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With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. Alabama crushed Notre Dame in Miami to earn its third national title in four seasons and is a heavy favorite to win next season in Pasadena. In the early odds released by Bovada Sportsbook, the Crimson Tide are a 5/1 favorite to repeat next year, while Oregon and Ohio State are the top two challengers. The start of the 2013 college football season isn’t until August but here’s an early look at some of the top bets from Bovada’s early odds.
Alabama (5/1) – It may seem crazy to consider the Crimson Tide a best bet at 5/1 odds, but there’s not exactly a wealth of challengers to stop Alabama’s championship run next season. Ohio State and Oregon are the biggest threats to Nick Saban’s team, but the Crimson Tide return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks (AJ McCarron) and budding stars in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The defense has a few holes to fill but will once again rank among the best in the nation. The schedule is also very manageable, with a road trip to Texas A&M in Week 2 the toughest game on the slate. Even if Alabama loses in College Station, there's plenty of time to get back into the top two spots by the end of the year.
Georgia (28/1) – The Bulldogs were just a couple of yards away from playing for the national championship in 2012. And despite the losses on defense, Georgia will be in the mix to win the BCS title in 2013. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for another year in Athens and will team with running back Todd Gurley to form one of the top backfields in college football. The Bulldogs need a lot of help on defense, but the schedule is favorable, headlined by home matchups against South Carolina and LSU.
Oklahoma State (40/1) – This pick is a little off the board, but the Cowboys are Athlon’s early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. With Oklahoma reloading and Texas not ready to climb back into the national title conversation, the Big 12 isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years. However, if Oklahoma State can run the table and finish unbeaten, it would have a chance to play for the national title. The Cowboys have a favorable schedule, playing TCU and Oklahoma in Stillwater.
Stanford (30/1) – This is the biggest surprise on the board. The Cardinal closed the year with an eight-game winning streak, including a 17-14 overtime road victory over Oregon. Running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz must be replaced, but the passing attack should be better with the emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The defense should be the best in the Pac-12, while the schedule features home games against Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. Although Stanford has a few personnel losses, this team could play for the national title in 2013.
Others to like:
Boise State (75/1)
Florida State (14/1) – One of the most interesting aspects of the 2013-14 odds is Bovada considers the Seminoles an early favorite in the ACC. While that’s not far fetched, Florida State shouldn’t be ahead of Clemson in early conference predictions. The Seminoles suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, including quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Florida State should push for 10 wins next year but contending for the national championship is unlikely.
LSU (12/1) – Even though LSU suffered a plethora of personnel losses to the NFL Draft, the Tigers aren’t going to drop too far in preseason rankings. However, it would be a big surprise if LSU gets to the national title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger made strides late in the year, and Jeremy Hill is headed for a 1,000-yard season in 2013. While the Tigers may show improvement on offense, the defense will take a step back. The line has to replace ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, while tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs also depart. Linebacker Kevin Minter will be missed, and the secondary has to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. Expect LSU to be in the mix for a finish inside of the top 10, but considering the personnel losses, winning a national title seems unrealistic.
Miami (25/1) – There’s no doubt the Hurricanes are on the right track under coach Al Golden. However, Miami is still under NCAA investigation and the hammer could drop at any point. With the uncertainty surrounding the program and a potential bowl ban on the table for sanctions, motivation could be an issue for this team in 2013. The Hurricanes could be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division but are a longshot to win the national title.
USC (33/1) – After a disappointing 2012 season, it’s fair to wonder what direction USC is headed going into 2013. The Trojans began the year as one of the favorites to win the national title but finished with a disappointing 7-6 record. USC now has to replace quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, while the defense will be under the direction of a new coordinator. There’s no question Lane Kiffin has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles. However, it’s time for the talent to turn into victories. Although winning the Pac-12 South title is a reasonable goal, the Trojans will be a longshot to reach the national title game.
Stay Away From:
Mississippi State (50/1)
West Virginia (150/1)
Bovada's Early 2013-2014 National Championship Odds
|Team||Early 2013-2014 Odds|
The 2012-13 bowl season ended with 35 winners and 35 losers, but not all victories and defeats are created equal.
Alabama and Nick Saban were the biggest winners, claiming a title and cementing the Crimson Tide as the most dominant program in the nation’s most dominant conference. Eddie Lacy and the Tide’s offensive line may have walked away as the biggest winners in terms of pro prospects. The loser in that scenario, though, was Heisman finalist Manti Te’o.
Bowl season provided short-term victories for a handful programs, but also a swing of the pendulum into a successful 2013. Other teams, coaches and players, however, ended up with new headaches after the postseason.
Here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from the 2013 bowl season.
Nick Saban’s legacy
With three BCS titles in four seasons at Alabama and a fourth title in nine years overall, Saban is moving into the discussion of great all-time coaches. Bear Bryant has six titles. Frank Leahy has four. But those came before reduced scholarship limits, the BCS and the rise of the SEC as the preeminent conference. With the Alabama recruiting machine operating at full capacity, the question is how long this dynasty will last.
Related: Can Alabama repeat?
The Alabama running back isn’t Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram, but few players raised their stock more in the final two games of the season. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in the SEC championship game and 140 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. No one would blame the junior if he takes advantage and moves on to the NFL Draft. And no one would take pity on the Tide, who have T.J. Yeldon waiting in the wings.
Related: Championship game photo gallery
Altogether, not a bad six weeks for Louisville. The Cardinals announced their move to the ACC, won the Big East, retained coach Charlie Strong despite overtures from Tennessee, and defeated two-touchdown favorite Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fought through injuries to defeat Rutgers on the last day of the regular season and then carved up an elite Florida offense in the bowl game. He’ll be on the Heisman short list in 2013. To boot, the Cardinals landed a commitment from U.S. Army All-American receiver James Quick.
No one had a bigger single play than when Clowney ran untouched through the Michigan offensive line and trucked running back Vincent Smith for an eight-yard loss and a forced fumble. If a defensive player is going to have a Heisman moment, this was it. A first-down call on a chain measurement erroneously gave Michigan, leading by one at the time, a first down to set up Clowney's play. South Carolina scored a go-ahead touchdown nine seconds later.
The Ducks didn’t get to play for the national title, but they may be set up for another run after a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Chip Kelly’s interest in the NFL was well-established, but for the second consecutive season Kelly opted to stay in Eugene. He’ll return to a top-five team.
How will Johnny Manziel handle being “Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel?” Pretty well, apparently. The redshirt freshman picked up where he left off at the end of the season to pass for 287 yards and rush for 229 with four total touchdowns against Oklahoma. Heisman winners used to be snakebit in bowl games, but Manziel became the fourth consecutive winner to win in the postseason thanks to his third game with at least 500 yards of total offense this season.
The Bulldogs came within five yards of facing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, but they didn’t appear to be deflated in a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia could have folded when it gave up 17 unanswered points to trail in the third quarter, but Aaron Murray led an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. Murray and running back Todd Gurley will open 2013 against Clemson.
If there were any lingering doubts about where David Shaw stands among Pac-12 coaches, he eliminated in them in with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Since 2009, Stanford lost Toby Gerhart (a Heisman runner-up), Andrew Luck (the No. 1 overall draft pick and two-time Heisman runner-up) and coach Jim Harbaugh. Yet the Cardinal have three top-10 finishes to show for it. Shaw has his starting quarterback and enough pieces on defense returning to make another run in 2013.
Nine wins? An appearance in the postseason top 25? At Vanderbilt? The Commodores capped a seven-game win streak with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl to finish ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Vanderbilt hadn’t finished a season ranked since 1948 and hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915. Next up: Playing a bowl game outside of the state of Tennessee for the first time since 1982.
The lone team helping the Big Ten save face on New Year’s Day, Northwestern earned its first bowl win with a 34-20 win over Mississippi State. It wasn’t pretty as Northwestern’s three turnovers were offset but Mississippi State’s four, but the Wildcats were elated to end the bowl drought. Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemian will all be back for more in 2013.
Clemson started the season with a win over an SEC team in Atlanta and ended the year in the same fashion with a 25-24 upset of LSU. Tajh Boyd led the Tigers to three fourth-quarter scoring drives against a top-10 defense for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Boyd scored the biggest bowl win for the ACC, but more important, he erased memories of last year’s Orange Bowl collapse.
After losing five games by a combined 13 points, Michigan State finally caught some breaks and found a deficit -- down 16 at halftime -- it could overcome with its paltry offense. The season ended the way it started, with Le’Veon Bell the horse (145 yards on 32 carries) in a 17-16 win over TCU.
The Rebels played in front of a partisan crowd at Birmingham’s Legion Field and gave the win-starved Ole Miss fans what they came to see: A 38-17 win over Pittsburgh. Bo Wallace and the Rebels offense didn’t miss a beat despite losing running back Jeff Scott early.
A coveted running back prospect out of high school, the Oregon transfer enters 2013 on a hot streak for Baylor. With 138 rushing yards against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns in his final six games. Not to be outdone, the Baylor defense enjoyed its own renaissance by holding UCLA to 34 rushing yards.
Related: Ranking the BCS champions
BCS games plus the Cotton Bowl
The bowl excitement ended early in the evening on New Year’s Day when Stanford defeated Wisconsin 20-14. After that, the major bowl games were settled early with Florida State (Orange), Louisville (Sugar), Oregon (Fiesta), Texas A&M (Cotton) and Alabama (BCS championship) cruised to double-digit victories.
Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame defense
Alabama’s offensive line pushed around the Notre Dame front seven all day, clearing the way for the Tide’s 265 rushing yards. The numbers were astonishing: Notre Dame allowed nine offensive touchdowns during the regular season only to give up six to Alabama. The Irish never allowed a touchdown drive of 80 yards all season until Alabama had four. But the face on Notre Dame’s title-game performance was the ineffectiveness of Manti Te’o who missed a handful of tackles.
Related: What's next for Notre Dame?
Kiffin’s USC team didn’t show up in big games all season, was 90 minutes late for the “Sheriff’s Posse Dinner” with their Sun Bowl hosts and Georgia Tech and then managed only seven points against a 7-7 Georgia Tech team whose defense surrendered at least 40 points to Miami, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, BYU, North Carolina and Georgia. USC became the first team in the AP poll era to star the season No. 1 and finish with six losses and the first preseason No. 1 to finish unranked since 1964 Ole Miss.
For a moment, the Big Ten flirted with a comeback in bowl season as Michigan led South Carolina in the Outback and Nebraska led Georgia in the Capitol One. Then it all fell apart as the Wolverines and Cornhuskers lost their early New Year’s Day games and Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten finished 2-5 in the postseason and was swept in the Rose, Capitol One and Outback bowls for a 1-8 record in those games the last three years. Granted, the outcomes may have been different if Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, but that’s not going to reverse the perception of the Big Ten as an inferior league.
Not many athletic directors could step in as their football team’s interim coach for the Rose Bowl, but not many ADs have won in Pasadena before. The novelty wore off as Alvarez’s Badgers lost 20-14 to Stanford to give the coach his first Rose Bowl blemish after three wins in the game.
Snowy conditions at Yankee Stadium aren’t exactly ideal conditions for West Virginia’s offense. Neither is taking the field with a defense that gives up 369 rushing yards in Doug Marrone’s sendoff at Syracuse.
The Tigers coughed a fourth-quarter lead to Clemson and then started hemorrhaging early entries to the NFL Draft. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing all declared for the draft. The losses are not insignificant.
|ACC||4-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big 12||4-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Big East||3-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big Ten||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|MAC||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Pac-12||4-4, 2-0 BCS|
|SEC||6-3, 2-0 BCS|
|Ind.||1-2, 0-1 BCS|
A banner year for the MAC fizzled in bowl season, even if you disregard Northern Illinois’ unsurprising 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Toledo and Ball State, teams that finished with nine wins apiece, lost their bowl games by a combined score of 79-32. Kent State, which was a double overtime loss away from NIU’s Orange Bowl slot, lost 17-13 to Arkansas State as the MAC finished 2-5 in the postseason. At least Ohio defeated ULM 45-14 in a matchup of September darlings.
Pat HIll lost four of his last five bowl games with Fresno State. The bowl curse seems to continue with Tim DeRuyter. Fresno’s 43-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl was one of the most unexpected results of bowl season with the Bulldogs bringing Derek Carr, Robbie Rouse and a standout pass defense to Aloha Stadium. But Hawaii loves SMU coach June Jones, who won his second Hawaii Bowl as the Mustangs coach.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
This game was supposed to be a blowout and it delivered with Oklahoma State’s 58-14 win over Purdue. And this was a New Year’s Day game, folks.
Nevada gave up two touchdowns in 46 seconds to lose to Arizona, San Diego State gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter to lose to former MWC member BYU, and Air Force and Fresno State lost in upsets. If there’s any silver lining to the MWC’s 1-4, it’s that the lone bowl winner, Boise State, won’t be going to the Big East after all.
Did Louisiana Tech stay home for bowl season because it was unwilling to face in-state rival ULM? Were the Bulldogs a casualty of the Independence Bowl’s timetable and Northern Illinois’ BCS bid throwing things into confusion? Does it matter? A 9-3 team with the nation’s No. 1 offense was absent from the postseason, a missed opportunity for viewers and the Bulldogs’ players. That coach Sonny Dykes left for another job (Cal) wasn’t a huge shock. But Louisiana Tech replaced him with Skip Holtz in a hire that could best be described as adequate.
Alabama may be reveling in its second consecutive national championship, but college football fans everywhere else are turning their attention to recruiting and spring practice.
Those are just appetizers to the date everyone is really anticipating: The countdown for the 2013 season has begun. This is what you have to look forward to when the season reboots at the end of August.
All games on Saturday, Aug. 31 unless noted. Not all 2013 schedules are complete, so the following list is of games scheduled as of Jan. 7.
1. Georgia at Clemson
How much does a bowl victory mean? Both teams are about to find out. Georgia and Clemson entered 2012 off deflating bowl losses -- the Bulldogs in triple overtime against Michigan State, the Tigers in a rout to West Virginia. Both teams will enter 2013 after pulling out wins in their respective bowl games in the fourth quarter. With quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd announcing their returns for 2013, this should be an offensive showcase between top-10 teams and Heisman contenders.
2. LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
The exodus of LSU defenders has begun with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon and linebacker Kevin Minter among those leaving early for the NFL. The Tigers haven’t struggled to replace defensive talent before, but all those roster spots won't be filled easily. LSU will face a TCU team in its backyard to open 2013. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin showed flashes of his potential when he unexpectedly became the starter in October. LSU’s Zach Mettenbrger had a nice finish to 2012, too.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Don’t expect a major drop-off from Alabama, who checked in at No. 1 in our early top 25 for 2013. A.J. McCarron is back as the leader of an offense that will feature Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. On defense, the Crimson Tide should have another top-notch squad again, but the offensive line could be a concern in relative terms. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is awaiting a draft decision from quarterback Logan Thomas, who started 2012 as a top prospect before his season fizzled on the field.
4. North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 29, Thursday)
The Tar Heels will be bowl eligible in 2013 unless the ongoing academic scandal changes the situation in Chapel Hill. Will it be a great game with Giovani Bernard and a handful of defensive starters gone from North Carolina? Perhaps not, but it will be the first key game in a Heisman campaign for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
5. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston)
Oklahoma State named freshman Wes Lunt its starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice. After a handful of injuries, Mike Gundy learned he had three QBs capable of winning Big 12 games in Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. All are eligible to return. Mississippi State ended the season on a 1-5 skid, but the starting backfield of Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins will be seniors.
6. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Doormats no more, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt get a prime opening weekend slot. The Commodores won 27-26 in Oxford on Nov. 19 as part of a seven-game win streak to cap the season. Both programs are riding waves of energy after winning their bowl games by a combined score of 76-41.
7. ULM at Oklahoma
Oklahoma moves on without Landry Jones, likely making Blake Bell the full-time starter. OU will find out if the Belldozer can strike as much fear into defenses on first and 10 from his 20-yard line as he does from the goal line. ULM’s Kolton Browning returns after opening 2012 with an upset of Arkansas and coming within eight total points of doing the same to Auburn and Baylor.
8. Ohio at Louisville
Few teams will enter 2013 with more positive mojo than Louisville. The Cardinals made easy work of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman-contending quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leads a glut of returning juniors and seniors. And coach Charlie Strong is staying put after overtures for Tennessee. Ohio, who defeated Penn State to open 2012, will be no pushover as quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship return.
9. Northwestern at Cal
Northwestern opens the season riding a bowl win, something the Wildcats haven’t done since the 1949 opener. First-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes will get the Bears’ offense moving soon enough, but Northwestern will have the edge in Berkeley with Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemien back.
10. Boise State at Washington
If you feel like you just watched this game, that’s because you did. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, handing the Huskies two crushing losses to end the season along with an overtime loss to rival Washington State.
Others of note:
Northern Illinois at Iowa. The Huskies’ Jordan Lynch should top 173 yards of total offense this time around.
Temple at Notre Dame. From unranked to the national title game in 2012, Notre Dame will open 2013 with expectations.
Penn State vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.). No more Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Matt McGloin. Things are going to get tough at Penn State, but at least coach Bill O’Brien is back.
Toledo at Florida. The Gators ended the season on a down note in the Sugar Bowl and open 2013 against a team they should put away. Emphasis on should put away.
Rutgers at Fresno State (Thursday, Aug. 29). The Scarlet Knights’ defense loses some key cogs. Fresno State is still trying to figure out how it lost 43-10 to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl
Non-conference schedules are all but wrapped up, meaning we’re starting to have a good idea of the college basketball teams playing for prime slots in the NCAA Tournament, those looking to avoid the NIT and those grasping for, well, anything.
Athlon Sports’ first bracket projections for the 2013 field will be released in the coming weeks, but we’re already deep into key contests for conference titles, NCAA seeding and bubble teams.
Chief among the key games with Tournament implications this week is Duke's road trip to NC State. Mike Krzyzewski's team will be on its way to another high seed in the tournament unless someone in the ACC can step up to challenge the Blue Devils. Riding a hot streak, NC State may end up being that team. The Wolfpack will have a chance to showcase its improvement since November when it plays host to Duke on Saturday.
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the 68 bracket slots in March.
All times Eastern.
Related: 7 key college hoops stats from last week
JAN. 9 BRACKET UPDATE
|Athlon College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 9|
1. Duke (15-0)
2. Michigan (15-0)
3. Louisville (13-1)
4. Indiana (13-1)
5. Kansas (12-1)
6. Arizona (14-0)
7. Minnesota (14-1)
8. Syracuse (14-1)
9. Missouri (12-2)
10. Illinois (14-2)
11. Gonzaga (15-1)
12. Kansas State (12-2)
13. Florida (10-2)
14. San Diego State (12-2)
15. Butler (12-2)
16. Ohio State (12-3)
17. Notre Dame (14-1)
18. NC State (12-2)
19. Creighton (15-1)
20. Wichita State (14-1)
21. Michigan State (12-3)
22. VCU (12-3)
23. UCLA (12-3)
24. Oklahoma State (10-3)
25. Wyoming (13-0)
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Duke at NC State (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The question posed since November still doesn’t have a clear answer: Who in the ACC is going to challenge Duke? NC State has won nine in a row since a 79-82 loss to Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but the Wolfpack are coming off an uneven performance in a 78-73 win over Boston College. Duke is playing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament but hasn’t played in a true road game this season.
ALL EYES ON: Minnesota
at Illinois (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
at Indiana (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gophers’ 76-63 win over Michigan State on New Year’s Eve was eye-opening, but Minnesota can make even more noise against two of the Big Ten’s best on the road. Even a split on this road swing would be a good sign for a Gophers program that has gone 20-3 since last March. Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins have carried Minnesota at various times during that stretch But keep in mind: Potential All-American Trevor Mbakwe has started only three games this season.
UNDER PRESSURE: Colorado
USC (Thursday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
UCLA (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The real shame in the Buffaloes’ 92-83 overtime loss to Arizona is that it didn’t need to come down to a buzzer-beater being waved off at the end of regulation. Colorado led by as much as 16 in the second half before coughing up the lead. The Buffaloes (10-4, 0-2 Pac-12) then turned around to lose at Arizona State in its next game. Colorado should defeat USC on Thursday, and UCLA will give the Buffs a chance at a big conference victory. Losing three of the first four Pac-12 games -- or worse, an 0-4 start to conference play -- would be a major setback for Tad Boyle’s team.
East Carolina (Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
at UAB (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble this week in its Conference USA opener, so we’re looking closer at Friday’s 85-80 win over Tennessee. C-USA won’t give the Tigers any opportunities for resume-building wins, but Memphis salvaged a top-100 victory against Tennessee. Now, Memphis needs the Volunteers to become an NCAA contender. Before defeating the Vols in Knoxville, Memphis’ best win was over Northern Iowa.
SINKING: North Carolina
Miami (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Florida State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Who knows which North Carolina team is going to show up this week? The Tar Heels defeated UNLV 79-73 on Dec. 29 in a game that looked like a turning point for a team still looking to gel. Then North Carolina lost 61-52 Sunday to Virginia, a team that’s 0-3 against the Colonial Athletic Association this season. This week’s opponents will give North Carolina a chance to turn itself around or create more problems for its postseason hopes: Miami proved it can win without Reggie Johnson last week, and Florida State is, like North Carolina, an enigma.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH: Saint Louis
UMass (Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
at Temple (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
The Atlantic 10 is crowded at the top in part because of an eight-game winning streak by Saint Louis. The Billikens keep getting stronger as Kwamain Mitchell returned following foot surgery. Even as Mitchell worked himself into game shape, Saint Louis defeated New Mexico 60-46 on Dec. 31. Saint Louis will face NCAA contenders UMass and Temple, which already defeated Syracuse and put a scare into Kansas.
Ole Miss at Tennessee (Wednesday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication).
The SEC pecking order is Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and then the winner of this game.
Florida State at Maryland (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication).
Maryland begins a critical stretch to prove its mettle: Florida State, at Miami, NC State, at North Carolina.
UNLV at New Mexico (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
UNLV has three road wins this season -- none in as difficult a venue as The Pit.
Michigan State at Iowa (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2).
Iowa may be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Hawkeyes have to start picking up key wins.
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2).
Arizona has been lucky lately. Will the luck run out against a quality Ducks team in Eugene?
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2).
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is an emerging star. A win in Spokane would be a nice addition to the Gaels’ Tourney resume.
Marquette at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPNU).
Pitt lost its first two Big East games. The Panthers need to showed they may be on the right track with a 73-45 drubbing of Georgetown.
Illinois at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Illinois scored a big win at home over Ohio State. Now goes to one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2).
The Cowboys need to get back to early season form. Oklahoma State has lost back-to-back games to Gonzaga and Kansas State.
Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
Colorado State is a quiet 13-2. The Rams have chance to make a statement in the Mountain West during their trip to San Diego.
Michigan at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS).
The Buckeyes are going in the wrong direction with losses to the best teams they’ve faced (Duke, Kansas, Illinois). Michigan is just as good as those previous three teams.
Maryland at Miami (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU).
With Reggie Johnson out, the Terrapins’ Alex Len might be poised for a big day.
Athlon Sports keeps college and pro football fans up to date with daily NFL Draft Underclassman announcements and declarations. Here is the latest list of players who have announced their intentions to enter the draft or return to school and some who have yet to decide.
Analysis: Draft Deadline Winners and Losers
Last updated: Wed., Jan. 16
Will enter the 2013 NFL Draft:
|Luke Joeckel||OL||Texas A&M||6-6||310||Top 10|
|Jarvis Jones||OLB||Georgia||6-3||241||Top 10|
|Damontre Moore||DE/OLB||Texas A&M||6-4||250||Top 10|
|Keenan Allen||WR||Cal||6-3||210||Top 10|
|Bjoern Werner||DE||Florida St||6-4||256||Top 10|
|Johnanthan Hankins||DT||Ohio St||6-3||320||Top 10|
|Dee Milliner||DB||Alabama||6-1||199||Top 10|
|Sheldon Richardson||DT||Missouri||6-3||295||1st Round|
|Sam Montgomery||DE||LSU||6-5||260||1st Round|
|Barkevious Mingo||DE/OLB||LSU||6-4||240||1st Round|
|Tony Jefferson||S||Oklahoma||5-11||210||1st Round|
|Alec Ogletree||ILB||Georgia||6-3||230||1st Round|
|Matt Elam||S||Florida||5-10||205||1st Round|
|Giovani Bernard||RB||North Carolina||5-10||205||1st Round|
|Xavier Rhodes||CB||Florida St||6-1||215||1st Round|
|Robert Woods||WR||USC||6-0||190||1st Round|
|Tyler Bray||QB||Tennessee||6-5||215||Round 1-2|
|Marcus Lattimore||RB||South Carolina||6-1||220||Round 1-2|
|Corey Lemonier||DE/OLB||Auburn||6-4||255||Round 1-2|
|Sharrif Floyd||DT||Florida||6-3||303||Round 1-2|
|Justin Hunter||WR||Tennessee||6-4||205||Round 1-2|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||WR||Tennessee||6-3||210||Round 1-2|
|D.J. Fluker||OL||Alabama||6-6||330||Round 1-2|
|Tharold Simon||CB||LSU||6-3||193||Round 1-2|
|Eric Reid||S||LSU||6-2||2-2||Round 1-2|
|Zach Ertz||TE||Stanford||6-6||250||Round 1-2|
|Bennie Logan||DT||LSU||6-3||295||Round 1-2|
|Tyler Eifert||TE||Notre Dame||6-6||251||Round 1-2|
|Kevin Minter||LB||LSU||6-1||245||Round 2|
|Jelani Jenkins||LB||Florida||6-0||235||Round 2|
|William Gholston||DE||Michigan St||6-7||280||Round 2|
|Jordan Reed||TE||Florida||6-3||245||Round 2|
|David Amerson||CB||NC State||6-3||210||Round 2|
|Da'Rick Rogers||WR||Tennessee Tech||6-3||205||Round 2|
|Stedman Bailey||WR||West Virginia||5-10||195||Round 2|
|Akeem Spence||DT||Illinois||6-1||305||Round 2|
|Logan Ryan||CB||Rutgers||6-0||190||Round 2|
|Nickell Robey||DB||USC||5-8||165||Round 2|
|DeAndre Hopkins||WR||Clemson||6-1||200||Round 2|
|Kenny Stills||WR||Oklahoma||6-1||190||Round 2-3|
|Spencer Ware||RB||LSU||5-11||225||Round 2-3|
|Le'Veon Bell||RB||Michigan St||6-2||240||Round 2-3|
|Travis Frederick||OL||Wisconsin||6-4||340||Round 2-3|
|Alvin Bailey||OG||Arkansas||6-5||315||Round 2-3|
|Justin Pugh||OL||Syracuse||6-6||290||Round 2-3|
|Joseph Randle||RB||Oklahoma St||6-1||200||Round 2-3|
|Eddie Lacy||RB||Alabama||6-0||200||Round 2-3|
|Kwame Geathers||DL||Georgia||6-6||355||Round 2-3|
|Chris Faulk||OL||LSU||6-6||323||Round 2-3|
|Brandon Jenkins||DE||Florida St||6-3||260||Round 3|
|Menelik Watson||OL||Florida St||6-6||320||Round 3|
|Dion Sims||TE||Michigan St||6-5||285||Round 3|
|Levine Toilolo||TE||Stanford||6-7||265||Round 3-4|
|Terrence Brown||S||Stanford||6-1||180||Round 3-4|
|Cierre Wood||RB||Notre Dame||6-0||215||Round 3-4|
|Gavin Escobar||TE||San Diego St||6-5||255||Round 4|
|Jawan Jamison||RB||Rutgers||5-8||200||Round 4|
|Darrington Sentimore||DE||Tennessee||6-2||285||Round 4|
|Steve Williams||CB||Cal||5-10||185||Round 4|
|Michael Ford||RB||LSU||5-10||220||Round 4-5|
|Brad Wing||P||LSU||6-2||180||Round 4-5|
|David Bakhtiari||OL||Colorado||6-4||295||Round 4-5|
|Stansly Maponga||DE||TCU||6-2||265||Round 4-5|
|Joe Kruger||DE||Utah||6-6||275||Round 5-6|
|Josh Boyce||WR||TCU||6-0||203||Round 5-6|
|Brandon Kaufman||WR||Eastern Wash.||6-5||215||Round 6|
|Stefphon Jefferson||RB||Nevada||5-11||210||Round 6|
|Mike Edwards||CB||Hawaii||5-10||190||Round 6|
|Tyrann Mathieu||CB||ex-LSU||5-8||185||Round 6|
|Knile Davis||RB||Arkansas||6-0||225||Round 6|
|Trabis Ward||RB||Tennessee St||5-10||200||Round 6-7|
|Greg Reid||CB||Valdosta St||5-8||185||Round 7|
|Kyle Padron||QB||Eastern Wash.||6-4||225||Round 7|
|Marquess Wilson||WR||Washington St||6-4||185||Round 7|
|Brandon Moore||DL||Texas||6-5||320||Round 7|
|Darrington Sentimore||DL||Tennessee||6-2||288||Round 7|
Returning to College in 2013:
|Jeremiah Attaochu||LB||Georgia Tech|
|Derek Carr||QB||Fresno St|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan St|
|Victor Hampton||CB||South Carolina|
|LaMarcus Joyner||DB||Florida St|
|Zach Martin||OL||Notre Dame|
|Jake Matthews||OL||Texas A&M|
|Louis Nix||DT||Notre Dame|
|Bryn Renner||QB||North Carolina|
|Bradley Robey||CB||Ohio State|
|Will Sutton||DL||Arizona St|
|Logan Thomas||QB||Virginia Tech|
|Kyle Van Noy||DE/OLB||BYU|
NFL Playoffs previews and predictions for the Divisional Round:
Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
Saturday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Peyton Manning makes his return to the playoffs in what could be Ray Lewis’ final NFL game, as arguably the best offensive and defensive players of the last decade go head-to-head one last time. As a member of the Colts, Manning had a 2–0 postseason record against the Ravens — with a 20–3 win following the 2009 season in his last trip to the playoffs and a 15–6 victory after the 2006 season en route to winning his only Super Bowl title. Although he has won both of his matchups with Baltimore, Manning has not necessarily been the reason for victory — throwing for a combined 416 yards, two TDs and three INTs. All three of Manning’s picks against the Ravens have been thrown to center field safety Ed Reed, who has eight INTs in 12 career playoff games, one shy of the all-time record.
Broncos by 9
Texans (12-5) at Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is one victory away from the all-time playoff wins record, currently held by Brady’s boyhood hero Joe Montana (16–7 playoff record; 14–5 with 49ers, 2–2 with Chiefs). This will be the second meeting in the last six weeks between Houston and New England. In Week 14, the Patriots marched to a 42–14 statement victory over the Texans, who carried a then-AFC-best 11–1 record. Including that loss, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown one TD and four INTs while posting a 2–3 record over the last five weeks. Brady was better than that, but not quite at his best down the stretch, throwing four of his eight total INTs in Weeks 15 and 16. Brady does, however, enter with the confidence of a 10–2 playoff record at home, while Schaub is making his first-ever playoff start on the road.
Patriots by 10
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
Saturday, FOX, 8 p.m. ET
In the season-opener back in Week 1, the Niners traveled to Lambeau Field to defeat the Packers, 30–22. San Francisco took an early 10–0 lead and carried a 23–7 lead into the fourth quarter before Green Bay rallied to within one score and two-point conversion away from a tie in the fourth quarter. In that game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw two TDs in a near flawless effort. Since then, however, Smith has been replaced with second-year dual-threat Colin Kaepernick, who went 5–2 as a starter, including a 3–0 mark at home. While Kaepernick is making his first playoff start, Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers carries a 4–2 postseason record and a championship belt celebration following a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
49ers by 1
Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)
Sunday, FOX, 1 p.m. ET
Much has been made of Matt Ryan’s 0–3 record in the playoffs, and rightly so. In three postseason defeats — at New York (24–2), vs. Green Bay (48–21) and at Arizona (30–24), respectively — Ryan has never thrown for even 200 yards in a single game. Meanwhile, he has thrown a combined three TDs and four INTs, while losing two fumbles and taking 10 sacks. In fairness, his losses have come against Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner, three passers who have a combined four Super Bowl wins. This time around, Ryan will square off against rookie Russell Wilson, who is 4–5 on the road, 1–2 in domes and 2–2 in the Eastern Time Zone this season — but does have a playoff win already.
Falcons by 1
Last week: 3-1 // Season: 175-85
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have locked up the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following the NFL Playoffs' Wild Card Weekend:
1. Broncos (13-3) Peyton Manning 2–0 vs. Ravens in postseason.
2. Falcons (13-3) Haven’t won playoff game since Mike Vick was QB.
3. Patriots (12-4) Tom Brady puts 16–6 postseason record on the line.
4. 49ers (11-4-1) Colin Kaepernick to make first career playoff start.
5. Packers (12-5) Chico’s own Aaron Rodgers going back to California.
6. Texans (13-4) Arian Foster Twitter avatar now critical column pic.
7. Ravens (11-6) Ray Lewis victorious in final Baltimore home game.
8. Seahawks (12-5) Russell Wilson fifth rookie QB to earn playoff victory.
9. Redskins (10-7) Shanahan, Andrews dispute handling of RG3 injury.
10. Bengals (10-7) Marvin Lewis’ career postseason record falls to 0–4.
11. Colts (11-6) Bruce Arians hospitalized, misses loss at Baltimore.
12. Vikings (10-7) Joe Webb replaces Christian Ponder, struggles in loss.
13. Bears (10-6) Getting crazy eyes for interviewing Mike Singletary.
14. Giants (9-7) Jason Pierre-Paul to seek help from Michael Strahan.
15. Cowboys (8-8) Tony Romo taunted by NHL’s Dallas Stars on Twitter.
16. Steelers (8-8) OC Todd Haley debating interview for Cardinals’ job.
17. Rams (7-8-1) Williams boys, Gregg and Blake, let go in St. Louis.
18. Panthers (7-9) X-rays on Cam Newton’s ribs, left ankle negative.
19. Saints (7-9) Sean Payton reportedly signs richest deal in NFL.
20. Dolphins (7-9) Owner Stephen Ross backs Philbin-Tannehill duo.
21. Chargers (7-9) To settle on GM before making next coaching hire.
22. Buccaneers (7-9) Josh Freeman contract not extended by Tampa Bay.
23. Titans (6-10) Chris Johnson guaranteed $9 million bonus Feb. 9.
24. Bills (6-10) Hire Doug Marrone as franchise’s 16th head coach.
25. Jets (6-10) Rex Ryan has tattoo of wife in Mark Sanchez jersey.
26. Cardinals (5-11) Darnell Dockett types tweet nothings during BCS title.
27. Browns (5-11) Chip Kelly backs off NFL, headed back to Oregon.
28. Lions (4-12) Calvin Johnson career year defies “Madden Curse.”
29. Eagles (4-12) Set to interview Bengals’ Jay Gruden. Is Jon next?
30. Raiders (4-12) Dennis Allen to coach North team in Senior Bowl.
31. Jaguars (2-14) Mike Mularkey status uncertain until new GM hired.
32. Chiefs (2-14) Andy Reid to coach, make personnel moves in K.C.
High-stepping, sliding, throwing his fists back and pointing his chest to the sky to let out one final battle cry, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis made his triumphant return from injury as well as his last appearance as a player in front of the home crowd at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during a Wild Card Weekend showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.
And he did so in style, with his signature dance during pregame introductions and on the field in the final seconds of a 24–9 victory, prior to taking a victory lap to say goodbye to the fans who have supported the Super Bowl MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year during his 17 seasons, all with the Ravens.
“I knew how it started, but I never knew how it was going to end here in Baltimore,” said Lewis. “For it to go the way it went today, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance to hug the future Hall of Famer prior to kickoff, in Lewis’ first action since suffering a torn triceps on Oct. 14 in Week 6. The 37-year-old didn’t miss a beat, with 13 total tackles and a near-interception of Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
“He played well. He was physical at the point of attack. He did a good job in the pass game,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “Really nothing negative. He played a good, solid game.”
Chants of, “Thank you, Ray!” rained down from the purple-clad crowd with the game decided late in the fourth quarter, as the fans in Baltimore said a collective goodbye to their franchise’s greatest player.
“It was one of those great moments. I felt so proud of our fans. So pleased that we all have something that we will be able to talk to our kids and our grandkids about,” said Harbaugh.
“A Baltimore football moment that is going to just live on. That’s kind of why you do this — it’s kind of why you’re a fan, to be a part of moments like this.”
Now the Ravens hit the road to take on the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. The game is a rematch of a Week 15 contest won, 34–17, by Denver.
And in order to take down the stampeding Broncos — who have won 11 straight since staggering to a 2–3 start — the Ravens defense will have to outplay Peyton Manning, the four-time MVP quarterback and current MVP candidate who Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard recently compared to a “MacBook” computer.
“He’s not a computer, that’s for sure. He may have a computer for a brain, but he’s a man. We’re going to try to confuse him, and we’re going to need to try to put pressure on him,” said Harbaugh. “It’s a great analogy.”
In what could be his final game in the NFL, Lewis will lead the Ravens against arguably the greatest passer of his (or any) generation. Manning vs. Lewis, winner takes all, loser goes home — for good, in Lewis’ case.
“It’s just one of those chess matches,” said Lewis. “He knows me very well. I know them very well.”
Much has changed since the Raven’s defeat four weeks ago. Baltimore was without Lewis, Pollard and guard Marshal Yanda in that contest, while linebacker Terrell Suggs was playing his first game back from injury and Jim Caldwell was in his first game as the team’s play-caller after replacing Cam Cameron as the team’s offensive coordinator. Baltimore is back full strength headed to Denver for revenge. That’s all they can ask.
“We saw them earlier in the year, but now we get them again with all of our guys back,” said Lewis. “We are really looking forward to it.”
Alabama became the first team in the BCS era to win back-to-back titles by defeating Notre Dame 42-14 on Jan. 7 in Miami. The victory over the Fighting Irish gave the SEC its seventh consecutive national championship, and the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to make another run at the BCS title in 2013. Alabama is already an early favorite to win the national championship next season and has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. And with Nick Saban at the helm, expect another crop of youngsters to develop into key contributors throughout the year.
Who’s Back: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, RG Anthony Steen, LB Trey DePriest, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, CB Deion Belue, S Vinnie Sunseri, S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Who’s Gone: LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, TE Michael Williams, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Eddie Lacy, RT D.J. Fluker, CB Dee Milliner
Aug. 31 – Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 – at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 – Colorado State
Sept. 28 – Ole Miss
Oct. 5 – Georgia State
Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – Arkansas
Oct. 26 – Tennessee
Nov. 9 – LSU
Nov. 16 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – Chattanooga
Nov. 30 – at Auburn
Offensive Preview for 2013
After earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2012, quarterback AJ McCarron will set his sights even higher in 2013. McCarron will be one of college football’s top 10 returning quarterbacks and should be able to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. The senior will have plenty of help next year, as T.J. Yeldon is back at running back, while receiver Amari Cooper will be one of the best in the SEC. Yeldon could become the team’s feature back if Eddie Lacy leaves for the NFL, but the Crimson Tide will also work Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake and Jalston Fowler into the rotation at running back.
The biggest concern for Alabama in 2013 will be the offensive line. Center Barrett Jones has been one of college football’s top linemen of the BCS era, and his leadership will be missed. Guard Chance Warmack also departs, and right tackle D.J. Fluker could declare for the NFL Draft. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen will anchor the rebuilt line, while Ryan Kelly has played well in limited snaps at center. There’s no question Alabama will take a step back on the offensive line, but this unit won’t suffer a dramatic drop off as some may expect after losing Jones, Warmack and possibly Fluker.
Defensive Preview for 2013
Despite losing nearly everyone off the national title defense from the 2011 season, Alabama didn’t miss much of a beat. The Crimson Tide finished in the top five of rushing, total, pass and scoring defense, while generating over two sacks a game. And consider this: Alabama could be even better on defense in 2013.
Although the Crimson Tide will have to replace nose guard Jesse Williams, end Damion Square and safety Robert Lester, this unit will be in the mix to lead the nation in total and scoring defense. The linebacking corps could be the best in college football, as Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson and Denzel Devall all return. The secondary could lose cornerback Dee Milliner to the NFL Draft, but Deion Belue, Geno Smith and John Fulton are experienced options.
Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season: Very High
As long as Nick Saban is on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will simply reload from personnel departures and remain a national title contender each year. Expect that to be the case in 2013. The Crimson Tide will have some key losses but nothing that will deter it from making a run at the BCS crown. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, with a date against Texas A&M in Week 3 the toughest matchup on the slate. Considering what transpired in Tuscaloosa in November this year, expect Alabama to have revenge on the mind when it meets the Aggies in 2013.
Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: 1
The Fighting Irish were the only bowl eligible team to finish the regular season unbeaten but were soundly defeated by Alabama in the BCS National Championship. While the blowout loss to the Crimson Tide was a huge disappointment, coach Brian Kelly has this team on the right track. Notre Dame returns a handful of key contributors next year, including improving quarterback Everett Golson and two potential All-American defensive linemen in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.
Who’s Back: QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Dan Fox, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley
Who’s Gone: RB Theo Riddick, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, LB Manti Te’o, S Zeke Motta
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Cierre Wood
Aug. 31 – Temple
Sept. 7 – at Michigan
Sept. 14 – at Purdue
Sept. 21 – Michigan State
Sept. 28 – Oklahoma
Oct. 5 – Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 19 – USC
Oct. 26 – at Air Force
Nov. 2 – Navy
Nov. 9 – at Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 – BYU
Nov. 30 – at Stanford
Offensive Preview for 2013:
As expected, quarterback Everett Golson had an up-and-down season in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman topped 200 passing yards only once through his first eight games but finished with at least 200 yards in each of his final five contests. Golson’s development will be crucial to Notre Dame’s offense next year, especially with the question marks surrounding the running backs. Theo Riddick has expired his eligibility, while Cierre Wood is considering a jump to the NFL. With Golson having another year to work with Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, he will be counted on to carry more of the offense in 2013.
In addition to the question marks at running back, Notre Dame lost tight end Tyler Eifert to the NFL. The junior led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season. With Eifert gone to the NFL, receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels need to step up next season, especially while the Fighting Irish look for a new go-to option at tight end.
Despite the loss of center Braxston Cave and guard Mike Golic Jr., Notre Dame should be solid on the offensive line. Left tackle Zack Martin will be in the mix for All-America honors, while guard Chris Watt and right tackle Christian Lombard are experienced, proven options.
Defensive Preview for 2013:
Although Brian Kelly won with offense at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he smartly realized his best chance to win in 2012 rested with his defense. The Fighting Irish finished in the top 10 of total and scoring defense this year and allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns of any team in college football.
This unit has some holes to fill but will be one of the best in the nation once again in 2013. Replacing linebacker Manti Te’o’s leadership and production won’t be easy, but the Fighting Irish return one of the top defensive lines in college football, along with Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Danny Spond and Carlo Calabrese at linebacker.
The secondary had to replace both starting cornerbacks going into 2012 but the new starters held up well all season. KeiVarae Russell should be better in his second year as a starter, while Bennett Jackson is back after ranking second on the team in interceptions. The secondary could get a boost if safety Jamoris Slaughter is awarded an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing his Achilles against Michigan State.
Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season:
Notre Dame’s chances of getting back to the national championship aren’t as high as Alabama. However, the Fighting Irish should be a top-10 team in most preseason polls and should be in the mix for a BCS bowl. Although Notre Dame should win at least 10 games next year, replacing the leadership and production from Manti Te’o won’t be easy. Te’o was a huge part of the Fighting Irish’s success and simply won’t be replaced in 2013. While the defense may take a small step back, the offense figures to be better, and the schedule isn’t overwhelming. If Notre Dame can survive an early road trip to Michigan and a home date against USC, the season finale against Stanford could be for a trip to the BCS title game.
Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: Top 10
The BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame might not have looked pretty to Fighting Irish fans, but we argue that it was full of beautiful moments. Unfortunately for the Irish, none belonged to them. Still, we pulled together our 20 favorite photographic snapshots of the Crimson Tide winning 42-14 over the Fighting Irish.
(Photos by Tom DiPace)
The BCS just finished its 15th season of action, and has for the most part, been a major improvement on the previous bowl system. How do each of the 15 official champions stack-up against each other? Who has the most talent? Who had the best resume? Who played the toughest schedule? And who performed the best on the biggest stage?
Athlon Sports has ranked the 15 BCS National Champions — and there is a decided regional bias to the list. Just not at the very top. That distinction belongs to the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12.
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), no. 1 in scoring defense (9.8 ppg); average margin of victory 33.2 points per game
Award Winners: Larry Coker (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award), Ken Dorsey (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl co-MVP), Andre Johnson (Rose Bowl co-MVP), Bryant McKinnie (Outland Trophy), Ed Reed (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (17): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)
Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half.
Sept. 1: Miami (Fla.) 33, Penn State 7 (State College, PA)
Sept. 8: Miami (Fla.) 61, Rutgers 0 (Miami, FL)
Sept. 27: Miami (Fla.) 43, Pittsburgh 21 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Oct. 6: Miami (Fla.) 38, Troy 7 (Miami, FL)
Oct. 13: Miami (Fla.) 49, (#14) Florida State 27 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 25: Miami (Fla.) 45, West Virginia 3 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 3: Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 10: Miami (Fla.) 18, Boston College 7 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Nov. 17: Miami (Fla.) 59, (#14) Syracuse 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 24: Miami (Fla.) 65, (#12) Washington 7 (Miami, FL)
Dec. 1: Miami (Fla.) 26, (#14) Virginia Tech 24 (Blacksburg, VA)
Jan. 3: Miami (Fla.) 37, (#4) Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl)
2. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)
3. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)
Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556) yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 3: Texas 60, Louisiana-Lafayette 3 (Austin, TX)
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio State 22 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colorado 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) Texas Tech 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28 (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14 (Austin, TX)
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 (College Station, TX)
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colorado 3 (Big 12 Championship — Houston, TX)
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38 (Rose Bowl, National Championship)
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, six first round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. Expect that number to grow in the spring with names like Trent Richardon, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron grading into or around the first round.
Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.
Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.
Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)
5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (3): Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)
This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.
Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Arkansas State 7 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16 (Norman, OK)
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas State 31 (Manhattan, KS)
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31 (College Station, TX)
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Oklahoma State 7 (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas State 24 (Big 12 Championship – Kansas City, MO)
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida State 2 (Orange Bowl, National Championship)
6. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)
In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.
Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)
7. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).
Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, (#4) LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, (#8) Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, (#24) South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, (#23) Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, (#1) Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, (#2) Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
8. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners: Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012) Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)
As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.
Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn State 11 (Happy Valley, PA)
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, North Texas 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Georgia Southern 21 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn, AL)
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
9. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Key Stats: Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM), Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)
The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.
Aug. 28: Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 11: Florida State 41, (#10) Georiga Tech 35 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 18: Florida State 42, (#20) NC State 11 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 25: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 (Chapel Hill, NC)
Oct. 2: Florida State 51, Duke 23 (Jacksonville, FL)
Oct. 9: Florida State 31, (#19) Miami 21 (Tallahasse, FL)
Oct. 16: Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 23: Florida State 17, Clemson 10 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 30: Florida State 35, Virginia 10 (Charlottesville, VA)
Nov. 13: Florida State 49, Maryland 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 20: Florida State 30, (#4) Florida 20 (Gainesville, FL)
Jan. 4: Florida State 46, (#2) Virginia Tech 29 (Sugar Bowl)
10. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)
Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.
Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)
11. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing and total defense for the second straight year and was second nationally in scoring defense, AJ McCarron was second nationally in passing efficiency,
Award Winners: Barrett Jones (Rimington)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top 10. This team rolled up 529 yards of offense in one of the more impressive title game performances in the 15-year history of the BCS. And did it against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Sept. 1: Alabama 41, (#8) Michigan 14 (Arlington, TX)
Sept. 8: Alabama 35, Western Kentucky 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 15: Alabama 52, Arkansas 0 (Fayetteville, AR)
Sept. 22: Alabama 40, FAU 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 29: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 13: Alabama 42, Missouri 10 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 20: Alabama 44, Tennessee 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 27: Alabama 38, (#13) Mississippi State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 3: Alabama 21, LSU 17 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 10: (#15) Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 17: Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 24: Alabama 49, Auburn 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 1: Alabama 32, (#3) Georgia 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 42, (#1) Notre Dame 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
12. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)
The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).
Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
13. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)
The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.
Aug. 24: Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 7: Ohio State 51, Kent State 17 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 14: Ohio State 25, (#10) Washington State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 21: Ohio State 23, Cincinnati 19 (Cincinnati, OH)
Sept. 28: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 5: Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16 (Evanston, IL)
Oct. 12: Ohio State 50, San Jose State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 19: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 14 (Madison, WI)
Oct. 26: Ohio State 13, (#17) Penn State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 2: Ohio State 34, (#19) Minnesota 3 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 9: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (West Lafayette, IN)
Nov. 16: Ohio State 23, Illinois 16 (Champaign, IL)
Nov. 23: Ohio State 14, (#12) Michigan 9 (Columbus, OH)
Jan. 3: Ohio State 31, (#1) Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl, BCS NCG)
14. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine played into the 2007 NFL Draft. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sept. 2: Florida 34, Southern Miss 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 9: Florida 42, Central Florida 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 16: Florida 21, (#13) Tennessee 20 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 23: Florida 26, Kentucky 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 30: Florida 28, Alabama 13 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 7: Florida 23, (#9) LSU 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 14: (#11) Auburn 27, Florida 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 28: Florida 21, (#25) Georgia 14 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 4: Florida 25, Vanderbilt 19 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 11: Florida 17, South Carolina 16 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 18: Florida 62, Western Carolina 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 25: Florida 21, Florida State 14 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 2: Florida 38, (#8) Arkansas 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 41, (#1) Ohio State 14 (Glendale, AZ)
15. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)
By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top the Tigers. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.
Aug. 30: LSU 45, Mississippi State 0 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 8: LSU 48, (#9) Virginia Tech 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 15: LSU 44, MTSU 0 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 22: LSU 28, (#14) South Carolina 16 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 29: LSU 34, Tulane 9 (New Orleans, LA)
Oct. 6: LSU 28, (#7) Florida 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 13: (#18) Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3 OT) (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 20: LSU 30, (#19) Auburn 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 3: LSU 41, (#18) Alabama 34 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 10: LSU 58, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 17: LSU 41, Ole Miss 24 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 23: Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT) (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 1: LSU 21, (#15) Tennessee 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: LSU 38, (#1) Ohio State 24 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
This wasn’t supposed to be the year for Alabama. Seems foolish, now doesn’t it?
The Crimson Tide returned only four defensive starters from the 2011 title squad. A Heisman finalist, Trent Richardson, left for the NFL.
A year later, a dominant defense and run game sealed a second consecutive Tide championship.
Alabama may be automatic now, fielding a defense whose only weakness is Johnny Manziel. Alabama made easy work of Notre Dame 42-14 to win its third BCS championship in four seasons, holding No. 1 teams scoreless in title games for nearly nine quarters going back to the win over LSU a year ago.
Nick Saban’s fourth national title (including one championship at LSU) was the second most lopsided championship in BCS history after USC’s 55-19 win over Oklahoma for the 2004 title.
Notre Dame ranked fourth in the country in rush defense at 92.4 yards per game. Eddie Lacy topped that on his own. The Irish never allowed a team to march 80 yards for a touchdown. Alabama did it four times, including a 97-yard touchdown drive.
Alabama sealed its spot as the king of college football early with three touchdowns in the first 15:04, earning the first back-to-back BCS championships and first consecutive national titles since USC won the Associated Press championship in 2003 and the BCS title in 2004.
RAPID REACTION: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Player of the game: Eddie Lacy.
This spot could easily belong to Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, who pushed around the Notre Dame defensive line all night. But Lacy put in plenty of work on his own, swatting away 248-pound defensive linemen, spinning through defenders and bullying his way through Notre Dame’s vaunted run D. He finished with 140 yards on 20 carries with a 20-yard TD run and 11-yard TD catch.
Turning point. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception.
It would be too easy to say the turning point was when Alabama took the field, though the final score indicated as much. Instead, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception of Everett Golson early in the third quarter was the end for Notre Dame. As Notre Dame built momentum on offense in the third quarter, Golson took a shot down the sideline to DaVaris Daniels. Cornerback Dee Milliner tipped the ball away when Clinton-Dix swooped in to intercept the pass inside the 5-yard line. Alabama capitalized with a 97-yard touchdown drive to take a 35-0 lead.
Unsung hero: Amari Cooper.
With a run game and defense like Alabama had Monday, the Tide didn’t need an overwhelming effort from the passing game. They got it anyway. Alabama’s freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper turned in clutch catches for a six-reception, 105-yard, two-touchdown night. In one of the few miscues for Alabama, Cooper failed to lay out for a diving catch on a deep pass for a potential touchdown from A.J. McCarron. The Tide quarterback finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four touchdown passes.
Needed more: Manti Te’o.
The Notre Dame defense missed tackles all evening, and Te’o wasn’t the only culprit. But the Irish needed more out of their Maxwell Award-winning linebacker. He was invisible for most of the night, and when he did show up, it was for the wrong reasons. Te’o whiffed on a handful of tackles, most glaringly late in the second quarter on a potential stop in the backfield on T.J. Yeldon, a freshman. The Alabama running back still had a seven-yard gain. Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
Questionable call: Kick catch interference in the first quarter.
With the way Alabama took control all evening, the penalty that negated an Alabama fumble deep in its own territory may not have made a difference in the grand scheme. But a Notre Dame scoring chance to answer Alabama’s 7-0 lead may have slowed the Tide for a moment. Christion Jones fumbled a punt, recovered by Notre Dame, but officials ruled kick catch interference even though an Irish player never made contact with Jones. Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials and a former SEC coordinator of officials, told the ESPN broadcast crew the call was correct as Jones did not have room to make the fair catch.
Stat that matters: Third down conversions.
This may say it all: Notre Dame started 0-for-5 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth while Alabama started 6-of-8. Notre Dame finished 2-of-8 on third down, Alabama 8-of-13.
Three snap judgements:
Saban’s run is one for the ages. Teams have been dominant over stretches of time, most recently USC. But Alabama’s run may the most impressive we’ve seen in several decades. Three national titles in four years at Alabama matches Nebraska’s run from 1994-97 and Notre Dame’s from 1946-49. Throw in the 2003 title at LSU, Saban has four titles in nine years.
With or without Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s loaded at the skill positions. Lacy’s been the team MVP of championship season against Georgia and Notre Dame, which may push him to declare for the NFL Draft. If he leaves, Alabama still has freshmen T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper working with rising senior A.J. McCarron. If there’s a question mark it could be offensive line, which will lose Barrett Jones and Warmack. Fluker and Kouandjio are also draft eligible.
Notre Dame can’t let this loss define the Irish. Plain and simple, Notre Dame was outclassed Monday, but the Irish can’t let this rout spill into next season. Brian Kelly’s team reached the national title stage ahead of schedule, but Golson and many key cogs on the defense return in 2013.
It only takes one penalty, one missed assignment or one yard for one loss to end a national championship. The 20 teams listed below came up just short of playing in the national championship game for one reason or another. Sometimes, off the field issues can impact whether or not a team plays in the BCS title game (see Ohio State this year). And in one historic case, a team did everything in its power to earn a trip to the big game only to be let down by a system without a true playoff.
Which is right where the list of the 20 best teams not to play for a BCS National Championship begins...
Editor's Note: USC in 2003 is not eligible since they techincally won a share of the National Championship.
1. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)
The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.
2. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)
After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.
3. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficiency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a then BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2012 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: Big Ten Leaders
Key Stats: Led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game, Braxton Miller was second in total offense and fifth in rushing in the Big Ten. Carlos Hyde led the league in scoring at 10.2 points per game.
Award Winners: Braxton Miller (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), John Simon (Big Ten Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
In Urban Meyer's first season, the Buckeyes were left to wonder what if after a perfect season. One year after going 6-7 and losing in the Gator Bowl to a mediocre Florida team, the Buckeyes, led by super star Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, won every game they played including road wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State and home victories over Michigan and Nebraska. Was this team an elite OSU roster that would have been able to compete against either Notre Dame or Alabama? Odds are no, however, the current BCS system is set-up to put No. 1 and No. 2 into the BCS title game and if Ohio State had been eligible, there is little doubt it would have faced the Fighting Irish in Miami instead of the Crimson Tide.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year),
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)
The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.
6. Miami Hurricanes, 2000 (11-1, 7-0)
Head Coach: Butch Davis
Championships: Big East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in scoring offense (42.6 ppg) and no. 5 in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) through regular season
Award Winners: Ken Dorsey (Sugar Bowl MVP), Dan Morgan (Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Nagurski Award), Santana Moss (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (20): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Damione Lewis (1st, 2001), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Dan Morgan (1st, 2001), Santana Moss (1st, 2001), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Reggie Wayne (1st, 2001), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)
This is the team that laid the groundwork for the 2001 national championship as the roster featured five All-Americans, 12 first-team All Big East selections and 20 future first- or second-round NFL draft picks. Despite beating then No. 1-ranked Florida State earlier in the season and being ranked higher in the polls, the Hurricanes were prevented a chance to vie for the national championship. Instead, they went to the Sugar Bowl and took their frustrations out on another in-state rival, defeating Florida 37-20 and finishing the season ranked No. 2. That victory also was the last for Butch Davis as a collegiate coach, as he left Miami to become the head coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
7. Ohio State Buckeyes, 1998 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: John Cooper
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Buckeyes lost five total turnovers (four fumbles) and surrendered 19 unanswered points in home loss to Michigan State.
Award Winners: David Boston (Sugar Bowl MVP), Joe Germaine (Big Ten Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: David Boston (1st, 1999), Antoine Winfield (1st, 1999), Andy Katzenmoyer (1st, 1999), Joe Montgomery (2nd, 1999), Ahmad Plummer (2nd, 2000), Nate Clements (1st, 2001), Ryan Pickett (1st, 2001),
The most talented team to play under John Cooper had the National Championship rings already sized in the preseason. Ohio State began the year atop the polls and rolled to an 8-0 start before giving away a late 15-point lead to Michigan State — and a chance at the national title. Despite crushing Iowa and Michigan to finish the year with one loss, Ohio State just missed a chance to face Tennessee in the BCS National Championship game. After handling Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the polls.
8. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal ball — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions, 2005 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Championships: Big Ten, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Tamba Hali led the Big Ten in sacks (0.92 pg), PSU finished seventh nationally against the run (93.0 ypg) and never allowed a team to reach 30 points all season.
Award Winners: Michael Robinson (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), Paul Posluszny (Bednarik Award, Butkus Award), Tamba Hali (Big Ten Def. Lineman of the Year), Joe Paterno (AP, Home Depot, Walter Camp, AFCA National Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tamba Hali (1st, 2006), Levi Brown (1st, 2007), Paul Posluszny (2nd, 2007)
Led by star quarterback Michael Robinson and stellar defensive tandem Tamba Hali and Paul Posluszny, the Penn State Nittany Lions were one play from making quite a ruckus in the BCS standings with an undefeated season. After starting 6-0 with convincing wins over ranked Minnesota and Ohio State, the Lions allowed Chad Henne to connect with Mario Manningham on the final play of the game in Ann Arbor - costing PSU a chance to challenge USC and Texas for title game rights. Penn State then rolled through the rest of its schedule including an impressive 35-14 win over top-15 Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl win over Florida State was the school's first BCS bowl win.
10. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),
Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and sophomore quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.
11. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 in rushing, scoring and total offense as well as turnover margin and passing efficiency. Freshman QB Marcus Mariota led the nation in passing efficiency on the road and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency overall.
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Freshman of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The Ducks boasted the nation's best offense in 2013, averaging over 323 yards rushing per game in the regular season and scoring over 50 points per game — both leading the offense-heavy Pac-12. Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner form one of the most talented and productive backfields ever assembled during the BCS era and featured the last two Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (Thomas and Mariota). Easy wins over bowl teams Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, USC and eventually Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl were extremely impressive. An overtime loss to Rose Bowl Champion Stanford was the only blemish on the nearly perfect resume and it cost Chip Kelly his second shot at a BCS national championship.
12. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)
In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included the aforementioned loaded Miami Hurricanes and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Boilermakers in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.
13. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)
This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.
14. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)
The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina would not have ended the Dawgs' title hopes. However, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Vols, who won the division on a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.
15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)
No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.
16. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2007 (11-2, 5-2)
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Championships: Big East co-champions, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in rushing offense (297.2 ypg), no. 7 in total defense (301.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Pat White (Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP), Reed Williams (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (1): Pat White (2nd, 2009)
Ranked No. 3 in the preseason, the Mountaineers went into the final game of the regular season, the 100th Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh, as the top-ranked team in the Coaches Poll. The unranked Panthers got the best of their bitter rival, 13-9, dashing the Mountaineers’ title hopes in the process. To make matters worse, head coach Rick Rodriguez left to become Michigan’s head coach as the team prepared for its Fiesta Bowl showdown with No. 3 Oklahoma. The team would rally behind interim head coach Bill Stewart as the Mountaineers stunned the nation by dominating the Sooners 48-28. Pat White led the way with 326 total yards of offense and the Mountaineers ran roughshod over the Sooners, gaining 349 yards on the ground alone.
17. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Championships: Mountain West, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring and total defense, Andy Dalton was fifth nationally in passing efficiency,
Award Winners: Andy Dalton (MWC Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Off. MVP), Tank Carder (MWC Def. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Def. MVP), Jeremy Kerley (MWC Special Teams Player of the Year)
"First Day NFL Draft Picks: Andy Dalton (2nd, 2011)
The best season in program history culminated with a Rose Bowl Championship over the Wisconsin Badgers in Pasadena. Some of the program's most historic players were stars on this roster as this team rewrote the Horned Frogs record books. Dalton was the only elite pick in the NFL Draft but five players were selected in the 2012 Draft and two more went in the 2012 Draft.
18. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)
It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.
19. Boise State Broncos, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Chris Peterson
Championships: WAC, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring at 42.2 points per game and fewest sacks allowed, Kellen Moore was second nationally in passing efficiency, Led the WAC in 10 of the 17 tracked NCAA team stats,
Award Winners: Chris Peterson (National and WAC Coach of the Year), Kellen Moore (WAC Off. Player of the Year), Kyle Efaw (Fiesta Bowl Off. MVP), Brandyn Thompson (Fiesta Bowl Def. MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Kyle Wilson (1st, 2010), Titus Young (2nd, 2011), Austin Pettis (3rd, 2011), Doug Martin (1st, 2012), Shea McClellin (1st, 2012)
One could argue for weeks about which Boise State was the best: 2006, 2009, 2010 or 2011? Each can make a unique case as the best in Boise history, but the combination of unbeaten record, Fiesta Bowl championship and overall talent on the roster gives the slight edge to the '09 group. This team featured all the NFL talent of the 2011 group (Doug Martin, Shea McClellin, etc) and one of two perfect records.
20. Utah Utes, 2008 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Championships: Mountain West, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Led the MWC in scoring offense and turnover margin, Ranked in the Top 12 nationally in scoring, rushing and total defense
Award Winners: Kyle Whittingham (National and MWC Coach of the Year), Brian Johnson (MWC Off. Player of the Year, Sugar Bowl MVP), Louie Sakoda (MWC Special Teams Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Paul Kruger (2nd, 2009), Sean Smith (2nd, 2009), Koa Misi (2nd, 2010), Zane Beadles (2nd, 2010),
The 2004 team led by Urban Meyer and Alex Smith would have something to say about this, but wins over Oregon State, Michigan in the Big House and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl gives this team the slight edge. A perfect record, a conference crown and a transcendent talent makes this Utah team one for the ages, and in a perfect playoff system, would have had the right to prove it on a national championship level.
Best of the Rest:
21. Wisconsin Badgers, 2011
22. Tennessee Volunteers, 2001
23. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2005
24. Utah Utes, 2004
25. Stanford Cardinal, 2012
26. Oregon Ducks, 2011
27. Boise State Broncos, 2011
28. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2004
29. Wisconsin Badgers, 1999
30. Michigan Wolverines, 2006
Two of college football’s storied programs will meet on Jan. 7 in the most-anticipated title matchup of the BCS era. For Alabama, a trip to the national championship has almost become routine. The Crimson Tide is making their third appearance in the BCS Championship in the last four seasons and are 2-0 under Nick Saban in this setting. Alabama is also looking to become the first back-to-back champion of the BCS era.
On the other sideline represents a return to glory. Notre Dame is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 and returned to the national title conversation for the first time since 1993 this year. The Fighting Irish was the only bowl eligible team to finish with an unbeaten record in 2012, while linebacker Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. After finishing 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, coach Brian Kelly has Notre Dame back on track to national prominence once again. The Fighting Irish are on a roll on the recruiting trail, so don’t expect Notre Dame to slip back into mediocrity anytime soon.
These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 series edge. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have not played since 1987, when Notre Dame claimed a 37-6 victory in South Bend. Alabama’s only victory against the Fighting Irish came in 1986.
BCS National Championship – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Miami, Fla.
When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has the ball:
The Fighting Irish aren’t as dynamic as some of Brian Kelly’s offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but this unit made steady progress over the last half of the season. After scoring more than 20 points twice through the first seven games, Notre Dame topped that mark in each of its final five contests.
Quarterback Everett Golson was a key factor in the late season improvement, finishing with seven touchdowns to just two interceptions over his final five games. Not only is Golson a threat to beat teams through the air, but his mobility could give Alabama’s defense plenty of headaches. The redshirt freshman rushed for 305 yards and five scores on 89 attempts this season. The Crimson Tide defense didn’t face a plethora of dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 but struggled to contain Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in early November. Although Golson has delivered in some key spots this year, he doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards for Notre Dame to win this game. Efficiency and playing mistake-free ball are bigger issues for Golson and will be crucial for the Fighting Irish’s hopes at winning.
The Fighting Irish don’t have a standout wide receiver, but help is on the way for the matchup with Alabama. DaVaris Daniels missed the final two games of the season with a clavicle injury and should be able to contribute on Monday night. The redshirt freshman caught 25 passes for 375 yards in 10 games. TJ Jones and Robby Toma should be the other top targets for Notre Dame at wide receiver, but the No. 1 weapon for Golson will be tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior led the team with 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns and needs to have a standout performance against a tough Crimson Tide defense.
Led by a veteran offensive line, Notre Dame will challenge Alabama’s No. 1 ranked rush defense. The Irish ranked 29th nationally in rushing offense, spearheaded by the one-two punch of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Riddick led the team with 880 yards and five rushing scores, while Wood wasn’t far behind, generating 740 yards and four touchdowns on 110 attempts. Look for both players to see action in Monday night’s game, but rushing lanes could be difficult to find with Alabama allowing only 79.8 yards on the ground each contest. The Crimson Tide held opponents to nine rushing touchdowns and 2.5 yards per carry.
Make no mistake: There’s no glaring weakness with Alabama’s defense. Although the Fighting Irish lean slightly with the run, they may need to pass early to setup the ground attack. The Crimson Tide’s defense allowed only two opponents to score more than 20 points and generated 2.5 sacks per game. With over a month to prepare for this game, expect Alabama’s defense and Notre Dame’s offense to each have a few new looks and wrinkles to throw at the opposition. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has done a good job at bringing the offense along this season, but this matchup against the Crimson Tide will be Notre Dame’s toughest assignment of this year.
When the Alabama Crimson Tide has the ball:
Despite breaking in a new offensive coordinator and losing running back Trent Richardson to the NFL, Alabama’s offense improved its points and yardage generated per game. The Crimson Tide also displayed balance, averaging 224.6 yards per game on the ground, while throwing for 214.5 per contest.
Quarterback AJ McCarron thrived under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns. Additionally, the junior tossed only three picks and led the nation in passing efficiency. McCarron doesn’t have a deep group of proven receivers but there’s no shortage of weapons. True freshman Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s top rising stars at receiver, grabbing 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine scores this year. Cooper isn’t the only weapon for Alabama, as Kevin Norwood (26 catches), Christion Jones (25 catches) and tight end Michael Williams (21 catches) are all dependable targets. This group could get a boost in this game with the return of Kenny Bell. The junior suffered a broken leg against Auburn but has made a quick recovery and could play on a limited snap count against Notre Dame.
Although Alabama’s offense was balanced this year, there’s no question the success of this unit begins with the offensive line and rushing attack. The Crimson Tide’s front five is one of the nation’s best, allowing only 1.8 sacks a game and paving the way for running backs to generate 5.6 yards per carry. Center Barrett Jones suffered a foot injury against Georgia but is expected to play against the Fighting Irish.
Alabama’s offensive line faces a tough assignment on Monday night, as it looks to get a push against one of the nation’s top defenses. Notre Dame allowed only 92.4 rushing yards per game and held opponents to just two touchdowns on the ground. Jones’ battle against nose guard Louis Nix III could be one of the best one-on-one matchups of the bowl season, while the Fighting Irish rely on senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt to lead the pass rush. In addition to the stout defensive line, senior linebacker and Heisman runner up Manti Te’o is a key presence in stopping the run.
Even if Alabama’s rushing attack struggles early, don’t expect Saban and Nussmeier to go away from handing the ball to Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy and Yeldon combined for 2,182 yards and 27 rushing scores this year and each brings a different skill set to the offense. Lacy is more of a power runner, while Yeldon provides a home-run threat to the lineup.
Considering the defensive prowess on the Alabama and Notre Dame sideline, points could be at a premium in the BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide has the edge on offense, especially at quarterback with the continued improvement of AJ McCarron. However, the Fighting Irish certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama or the fact the SEC has won the last six national titles.
Will it be another national championship for the SEC? Or is Notre Dame ready to return to glory and win its first title since 1988?
Athlon’s editors make their pick for Monday night’s title game:
|Editor||Rob Doster||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light||Charlie Miller||Mark Ross||Nathan Rush|
|Prediction:||Alabama 17, ND 16||Alabama 27, ND 20||Alabama 20, ND 17||Alabama 24, ND 20||Alabama 23, ND 21||Alabama 17, ND 3||ND 20, Alabama 17||ND 17, Alabama 16|
|MVP Prediction:||C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama||AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama||Manti Te'o, LB, ND||Manti Te'o, LB, ND|
After leading Syracuse to a 25-25 mark over the last four years, Doug Marrone decided it was time to try his hand at the NFL. Marrone was picked as the new head coach for the Buffalo Bills and leaves Syracuse on a high note after beating West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. Marrone’s overall record wasn’t impressive, but he did a good job of resurrecting the program after a horrible stint under Greg Robinson. The Orange are moving from the Big East to the ACC and are caught in some bad timing, especially with Signing Day less than a month away.
11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse
Rob Ambrose, head coach, Towson – Ambrose is a longshot to become Syracuse’s next coach, but he’s worth a mention due to his success at Towson. The Illinois native inherited a struggling team and won just three games through his first two years. However, the Tigers have won 16 contests over the last two seasons and made a playoff appearance in 2011. Ambrose has FBS experience as well, working on the Connecticut staff from 2002-08.
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012. The Falcons played in their first bowl game since 2009 this season and have made steady improvement since going 2-10 in 2010.
Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach – In perhaps the most ridiculous coaching move of this year, FIU decided to fire Cristobal after the 2012 season. While Cristobal’s overall mark (27-47) at FIU isn’t impressive, he is the perfect case of why coaching records can be deceiving. Cristobal inherited a program that was in awful shape and had just made the jump to FBS play. After winning nine games in the first two years with the Golden Panthers, Cristobal led FIU to back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11. Although most of Cristobal’s experience has come in Miami, he spent three seasons in the Northeast at Rutgers. Don’t let FIU’s poor decision to fire Cristobal fool you: He’s a very good coach and will be back on the sidelines in the near future.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco has quickly emerged as one of college football’s top assistant coaches and is ready for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has never worked as a head coach but worked as an assistant at Iowa, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and since 2010 with Notre Dame. Under Diaco’s leadership, the Fighting Irish have shown big improvement on defense, ranking first nationally in points allowed and fifth in total defense before the national championship. Diaco won the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the nation this year and despite his lack of head coaching experience, he should be near the top of Syracuse’s short list to replace Marrone.
Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse wants to promote from within, Hackett is a strong possibility to replace Marrone. The California native started his coaching career in 2003 at UC Davis, before coming to Stanford later that year. After spending three seasons with the Cardinal, he jumped to the NFL and worked two years with the Buccaneers and then two seasons with the Bills. Hackett joined Syracuse in 2010 and has been a key part of the offensive improvement over the last few years. The only downside to Hackett is his lack of head coaching experience.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton’s stock has been on the rise over the last two years and has been an instrumental part of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and later coached there from 1997-2001. After that stint at his alma mater, Hamilton worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, before returning to the college ranks in 2010. Hamilton was promoted to offensive coordinator with the Cardinal after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Although Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the Big Ten’s best over the last few years, he hasn’t had many looks to be a head coach. The Connecticut native has worked as an assistant since 1993, including stops as a defensive coordinator in 2003 with Miami (Ohio), from 2004-06 at Cincinnati and since 2007 with Michigan State. Narduzzi’s defense ranked fourth nationally in yards allowed and ninth in scoring defense this year.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering Syracuse needs to move quick on finding a head coach due to recruiting, Roman could be out of the mix to replace Marrone, especially if the 49ers advance far in the playoffs. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. With the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses.
Scott Shafer, defensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse doesn’t promote Nathaniel Hackett, Shafer is the other in-house option for the Orange. The Ohio native has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1991, making stops at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Western Michigan, Stanford, Michigan and at Syracuse since 2009. Shafer led Syracuse’s defense to a top-10 ranking in yards allowed in 2010 and held opponents to just 19.3 points a game. Shafer doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is familiar with the current personnel and would provide an easy transition from Marrone.
David Walker, running backs coach, Indianapolis Colts – Walker is a name many Syracuse fans are familiar with, as he played for the Orange from 1989-92. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career with Syracuse and joined the coaching ranks in 1994 as a high school assistant. Walker was named Syracuse’s running backs coach in 1995 and served in that capacity until 2004. He worked at Pittsburgh from 2005-2010 and has coached for the last two years with the Colts. Although Walker has strong ties to the university, he has no experience has a coordinator or head coach.
Bobby Wilder, head coach, Old Dominion – Wilder is a bit of an unknown commodity on the FBS level but he has experienced a lot of success in a short time at Old Dominion. In four seasons with the Monarchs, he has compiled a 38-10 record, which includes two appearances in the FCS playoffs. Wilder is no stranger to life in the Northeast, as he spent some time as an assistant at Boston College and Maine.
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NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from NFL's Wild Card Weekend:
10: NFL playoff record players who caught an Aaron Rodgers pass
The MVP candidate threw for 274 yards and a touchdown in his first home playoff win Saturday night. He distributed the ball beautifully to the healthiest receiving corps he has had all season. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and James Jones were all on the field together for the first time since the first month of the season. All four star wideouts, three different tight ends and three running backs caught passes from No. 12 in the easy win for Green Bay. The defense, which was also at full strength for the first time in two months, welcomed back Charles Woodson in style. The unit held Adrian Peterson to just 99 yards after yielding 409 yards rushing to All Day in the first two meetings of the year. It was just the second time A.D. was held below 100 yards in the last 11 games. This team heads west for an old-school NFC showdown between its long-time rival in San Francisco.
1: Career playoff wins by QBs in Atlanta-Seahawks divisional showdown
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will face Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the NFC Divisional Round next weekend, and the rookie from Wisconsin will be the only starting quarterback in the game with a playoff win under his belt. Ryan entered Wild Card weekend as one of only two NFC playoff quarterbacks with a career postseason start (Rodgers). Three new faces, including Minnesota's Joe Webb and Washington's Robert Griffin III, made their playoff debut this weekend and Wilson walked away as the only winner of the trio. Meanwhile, Ryan will be making his fourth career postseason start and he has yet to experience victory. He posted career and franchise highs in nearly every meaningful passing category this season to go with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. An 0-4 start would begin to raise serious questions about the developing star. Seattle, meanwhile, has now won six straight games and won a road playoff game for the first time since 1983 (0-7).
425: Arian Foster's postseason rushing yards in three career games
If the New England Patriots want to repeat their dominating performance against the Texans from Week 14, they will have to stop Houston's tailback. Foster has played in three career playoff games in the last two seasons and has been electric in each one, rushing for at least 132 in all three games. He has carried the ball 83 times in that span for a 5.1 per attempt clip and has scored at least one touchdown in all three games. He has added 16 catches for 85 yards in the air as well. In the blue-collar win over Cincinnati (for the second straight season), Foster touched the ball 40 times for 174 yards and a touchdown to power his team to victory.
13: Tackles by Ray Lewis in the win over Indianapolis
One of the great careers of all-time will continue for at least one more weekend. Ray Lewis was lost for the remainder of the regular season in Week 6 to a serious left arm injury. The Ravens were 5-1 in the first six weeks before finishing the season 5-5 without their defensive leader. He returned to the field this weekend and played just as big a role on the field as he did in the locker room, finishing with 13 total tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass deflected. The Baltimore defense, which had been reeling the last month of the season, held the Colts' offense scoreless on three trips into the red zone, forced two key turnovers and didn't allow a touchdown all game long. Lewis and Company now head to the Rocky Mountains to battle long-time AFC rival Peyton Manning.
5: Seasons in a row that Joe Flacco has won a playoff game
Should Tom Brady defeat the Texans next weekend, he will tie Joe Flacco as the only two quarterbacks with postseason wins in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Flacco is the only QB in the Super Bowl era with a playoff win in each of his first five seasons. He is 6-4 in 10 career postseason games as the starter, including 4-0 in Wild Card matchups. Eight of his 10 playoff games have come on the road, where he he has led his team to a 4-4 mark. In addition, all four losses also were to teams that would go on to play in the Super Bowl, with two of the defeats coming in the AFC Championship Game (Pittsburgh in '09 and New England last season). A win in Denver this Saturday against Peyton Manning and the No. 1 seed Broncos seems like a tall order, considering No. 18 has won eight straight over the Ravens and the Baltimore defense has major question marks. Still, Flacco doesn't get enough credit for what he has accomplished in his first five years in the league. Although 10-year veteran Anquan Boldin provided plenty of support on Sunday, posting a Baltimore postseason-record 145 yards receiving and the game-sealing touchdown in the big win.
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
2: Possessions keeping Arizona undefeated last week
Arizona is one of four remaining undefeated teams remaining -- Duke, Michigan and Wyoming are the others -- but the Wildcats needed a little luck to remain unbeaten last week. On Thursday, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Colorado’s Sabatino Chen was waved off after video review. Arizona, which trailed by as much as eight with 1:44 left, dominated overtime against the Buffaloes in overtime on the way to a 92-83 win. But Colorado is an NCAA Tournament contender; Arizona’s opponent on Saturday was not. Utah (8-6, 0-2 Pac-12) gave the Wildcats all they handle in a 60-57 loss. The Utes’ final 3-point shot bounced off the rim, the backboard and then the rim again for another close call for Arizona. Before last week, the signature wins for Sean Miller's team over San Diego State and Florida came by one point each.
25, 14 and 4: Mike Muscala’s line against Missouri
File this note away when you fill out your brackets in March: Bucknell forward Mike Muscala had 25 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in a 66-64 loss at Missouri. Bucknell led until the final 3:37 before Missouri put the Bison away in the final seconds. Muscala, who arrived in Lewisburg, Pa., via Roseville, Minn., is a 6-foot-11, 239-pound forward who’s going to cause someone problems in the Tournament if Bucknell wins the Patriot League. Muscala’s day was just enough to overshadow Tigers guard Phil Pressey, who had a career-high 26 points.
4: Ns in Nnanna Egwu’s first name
A tip of the hat to Egwu, one of Illinois’ major difference-makers in a 74-55 win over Ohio State on Saturday. After losing two of three and with a brutal Big Ten slate ahead, Illinois needed to signal its staying power on the national stage. The victory over the No. 8 Buckeyes did that and more. The 6-foot-11 Egwu had the best game for any Illinois frontcourt player this season by scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds, three on the offensive glass. A perimeter-oriented team, Illinois was 20 of 31 (64.5 percent) from inside the 3-point line. Before Saturday’s win, Illinois had been shooting 48.6 percent from inside the arc. Even with the new inside game, Illinois still got 19 points from Brandon Paul and 8 of 27 shots from 3-point range.
7 of 29: Shooting from the field by Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas or Aaron Craft
Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes’ ongoing difficulty in finding someone other than Deshaun Thomas to carry the load was evident in the 75-55 loss to Illinois. The Ohio State supporting cast (read: anyone other than Thomas or Aaron Craft) went 7 of 29 from the field, scoring 20 points. Thomas (24 points) and Craft (11) went 13 of 31 from the field. Lenzelle Smith Jr. was the only player to hit more than one field goal against the Illini.
50: Fateful number for Georgetown
Though not the most tantalizing team to watch, Georgetown is pretty good when the Hoyas or their opponent are under the 50-point mark. That changed Saturday when the Hoyas found a team that could flourish in an ugly game when Marquette defeated Georgetown 49-47. Before Saturday, Georgetown had been 4-0 when holding a team to fewer than 50 points; no surprise there. Before the loss to Marquette, Georgetown was 2-0 when scoring fewer than 50 points.
26: 3-pointers attempted by Pittsburgh against Rutgers
After a 12-1 start, Pittsburgh has lost its first two Big East games, including a 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Saturday. A major reason for the loss was an uncharacteristic boldness to shoot from long range. Pittsburgh has little business rolling the dice from beyond the 3-point line, but the Panthers attempted 26 shots from 3-point range against the Scarlet Knights. That’s nearly double Pitt’s average per game this season (13.4). Pittsburgh hit eight of its 26 attempts which as many 3-pointers as the Panthers had hit in its previous five games combined. That includes and 0-for-10 effort in the 70-61 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 31.
0 for 11, 14 assists: Quinn Cook’s stat line against Wake Forest
The statline from the Duke point guard in the 80-62 win over Wake Forest on Saturday may make Missouri’s Phil Pressey blush. Cook missed all 11 of his shots from the floor and never got to the free throw line, but he managed to pickup 14 assists to one turnover against the Demon Deacons, the worst team in the ACC.
For the 13th year in a row, some the best and brightest future stars of the college football gridiron came together in San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Each year dozens of elite prospects go head-to-head all week in practice trying to showcase their talents for former NFL coaches, the fans, their fellow recruits and college coaches. The East Team (black) defeated the West Team (yellow) 15-8 on the back of a few big plays from its offense and special teams. So after a week of practice and 60 minutes of play, who are the winners and losers from San Antonio?
U.S. Army Bowl Winners:
On the heels of a tremendous performance by his team in the Sugar Bowl, Charlie Strong once again was a big winner in San Antonio. For the second straight year, the Cards got a commitment from an elite prospect on national TV. Local star and game MVP James Quick gave Strong and The 'Ville a third major live announcement in the last two U.S. Army Bowl games. Then Quick, from famed Trinity High School, went out and scored the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a deep pass down the middle of the field. Many believed Quick was headed to Ohio State, so the small upset makes Louisville one of the hottest brands in the nation.
Ohio State Buckeyes
All week long, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood linebacker Mike Mitchell dominated the headlines. He was all over the field recording tackles from sideline-to-sideline and making believers of every scout in attendance. Then he made Buckeyes fans ecstatic by announcing he would be headed to Columbus to play his football. He picked Ohio State over Texas A&M and Oregon, and fans in The Lone Star State could consider this payback for Jordan Hicks leaving The Buckeye State.
Big Running Backs
The Under Armour running backs are talented but underperformed mightily in Tampa-St. Pete this week. But the two stars of the East backfield — 6-foot-3, 240-pound Derrick Henry and the 6-foot, 220-pound Derrick Green — showed that even in a defensive focused-environment, the running game can be effective. Henry, from Yulee (Fla.) High, will be enrolled in class at Alabama this week and rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Green, from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage, lists Michigan, Florida State, Miami, USC, Tennessee and Auburn as his finalists, and he rushed for 49 yards on six yards per carry. Both were extremely impressive.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Brian Kelly didn't land any big commitments this week in San Antonio, but the future of his roster was on full display. Seven U.S. Army All-Americans are heading to South Bend and a few of them impressed on Saturday. Namely, the Athlon Consensus 100's No. 4-rated player in the nation Jaylon Smith. The electric linebacker was all over the field posting four tackles and a blocked kick. Corey Robinson, the son of NBA legend David Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr., the son of MLB great, and lineman Steve Elmer joined Smith on the West Team. Running back Greg Bryant, linebacker Doug Randolph and offensive lineman John Montelus highlighted ND's commitments on the East Team. This came one day after the Irish got a huge commitment from Max Redfield in the Under Armour event.
Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline quarterback Max Browne is making a push to be the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2013 and his late-game touchdown pass nearly gave his West Team a come-from-behind victory. Browne was just one of nine future USC Trojans playing for the West and one of 13 total USC verbal pledges in San Antonio. On the East roster, Jalen Ramsey was one of the week's stars in practice and offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers was arguably the top blocker on the field.
The 2013 edition of the high school all-star event set an new attendance record with 40,199 fans in the Alamodome. Of course, many of them are the great men and women who serve in our nation's Army. Not only do the troops get a fun day watching the nation's best compete on national TV, but the prep recruits get a chance to interact with and learn from our country's real heroes. It's a win-win for everyone involved.
U.S. Army Bowl Losers:
Alabama Crimson Tide
It is hard to consider Nick Saban a real loser here, as his future star back (running or jack?) Derrick Henry put his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame on full display. However, the Tide missed out on big-time elite rush end Al-Quadin Muhammad. The elite pass rusher from famed Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep picked Miami over Bama, Notre Dame and Rutgers. Additionally, Upland (Calif.) High defensive end Josh Mathis picked Washington over Bama, UCLA and USC.
Similarly to Alabama, fans shouldn't go passing out their bleeding hearts to the Ducks, but Oregon missed out on two elite prospects as well. Star linebacker Mike Mitchell was one of the best players all week in practice and the Plano (Texas) Prestonwood tackler picked Ohio State over Oregon and Texas A&M. The MVP of the game, wide receiver James Quick from famed Trinity High School in Louisville, picked the Cardinals over Oregon and Ohio State.
The West was able to block two short field goal attempts to help preserve the win. Notre Dame future star Jaylon Smith and future Texas Longhorn Antwuan Davis each blocked a kick while East return specialist Tiquan Mizell (Virginia) made the biggest special teams play of day. His long, late-game return set-up the game-winning score following a Max Browne touchdown pass and totally changed the momentum of the game.
Record-setting rookie quarterbacks will be on full display when the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins square off in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The Seahawks (11-5) enter this contest on a five-game winning streak, while the Redskins (10-6) won their final seven games to capture the NFC East division title and first postseason berth since 2007. This game also features just the second pairing of rookie starting quarterbacks in NFL postseason history with the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Redskins’ Robert Griffin III leading their respective offenses.
When the Seattle Seahawks have the ball:
Seattle’s offense finished the regular season ranked 17th in the NFL in total offense with 350.6 yards per game and ninth in scoring at 25.8 points per game. The Seahawks ended the season strong, averaging 38.6 points per game during their season-ending, five-game winning streak, including two straight games with at least 50 points. The Seahawks had the No. 3-ranked rushing offense (161.2 ypg), led by running back Marshawn Lynch’s 1,590 yards (third in the NFL). Even though Seattle was just 27th in passing offense with 189.4 yards per game, rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson was more than efficient and effective in leading the Seahawks’ aerial attack. Wilson, who became the Seahawks’ starter largely due to a preseason elbow injury suffered by Matt Flynn, finished his inaugural NFL season by throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in his last nine games. Overall, Wilson completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a franchise-record 100.0 passer rating. Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 mark for the most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback and would have set the rookie record for passer rating if not for Robert Griffin III, his counterpart in this game. No Seahawk had more than 50 receptions during the regular season, but wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate did record seven touchdown catches apiece. Besides the 10 picks thrown by Wilson, the Seahawks fumbled the ball away eight times for a total of 18 turnovers committed.
Washington’s defense has made the most of its ability to create turnovers, which has been key considering the unit’s overall statistics. The Redskins finished the season ranked 28th in total defense (377.7 ypg), with the majority of the damage due to poor pass defense. The ‘Skins were fifth against the run (95.8 ypg), but 30th versus the pass (281.9 ypg) and yielded 31 touchdown passes, which tied them for the second-most in the NFL. However, due to the 31 turnovers created, including 21 interceptions, the defense was able to limit opponents to 24.3 points per game (22nd), which is respectable considering all the yards the unit surrendered.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Even with a rookie at quarterback and running back, Washington’s offense finished the regular season in the top five of the NFL in total, rushing and scoring offense. The Redskins led the league in rushing offense (169.3 ypg), as running back Alfred Morris broke Clinton Portis’ franchise single-season rushing record and finished second only to Adrian Peterson with 1,613 yards rushing. Morris got stronger as the season wore on, averaging 126.8 yards rushing per game over the last four contests, including his 200-yard, three-touchdown effort at home in last Sunday’s division-clinching win over Dallas. Overall, the ‘Skins ranked fifth in the league in total offense with 383.2 yards per game and fourth in scoring at 27.3 points per game. Besides Morris, quarterback Robert Griffin III made some history of his own in his first pro season. Griffin completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions, setting the NFL record for passer rating by a rookie (102.4) in the process. The Heisman Trophy winner also was second to Morris in rushing with 815 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns (Morris had 13). Even though he missed six games with a foot injury, wide receiver Pierre Garcon still led the team in receptions (44) and yards (633), while veteran wideout Santana Moss was tops with eight touchdown catches. Another reason why the Redskins’ offense was so productive was that the team committed a total of just 14 turnovers, the fewest of any NFC team.
Seattle’s defense finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in points allowed (15.3) and among the top 10 in the three other major categories. The Seahawks ended up fourth in total defense (306.2 ypg), sixth against the pass (203.1 ypg) and 10th versus the run (103.1 ypg). This unit allowed a total of 23 offensive touchdowns during the regular season, including just 15 touchdown passes (tied for the second-fewest in the NFL). The Seahawks picked up 36 sacks, led by defensive end Chris Clemons’ 11.5, and were very productive in the turnover department. The defense forced 31 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. Eight of these picks were courtesy of cornerback Richard Sherman, who also had a hand in two (INT return, blocked field goal) of the six defensive/special teams touchdowns the Seahawks scored. While it is easy to point out that the Seahawks play very well at home, going undefeated this season at CenturyLink Field, the defense more than did its part on the road. The Seahawks gave up an average of less than 19 points per game in its eight road contests.
Redskins’ fans will no doubt be fired up for their first home playoff game since 1999, when the ‘Skins beat Detroit 27-13. In fact, this will be just the second playoff game ever at FedEx Field. The Redskins got to this point on the strength of the league’s best rushing attack, a dynamic rookie quarterback who showed poise beyond his years, and an opportunistic defense that seemed to get the key turnover when it needed it the most. The problem for the NFC East champions is that Seattle also has a productive running attack and its own record-setting rookie quarterback. The similarities end when it comes to the defenses, however, as the Seahawks have a considerable edge on that side of the ball. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris will do all they can to give the home crowd something to cheer about, but in the end, the Seahawks’ defense will be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Redskins 23
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
The NFL’s feel-good story of the 2012 season will collide with what will be the final chapter of a legendary career when the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens take the field for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. On one sideline are the Colts (11-5), who have won five out of their last six games and got Chuck Pagano, their head coach and inspirational leader, back on the sidelines last week. On the other are the Ravens (10-6), who dropped four of their final five to stumble to the finish, but will be riding their own wave of emotion as Ray Lewis, their defensive leader and the heart and soul of this team, gears up for one “last ride.”
When the Indianapolis Colts have the ball:
Indianapolis’ offense ended the regular season ranked 10th in the NFL in yards gained with 362.4 per game and tied for 18th in scoring with 22.3 points per contest. The Colts were 22nd in rushing offense (104.4 ypg) and seventh in passing offense (258.0), as quarterback Andrew Luck set the NFL record for passing yards (4,374) by a rookie quarterback. Although the No. 1 overall pick came three touchdown passes shy of matching predecessor Peyton Manning’s 26 in 1998, he threw 10 fewer interceptions (18 compared to 28) than No. 18 did in his first season and also led his team to the playoffs. The Colts’ reliance on Luck was due somewhat to a running game that managed just 3.8 yards per carry. Running back Vick Ballard has emerged as the lead backfield option, but he’s had just one 100-yard game and has scored two rushing touchdowns. Compare that to Luck, who has five rushing scores with nearly 150 fewer carries than Ballard. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Manning era, put together another Pro Bowl-caliber season with a team-high 106 receptions (sixth in NFL) and 1,355 yards (seventh), but it’s another rookie, fellow wideout T.Y. Hilton who leads the way with seven touchdown catches and is averaging 17.2 yards per reception. If there are any concerns when it comes to Luck, they are those related to his 54.1 completion percentage, which is the second-lowest among qualified starting quarterbacks, the interceptions (18, tied for third-most), and that he’s been sacked 41 times. In addition to the picks, the Colts have fumbled the ball away nine times.
Consistently ranked among the top defenses in the league, Baltimore’s unit took a step backwards this season. The Ravens finished the regular season 17th in total defense, giving up 350.9 yards per game, and tied for 12th in scoring defense at 21.5 points per game. Statistically speaking, the Ravens fared better against the pass (228.1 ypg, 17th) compared to the run (122.8 ypg, 20th). What’s more, the defense allowed only 15 touchdown passes, which tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. The Ravens were in the middle of the pack when it came to sacks (37) and forced a total of 25 turnovers, including 13 interceptions, during the regular season.
When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Baltimore’s offense ranked 16th in the league in total offense (352.5 ypg), but 10th in scoring at nearly 25 points per game. The Ravens were 11th in rushing offense with 118.8 yards per game, as running back Ray Rice went over 1,100 yards rushing for the fourth straight season. They ended up 15th in passing offense (233.7 ypg) with Joe Flacco throwing for a career-high 3,817 yards, along with 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. For all the criticism levied at Flacco, don’t forget that he’s the only starting quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. As far as Flacco’s pass-catchers go, veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin led the team with 65 receptions and 921 yards, while Torrey Smith established himself as a legitimate vertical threat (17.4 ypc, 8 TDs). Tight end Dennis Pitta and Rice also were reliable targets, each posting 61 receptions with Pitta hauling in seven scoring strikes. The Ravens also have a viable weapon in return specialist Jacoby Jones, who averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return and brought back two of them as well as a punt for touchdowns. His production earned him an invite to next month’s Pro Bowl as the AFC’s kick returner. Sacks (38) were somewhat of an issue, but ball security was not as the Ravens only turned it over 16 times, which tied them with the Patriots for the fewest in the AFC.
Of all the playoff teams, only Washington’s defense finished lower in the total defense rankings than Indianapolis’. The Colts were No. 26 in terms of yards allowed (Redskins No. 28), surrendering more than 374 per contest. The main culprit was the run defense, which ranked 29th due to the 137.5 yards rushing allowed per game. Their pass defense ranked 21st (236.8 ypg), as did the scoring defense (24.2 ppg). Two other factors that didn’t necessarily help were an inability to produce sacks (32) and turnovers. The Colts’ defense forced a total of 15 turnovers, including just three fumbles. That total is the second-fewest takeaways in the AFC.
There has been no better story in the NFL this season than Indianapolis and this young team rallying behind their head coach, Chuck Pagano. This Colts team has been “Chuckstrong” throughout and for Pagano this matchup with Baltimore represents a homecoming of sorts. Pagano was on the Ravens’ coaching staff from 2008-11, the last year serving as the team’s defensive coordinator, so he’s well familiar with the personnel. And that’s especially the case with Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ All-Pro linebacker who announced earlier this week that he will retire at the end of this season. As great as the Colts’ story has been and as much as the Ravens like and respect Pagano, Lewis is one of their own and I don’t see this team sending him off with a home loss. The Colts may have more wins and come into this one with more momentum, but this is still a flawed team, especially on defense, while the Ravens have won their past four opening playoff games. Have no fear Ravens fans, Lewis’ “last ride” won’t end on Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Colts 17
AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins
The Under Armour All-American Game features some the best and brightest future stars of the college football gridiron. Each year dozens of elite prospects go head-to-head all week in practice trying to showcase their talents for former NFL coaches, the fans, their fellow recruits and college coaches. The Black Team — named Team Highlight — defeated the White Team — named Team Nitro — 16-3 in a defensive "showdown." So after a week of tough practice and 60 minutes of brutal football, who were the winners and losers in St. Pete?
Under Armour Winners:
Penn State Nittany Lions
Not only did head coach Bill O'Brien announce that he will be returning to Penn State, the best quarterback in the event now appears locked into his verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions. Athlon Consensus 100 quarterback Christian Hackenberg wrapped-up his high school career as the winning quarterback after starting for the Black Team. The elite signal caller from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia is considered by some to be the best QB prospect in the nation. He is all of 6-foot-4 and should easily grow into a 230-pound frame and he was regarded by many as the best quarterback in the event. He was poised and smooth all week in a defense dominated atmosphere and has PSU fans elated about the future.
The Tigers picked-up a verbal commitment during the game from nose tackle Ebenezer Ogundeko. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound interior lineman hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., and picked the Tigers over Syracuse and Florida. But not only did the Tigers land one big name in the game. Linebacker Ben Boulware from Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna was one of the stars of the show playing physical football all week long. Drawing Zach Thomas comparisons due to build and skillset, the Clemson commit gave Tigers faithful a glimpse of what he can do on the next level.
Star defensive end Kendell Beckwith from Jackson (La.) East Feliciana announced at the game that he would be headed to LSU over Alabama. This commitment came on the heels of a big verbal pledge from massive Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Nova South defensive tackle Maquedius Bain earlier in the week. Bain checks in at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds and the duo gave Les Miles an excellent week of action in Tampa Bay.
It is virtually impossible for offensive lines to play effective football in an all-star game setting like the Under Armour Game. So it should come as no shock that the defensive lines won the day. Big-time names like Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's top prospect, Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and DeMarcus Walker helped the defensive lines control the line of scrimmage with ease. The game featured 227 total yards of offense on 111 offensive plays.
Ole Miss Rebels
Speaking of Nkemdiche, many left The Trop with the vibe that the Grayson High School prospect will likely pick Ole Miss over LSU when he ultimately signs his letter of intent. His older brother, Denzel, is currently on the roster finishing his freshman year in Oxford and Huge Freeze has his Rebels surging on the recruiting trail. Look for Ole Miss to close the cycle with a flurry and possibly be the surprise team of the 2013 recruiting class.
A man among boys, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound linebacker from Auburn (Ala.) High showed the nation why he is the No. 1 linebacker in the nation. He is a physical presence on the inside and has elite upside on the next level. He claimed the co-MVP honors with Florida Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Foster has been committed to both Alabama and Auburn but is not committed to anyone at the moment. Washington, Florida State and Georgia are also in the final mix for the talented tackler.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Under Armour Losers:
The Running Game
The two teams combined for 25 yards rushing on 38 total carries on Friday night. That is downright pathetic. However, it had much more to do with the offensive lines than the talent at tailback. Alvin Kamara showed excellent burst and quickness and no one is concerned about the future potential of NFL legacy Kelvin Taylor. However, something needs to be done about allowing these talented players to showcase their talents more effectively. Give the offense two weeks to prepare? Force nickelback situations on every play? I don't know what the answer is, but I know I want to see more from the game's best ball-carriers.
Other than Hackenberg, the talent on the field at quarterback appeared to be less than stellar. Cooper Bateman (Alabama) had a few solid plays but also turned the ball over. Kevin Olsen (Miami) won the starting job in practice but was average in the game. Certainly, the style of play lends itself to tough-sledding for all signal callers, but this stat line is fairly pathetic for 60 minutes of play between two all-star rosters: 22-of-73, 202 yards, 4 INTs.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Elite safety Tony Connor didn't announce as possibly expected and end Kendell Beckwith picked LSU over the Tide. Bleeding recruiting hearts shouldn't go rushing to comfort Nick Saban, who boasts one of the best classes in the nation. But missing out on both of these two players amide rumors that current verbal pledge DeMarcus Walker might be leaning towards Florida is a small disappointment.
Seriously? Team Highlight and Team Nitro? I love recruiting and following elite prospects as they commit, decommit, take visits and eventually blossom into the stars of tomorrow. But it sounds like they allowed 17-year olds to name the two rosters in Tampa-St. Pete. Weaksauce.
A betting preview of each of every game (against the spread) on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.
Lock of the Week
Win or lose, this is Ray Lewis' last dance in front of the home crowd in Baltimore, expect the city's new team to soar past its former franchise.
Ravens (-6.5) vs. Colts
For all the flak Joe Flacco has taken over the years, he has a 5–4 record in the playoffs with at least one postseason win in each of his four years in the NFL. Andrew Luck is trying to join Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez and Shaun King as only the fifth rookie quarterback to ever win a playoff game.
Straight Up Upset
A rookie starting quarterback is guaranteed a win in this game, as league posterboy Robert Griffin III takes on everyone's underdog Russell Wilson.
Redskins (+3) vs. Seahawks
Seattle was an impressive 8–0 at home this season, but carried a 3–5 mark on the road. Historically, the Seahawks have lost eight consecutive postseason games on the road and have not won a road playoff game since Dec. 31, 1983. Only nine players on the current 53-man roster were even alive then.
These NFC North division rivals are playing for the second consecutive week and for the third time in the past six weeks. These teams are familiar foes.
Vikings (+9) at Packers
In Week 17, Minnesota knocked off Green Bay, 37–34; in Week 13, the Packers beat the Vikings, 23–14. Over the past three seasons, Minnesota has a 4–2 record vs. Green Bay against a similar spread. Plus, Adrian Peterson has run wild for 409 yards and three total TDs against the Packers this season.
Stay away completely, unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action on every game in the playoffs no matter what.
Texans (-5) vs. Bengals
Sure, this is a rematch of last year's AFC Wild Card, which Houston won 31–10 over Cincinnati. But the Texans have lost three of its last four contests and quarterback Matt Schaub — who has thrown one TD and three INTs during the 1–3 stretch run — will be making the first playoff start of his career.
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off for the second time in less than a week when their NFC Wild Card showdown kicks off on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The Vikings (10-6) beat the Packers (11-5) last Sunday 37-34 in Minneapolis to secure their playoff berth, while costing the NFC North champions a first-round bye in the process. Even though these teams have played each other 104 times, this marks just the second postseason matchup. Minnesota beat Green Bay 31-17 in an NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 9, 2005. In that game, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw four touchdown passes (two to Randy Moss), while future Hall of Famer Brett Favre tossed four interceptions in what was, at the time, just the Packers’ second home playoff loss in franchise history.
When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
Minnesota’s offense can be summed up in two words: Adrian Peterson. All the running back did this season is become just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, as he ended his spectacular campaign just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. Peterson, who is just over a year removed from a devastating knee injury, posted a career-best 2,097 yards rushing, including 199 in last Sunday’s playoff-clinching win against Green Bay. In two games against the Packers, Peterson has piled up 409 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. Peterson’s record-setting season is the main reason why the Vikings finished 20th in the league in total offense with 336.6 yards per game. They ended up second-to-last in passing offense (171.9 ypg), although second-year starting quarterback Christian Ponder did post some of his best numbers in last week’s win over Green Bay. Ponder completed 16-of-28 passes for 234 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 37-34 victory. It marked the first time since Week 8 that Ponder threw for more than 221 yards in a game. Ponder’s development has been hurt by the loss of wide receiver Percy Harvin, who went on injured reserve in early November after suffering a ligament tear in his ankle. Ponder’s favorite target since Harvin’s injury has been tight end Kyle Rudolph, who finished second to Harvin in receptions and yards, and leads the team with nine touchdown catches. Even with a lack of production from the passing game, the Vikings finished 14th in the league in scoring at 23.7 points per game, thanks in large part to the leg of Blair Walsh. The rookie kicker connected on all 10 of his field goal attempts from 50 yards and out and missed just three of 38 tries overall, earning him a Pro Bowl invite. If not for the 23 turnovers committed by the Vikings, including 12 interceptions thrown by Ponder, Walsh probably would own instead of share the record for most field goals made by a rookie kicker.
Green Bay’s defense finished 11th in the league in both yards (336.8) and points (21.0) allowed. The Packers were 17th against the run (118.5 ypg) and 11th against the pass (218.3 ypg). To be fair, the Packers did face five of the league’s top rushers in Peterson (twice), Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore. Of this quintet, Peterson by far (409 yards in two games) did the most damage with Gore being the only other one to rush for more than 100 yards. The Packers produced the fourth-most sacks of any team with 47 and the defense picked off 18 passes. The unit also should get a boost with the return of All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson, who has missed the team’s past nine games after breaking his collarbone in Week 7.
When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense finished 13th in the league in total offense, which is more impressive when you take into consideration the ineffectiveness of its running game. The Packers averaged 359.4 yards per game in the regular season, with more than 70 percent of that courtesy of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game (253.1 ypg, ninth). The Packers averaged 27.1 points per game, good for fifth overall, as Rodgers tossed 39 touchdown passes, which were second only to Drew Brees’ 43. The reigning MVP finished as the league’s top-rated passer (108.0) and threw just eight interceptions despite being sacked a league-high 51 times. Rodgers also is the team’s second-leading rusher with just 259 yards, which says all you need to know about the Packers’ inconsistent ground game. As a team, the Packers averaged 106.4 yards rushing (20th in NFL) and had a total of nine rushing touchdowns during the regular season, two of those by Rodgers. Contrast that to wide receiver James Jones, who led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions. Rodgers has other targets to throw to, including wideouts Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and tight end Jermichael Finley. Jennings and Nelson both missed time during the regular season due to injuries and Cobb was held out of last week’s loss to Minnesota because of an ankle injury, but all three should be in there tonight with Nelson (knee) appearing to be the biggest question mark. Even though he missed the regular-season finale, Cobb has already broken the Packers’ single-season record for all-purpose yards, while Jennings and Nelson combined for 11 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings last Sunday. The Packers turned the ball over just 16 times in 16 games during the regular season, tying them for the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC.
Minnesota’s defense finished in the middle of the league in both total (350.0 ypg, 16th) and scoring (21.8 ppg, tied for 14th) defense. The Vikings were 11th against the run (105.8 ypg), compared to 24th (244.3 ypg) against the pass. Then again, facing Aaron Rodgers (twice), Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will do that to your pass defense statistics. The Vikings ended up right behind the Packers in sacks with 44 (tied with Houston for fifth in NFL), led by Pro Bowl reserve Jared Allen’s 12. The defense also has produced 22 turnovers, including 12 fumbles.
Believe it or not, even though Minnesota and Green Bay have played each other 104 times, this will be just the second time they will have met in the postseason. While this may technically serve as the rubber match of this season’s meetings, the stakes are completely different than they were for last week’s regular-season finale. The Vikings needed that victory more than the Packers, who had already secured a playoff berth by winning the NFC North. Green Bay did have a chance to earn a coveted first-round bye, but this is a veteran team with plenty of postseason experience under its belt. The same can’t be said for the Vikings, who were last in the playoffs in 2009. Even though the Vikings have Comeback Player of the Year and MVP contender Adrian Peterson in their backfield, there is no comparison when it comes to the quarterback position. The Packers have the reigning MVP leading their offense, while the Vikings will look to the league’s 21st-rated passer during the regular season, who will be starting his first career NFL playoff game. And it will take place on the road, on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. On top of that, the Packers also will welcome the return of defensive leader Charles Woodson to the secondary and should have its full complement of offensive weapons as well. It’s been a good run for the Vikings, but the Packers are still the class of the NFC North.
Prediction: Packers 34, Vikings 23
The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans will face off in the postseason for the second straight season when they get together on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Bengals (10-6) enter this game having won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the AFC South champion Texans (12-4), stumbled late, dropping three of their last four games. Houston defeated Cincinnati 31-10 in last season’s Wild Card round, earning the Texans their first playoff victory in franchise history.
When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
On offense, Cincinnati finished the regular season ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards with 332.7 per game and 12th in points with 24.4 per contest. The Bengals are 18th in rushing offense (109.1 ypg) and 17th in passing (223.6 ypg). Cincinnati’s offense has struggled somewhat recently, as the Bengals have averaged just 235 yards of total offense over their past three games. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has already set a career high in rushing yards with 1,094, but he had just 14 against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore after injuring his hamstring during pregame warmups. Without him, the Bengals had just 47 yards on the ground versus the Ravens. Green-Ellis was back at practice on Wednesday, so it looks like he will be able to suit up for this one. If for some reason he’s unable to go or ends up being limited, the Bengals will most likely turn to Cedric Peerman (258 yards, 7.2 ypc). Quarterback Andy Dalton has already surpassed his passing yard (3,669) and touchdown (27) totals from his rookie season, but he’s thrown three more interceptions (16 to 13) this season too. He also tossed three picks in last season’s Wild Card loss to the Texans, and may be called on to make more plays depending on Green-Ellis’ health. Wide receiver A.J. Green is Dalton’s primary target, having finished in the top 10 in the league in both receptions (97) and yards (1,350), earning him a starting spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Green tied for fourth in the league with 11 touchdown receptions, while tight end Jermaine Gresham had five scores among his 64 catches for 737 yards. Besides Dalton’s 16 interceptions, he has been sacked 46 times, the third-most of any quarterback in the league, and the Bengals as a team have lost 10 fumbles.
After getting off to a strong start, Houston’s defense has struggled at times during the second half of its schedule. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in the league in total defense at 323.3 yards per game, but gave up more than that in five of its last seven games, a stretch in which they went just 4-3. They are tied for ninth in points allowed at 20.7 per game, but surrendered 42 to both Green Bay and New England (both losses) and 37 in an overtime win against Jacksonville. Statistically speaking, the Texans have fared better against the run (97.5 ypg, seventh) compared to the pass (225.8 ypg, 16th), but they also lead the league in batted or tipped passes with 37. Houston’s defense suffered a significant loss when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5, but defensive end J.J. Watt has picked up the slack and then some. The AFC Pro Bowl starter at defensive end and Defensive Player of the Year contender led the league with 20.5 sacks and also forced four fumbles. Watt’s presence is a big reason why the Texans finished tied for fifth with 44 sacks. Watt made the most of his first career playoff game last season when he picked off a Dalton pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown right before halftime in the Texans’ Wild Card win over the Bengals.
When the Houston Texans have the ball:
More known for its running attack, Houston’s offense is fairly balanced. The Texans finished the regular season seventh in total offense with 372.1 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 26 per game. The Texans had the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing offense (132.7 ypg), led by running back Arian Foster’s 1,424 yards and league-leading 17 touchdowns, 15 of those coming on the ground. The Texans’ passing attack finished 11th, as quarterback Matt Schaub posted the third 4,000-yard campaign of his career and had 22 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted another Pro Bowl-caliber season, finishing fourth in the league with 112 receptions and second in yards with a career-high 1,598. Tight end Owen Daniels led the team with six touchdown catches. The Texans’ offensive line, which features Pro Bowlers in tackle Duane Brown (starter), guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers (reserves), has given up only 28 sacks to this point and the team has turned it over just 17 times, including an AFC-low four fumbles.
Cincinnati’s defense has been the team’s strength this season, as the Bengals finished sixth in the league in total defense (319.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring at 20 points per game. The Bengals are seventh in passing defense (212.5 ypg) and are 12th against the run (107.2 ypg). The defense has given up 300 yards of total offense only once in its past seven games, a big reason why the team went 6-1 during this stretch. The Bengals have been even more successful than the Texans in the sack department, finishing third in the NFL with 51. They also are second only to New England in the AFC in takeaways, as the defense has generated 16 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The heart of this unit is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who leads the team with 12.5 sacks, has forced four fumbles and was voted in as a starter for next month’s Pro Bowl.
Houston is hosting and won its division, but there’s little question that it’s Cincinnati who enters this game with more momentum. The Bengals have won three in a row and seven of their last eight, while the Texans lost their last two and three out of their final four games. However, this also is a veteran Texans team that’s in the playoffs for the second straight season and finished last season in similar fashion before thumping the Bengals 31-10 in their Wild Card matchup. And don’t forget, Houston’s quarterback in that game was T.J. Yates, who was starting for an injured Matt Schaub. Even though Houston seems to be headed in the wrong direction at the worst time possible, I think the Texans’ balance on offense and pass rush on defense will be enough to hand the Bengals a second straight playoff defeat in Reliant Stadium.
Prediction: Texans 30, Bengals 23