and powerful Gordon could be in for a monster season. At a school with names like Dayne, Bennett, Calhoun, Moss, Hill, Clay and Ball, it’s Gordon who might be the most physically gifted of the bunch.
The Next Tier:
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
With AJ McCarron gone, Nick Saban will turn to Yeldon and Derrick Henry to carry the workload in Tuscalossa. The offensive line will be excellent and Yeldon enters his junior season after back-to-back seasons with at least 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. With just 382 carries in his first two seasons, Yeldon still has plenty of tread left on the tires.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
The Sun Devils' starter returns for his third full season under center having thrown 844 passes and carried 306 times on the ground over the last two seasons. Kelly accounted for 37 total touchdowns en route to a Pac-12 South championship in 2013. He is the perfect fit for Todd Graham’s offense and should ASU post the best record in the Pac-12 again, it will be largely because of Kelly’s play.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Auburn will need to find another workhorse to replace Tre Mason but Marshall should be the star of the Gus Malzahn zone-read show next fall. If Marshall can produce in the passing game just enough to balance out his big play ability on the ground, he has a chance to get to New York.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
From a talent standpoint, few can match the power and speed of Jeremy Hill — just ask the Iowa defenders. The LSU ball carrier finished with 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns on a sterling 6.9 yards per carry clip. An increased workload should be expected as Les Miles and Cam Cameron break in a new quarterback.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Quickly, name the Big Ten’s leading rusher? Abdullah led the league with 1,690 yards on 281 carries. He posted 11 100-yard efforts in 13 games while also playing a big role in the passing game (26 rec., 232 yards, 2 TDs). The explosive back will once again be the focal point of the Nebraska offense in 2014 and a few more touchdowns — he had nine last year — could get him into Heisman conversations fairly easily.
Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State
It was a slow build for Langford but no running back was more important to their team in the Big Ten than this junior. He led the league in carries (292) and rushing touchdown (18) without starting for the first month of the season. Eventually tabbed the starter, he rattled off eight straight 100-yard games. A full workload could get Langford into Heisman talks earlier next fall.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Another SEC super sophomore, Davis was the best back in the league over the first few months of the season. Injuries and scheduling eventually slowed Davis, but the Gamecocks' workhorse finished with an impressive 1,535 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. With Connor Shaw gone, one has to think that a healthy Davis becomes the focal point of Steve Spurrier’s offense.
Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
Few players have the raw athletic ability of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound dual-threat from BYU. Hill has elite speed, size, power and a knack for making big plays. He carried 246 times for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while developing as a passer over the course of the season. He finished with 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air. With an easier schedule and increased passing efficiency, Hill could make some big noise in 2014.
Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
No NCAA quarterback has ever rushed for more touchdowns in a single season than Reynolds’ 31 in 2013. He was one of only seven players with at least 300 rushing attempts. His passing was efficient if nothing else (140.00, 8 TDs, 2 INTs) but the Midshipmen will likely have to throw it more to get Reynolds national acclaim — and that is highly unlikely.
The Long Shots:
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
True pocket passer showed why he was the No. 1 QB prospect in the nation as just a true freshman.
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Will be a victim of expectations following his big-time Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama.
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
He will have to earn his starting spot back but his talent is undeniable.
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
He has moxie and confidence to go along with a month's worth of starting experience.
Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State
Rushed for 664 of his 811 total yards and 11 of 13 touchdowns over final seven games.
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
On a team devoid of playmakers, David Shaw will turn to Hogan to develop.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Posted 39 TD passes and could lead Herd to an unbeaten record next fall.
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
195 att., 994 yards, 8 TDs rushing and 101 rec., 1,186 yards, 8 TDs receiving in two years. Now the starter.
Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Flashed big-time ability in a pass-happy offense for Kliff Kingsbury in limited duty this year.
The Wide Receivers:
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Elite talent should be Maty Mauk’s primary target in 2014.
Tyler Boyd, Pitt
Electric, big-play machine showed his ability as just a freshman in 2013.
Rashad Greene, Florida State
If Kelvin Benjamin goes to the NFL, Greene could be a Biletnikoff finalist.
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Does a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder. Elite sprinter speed.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Physical specimen with huge upside and obvious first-round ability.
Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Someone has to catch all of those Bryce Petty touchdowns, right?
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Freakish ability will need to find a quarterback. But in that system, he could be unstoppable.
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Primary target for Taylor Kelly had a huge breakout 2013 season.
Nelson Agholor, USC
Dynamic return man showed he could be a No. 1 when Marqise Lee was slowed this year.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Explosive playmaker will need to find a quarterback.
Back from injury:
Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
Dynamic quarterback could be frontrunner in the Mountain West POY race.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Explosive dynamo could easily find his way to New York with a big bounce-back season.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Do-everything athlete should return to form as one of the Big Ten's top playmakers.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Like Johnson and Diggs, Mark does everything for his team but played in only three games.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
His return should bolster Hutson Mason's ability to stretch the field.
Jordan James, RB, UCLA
Was effective when playing but missed six full games during '13.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Shilque Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
With the demise of the BCS it’s tempting to jump right ahead to thoughts of the College Football Playoff.
The regular season still matters, though. By spring, every college football fan will be hungry for the first week of the season, not debates concerning selection committee criteria.
Week 1 of 2014 will be plenty of interesting games, not least of which the opener for the defending national champions and their opponent in the national title game.
Top 10 Games for Week 1 in 2014
*all games Saturday, Sept. 1 unless noted
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
The defending national champions won’t ease into the 2014 season as they open with a Cowboys team that was in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title until the last week of the season. The draft announcements are still trickling out for both teams, but Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be back for Florida State with plenty around him to make another run at the national title. Oklahoma State may be in a bit of transition, though. Clint Chelf is on his way out as a senior, and Josh Stewart declared for the draft via Instagram. A number of defensive stalwarts (Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Justin Gilbert) are also gone. Rising junior J.W. Walsh needs to prove he can hang onto the job.
LSU vs Wisconsin (Houston)
Who passes first? With the returning running backs spurning the draft, there might be a lot of reason. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards while LSU’s Jeremy Hill used a dominant bowl game performance to push his total to 1,401 yards. LSU continues its tradition of tough season openers, a run that’s included TCU, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington since 2009.
Clemson at Georgia
Don’t expect the offensive showdown that featured 72 points at Clemson to open 2013. No more Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins or Aaron Murray means this game will have a different character. Georgia running back Todd Gurley is still around, so that gives the Bulldogs the early edge.
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta, Thursday)
A Boise State team without Chris Petersen will be a strange sight on the first day of the season, but Bryan Harsin has enough pieces returning in running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Matt Miller and linebacker Ben Weaver to contend in the Mountain West, but is it enough to beat Ole Miss? The Rebels’ star-studded freshman class is poised to take over as sophomores behind returning starting quarterback Bo Wallace.
Texas A&M at South Carolina (Thursday)
It’s a shame this game never took place during the last two seasons when it would have featured Johnny Manziel vs. Jadeveon Clowney. Alas, we’ll have to settle for two SEC teams whose division credentials are up in the air. New full-time starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience to go with running back Mike Davis. Kevin Sumlin has some rebuilding to do on offense with Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans gone.
Arkansas at Auburn
Expect this storyline to get a lot of run early in the year: Is Arkansas the next Auburn? The Razorbacks went 0-9 in the SEC and return a stud running back (Alex Collins). Projecting another Auburn turnaround is impossible, but Arkansas improved late in Bret Bielema’s first season.
West Virginia vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Nick Saban’s West Virginia roots may be the most interesting part of this game if the Mountaineers don’t make dramatic improvement from the team that lost to Kansas and Iowa State at the end of 2013. Alabama should be fine, but this is the start of the post AJ McCarron/C.J. Mosley era.
Penn State vs. UCF (Dublin)
UCF defeated Penn State at Happy Valley in 2013, so maybe Nittany Lions fans are happy to see this game played overseas, even if it means missing the debut of James Franklin.
Appalachian State at Michigan
Michigan fans will cringe at the rematch of the worst loss in Wolverines history, but if it’s any consolation, Appalachian State, despite moving up from FCS to the Sun Belt, isn’t what it was back in 2007. The Mountaineers are coming off a 4-8 season. Then again, Michigan isn’t what it was back in 2007, either.
Fresno State at USC/North Texas at Texas
USC’s Steve Sarkisian and Texas’ Charlie Strong make their debuts for their respective powerhouse programs against in-state bowl teams from 2013. Both should win their first games, but, hey, you never know.
Syracuse, you’re on notice.
North Carolina lost 63-57 at home to Miami on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels’ second consecutive loss to an unranked team. Meanwhile, Syracuse is undefeated, playing at home on Saturday, and on paper shouldn’t have much to fear from an 0-2 ACC team that just lost to Miami and Wake Forest.
Sit down, Syracuse. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky have some stories to share.
The conference season is only a week old, and North Carolina is putting together one of the most vexing resumes for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
North Carolina is one of seven teams with two wins against the RPI top 20. Some of those teams you probably recognized as being close to the top of the AP poll: Wisconsin, Syracuse, Michigan State and Baylor. The other two are Kansas State and Colorado.
But the Tar Heels’ loss to Miami gives North Carolina a 1-5 record against teams ranked between No. 51 through 100 in the RPI, the same record as Evansville.
By nature, the NCAA Tournament bubble has a number of teams with good wins and bad losses — both at home, on the road and on neutral sites. But North Carolina is stretching the imagination.
North Carolina is the only team to beat Michigan State this season, in East Lansing or otherwise. The Tar Heels are the only team besides Kentucky to beat Louisville — and a Cardinals team that still had Chane Behanan at the time. Kentucky is a shell of the team most thought the Wildcats would be, but they have only three loses, one in Chapel Hill.
The most recent team with a resume as up and down as North Carolina may be Virginia from last season. The Cavaliers defeated RPI No. 1 Duke at home and lost to No. 318 Old Dominion as their two extreme results, but that was only the start.
Here’s a look at the two side by side:
Last year’s Virginia team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, done in by too many bad losses and a weak strength of schedule. That's enough to give Tar Heels fans pause, but none of North Carolina’s losses will be as bad as Virginia’s loss to Old Dominion, a team that went 5-25.
Still, the RPI numbers for teams like Belmont and UAB are likely to drop as the two teams get deeper into conference play.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who projected North Carolina as a No. 8 seed, says North Carolina may need to break .500 in the ACC and win a game or two in the conference tournament to avoid the NIT.
Projecting how North Carolina gets to that .500 record or better would be impossible given the track record. Even in ACC play, the Tar Heels have enough opportunities for wins the committee can’t ignore and losses that could doom them on Selection Sunday.
The Tar Heels face Syracuse only once on Saturday plus the home-and-home with Duke. A road trip to Virginia and a home date against Pittsburgh are critical. The schedule also includes teams outside of the RPI top 100 (Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech).
In other words, if the roller coaster ride continues, North Carolina is going to have make sure it counters every dip with another shocking win.
Auburn running back Tre Mason has decided to declare for the NFL Draft. The junior was one of the top playmakers in the nation this year, rushing for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns on 317 carries.
Mason finished sixth in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting and finished his Auburn career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
With Mason leaving, Auburn will turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant as the top two running backs for 2014. However, expect quarterback Nick Marshall to once again shoulder much of the load on the ground next season.
After one season at Western Kentucky, Bobby Petrino has been hired at Louisville to replace Charlie Strong.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Petrino, who was the head coach at Louisville from 2003-06. During his four years with the Cardinals, Petrino recorded a 41-9 mark, including a No. 5 overall finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2006.
There’s no question Petrino has baggage. But there’s no one who questions his ability to coach.
In four seasons at Arkansas, Petrino went 34-17 and 8-4 in one season at Western Kentucky.
Athletic director Tom Jurich is one of the best in the nation. And he certainly knows the risks involved with this hire.
While the risks are high, Petrino will win a lot of games at Louisville.
Jurich: "Bobby has convinced he's a changed man ... The coach I had here seven years ago is not the coach I want to hire."— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) January 9, 2014
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 9.
• The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is only a few weeks away. So who's this year's cover girl? There are some solid candidates, including Genevieve Morton (pictured).
• College football has lost its collective mind. Bobby Petrino's back at Louisville, and Alabama might hire Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator. I'm already salivating over Kiffin's first visit back to Knoxville. Petrino's probably already salivating over some Cardinals academic assistant.
• Glavine, Maddux and the Big Hurt got their Hall passes. But the process continues to be a farce, which Dan Le Batard highlighted by giving his vote to Deadspin, unleashing much pearl-clutching sanctimony.
• Blake Griffin threw down (literally, his hand didn't touch the rim) over poor, poor Kris Humphries. But it wasn't the dunk of the night. No, the dunk of the night belonged to Duquesne's Ovie Soko, with an assist from a teammate.
• A kid who survived two separate plane crashes that killed close family members returned to the basketball court last night. He also made his first shot attempt.
• TV gold: The WWE is launching its own network, and one of the shows will be Legends House, a Real World-style reality show featuring guys like Rowdy Roddy Piper and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
• Dennis Rodman was drunk during his passionate defense of Kim Jong Un on CNN. So exactly how long has Rodman been drunk?
• Thank God for people with too much time on their hands: Check out this Lego Simpsons house.
• Greg Popovich put a new spin on his normally terse courtside interviews.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. In particular, the most important game of the college football season.
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 the BCS era in the rear-view mirror and 16 memorable games locked in history, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from the BCS National Championship Games:
18: Largest BCS deficit overcome
The Florida State Seminoles trailed 21-3 late in the second quarter of the 16th and final BCS national title game. The 18-point deficit against Auburn was the largest comeback in a BCS National Championship Game (NCG from here on out). Jameis Winston was 6-of-7 for 80 yards on the final drive in which he led the Noles to a national title by connecting with Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining for the game-winning touchdown. The drive capped the BCS NCG-record 18-point comeback for the Noles and ended the BCS era in tremendously dramatic fashion. That said, the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game isn’t the latest game-winning play in BCS history.
0:00: Latest game-winning score in BCS NCG history
Technically, the clock wasn’t running when Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett scored a five-yard rushing touchdown in double overtime against Miami. However, the latest game-winning score in a BCS NCG came from the Auburn Tigers in 2010. Cam Newton led the Tigers on a 7-play, 73-yard drive that sapped the final 2:33 worth of clock and ended with a Wes Byrum 19-yard field goal that broke the 19-19 tie in Auburn’s favor. Time ran out on the Ducks as the kick sailed through the uprights and War Eagle celebrated its first national championship since 1957.
14-1: Record of the team leading at halftime
The Tigers held a 21-10 lead over the Florida State Seminoles on Monday night and now own a very dubious BCS NCG honor. Prior to the BCS’ electric final game, the team leading at halftime of the NCG was 14-0. Only the Florida-Oklahoma title game in the 2008 season was tied at halftime, making the 2013 Auburn Tigers the only team in BCS NCG history to give up a halftime lead. The Noles are the only team to be trailing at halftime and still win the national title after outscoring War Eagle 24-10 in the second half.
34: Tre Mason's NCG-record rushing attempts
Adrian Peterson rushed 25 times for 82 yards in the lopsided USC blowout of the Sooners in the 2004 championship game. All-Day has owned the NCG game rushing attempts record ever since — until Tre Mason came along. The Tigers tailback blew past the previous record to carry a BCS NCG-record 34 times in the loss to Florida State. His 195 rushing yards were a clearcut No. 2, blowing past Beanie Wells’ 146 yards against LSU in 2007. Vince Young owns the NCG record for rushing yards with 200 against USC in the most memorable game ever played during the BCS era. What’s more impressive about VY? His 30-of-40 passing night in that same game is a BCS NCG record for completion percentage (75 percent).
8-8: Record of the No. 1 seed in the title game
The team ranked No. 1 in the final BCS Standings won the first four BCS NCG games from 1998-01. Ohio State in 2002 was the first two-seed to win the game and it began a run for the No. 2 team. The second-ranked team in the final BCS Standings won 6-of-7 BCS title games from 2002-08. Alabama in 2009 and Auburn in '10 both won as the top seed and then both of Alabama’s titles in ’11 and ’12 came as the No. 2-ranked team. Florida State was the No. 1 team in the land, and, by way of its win over Auburn, evened the all-time BCS NCG 1-versus-2 record to a dead even 8-8.
4-6: Heisman Trophy winners in the BCS NCG
Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy and the BCS National Championship in the same year, becoming just the fourth player during the 16-year era to accomplish the feat. Cam Newton (2010), Mark Ingram (2009) and Matt Leinart (2004) are the only other Heisman winners to go on to win the championship in the same year. Technically, Tim Tebow, Chris Weinke and Reggie Bush won BCS titles and Heisman Trophies but none of them did it in the same year. In fact, Weinke (2000), Bush (2005), Eric Crouch (2001), Troy Smith (2006) and Sam Bradford (2008) lost in the BCS NCG a month after winning the most prestigious award in sports.
6: Undefeated national champions who also won the Heisman Trophy
This one extends a bit beyond the BCS era, but only six players in history have won a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and finished the year with an unbeaten record. Tony Dorsett was the first to do so for Pitt in 1976 and Charles Woodson was the second in 1997 for Michigan. However, the other four have come during the BCS era and three have come in the last five years. Matt Leinart and USC did it 2004, Mark Ingram and Alabama did it in '09, Cam Newton and Auburn in '10 and, now, Jameis Winston and Florida State accomplished the feat this season. Only six players in history can claim what Winston can claim — a perfect Heisman season that ends with a championship.
365: Matt Leinart's NCG passing record
It was an awful game as USC crushed poor Oklahoma in 2004, but Matt Leinart had the best passing afternoon of anyone in BCS NCG history. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner completed 18-of-35 passes for a NCG-record 365 yards passing and a record five touchdowns. His Trojans scored a BCS NCG-record 55 points and at the time set the record for most total yards with 525 (broken by his own team the next year with 574 against Texas in a loss). Who is No. 2 on the list? No, not one of the nine Heisman-winning QBs to play in the game, but Oregon’s Darron Thomas with 363 yards in his valiant performance against Auburn in 2010.
94,906: Highest Attendance in a BCS NCG
Tickets outside the Rose Bowl on Monday were going for below face value — a problem most venues in most sports are dealing with across the country. But the official attendance for the final BCS national title game was a robust 94,308. However, it was short of the biggest NCG crowd ever. That honor goes to Alabama and Texas at the end of the 2009 season in the Rose Bowl with 94,906. Interestingly enough, both of those numbers fall short of the 95,173 that watched Michigan State's beat Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl. There is one bowl game that isn't having any issues with ticket sales.
21.7: Highest rating for a BCS title game
The most watched BCS national title game was what many believe was the best NCG of the BCS era. Texas and USC pulled a monster 21.7 TV rating to set the record as the highest-rated college football championship game. The Horns-Trojans bout in Pasadena was head and shoulders above the rest of the BCS games as the next six most-watched games pulled numbers between 17.2 and 17.8. Oklahoma and Florida State in the 2000 title game finished No. 2 with a 17.8 rating. Auburn and Florida State tied Auburn and Oregon (2010) for ninth out of the 16 BCS championship games. It is shocking that the the final BCS bowl — the second-best game of the BCS championship era — barely topped last year's embarrassment by Notre Dame at the hands of Alabama (15.1).
279: Reggie Bush's NCG all-purpose yards record
In a loss to Texas, the Heisman Trophy winner set the title game benchmark for all-purpose production with 279 yards. He carried 13 times for 82 yards rushing, caught six passes for 95 yards and registered 102 yards on kickoff returns while scoring once (and fumbling as well — sorry, USC fans). He tops one of the forgotten heroes of the BCS era in Tennessee's Peerless Price (242 yards). The Vols wide receiver set the BCS NCG record with 199 yards receiving to go with 43 yards on punt returns and made the biggest play of the game when he scored on a back-breaking, 79-yard touchdown pass from Tee Martin. It was the longest pass play in BCS NCG history until Oregon's Darron Thomas hooked up with Jeff Maehl for 81 yards against Auburn 12 years later.
5: Different SEC teams to win a championship
Not to beat a dead horse, but the SEC dominated the BCS era. As college football exploded into big business, the league that is the most dedicated took over the sport. The SEC finished the 16-year BCS era with nine championships from five different schools, including an 8-1 record in the NCG against other conferences. That one loss, of course, was Florida State's dramatic victory on Monday night. Only the Big 12 boasts two different champions — Texas and Oklahoma — while the SEC boasts three (of the four) teams with more than one championship — Alabama, Florida and LSU. Florida State (2-2) was the only team from the ACC to even make an appearance in the game and Ohio State (1-2) was the only Big Ten squad to ever appear in the NCG. The Pac-12 and Big East had two representatives each in USC, Oregon, Miami and Virginia Tech respectively. Nebraska and Notre Dame each appeared once.
10: Ohio State's record for BCS bowl appearances
The Buckeyes led the nation with 10 appearances in the Bowl Championship Series. Three of those came in the National Championship Game, including Jim Tressell's 2002 team winning the national title in surprising fashion. The Bucks went 6-4 overall with a 5-2 mark in other BCS games. The six wins tie USC for the most BCS bowl wins since the format's implementation in 1998 (although, the Trojans were 6-1 overall). Virginia Tech (1-5), Florida State (3-5) and Oklahoma (4-5) tied for the most losses while the Sooners' nine appearances finished second overall. Notre Dame finished 0-4 in BCS games while West Virginia won the most BCS bowls without losing (3-0).
17: Different coaches to earn a bid to the BCS NCG
Of the 32 possible spots in the 16 BCS national title games, only 17 coaches have earned the right to compete for the national title. It speaks to the parity of the game — or the dominance of the "big boys" — that nine different coaches have been to the final game more than once. Nick Saban (4-0) and Urban Meyer (2-0) are the only two names to go to multiple title games without losing and Saban is the only one to take two different schools to the title game much less win it. Bob Stoops (1-3) tied Saban for the most appearances with four while both Jim Tressell and Bobby Bowden finished 1-2 in the big game. Larry Coker, Pete Carroll, Les Miles and Mack Brown all finished 1-1 while only Phil Fulmer, Gene Chizik and Jimbo Fisher finished 1-0. Frank Beamer, Frank Solich, Chip Kelly, Brian Kelly and Gus Malzahn finished 0-1. Strangely enough, however, coaches making their debut in the national title game were 11-6. Only LSU and Florida State have made it to the title game with two separate coaches.
With college football’s 2013 season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was amd review the performance of all 125 teams before 2014 kicks off.
College football’s coach carousel was quite active last offseason, featuring 31 changes among BCS programs. The changes in 2014 are not expected to reach that number, so we may not see another year with 31 teams changing coaches for a while.
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn easily takes the top spot in our first-year coaching hires from 2013. The Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation and nearly claimed their second national title in the BCS era. Malzahn’s offense once again gave opposing SEC defenses fits, and Auburn should be back in the national title mix in 2014.
After Malzahn, Utah State’s Matt Wells, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury round out the top coaching hires from 2013.
Ranking the Performance of College Football's New Coaches from 2013
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Before: 3-9 (0-8) After: 12-2 (7-1)
Malzahn’s debut at Auburn might be one of the best first-year coaching jobs of the BCS era. The Tigers struggled mightily last season, losing all eight conference games and finishing with their worst record since a 3-8 mark in Terry Bowden’s final year in 1998. But Auburn rebounded quickly under Malzahn, who had a solid grasp of the team’s roster due to a stint as offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik from 2009-11. The Tigers suffered an early season loss to LSU (35-21) but finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. During this streak, Auburn made two of the most memorable plays of the 2013 season, with Chris Davis returning a missed field goal to beat Alabama and quarterback Nick Marshall connecting with Ricardo Louis on an unlikely 73-yard touchdown pass to beat Georgia. The Tigers fell just short of winning the national championship, but the foundation is strong for this team to contend once again in 2014. Another credit to Malzahn’s ability to coach was the development of Marshall, who was a Georgia defensive back in 2011 and played only one season at quarterback on the junior college level.
Final Grade: A+
Before: 11-2 (6-0) After: 9-5 (7-1)
Wells inherited 14 returning starters off a team that won 11 games in 2012, so it was no surprise Utah State won at least seven games for the third consecutive season. But winning nine games in 2013 is quite an accomplishment for Wells, especially after starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton was lost for the year with a torn ACL in early October. With Keeton sidelined, Utah State turned to a true freshman quarterback in Darell Garretson and a defense ranked as the best in the Mountain West. Of the Aggies' five losses, three were by a touchdown or less, including games to Utah, USC and Fresno State. Utah State also capped its season with a bowl victory over Northern Illinois. Wells kept the Aggies on track despite a key injury and led Utah State to an appearance in the first Mountain West Championship Game. Despite the two-game regression in wins, 2013 was a very successful year for Wells. But now comes the big question. As Utah State is further removed from Gary Andersen, can Wells keep the program performing at a high level?
Final Grade: A
3. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Before: 8-6 (4-4) After: 9-4 (6-2)
Much like his successor at Utah State, Andersen inherited plenty of talent in his first year with the Badgers. Wisconsin returned 11 starters, including one of the best backfields in the nation in running backs Melvin Gordon and James White. The Badgers lost two of their first five games, but one of those defeats was by seven to Ohio State, and the other was a 32-30 loss at Arizona State, which featured some questionable officiating at the end. A late-season loss to Penn State ended any shot Wisconsin had of playing in a BCS bowl, and the Badgers dropped a 34-24 matchup to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Overall, 2013 was another solid year for Wisconsin, which has been a model of consistency recently with 12 consecutive winning seasons. Andersen’s top priority in 2014 will be to upgrade the passing game, along with replenish a defense that loses a handful of key players in the front seven.
Final Grade: A-
4. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Before: 2-10 (1-7) After: 7-6 (4-4)
Expectations were low at Boston College heading into the 2013 season. The Eagles finished 6-18 in the final two years under former coach Frank Spaziani and were picked last in the Atlantic Division at ACC media days. But Addazio pushed all of the right buttons this season. Boston College made a bowl game for the first time since 2010, and the Eagles finished out of the cellar in the Atlantic. All six of Addazio’s losses came against bowl teams, including national champion Florida State, Orange Bowl champ Clemson and a solid USC team. The Eagles gave the Seminoles all it could handle, losing only by 14 (48-34) in late September. Boston College finished the year by losing its last two games. However, that shouldn’t put a damper on Addazio’s first season, especially with a solid recruiting class on the way. With running back Andre Williams, quarterback Chase Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon moving on next year, the Eagles may take a step back in the win column. But with Addazio on the sidelines, Boston College is well-positioned for the future.
Final Grade: A-
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Before: 8-5 (4-5) After: 8-5 (4-5)
Kingsbury’s first season in Lubbock didn’t result in a different record than his predecessor Tommy Tuberville had in 2012. However, there’s a different feeling surrounding the program, as Texas Tech is trending in the right direction going into 2014. A soft schedule helped the Red Raiders start 7-0, but the second half of the season featured a tougher slate, and Kingsbury’s team ended with a 7-5 mark. Despite losing its final five games, Texas Tech lost to Oklahoma by only eight points and finished the year with a convincing 37-23 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Although momentum is tough to carry from the end of one season to the start of another, the Red Raiders benefitted from the extra bowl practices and should be picked among the top 35 teams next season.
Final Grade: B+
6. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Before: 12-1 (8-1) After: 11-2 (7-2)
Oregon was pegged by most as a national title contender in the preseason. The Ducks started 8-0, but lost two out of their next three games, including a costly 26-20 defeat at Stanford. A knee injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota hampered the offense late in the year and pushed Oregon out of contention for the Pac-12 title. Helfrich had a tough job in 2013, as expectations were high and Chip Kelly was not an easy coach to replace. Despite the two losses, the Ducks won at least 10 games for the sixth consecutive season and extended their bowl winning streak to three. Helfrich has a busy offseason ahead, as he has to find a replacement for defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, as well as close on a likely top-15 recruiting class. With most of Oregon’s core returning next year, Helfrich will have a chance to get the Ducks back into the national title mix.
Final Grade: B+
7. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Before: 10-3 (5-2) After: 9-4 (6-2)
With the recent defections in the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati has a chance to emerge as one of the top programs from the “Group of Five.” Three coaches – Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and Tuberville – have guided the Bearcats to at least nine wins since 2007. Tuberville was a surprising hire at Cincinnati, but he kept the program on track with a third-place finish in the American Athletic. The Bearcats were soundly defeated by Illinois 45-17 in the second week of the season, but this team was close to finishing conference play with an unbeaten mark. Losses to Louisville and South Florida came by a touchdown or less. Cincinnati lost its bowl game 39-17 to North Carolina, but Tuberville seems to have this program on solid footing. Don’t be surprised if the Bearcats are picked to win the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Final Grade: B+
8. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Before: 12-2 (8-0) After: 12-2 (8-0)
Carey’s first full season on the sidelines in DeKalb nearly resulted in another BCS bowl for Northern Illinois. The Huskies cruised to a 12-0 mark in the regular season, which included wins over two BCS opponents (Iowa and Purdue). But Northern Illinois ended the year with a disappointing loss to Bowling Green (47-27), which cost the program a chance to play in a BCS bowl. Perhaps some of that disappointment carried over into the Poinsettia Bowl, where the Huskies were defeated by Utah State 21-14. Despite the losses to Bowling Green and Utah State, Northern Illinois won at least 11 games for the fourth consecutive season. Carey will have a tough assignment next year, as quarterback Jordan Lynch and standout safety Jimmie Ward depart. But the Huskies are set to bring in one of the MAC’s top recruiting classes, and there’s enough talent to win the West Division once again in 2014.
Final Grade: B+
9. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Before: 8-5 (5-2) After: 7-6 (4-4)
Admittedly, we were slightly skeptical of Shafer this preseason. After all, this was his first head coaching gig, and the Orange lost several key pieces from last season’s 8-5 team. However, Shafer did a remarkable job of getting Syracuse back to the postseason. Syracuse started 0-2, suffered a 56-0 loss to Georgia Tech as well as a 59-3 whipping at the hands of Florida State. But the Orange never collapsed, finishing the season with a thrilling 34-31 win over Boston College to earn bowl eligibility. And Syracuse used the bowl practices to their advantage, as quarterback Terrel Hunt was clearly an improved player in the 21-17 win over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl.
Final Grade: B+
10. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Before: 1-11 (1-8) After: 4-8 (1-8)
MacIntyre walked into a difficult situation at Colorado, a program that has not had a winning season since 2005, and there were concerns about facility improvements if the Buffaloes wanted to win in the Pac-12. Coming off a 1-11 record and a roster that was not stocked with overwhelming talent, MacIntyre did a solid job just getting Colorado to four wins. Sure, three of those came in non-conference action, but the Buffaloes were more competitive in Pac-12 action. MacIntyre appears to have found his quarterback of the future in Sefo Liufau, and most of the starting lineup will return in 2014. After a bad two-year stint under former coach Jon Embree, Colorado is headed in the right direction under MacIntyre.
Final Grade: B+
11. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 8-4 (4-3)
Given how his Arkansas tenure ended, Petrino was a risky hire for Western Kentucky. But the move was worth the risk for the Hilltoppers, as Petrino – before his motorcycle incident – was regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation. Petrino was solid in his first (and only) year at Western Kentucky, guiding the Hilltoppers to a win over Kentucky in the season opener and four wins in conference play. Two of Western Kentucky’s losses (South Alabama and Troy) were by seven points or less. Petrino couldn’t get the Hilltoppers to a bowl game. However, Western Kentucky has won at least seven games in three consecutive years. Not bad for a program that started on the FBS level in 2009.
Final Grade: B
12. Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State
Before: 10-3 (7-1) After: 8-5 (5-2, Harsin did not coach the bowl game)
When the 2013 season kicked off, Harsin became the fourth head coach at Arkansas State in four years. But his stay in Jonesboro was short, as Harsin left in December to take over at Boise State. He did not coach in the GoDaddy Bowl, but Harsin guided Arkansas State to a 7-5 mark in the regular season, with losses coming against Auburn, Memphis, Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky. Despite losing quarterback Ryan Aplin after the 2012 season, the Red Wolves still managed to average 29.2 points a game in 2013. Considering the lack of stability at head coach for the Red Wolves, it’s a testament to where this program is that they were able to win 28 games over the last three years. Harsin was a good hire, but Arkansas State needs new coach Blake Anderson to stick around for a few years. Change at a program is fine. However, five head coaches in five seasons is simply too much turnover.
Final Grade: B
13. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Before: 5-7 (1-7) After: 5-7 (2-6)
Tennessee was once one of the premier programs in the SEC East. However, the Volunteers have fallen on hard times recently, recording five losing seasons over the last six years. Given the recent lack of success in Knoxville, it’s hard to fault Jones on winning five games in his first season. Tennessee did show improvement in the SEC, beating South Carolina 23-21 and losing to Georgia and Vanderbilt by a combined seven points. Jones is putting together a top-five recruiting class, and the future in Knoxville looks bright. Tennessee took a few baby steps in the right direction in 2013. Now the next step for Jones is to get the Volunteers back in a bowl next year.
Final Grade: B
14. Matt Rhule, Temple
Before: 4-7 (2-5) After: 2-10 (1-7)
The final ledger on Rhule’s first season at Temple records only two wins. But the Owls played significantly better in the second half of 2013, losing their last four games by 10 points or less, including a three-point defeat to Fiesta Bowl champion UCF. Overall, Temple lost seven games by 10 points or less and avoided the cellar in the American Athletic Conference with a victory over Memphis in the season finale. Considering the close losses, along with the emergence of quarterback P.J. Walker in the second half of the season, Rhule’s first season at Temple doesn’t look as bad as the record might indicate.
Final Grade: C+
15. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Before: 1-10 (1-7) After: 0-12 (0-7)
Does it look strange to have a coach ranked this high that did not win a game in 2013? Sure. But let’s consider the circumstances Miles inherited. Georgia State finished 1-10 on the FCS level last season, and this program has only played football for four years. The Panthers were on the verge of a couple of wins, losing to Troy, Texas State and Arkansas State by a touchdown or less. Miles worked wonders at Indiana State on the FCS level prior to coming to Georgia State. Considering the improvement by the Panthers throughout the year and the close calls in their first season on the FBS level, Miles’ first season at Georgia State was better than the record shows.
Final Grade: C+
16. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Before: 2-10 (0-8) After: 2-10 (0-8)
Coming off a 2-10 record with a difficult schedule ahead in 2013, Kentucky was expected to struggle this fall. The Wildcats won only two games (Miami, Ohio and Alabama State) and failed to record a SEC victory for the second year in a row. But there was progress on the field, as Kentucky lost to South Carolina by seven points and Mississippi State by six. Moral victories won’t get it done in the SEC. However, Stoops has the Wildcats trending in the right direction. The program is making much-needed facility improvements, and Stoops is expected to bring in a top-25 recruiting class. Kentucky may not make a bowl in 2014, but all signs point to the program being in good hands with Stoops at the helm.
Final Grade: C+
17. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Before: 11-2 (5-1) After: 6-6 (5-3)
Caragher did a nice job getting San Jose State back to at least six wins, which is the program’s first back-to-back non-losing seasons since 1991-92. However, despite returning quarterback David Fales and one of the Mountain West’s top receiving corps, the Spartans regressed by five wins and missed out on a bowl. Caragher will have a tough job ahead next season, as San Jose State has to replace Fales and will lose defensive stalwarts in cornerback Bene Benwikere and linebacker Keith Smith.
Final Grade: C
18. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Before: 4-8 (2-6) After: 3-9 (0-8)
Bielema wasn’t afraid to mix things up in his first season in the SEC, but results were tough to come by for Arkansas. Contributing to the lack of success on the field was a brutal SEC West, along with just three returning starters on offense. As expected, there were growing pains at quarterback and on the offensive line. However, Bielema’s recruiting paid off, as running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive linemen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland are building blocks for the offense. The Razorbacks opened 3-0 but blew a 24-7 lead against Rutgers in their final non-conference game. SEC play was tough on a young Arkansas team, but there were a few close calls for Bielema, including an overtime loss to Mississippi State and a four-point defeat to LSU. Despite a 3-9 mark, Bielema’s team never quit and nearly pulled off a huge win in Death Valley. That’s a good sign going forward for Arkansas.
Final Grade: C
19. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Before: 3-9 (1-6) After: 2-10 (2-6)
We had Taggart pegged as one of the top hires from last year’s coaching carousel, but the Bulls’ first-year coach finished with a disappointing 2-10 mark. Of course, it’s hard to fault Taggart for everything that went wrong. Former coach Skip Holtz didn’t leave much to work with, and South Florida was especially short on offensive playmakers. Freshman quarterback Mike White showed signs of promise late in the year, and Andre Davis could be one of the top receivers in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. While wins were hard to come by, the Bulls played better at the end of the year. USF lost to UCF by three points and dropped a 35-23 game at Houston in late October. There’s only one fix for Taggart’s roster issues: recruiting. In early January, South Florida was regarded as having the top recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference. Better days are ahead for the Bulls.
Final Grade: C
20. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Before: 11-3 (8-0) After: 4-8 (3-5)
Kent State was just one win away from a BCS bowl last year. The Golden Flashes were +20 in turnover margin and won a handful of close games in 2013, so some regression in the win department was expected. However, Kent State surprisingly fell to 4-8 and out of the bowl picture. The Golden Flashes rallied to win their last two games, but 2013 was an underachieving season considering 10 starters were back, including all-purpose threat Dri Archer. Considering Kent State won its last two games, Haynes managed to end a disappointing season with some positive momentum.
Final Grade: C-
21. Dave Doeren, NC State
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 3-9 (0-8)
NC State entered 2013 by earning bowl trips in three consecutive seasons, and with a favorable schedule, another postseason game was a reasonable expectation. However, the Wolfpack backtracked in 2013, largely due to inconsistency at the quarterback spot. NC State finished the year on an eight-game losing streak and winless in conference play for the first time since 1959. While 2013 was largely a forgettable year for Doeren and his staff, the Wolfpack did land transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett for 2014, and their recruiting class is ranked No. 7 in the ACC. NC State also has some other promising young talent returning next year, including running back Matt Dayes and defensive tackle Monty Nelson. It may take another year, but Doeren seems to be establishing a solid foundation in Raleigh, and Brissett should help jumpstart the offense next year.
Final Grade: C-
22. Brian Polian, Nevada
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 4-8 (3-5)
Polian had a tough assignment in his first year in Reno, as replacing coaching legend Chris Ault was no easy task. The Wolf Pack also played a brutal non-conference schedule, including road trips to UCLA and Florida State, which left little margin for error to get to a bowl. Nevada lost three games by a touchdown or less, but two of the Wolf Pack’s Mountain West victories came against Air Force and Hawaii, arguably the two worst teams in the conference. The non-conference schedule won’t get any easier next season, but Nevada will have a healthy Cody Fajardo at quarterback, which could be the difference between a winning record and another offseason at home.
Final Grade: C-
23. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Before: 9-3 (4-2) After: 4-8 (3-5)
With only five returning starters in 2013, the Bulldogs were expected to take a step back in the win column. Additionally, coaching transition is never easy, so Louisiana Tech had its hands full going into this season. Holtz had success at Connecticut and East Carolina but was fired at South Florida after a 16-21 mark in three years. The Bulldogs struggled in their first season in Conference USA, winning just four games and finishing the year on a three-game losing streak. Louisiana Tech’s four victories weren’t exactly against the best competition, with one coming against FCS opponent Lamar and the other three (FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP) versus teams who finished a combined 4-32. While expectations were low and transition was high in Ruston, Conference USA was not as strong as it has been in recent years. And the Bulldogs were pounded 30-10 by UTSA, a team playing just its third season of football. As his past history shows, Holtz is a capable coach. But why did things not work out at USF? Holtz had plenty of new faces stepping into key roles in 2013, but there was enough talent to expect a bowl. Holtz has plenty to prove in 2014.
Final Grade: D
24. Sonny Dykes, California
Before: 3-9 (2-7) After: 1-11 (0-9)
Dykes inherited a talented roster, but injuries and a challenging schedule prevented California from building any momentum in 2013. The Golden Bears’ only victory came against FCS opponent Portland State, while non-conference games against Ohio State and Northwestern were too much for a young, rebuilding team. Pac-12 play wasn’t kind to California either, as the Golden Bears had only one loss by 10 points or less. While injuries and a freshman quarterback are to blame for the one-win season, the defense was simply horrendous. The Golden Bears allowed 529.6 yards per game and opponents averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per play. Coordinator Andy Buh was demoted, and assistants Randy Stewart and Barry Sacks were fired in early January. California has talent and Dykes proved he can coach at Louisiana Tech. Improvement should be on the way for the Golden Bears in 2014, but it’s probably too much to ask this team to finish above .500.
Final Grade: D
25. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Before: 6-7 (3-5) After: 1-11 (0-8)
After leading Kent State to 11 wins in 2012, Hazell was one of the top names in the coaching carousel last offseason. Purdue and Hazell seemed like a good fit, but the first year was a struggle. The Boilermakers’ only win was a six-point victory over Indiana State and just one Big Ten defeat was by fewer than 14 points. Despite the struggles in 2013, there is reason for optimism. Hazell’s first year at Kent State resulted in a 5-7 mark, but the Golden Flashes improved by six wins the next year. Purdue probably won’t make that big of a leap in 2014. However, quarterback Danny Etling gained valuable experience in 2013, and running back Akeem Hunt and receiver DeAngelo Yancy return next season. The defense suffers a few key losses, including cornerback Ricardo Allen and end Bruce Gaston. The Boilermakers took their lumps in 2013. But Hazell has some options at quarterback, and this team should show small progress in the win department in 2014.
Final Grade: D
26. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Before: 3-9 (2-6) After: 2-10 (1-7)
Kugler is a former UTEP offensive lineman but had never worked as a coordinator or head coach on the collegiate level until 2013. As expected, Kugler took his lumps with a rebuilding roster this year, which included an injury to quarterback Jameill Showers. The Miners defeated New Mexico State and FIU and also lost two games (New Mexico and Louisiana Tech) by a touchdown or less. With a full year from Showers, UTEP’s offense will be better in 2014. However, the defense has ranked ninth or worse in Conference USA in yards allowed for three consecutive seasons. The Miners should show some improvement next year, but this team needs a full year from Showers and talented running back Aaron Jones.
Final Grade: D
27. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Before: 1-11 After: 2-10
Before a one-year stint as Boston College’s play-caller in 2012, Martin served as New Mexico State’s offensive coordinator in 2011. And Martin returned to Las Cruces to work under former coach DeWayne Walker, but he left for the NFL and Martin was promoted to head coach. With a FBS Independent schedule, wins were difficult to come by for New Mexico State. The Aggies played road games at Texas and UCLA and hosted BCS opponents in Minnesota and Boston College. New Mexico State won two of its final five games, but it’s tough to judge Martin with an impossible schedule. More will be known about Martin’s ability to coach in Las Cruces after the Aggies have one season in the Sun Belt in 2014.
Final Grade: D
28. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Before: 1-11 (1-5) After: 1-11
Much like New Mexico State’s Doug Martin, Petrino was placed into an impossible situation in 2013. The Vandals were an FBS Independent and faced a challenging schedule with few opportunities for wins. Idaho played Northern Illinois tough (45-35) and beat Temple 26-24 in late September for its only win of 2013. However, as expected, there were some ugly blowouts. The Vandals were pounded by Florida State 80-14 and lost 42-0 to Washington State. It’s unfair to judge Petrino based off of 2013. But joining the Sun Belt next year should help Idaho get on an even playing field.
Final Grade: D
29. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Before: 4-8 (2-6) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Fleck brought energy and enthusiasm to Western Michigan. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into victories. The Broncos were hit hard by injuries in the preseason, including a season-ending one to standout receiver Jaime Wilson. Western Michigan started the year with a 13-point loss to Michigan State, but a loss to Nicholls State quickly killed any momentum Fleck was hoping to build. The Broncos broke into the win column against UMass in late October and suffered back-to-back losses to Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan by a combined eight points. Western Michigan seemed to play better at the end of the season, and Fleck is bringing in a solid recruiting class. While Fleck’s recruiting ability appears to be very good, he needs to translate that into more victories in 2014.
Final Grade: D
30. Todd Monken, Southern Miss
Before: 0-12 (0-8) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Southern Mississippi’s fall as a top C-USA football program has been swift and surprising. The Golden Eagles had 18 consecutive winning seasons from 1994-2011. But Southern Miss has won just two games over the last two years. Monken inherited a bare cupboard on offense, and a defense that ranked near the bottom of the nation in points allowed. A tough non-conference schedule – Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State – didn’t allow the Golden Eagles to get off to a good start. And this program struggled until late in the year before defeating UAB 62-27 in its final game. Monken has a lot of work on his plate this offseason, but Southern Miss may have found a quarterback in Nick Mullens and most of the starting lineup will return intact next year. Expect more improvement from Monken’s team in 2014.
Final Grade: D-
31. Ron Turner, FIU
Before: 3-9 (2-6) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Turner was a questionable hire for FIU. The former Illinois coach went 35-57 in his previous stint with the Fighting Illini and had only two winning seasons in eight years in Champaign. Another problem with Turner was his lack of ties to the Florida high school scene. Although FIU isn’t going to dominate in-state recruiting, it’s important for the program to keep recruits at home, instead of going to other Conference USA teams. Turner inherited a team short on returning starters, and the Panthers won only one game in 2013 – a 24-23 victory over Southern Miss. However, FIU was largely uncompetitive for the rest of the season, and the Panthers lost 34-13 to Bethune-Cookman. Turner is an odd fit at FIU, and he needs to show major progress in 2014.
Final Grade: F